Relatively speaking, we live in a small town. We have two traffic lights, one gas station, one small grocery store, a hardware store, a barber shop, and a “downtown” that includes a small restaurant, a Mason’s lodge, and a dealer in antiques—although in my opinion, it’s really just a shop full of the stuff left at the proprietor’s door, except now, the items have price tags. We also have a Chinese restaurant right beside a pizza place—Little Caesar’s—and both are housed in the same building that keeps the grocery store. Right across the street is a McDonald’s, and as of last fall, a Taco Bell. Let it not be under spoken that when Taco Bell came to town, for many of our citizens, the announcement alone was like winning the lottery.
So, where is all of this going? Well, the point is that anything we might need is only two or three minutes away, especially when it comes to an easy meal. For the Thoma family, as it is for many in our society hurrying toward exhaustion, pizza is quite often the mealtime solution. And with the latest trend of ready-to-go pizzas for five dollars each, you don’t have to call in an order, nor are you to be concerned with the ideological turmoil that might unfold at your front door when faced with a fifty-five minute delivery snafu resulting in cold pizzas being handed to you by a driver who believes he should still receive a tip.
Here’s a tip. Keep the pizzas, give me a refund, and make sure you use the GPS app on your phone to find your way back to the store. And while you’re tapping on your phone, do us all a favor and delete your drug dealer’s contact.
Anyway, many such establishments are adding to their services the ability for patrons to place an online order. This is true of the pizza place the next township over, which I am yet to mention serves the pizza we most prefer but rarely buy because it’s more expensive and it takes longer to acquire, sometimes due to the delivery issues previously mentioned. Still, Jennifer took a chance and, for the first time, gave the online portal a try.
She tried it once. It didn’t work. She tried it again. The same. A few more times and finally it took her order. But this minor obstruction was not the conundrum at the heart of this story.
Gladdened by her final success, and after about fifteen minutes of waiting, she called me over to take a look at the follow up webpage she’d been provided for tracking the progress of her order. That’s when I noticed something strange, something that concerned me—the guy who won’t take a sip of water from a glass that’s been touched by one of his own children for fear of catching some rare and incurable disease.
I was terror-stricken. Do you see why?
Flavor check? What the heck is that? I don’t want these guys flavor checking my pizzas. How do they do that? Do they take a bite? Do they lick it? I’ll bet that one kid I see there from time to time—you know, the one who looks like he hasn’t showered in about six weeks—I’ll bet he licks the pizzas.
Time passes. Fifty-five minutes to be exact. The doorbell rings and I rush to the door. Jennifer hides out of sight because she knows what I’m about to do. My eight-year-old daughter, Evelyn, is standing beside me with her arms crossed, and as it so happens, she wearing a fake mustache she received at school. And I’ll admit that in her stance, she looks more intimidating and cop-like. Good.
“Hi,” I say straight-forwardly.
“Hi,” the delivery boy replies.
“How much do I owe you?”
“Here’s your receipt. Just sign the bottom.”
“Okay,” I say, having first taken the pizzas and set them on the bench seat near the door. Mid-signature, I ask plainly, “Did anyone lick my pizzas?”
“Did anyone lick these things?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about?”
“We ordered online. The progress tracker on the website indicated that our pizzas passed the flavor check. How do you guys check the flavor of the pizzas, exactly?”
“Um. I dunno what that is. I don’t go to the website very much.”
“So, no one down there at the store is the official flavor tester—you know, charged with licking the pizzas before they go out?”
“I don’t think so.”
“You don’t think so?”
“No one licks the pizzas, sir.”
A prickly moment passes, and with an interrogative stare, Evelyn hands him an additional three dollars.
“Okay,” I say. “Thanks.”
“Um, have a good night,” the kid replies and disappears into the night.
The door still closing, Evelyn offers, “I don’t trust him.”
“Me either,” I account. “These pizzas have been licked.”
“So, what do we do?”
“I think you’ll be okay to eat them,” I say. “You’re young, and your immune system is strong. Me, I’m older and more susceptible to illness. I’ll need to chase each bite with a sip of whisky. That’s the only way to make sure whatever amoebas landed on these things get handled.”
And so, to my whisky cabinet I go, having first called to the family to assemble for dinner. Evelyn delivers the pizzas to the kitchen counter. My preemptive dram, something with a reputation for laying waste to everything in its palatable path: Ardbeg. In particular, the An Oa edition.
I shouldn’t say that this stuff lays waste to palates. An Islay distillery known and respected for bottling peat smoke “oomph,” Ardbeg is not for the faint of heart, and for this reason, I selected it as an ally in the fight against licked pizzas. Nevertheless, the An Oa, for all of its smoky armament, is reasonably smooth and really rather light-hearted.
The nose is a sweet-butter wash of Ardbeg’s moniker peat, mildly so, with undercurrents of lemon cake and maybe even a little bit of something nutty—roasted almonds, perhaps.
In the mouth, there’s a certain serenity that arrives, ushered along on a similarly lapping tide of sweet-butter and burn. Just behind it comes a gentler wave of warmed citrus and a little bit of pepper.
The finish is ashy and dry, leaving a behind an oily lick of the peat smoke. And it’s a good lick.
In all, the An Oa is just strong enough to bring a sense of security, making one feel as though, after a few swigs, any undesirable bacteria that has found its way into the stomach will be rendered impotent. In this light, even if the label offered that each bottle had passed a flavor check, I wouldn’t be concerned. At 46.6%, Ardbeg has it handled. In the current circumstance, the dram pairs well with a slice or two of licked pizza, and that alone makes it worthy of your time and money.