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20161105_185611My phone was humming on the kitchen counter and calling for my attention.

“Guess who’s at Walmart?” the voice on the other end of the line said dryly.

“What?” I asked. The mobile signal was momentarily choppy.

“Guess who I just saw here at Walmart?”


“You’ll never guess.”

“Who?” I prodded.


There was a moment of silence between us.

“But it’s… it’s only the 4th of November,” I said stunned. “We still have, like, a billion more days till Christmas.”

“Yep,” came my wife’s solitary reply from the other end of the line, previously stern but now more than obviously amused by my surprise.

“Do me a favor, will you?” I asked with as serious a voice as I could.

“What’s that?”

“Go find Santa and punch him in the face.”

I could hear her muffled giggle.

“No, I’m serious,” I said. I wasn’t laughing as I continued, “And then go find the store manager and punch him, too. And then go back to Santa, and if he’s somehow managed to recover and is back to work, maybe even with kid on his lap, wait for the kid to leave and then push him into the Christmas trees.”

“I’ll see you soon,” she said with a half-chuckle and ended the conversation.

“Get a selfie, if you can,” I hollered just before the connection was lost, although I’m not sure that she heard me.

I feel terrible that I put a hit out on Santa at the local Walmart, and of course I was just kidding. But seriously, do we need to usher in Christmas this early? For crying out loud, Home Depot had their outdoor Christmas décor—trees, ornaments, you name it—all configured and in full glory as early as mid-October. I was completely of the mind to roll a couple of gas grills right into the middle of it all, fire up a nail gun, and then hunker down in the plumbing aisle like a sniper to take shots at the propane canisters until the whole scene went up like a Schwarzenegger film finale.

Of course, Home Depot is still standing, and in a sad sort of way, I guess I’m no better because here I sit sipping and reviewing a “Christmas” whisky the very day after giving my wife the only instructions that felt right at the time. Shameful. Just shameful.

It serves me right if I choke on this stuff.

Speaking of choking, it won’t take much of this whiskey to provoke your gag reflex. When it comes to capturing the flavors of Christmas, the folks at Cleveland Whiskey have succeeded, but not in the sense of the season’s warmth, charity, tradition, and such. Instead, they’ve managed to bottle a pine wreath overloaded with pinecones and dusted with nutmeg and cinnamon. At least that’s what it smells like. Quite literally—there’s a wreath in the bottle.

It’s only slightly different on the palate. There’s the overwhelming sense of the seasonings I mentioned, but add to that the other spices mentioned on the bottle’s label. There’s a hint of citrus and a shard of clove that’s been piercing the hide of a glazed ham… that’s been strapped to a barkless, sap-drenched pine tree stump… in the middle of the woods… for over week. Sounds like a complex whiskey, right? No? Yeah, it’s pretty bad.

The finish is sour. That’s all I have for you.

My suggestion: Avoid this stuff. I know it sounds like a great holiday gift idea—like something you might give away to a whiskey-drinking friend in a “Secret Santa” gift exchange—but trust me, don’t do it. After the first sip, he’ll interpret the gifting no differently than had you filled out the accompanying gift tag as such:20161106_163009

If you decide to disregard my warning, then I beg you to at least try the stuff first. Really. Just pour yourself a dram and give it go. I guarantee you’ll feel like you did when you bought that mechanical squirrel adorned with a Santa hat and singing “All I Want For Christmas is My Two Front Teeth” in a voice like Alvin the Chipmunk. It was an impulse purchase born from marketing efforts designed to stir premature Christmas shopping. There you were across from the lawn mowers near a display of knick-knack Christmas items. You suddenly found yourself in the Christmas spirit. You thought the squirrel was cool. It seemed right to buy it. But now you regret it.

Just like that swing you took at Santa in Walmart.