I really couldn’t tell you when the first time was, and by first time I’m talking about getting that first taste of whiskey. I know I was young, a “little shaver” as they say. It could’ve been around the age of eight, maybe nine, maybe older, and would’ve been at my grandparent’s house. You see, we had a standing family tradition of Sunday Supper at their home, and as many relatives as possible would show up. But at some point during the day, before the big supper, the menfolk ended up seated around a table centrally located in one of those older, country kitchens, embattled in an intense game of cards, usually pinochle. As a little guy, I usually sat near my Dad or wandered around the table, watching and looking at the cards, but not really knowing what I was looking at or how the game was actually played.
I do remember, though, the drama involved in some of those heated games. Arms and hands flailing, slamming trump cards down on that table, obligatory cussing by some partners and sly grins and head nods between the others. There was also a little whiskey tastin’ now and again. A bottle of whiskey, sporting a clear shot glass perched upside down over the cap like a fez on the head of a Shriner, was many times sitting up on the kitchen counter.
It was situated in a police-style lineup with vitamins and medications and such, and alongside all those other kitchen essentials, like baking canisters, a transistor radio (for ball games), and a big tin of pipe tobacco. And by now, I’m thinking this whiskey stuff must be some sort of medicine. I came to this conclusion, you see, because first, I was a little kid that didn’t know any better, and second, because it seemed to serve as a cure-all for what ails a person.
Got a cold, take a shot.
Feel a sore throat coming on, just sip a while.
Headaches, give ‘em a shot.
Feelin’ a little blue? You know what to do.
Got a cut, bug, or snake bite? Rub a little whisky on it and be on your way.
It was, by my way of thinkin’, darn near a miracle fluid.
But it did make its way to the card table for non-medical occasions, usually in between hands, or to celebrate a particularly wild and dramatic win. I couldn’t help notice and enjoy the reactions of those that decided to partake in the mysterious brown water. From a quick shudder to a scrunched up face to a subdued “Woo” or a simple grin and wink, everyone took their shot or sipped at their own pace.
And so it was that one time, I must’ve appeared a little more curious than the previous times, or maybe they just got tired of me laughing at their reaction, I don’t know, or recall, frankly. But that little drop that’s nearly always left at the bottom of a shot glass after a good throwback was offered to me. With everyone looking on, I tilted that little glass back, letting the remnants of a drop touch my outstretched tongue. The aroma arrived first, sending that shudder down through my nerves, and then the taste, which I’m sure nearly made my head spin off my neck while I was shaking it side to side. While everyone was laughing, my tongue’s there just hanging out, wondering what the heck was so special about this bottle of brown water.
As for the taste, well, whiskey was whiskey, and the popular choice at the time was usually determined by price. No one worried about smoothness, nose, burn and such. It was whiskey, and from what I gathered, it wasn’t supposed to taste too good.
As I grew older, I naturally came to realize what was going on and found that, yes, indeed, whiskeys can and do taste good, and not only that, they’re a whole lot more enjoyable when they do. The great part is, that now, with so many choices, everyone can find a flavor profile that they enjoy and are able to match with unique situations or special occasions.
Even if that occasion is, cough, cough, medicinal.