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“When hospitality becomes an art, it loses its very soul.”

Sir Henry “Max” Beerbohm, the English essayist wrote this in his book And Even Now. Remember it, because he was right.

By way of example, there was at one time a member of my parish who was quite skilled at dinner décor—so much so, in fact, that she probably could have been called upon from time to time to stage the cover images for Martha Stewart’s “Living” magazine. The problem, however, is that when folks found out that she would be the one behind the table settings for any particular event, some would be hesitant to attend. I know why. It’s because they knew that the easier nature of the event would be lost. They knew that what would normally be a comfortably casual, potluck style gathering of church friends and family would be in jeopardy of becoming a more rigid, loftier occasion—one that would feel disconnected from itself, ultimately making the attendees feel an edge of discomfort in a setting where such a specter should be completely absent. Also, for some who’d stepped up to serve in such ways in the past, the ghost of inadequacy might appear.

Of course, you could always count on most in attendance to wander around the gala speaking of the loveliness of the tables adorned in stately cloth and gilded with every possible frill—and yet those same tables so oddly held a mish-mash of old dishes and plastic containers filled with mac-n-cheese, barbecue meatballs, and potato salads—but once seated, those same folks would lean in toward one another and whisper, “You know, this is a potluck, not a wedding reception.” I know they said these things. I heard them. And like Beerbohm, they were right. They had sensed the loss of hospitality’s soul. It had become about showcasing the artful skills of the host and not the joyful opportunity for togetherness.

I sometimes wonder if certain distilleries are treading dangerously near to a similar edge when it comes to the packaging of their whiskies. Take for example the Highland Park Ice Edition.

What a spectacular parcel of well-crafted wood, glass, and whisky; and while the whisky inside is indeed a kindly dram that is, most certainly, to be shared among friends, the sumptuous packaging suggests it be left corked and set aside, saved for that unexpected visit from Margrethe II, the queen of Denmark.

I don’t know the woman. With that, I opened the bottle.

The nose of this Nordic-inspired trophy is that of malt with slight pulls of peat. A deeper dig produces grapefruit.

The palate proves the citrus and then adds a light smack of smoked honey and salted butter—all simmering to a foam. The heat renders a longer finish which, as it moves on to other realms, leaves behind a memory of what the nose promised.

“It’s a great dram, to be sure,” I say as I wander around the packaging in awe. Taking my seat and leaning to the friend beside me, “But you know, this is a potluck…”