It’s cold. Bitterly cold. As I write, much of the United States suffers under a meteorological phenomenon known as a polar vortex, which to my untrained ear sounds more like something you’d find in a deck of Magic: The Gathering cards than in the real world. There is snow. There is ice. There are winds that cut through layers of clothing. In my generally mild locale, the schools are issuing delays because the temperatures have sunk into the teens, despite it being a balmy sixty degrees only a few hours before. One must safeguard the little darlings, though in my day we usually waited to delay school until the day of the weather, not the day before it arrived.
At the moment, though, the outdoors is decidedly unpleasant. Winter has visited an indecent wrath on us, perhaps making up for the last few mild, inoffensive air-kisses she blew our way with this good hard crack across the face. At this point there’s no question of Al Gore’s wrongness about looming climate disaster; the only thing left to us to determine is whether he got his apocalyptic predictions the wrong way around. A frozen doom lingers over us all, a cold that leaves us to wonder at the caprice of an unfeeling God.
They say the Russian peasants would spend the winter hibernating, sitting around the fire wrapped in pelts. Tied to the land as they were, they could be of no use when the earth had frozen solid. It fell to them merely to survive, to live through the grim winter. Not for the first time, I curse the advent of the knowledge-based economy. The cubicle never ceases its demands upon the modern serf. He’s to stay busy, awake, and miserable despite the weather. Even the comfort of inertia is denied us.
The chill of unfeeling winter settles into the heart, if you let it. Outside the window, the snow piles up, and with it your cares. The world continues on, failing to account for man’s natural inclination to stay indoors, swaddled, from late December to March.
The ability to cope with the vicissitudes of weather depends in no small part on finding a way to insulate yourself from it. I know of no better tactic for fighting off the despondency of winter than a good dram of scotch. Slip on some wool socks, settle into a comfortable chair, and with the aid of a highland whisky you may not feel so keenly the crushing cold of the outside world.
When selecting a scotch whisky, I confess I’m not terribly choosy. My tastes naturally run to bourbon, but when it’s dark and freezing outside a sprightly bourbon just doesn’t fit the mood. Scotch, with its smoky complexity, is more suited to an evening of contemplation and poking about the hearth, brooding (a favorite hobby). I’ve always been content with Johnnie Walker Red in my quieter moments, but to counter the dread thought of being entombed in my house I determined to treat myself. I asked around, and settled on the 10-year-old offering from the Isle of Skye’s Talisker distillery.
No less a figure than Robert Louis Stevenson said that Talisker was the “king o’drinks,” and though I’m not quite ready to dethrone bourbon, I regard it very highly. This is not least because of its accessibility. Talisker 10 is set at an affordable price point if you’d like to flirt with the top shelf. The bottle I chose was about $70 – not so dear that you will feel a need to ration it out if you suffer from the Scots ailment of skinflintedness. For a young whisky, it has a lot to offer.
To my pour, I added the tiniest bit of water to soften the liquor and bring out more of the aroma. You can take it without, and it will be a tad more vigorous. I would not recommend ice.
Nose: Almost gentle and sweet, like the air in a Spring you can’t quite believe will ever arrive. There’s a hint of fruit – maybe apples – and some pepper. There is a rich aroma of peat smoke.
Sip: Sweet and crisp on the foretaste, it progresses quickly into spice, smoke, and ash. The finish is smooth, malty, and lingers pleasantly.
The Talisker would be a good scotch to have before dinner, as it is not too demanding. It’s equally appropriate for later in the evening, though, as you huddle in the comfort of your home and wait for the world to thaw.