41%, 46 years old, @angels_portion, admiral's feast, angelsportion, casino scene, darth vader, edinburgh, episode VIII, florida, george christie, haab's restaurant, Inver House Distillers, lutheran, Lying Bonhill Warehouse, michigan, minister, north of scotland distillery, orlando, oscar haab, pastor, princess leia, red lobster, reverend, review, rian johnson, ricky christie, scotch, Speyside Distillers, star wars, strathmore, the boutique-y whisky company, the last jedi, thoma, tie fighter, Whiskey, whisky, Ypsilanti
“What’s with the Tie Fighter outside?” I asked, setting down the paper bag in my hand and pulling a chair from the table. “I thought you were trying to be inconspicuous these days.”
“The Mazda’s in the shop,” he replied.
“Why not just fly?”
“I did fly.”
“No, I mean like your daughter, Leia, in ‘The Last Jedi,’” I said. “That was… well… interesting.”
“You mean that ‘Mary Poppins’ nonsense?” he asked. “That was dumb. And Rian Johnson told me personally he’s hoping we’ll forget that scene ever happened.”
“Oh yeah. He’s really embarrassed by it. He said he was just trying to make Star Wars fresh for a new generation of fans. But he forgot that every generation of sci-fi nerds is born from the strict traditions of the previous generation. He caught a lot of flak for that scene, not to mention that side plot in the casino. He’s never going to live that down.”
“I’d believe that,” I said. “That was pretty lame. And you’re right about the ways of nerddom. My kids learned everything there is to know about the Force from me. When they saw Leia flying around in space, my oldest shouted out ‘Whatever!’ right there in the movie theater.”
“I get it,” Vader said, still tapping on his phone. “Like I said, Johnson is pretty embarrassed over the whole thing. I’m the most powerful in the galaxy. If I can’t do that, nobody can.”
“Thus the Tie Fighter.”
“You do realize you parked it on top of some cars out there?”
I took a sip of my water. “Who are you texting?”
“I’ve been trying to explain to Edith for the past half hour what’s wrong with the Mazda,” he answered, giving a redirecting nod toward the bag on the table. “What’d you bring this year, Thoma?”
Taking the bottle out, I reached and set it beside the Sith Lord. I saw him give a glance in between taps.
“That’s a little bottle,” he said.
“It’s fifty centiliters instead of the usual seventy-five.”
“Why so small?” Vader asked. “We could finish that off before the waitress brings your Admiral’s Feast.”
“It’s a little smaller than usual,” I said, “but that’s only because there isn’t much of this 46-year-old to go around. It’s pretty rare stuff.”
“Whatever,” he said, stuffing his phone into his utility belt and taking a sip of his Coke through the mechanized tube in his breather. “Everybody’s whisky is ‘rare.’ I came here to drink with you, Reverend, not Rian Johnson.”
“It’s not a gimmick, Darth,” I interrupted. “I know everything there is to know about this whisky. I actually had a hand in getting it to market.”
Before Darth could say anything else, I proceeded to tell him the story.
In September of 1971, Oscar Haab, the owner of Haab’s Restaurant in Ypsilanti, Michigan, commissioned five barrels of North of Scotland Scotch Grain Whisky from Strathmore Distillery. He did it again in 1972, adding five more barrels of Invergordon to his holdings. He did it one last time in 1973, adding two more North of Scotland barrels a few years before the Strathmore Distillery eventually closed.
In total, Oscar commissioned a stock of twelve barrels.
The barrels rested comfortably in the Lying Bonhill Warehouse for a good many years before finally being transferred to Inver House Distillers under the care of Speyside Distillers in Glasgow. After Mr. Haab’s passing, his wife Keturah (or Kay, as I know her), took ownership of her late husband’s whisky, and in 2015 decided to liquidate it with the hopes of giving the proceeds to charity. The process proved slow and extremely unproductive.
In the spring of 2018, Kay reached to me for help.
I’d met Kay by way of various Lutheran circles, and she knew that as a Lutheran pastor, strangely, I had a hand in the whisky world. One afternoon in the midst of casual conversation, she shared with me what she knew about her late husband’s whisky stock and what she was trying to do. She also shared her frustrations. My interest was piqued, and a few days later she delivered to me a file filled with documents that told the story of the conception, birth, and every subsequent footstep of each of the barrels over the past four decades. The file also contained a record of the frustratingly shady and nearly completed deals with some in the business who knew they were dealing with an uninformed seller.
I promised Kay I’d do some investigating among the people I knew and that I’d work to get her a fair price from a reputable firm.
And that’s exactly what happened. Six months later, a deal was struck with Toby Cutler at Atom Brands for eleven of the twelve barrels.
“Why only eleven?” Vader asked.
“As with all things,” I said, “time takes its toll. Over the course of the effort, I discovered that one of the barrels had spoiled, while four others had dropped below the forty percent ABV level—although they were still highly viable for blending. But the seven casks that remained were in pristine condition, all well above the 40% mark and ready for bottling, or for whatever a buyer might prefer. Atom Brands ended up buying all eleven of the unspoiled barrels.”
“Great story, Reverend,” Vader said, ho-hummingly. “Still, I can walk down the street right this very second and find a 40-year-old bottle of something. It’s not that weird.”
“Yeah, but it’ll cost you your Tie Fighter,” I said. “And still, it won’t be as rare as this whisky.”
“Right,” he droned. “Rare.”
“The Strathmore distillery has long since been closed,” I insisted, “and you and I both know that to discover a single malt from a mothballed distiller would be a prize.”
“Maybe,” the Sith Lord said, leaning toward the bottle to investigate a little more. Lifting and turning it, he added, “I was at a nightclub in Edinburgh a few years back with Ricky Christie, and he claims there are only two bottles of single malt whisky from the Strathmore in existence in the entire galaxy.” He set the bottle back on the table. “Ricky said he has one of them.”
“Who’s Ricky Christie?”
“His father was George Christie, the owner of the North of Scotland Distillery, which I’m guessing you already know sourced some of its blends from Strathmore back in the day.”
“How long has Ricky had that edition?” I asked.
“He didn’t say, but I’m guessing it had to be a young bottling.”
“Well, it doesn’t really matter. This stuff is still a doubly rare find. It’s been aging for 46 years and it comes from a distillery that’s been closed for decades.” I popped the cork and poured two drams. “And now That Boutique-y Whisky Company, an arm of Atom Brands, has 193 bottles of this scarcity to sell to the world. Well, actually, they have 187 bottles. They sent me six—as well as an 18 by 24 canvas print of the label.”
“And this is one of the bottles,” Vader said, waving his hand and lifting his glass through the air to clink with mine.
We sniffed and sipped.
“You can tell this one’s been in the barrel a while,” Vader said. “The scent of old wood was the first thing through my breather.”
“The grains are ample, too,” I added. “There’s a loaf of bread on a wooden peel just being taken from the oven.”
“And the baker’s nearby stirring some blueberries into a bowl of melted butter,” Vader inserted eloquently.
“That’s a perfect description of the palate, my friend,” I praised. “It’s blueberry bread—warm and buttery.”
I took another sip. “But there’s something else.”
“Malt,” Vader intoned, succinctly. “There’s a spicy malt mixed into the dough.”
“Agreed,” I said, taking another sip. “So, how does it end for you?”
“The finish is about medium,” he answered. “It ends where it started. The barrel wood and grains lead us out.”
“I like it,” I concluded.
“Yeah,” Vader admitted. “It’s pretty good. I’m glad you’re leaving this bottle with me.”
“I’m not leaving the bottle with you, Darth.”
“Yes, you are. You have five more at home, Thoma. This one can stay.”
“You know,” I said, beginning to betray a long-suppressed irritation, “it’s bad enough I’m the one between the two of us who brings the whisky for this yearly get-together. And now, of all the whiskies I’ve brought to share with you, you want to keep the one that is incredibly personal? That’s never been part of this deal, Darth.”
I’m not leaving the bottle with you, Darth.”
“Yes, you are.”
“No, I’m not.”
“Yes, you are.”
“Yes, I am.”