Dostoevsky: Demons
52 Guitars: Week 41

The Last Martini of Summer

My preferred alcoholic beverage is beer. I love beer. I'm not sure exactly when my willingness to drink beer for the sake of being grown-up (and drunk) turned into a real enjoyment of beer for its own sake, but I don't think it took very long. And it really solidified when I discovered beers with more character than the standard American product. One instance of genuine progress in this country over the past forty years or so is the wide availability of imported and craft beers. 

Cultured persons are supposed to like wine, and know something about it, but I've never developed any great enthusiasm for it. I actually made a deliberate decision years ago not to attempt to develop the taste for good wine, because I knew it would be an expensive one. But more fundamentally--and I don't care if this marks me as a bit of a clod--I just don't like it as much as I like beer.  I'm not a connoisseur of beer, either, but I know what I like. My wife and I occasionally go out to dinner with another couple, and the three of them share a bottle of wine, while I drink Sweetwater 420. My standing order for birthday and Father's Day gifts is a six-pack of Guinness Extra Stout and a bag of Cheetos. (Someone remarked that that sounded like a vile combination, so I'll clarify: they are two separate indulgences.) But I'm happy with lesser stuff. I'll only drink "lite" beer if I really want a beer and it's the only thing available, but I recently had a regular Budweiser, which I hadn't done in a long time, solely because it was cheap, and enjoyed it.

As for hard liquor, I have over the years only rarely ventured far from bourbon and scotch, straight, or on the rocks, or with water, or, in the case of scotch, soda. Now and then I've experimented with mixed drinks, and I like one every now and then, but mostly they're not something I want regularly. A few years ago one of my sons brought back a bottle of Ron Barrilito rum from a trip to Puerto Rico and introduced me to the Dark and Stormy, which when made with that rum and Reed's Ginger Beer, is wonderful. But it's not something I want to drink regularly, and anyway Ron Barrilito is not available here, and the drink when made with Bacardi and ginger ale is not that different from other soft-drink-and-liquor combinations, which I generally dislike.

But over the past couple of years I've added another drink to my small list of staples: the martini. I don't think I'd ever even had one till eight or ten years ago, and that was only out of curiosity--it is, after all, a storied drink, though associated with a culture rather different from my own. Unlike my other experiments, this one kept drawing me back, and now I think I'm a confirmed fan.

I mainly like it in the summer. The summers here are very hot and humid, and the martini is cold and dry. Sweet drinks have a lot of initial appeal, but for a slow sipper like me they grow thin and warm before I'm finished. Conventionally, a summer drink is something sweet and tropical. But where the summers are brutal, the most desirable drink for the season is one that is the opposite of summer, a drink with the chill and clarity of a windless and cloudless winter day. There is absolutely nothing sweet about the martini as I make it, and I make very sure it's cold and will stay that way until I've finished it. 

I've experimented with different approaches preached by various self-styled experts on the web, and what I've settled on seems to make me somewhat of a traditionalist, but also somewhat of maverick. On the traditional side, I refuse to use the unqualified term "martini" for any drink that does not include gin and vermouth. A vodka martini is just that--not a martini, period, but a qualified one. Nothing wrong with it, but it should be called what it is. Concoctions that are labelled as martinis just because they are served in a martini glass don't even deserve mention; vodka and apple juice may make a pleasant drink, but they don't make a martini.

I also observe the olive tradition, if only because I very much like olives, and love that finishing touch of salty gin-soaked olive at the end of the drink. One is not enough, but having read that a gangster was once identified to his assassins by the placement of three olives instead of two in his martini, I superstitiously limit myself to two. And four seems excessive.

On the other hand, my martini is not served in a martini glass, because I don't have one (I did, but it got broken), and, more importantly, because a normal-sized martini glass doesn't leave enough room for ice. Yes, I have it on the rocks, which seems to make it in some views not a true martini. I tried the crushed-ice-and-shaker technique, and the result is fine for a few minutes, but it gets warm long before I'm done with it. And I keep the gin and vermouth in the refrigerator, which seems to be frowned upon.

And I have no patience at all with the extreme dryness snobs, who seem to take it as some sort of a challenge to see how little vermouth they can use and still feel entitled to use the word "martini." You know the sort of thing: "wave an open bottle of vermouth back and forth several times over the glass", etc. If you want to drink straight gin, or gin with olives, go ahead. But why make a fetish of minimizing the thing that makes the martini something more? I don't measure, but I think my gin-vermouth ratio is about five to one.

I use inexpensive gin and vermouth. I actually prefer the cheaper and harsher Gallo vermouth over Martini, because the latter, while smoother, and better as a drink on its own, is a bit sweeter.

It's October, and of course that's still late summer here. This afternoon I came to the end of both the gin and the vermouth. There was a little too much of both for a single martini, but not enough to save for another day. So I made myself a martini-and-a-half, of which I enjoyed every sip, and which left me wondering how anyone could, as legends have it, drink three martinis at lunch and still be able to do useful work--or, in my case, even walk. Sometime around next May I'll replenish the supplies. Or maybe sooner. Maybe I'll try some kind of expensive gin; one always wants to make a good thing even better. But then again, that may not be a taste I ought to cultivate. 


Martini on the Rocks

(Except for the number of olives, and maybe the amount of ice--I use less--this looks very much like one of my martinis, down to the style of the glass. This photo is from the Flickr account of Josh Ames; since code for embedding is provided, I assume it's ok for me to use it. 


By the way, speaking of mixed drinks in general: five or six years ago I was at an event--I suppose it was a cocktail party, though that is a pretty foreign term to me--hosted by a consulting firm looking to be hired by my employer. A young lady came around taking drink orders, and I asked for scotch and soda. I thought she looked a little disconcerted, and she hesitated for a second, maybe as if she were about to ask a question, then decided not to. A few minutes later she brought me something that looked like scotch and soda, but I almost spat out the first sip: it was scotch and Seven-Up, or Sprite, or something of that sort. It was nasty. 


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That does sound nasty.

When I was 18, I was at CYA (Catholic Young Adults) and someone was going for beer, so I asked them to get me a bottle. I'd never had beer before, but people drinking beer always seem to enjoy it so much. I took a swallow.
I tried to take another swallow and couldn't. I have repeated this process every few years with about the same results. I really, really want to like beer, but it just won't work. And then, I keep thinking, "Do I really want to work on learning to like something with that many calories?" I bet the good ones have even more calories.

The most I drink anymore is a glass of wine. It makes me extremely garrulous. I'm not even sure if I like it, but I'm certainly not a connoisseur. Once Bill and Becca and I wanted some wine on the way back from New Year's Mass. The only place we could find to get it was CVS (that's like Walgreen's or Eckerd's). It was pretty much like water, but we got to toast the New Year.

I used to drink Tom Collinses. I really liked them.

What I really want to try is a mint julep.


Probably safe to say that if you haven't developed a taste for beer by now, you never will. That your reaction has stayed as it was when you were 18 is sort of surprising.

The big mystery to me is why anyone ever takes a second drag off a cigarette. I vividly remember feeling that my throat had been cut.

Mint juleps are kind of a lot of trouble if you do them right (fresh mint and all), but very nice if you like sweet drinks. I think Tom Collinses are sweet, too, right?

I'd forgotten, till I wrote this, that I had a period years ago of drinking gin and tonic with an older couple I knew. I revisited it a couple of years ago and rather liked it, but wanted the tonic to be less sweet. I even went to the trouble of looking around on the web to see if there was a brand maybe half as sweet, and discovered that there are a number of other people who would like one, but apparently no one is marketing to us.

It's been a long time--30 years at least--since I had one. Looking that the ingredients, it must be sweet. The only think I remember is that I thought they tasted like evergreen trees, although I'm not sure why I liked them if that was the case.


As for no one marketing what you want, I am in a bad temper about that since two of my favorite things were just discontinued.


Since I became a father, my willingness to imbibe has steadily declined -- something about not wanting to have to wake up in the middle of the night feeling worse than absolutely necessary -- and I'm now down to a drink every two or three months, and then only if a social situation calls for it. I will usually opt for red wine, if it is available. If the occasion calls for beer, it is Guinness or bust for me.

A couple of weeks ago I was out at a social event with some Navy officers, and I found myself in a rather awkward situation. I ordered one drink, and was quietly hoping to nurse it through the evening -- alas! Before long I was challenged to a drinking contest, with the loser obliged to buy everyone a round of drinks. I suppose there's no shame in admitting that I placed a distant second. A friend, noting how badly out of my element I was, kindly intervened to buy the round on my stead, and I soon made a furtive exit. What a night that was.

However, though I have little taste for alcohol, and am not sure that I have ever had a martini, I think I do recognize good writing when I see it, and this post is very find indeed. Cheers!

Fine, not find. You'd think I had one too many.

Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens, Janet?

How did you guess, Craig?

We still have wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings.


Thank you, Craig. About a third of the way into this post, I asked myself "Why are you writing at such length about this trivial thing?" and the slightly surprising answer was more or less "Because I really like martinis that much." So I'm glad it was enjoyable for others.

I would hate to get dragged into a drinking contest. I love all the drinks I've mentioned here, and I love the feeling of being a little buzzed, but I actually don't drink very much at one time--more than two drinks in an evening is pretty rare. And I don't have a drink every day after work. But I'd be reluctant to admit that I couldn't keep up, and so would probably end up on the floor.

I have one word to add to this discussion: Hendrick's. It changes everything.

Once, when I was very young, I did an almost three-martini lunch with some friends. I'd never had a martini before, but it tasted so good, especially the nicely soaked olive, that I ordered a second one. I felt perfectly fine until I tried to stand up, and then, bam, it hit me. Haven't had one since.

Before I look it up, I have to ask: is it expensive?

Cross-posted--I was replying to Will, in case that's not obvious.

Perhaps it's time to try another one, Marianne? And I mean exactly one.

There is a risque rhyme on this subject which is attributed to Dorothy Parker, but which I've just learned is not by her at all.

Mac, you can do a pretty good Dark & Stormy with Myers Dark Rum. And if ginger beer isn't available Vernor's will do in a pinch. Not precisely a D&S, but a reasonable fascsimile thereof.

I'm a beer guy too, but I'll do the odd glass of wine on occasion. I like a good red wine with a steak or with Italian food. My favorite white wines are the Piesporters, which lean toward the semi-dry, but I must say that Clos du Bois Chardonnay is fantastic.

I've never been too taken with the martini. I used to like Manhattans, but got really sick once on them (when combined with buffalo wings -- not a mix I'd recommend) and I can't do bourbon anymore, alas. I've switched to the Rob Roy, which is basically a Manhattan made with scotch instead of bourbon.

And scotch: I've been testing the single malts recently, and really, really like the peaty Islay malts, like Laphroaig and Lagavulin. They tend to be a bit above my paygrade, however, and I haven't found one yet that's more moderately priced.

Beer: ESB's, Scottish Ales, British IPA's and stouts/porters are my favorites, with Fuller's ESB being my desert island brew of choice.

I dont think I would like a martini but the olives sound delicious!

Hendricks is expensive and not good for martinis. Better kept in the freezer and drank straight with perhaps a slice of cucumber. Good post, Mac! My wife and I like gin martinis a little too much!! We try not to have ice in them unless the heat is really seeping into the house, but I do get your point. Also, we have amassed a large collection of martini glasses, so if one breaks, then so it goes! After years of buying premium gin, we have been experimenting with less expensive brands and been pleasantly surprised that if you mix the correct proportions of gin & vermouth they tend to taste okay. If you lay off the vermouth too much, then the more expensive brands keep a nice taste while the less expensive don't taste so great. So mix correctly, keep them cold, don't drive, and drink away! :-)

Beer. Golden lagers. Esp. Bavarian, like Lowenbrau (the real one) or, in Austria, Stiegl. Don't like it too hoppy, too dark or too light. There is a great beer here in Milwaukee called Spotted Cow.

All alcohol gives me a headache, but wine esp., so I tend to avoid it. Being the man of shallow tastes that I am (for instance, I like Carpenters and the Nashville sound), I prefer a somewhat sweet wine. I don't know names at all.

Hard liquor. I liked scotch and tequila, but haven't had any hard liquor since college (over 30 years).

I don't like mixed drinks of any kind--never have.

I don't even know the terminology to discuss beer in detail--like I said, I just know what I like. Basically I want it to have a very distinctive taste, whether it's heavy or light.

Wine tends to give me a headache, too, which doesn't increase my enthusiasm for it.

I have very little experience of the more expensive liquors, and as with beer can't really discuss the fine points of scotch. My standard purchase is Usher's, which is just a couple of steps up from the bottom. One of my children gave me a bottle of rye for Christmas last year, and I quite liked it--somewhat like bourbon, but not as sweet.

Even further down the scale is my standard bourbon: Old Crow. This is barely one step up from the bottom. This started out as a combination of parsimony and tribute to my father, who always drank it. But now and then I try something a bit further up the reputation scale, and actually like them less, because they're sweeter. OC is rough, but a little water smooths it out.

Having looked up Hendricks gin, and read El G's remarks, I think it might not be for me, even if I wanted to spend the money, because I do not like cucumbers. Putting a slice of cucumber in my gin just sounds like a way to ruin it. I use Seagram's, btw. It seems good enough.

Hey, Rob, check this out.

I tasted an absolutely horrible cocktail the other day. Something with Mandarine Napoléon. It was provided as aperitif as part of a set menu; left to my own devices I would never have ordered a cocktail. Whisky and Sprite sounds worse though.

That's some kind of sweet liqueur, I guess? Those are participants in many a mixing crime. A while back I was browsing around the internet looking for drink recipes, wanting to try some of the classics, and found a whole lot of really kind of deranged-sounding combinations that seemed to be the work of bartenders seeking novelty at all costs.

Americans are all too fond of bourbon in combination with various soft drinks. Although I don't care much for the combination, it's not necessarily horrible. But scotch, which is probably more or less what you mean by "whisky" unqualified, is. To my taste it just doesn't go with anything sweet at all.

that's interesting about Bale -- definitely worked for the film though!

I don't like mixed drinks much myself, and a lot of the newer ones do just seem to be novelties, but there is one with a rather rude name that's actually pretty good. It's Jagermeister and peach schnapps with a splash of cranberry juice. It was introduced to me as a shooter, but it's great on the rocks -- tastes a bit like a good sangria, but more substantial.

I remember back in the 80s/90s there were popular drinks called the "Cutty & 7" and the "CC & 7" or "7 & 7."
That's Cutty Sark, Canadian Club, or Seagram's 7 with Seven-up. Never really did much for me. The worst, however, is the "Crown & Coke," Crown Royal with Coca-Cola. To me, Crown is too nice of a whisky to ruin by mixing it with Coke!

I'm a little puzzled by the popularity of drinks including Jagermeister. It's an odd and distinctive taste that doesn't seem real mix-friendly to me.

Yes, now that you mention it, I remember hearing "Cutty and 7" etc. too. "Jack and Coke" is one that people around here like, and I react to it the way you do to "Crown and Coke." I don't see how they can tell the difference between Jack Daniels (or Crown Royal) and Old Radiator when it's mixed with Coke. But then I could certainly tell the difference in a Dark and Stormy made with Ron Barrilito vs anything else, so maybe some of them do know the difference.

I don't really believe that, of course. I think they just think it sounds cool, or something.

"Tia Maria and Lucozade" is the reductio ad absurdum.

Actually, don't tell any Scotsmen this, but I've often enjoyed a dash of whisky in cacao, as a nightcap. Unsweetened cacao, though.

"cacoa"? Is that the same thing we would call cocoa?--a hot chocolate drink? If so, I can see bourbon or rum, but not scotch.

As children we had a little glass of wine at the festive meals, on Saturday and Sundays. I didn't really like it. It seemed bitter. It always *looked* good, but the taste was bitter.

Now I like to drink wine.

I was once effectivelt expelled from commenting on a blog belonging to a touchy Catholic film-writer for saying I like the wine drinking comedy 'Sideways'.

Another use for alcohol not yet mentioned is in food. Tomorrow I am making lunch for a family of six. I just soaked the raisins and apricots for the bread pudding in lemoncello, and the roast will be stewed in red wine tomorrow morning.

dried apricots of course! Its an English family visiting the US so I thought they would appreciate an English pudding.

I saw a fairly large part of Sideways more or less by accident somewhere or other, and I can see reasons why a Catholic might object to Certain Aspects of it. But not the wine aspect.

The roast (beef?) sounds really good. I don't know about the pudding. I mean, not that it would be bad, but I guess I'm not keen on cooked raisins. Did I ever mention that my wife made lemoncello out of our overabundance of lemons last year? It was really good.

Oh no. Now the association of food and alcohol has made me think of rum cake, and I am gripped by a hopeless longing.

Well, I don't like any spirits to drink out of a glass. But I have a small array of bottles of spirits which go into various cakes, pies, and puddings.

And for which the cakes, pies, and puddings are much the better, I'm sure. Fruit cake soaked in bourbon or rum....

Fruit cake has become a standard object of ridicule, in this country at least, but I'm not ashamed to say I like it very much.

Yes, cacao is presumably the same as cocoa (it's certainly pronounced the same way). Assuming you don't take that to include vaguely chocolatey sugar-based milk drinks.

I had some excellent, well matured fruit cake a couple of months ago. It was more than two years old: the top tier of a wedding cake (baked by an aunt) kept for the first christening. Would fruit cake keep like that without the fruit being steeped in rum or brandy?

Sounds good, and I'm sure it wouldn't, and I consider that a good thing. The enemies of fruitcake would dispute the last point, though.

I think most Americans would say that "cocoa" is a hot drink made of milk and chocolate, with the chocolate definitely being sweet. Where I come from that's called "hot chocolate." If I'm not mistaken, few Americans favor a drink made of unsweetened chocolate.

I had to look up Lucozade, by the way, and I agree that that combination sounds ridiculous. Lucozade sounds a bit like the American Gatorade, though. I'm not aware of people mixing that with alcohol, but it wouldn't surprise me to hear of it.

We ate a bread pudding seasoned with raisons and dried apricots soaked in lemoncello. Great satisfaction was expressed with the confection. I made that for the adults. For the children I made a chocolate bread pudding. All four of them ran outside to play and none of it was eaten (the family are here on a fellowship, staying in a rented house with no garden, and my large front and back lawn was clearly more attractive to them than eating).

I find it hard to imagine children passing up that kind of dessert. They must have *really* been desperate for some outdoor play.

Just tonight I was thinking I would have to make plum pudding this year.


"I'm a little puzzled by the popularity of drinks including Jagermeister. It's an odd and distinctive taste that doesn't seem real mix-friendly to me."

Yes, I'd say you're right -- I don't really know of any other commom mixed drinks that use Jager. But for some reason the combo of the other flavors in the drink I mentioned takes the edge off the Jagermeister. It's an odd thing, but if you drank one not knowing there was Jager in it you'd never guess it.

I get the impression that it's popular among the young drink-yourself-blind crowd. I've heard something called a "Jagerbomb" mentioned in ads for local bars.

I'll be honest and say that I developed a taste for beer during Orientation Week at university, b/c it was 20c a glass. I didn't get drunk, but I did have a couple of beers each day and I've loved it ever since. Nothing beats the first ice cold sip of beer on a hot day.

"So I made myself a martini-and-a-half, of which I enjoyed every sip, and which left me wondering how anyone could, as legends have it, drink three martinis at lunch and still be able to do useful work--or, in my case, even walk."

LOL! I'm not sure I could function after a martini-and-a-half.

For some reason my 18yo wants to try daquiris. She has been looking up recipes. It's probably about time we started to look again at cocktail hour. Nick likes to make himself a Margarita before dinner.

Is there any difference between tonic water and soda water?

As a slightly healthier alternative to normal fizzy drinks - Coke, Sprite etc - I quite like to order orange juice and tonic water when we go out to dinner. I think I first ordered orange juice and and soda, but the waitress didn't understand, so Nick suggested tonic water.

In DC, we went to the Spy Museum, which the kids really enjoyed. Anyway, in the James Bond display I was thinking it was about time to try a Martini again.

I want to see that museum. Espionage has always mildly fascinated me, which may not speak well of my character. I think I'm intrigued by the idea of all this stuff going on behind the scenes. Kind of funny that James Bond, fictitious in every sense, is included.

Yes, there's a big difference in soda--what's sold as "club soda" here--and tonic. Club soda is just fizzy water, tonic has quinine and sugar, simultaneously bitter and sweet.

Thanks. :)

"Kind of funny that James Bond, fictitious in every sense, is included."

True. Although that was the bit I liked best!

I forget just how enormous the US is. I just checked on google maps to see how far Mobile is from DC. 14 hours of driving! Yikes! And VA and AL are both in the South.

Yes, but DC isn't. Where are you, Louise? And where are you going?


A Jagerbomb isn't really a mixed drink, it's more of a shooter, or a chugger, actually. You drop a shot glass full of Jager into a 3/4 full pint glass of either beer or Red Bull, then drink the whole thing. Seems to me that drinking such a thing would be purely for the effect.

That sounds completely nasty, and possibly toxic. There was a story in the news a month or two ago about a girl dying from some combination of alcohol and Red Bull. I'm sort of surprised it doesn't happen more often.

Btw, speaking of traveling to DC, which we do once or twice a year because we have children and grandchildren there, we usually wait for cheap flights and fly. But then there are only two of us.

"Yes, but DC isn't."

True. But when we were visiting DC we were staying in VA, so that's what I was thinking of.

"Where are you, Louise? And where are you going?"

Back in Houston after a weekend in DC visiting friends. But I was looking at google maps to see how far Maclin was from the Spy Museum! If you go regularly, Maclin, I'm sure you could squeeze in a visit to the museum. :)

Oh, I was thinking if you were coming that way, you better visit me--now that I'm back in Mississippi.


Rob, if there is a Costco near you, I have heard their single malt praised and they sell it cheap by single malt standards. My husband is about to try some; we've never bought single malt before, out of fear that it would make him dissatisfied with what we could afford.
Mostly he drinks Early Times, out of a combination of thrift and homage to Walker Percy.

I'm not keen on hard liquour, except for summertime G&Ts and after-dinner Chrartreuse
(which I'm a little surprised no-one has mentioned). My favourite beer is Koelsch, but you can hardly get it in the US. I've tried a few alleged Koelsches brewed here, but they were frauds.

Is there a difference between (club) soda and seltzer?

I suspect so, but I don't know.

Early Times is one of the ones I tried when I was considering moving upscale from Old Crow. I liked the Walker Percy connection, too. But it was too sweet, or something.

"That sounds completely nasty, and possibly toxic."

One of the effects is that the caffeine masks the level of intoxication so that the drinker may feel far less drunk than he really is. I could see this having a fatal effect.

"Rob, if there is a Costco near you, I have heard their single malt praised and they sell it cheap by single malt standards."

Thanks for the tip. I have a Costco nearby, but I'm not a member. In any case, I tend to like the really peaty Islay malts, which run a little expensive. If I could find a good blend which has some of that "smoke" I'd be happy with that. Dewar's has a bit of it on the back end, but I'd prefer a little more.

When you are talking about drinks and use terms like peaty malts and smoke, it is as if it were in a foreign language.

I like my beer cold, however it tastes. Which means I don't have a fondness for English ale.

One of the best beers I ever remember drinking was a can of Coors that was ice cold. We sneaked out behind the dorm at my high school and threw a couple down.

That was back when Coors was only available in a few states.

I meant to say "I suspect NOT" above. But let us consult Google. When I had typed "selt", one of the completions offered was "seltzer vs club soda", so apparently it's a question weighing fairly heavily on the public mind. Wikipedia seems to consider them the same thing.

I've always assumed that "peaty" refers to that heavy, sort of very organic or almost vegetative taste that scotch has. But I don't know, either.

In the past few years I've found that I like unrefrigerated beer in cool weather.

If you ever taste a single malt from the Highlands or Islands, you'll know exactly what smokey and peaty mean. They aren't obscure or obfuscatory terms, but purely and precisely descriptive. The reason I like Oban is that it has that edge, but only very little of it.

Actually, I would love another trip over your way, Janet, but we have some other trips in the pipeline just now.

Wouldn't you have to have tasted peat to know exactly what a peaty taste is?

Standard American beer (lager or pilsner) is definitely best drunk cold. Stronger fare usually tastes better at "cellar temperature," which to we Americans qualifies as warm, I guess.

After doing a little searching last night I found the names of some Islay-based blended Scotches that come with good recommendations and are reasonably priced, compared to their single malt counterparts.

White Horse, Black Bottle, and Islay Mist all have a proper Islay malt as their root ingredient. Also recommended were Teacher's Highland Cream, Black Grouse, and somewhat surprisingly, Cutty Sark Black.

You're tempting me.

What, you've never had to drink from puddles in a peat bog, Mac?

German beers, which are both better and more robust than American swill, are also served cold, but not as cold as American beers. I don't think it is as warm as English ale (cellar temp?)

We don't have peat here, Paul, and I'm not very well-travelled.

Only joking. But I did go on a school trip to a peat bog when I was 11 or 12 (it was a day trip, not more than a couple of hours away). And for some reason I do know what peat tastes like, although I have no recollection of how I might have acquired the knowledge.

I know you were joking, or at least I assumed you did--I was, too, though I was not able to come up with anything actually witty.

I guess your acquisition of that knowledge was not too painful, since you don't remember it.

Drinking from puddles in a peat bog? Luxury!

It suddenly hits me that if scotch whiskey tastes like peat, peat tastes like scotch whiskey. That makes drinking from those puddles more understandable. Though maybe not for an 11 or 12-year-old.

I'm currently visiting my sister in Columbus, Oh., and checked out a couple of the nearby liquor stores (Ohio has better prices than Pa. where I live). I found Black Grouse at $26/bottle, and White Horse at a ridiculous $14.50/bottle. Bought the latter but haven't tried it yet. If it's good I think I'll snatch up another one before I go.

Liquor prices in Alabama are rather high, I think--state-run liquor stores, and lots of taxes. And limited brands--neither of those are available.

Yeah, that's Pa.'s problem too -- state-run liquor stores. Ohio's prices are lower to begin with, and then there's no sales tax added to alcohol. Selection is fairly limited in Pa., and some special orders are limited to cases only (!). I'm glad I live fairly close to the border, and have Ohio friends.

Oh, I thought state stores were mostly a southern thing. This is an interesting map. Looks like Penn is actually more locked up than Alabama--we can buy beer and wine in grocery stores, and there are a few stores licensed to sell hard liquor. I've never understood how that works.

Interesting -- looks like I'd be better off buying spirits in WV than in Ohio. But you have to take sales tax into consideration also -- PA charges it on alcohol, OH doesn't. Not sure about WV.

In PA you can buy beer in some supermarkets, but not wine or spirits. And the beer-buying rules are ridiculous. But there's a big push right now to get convenience store approval for beer (not sure about wine).

I grew up in Oklahoma where there were state-run liquor stores and where the only beer you could buy in a grocery store was 3.2 % alcohol by weight. All else was bought in the state stores. Also you couldn't buy hard liquor or wine at a restaurant. You could bring your own booze and buy a set-up from the restaurant for about the same price as one would pay for a mixed drink in another state. Then you would mix it yourself at the table.

Now I live in Wisconsin, where -- wait. Are there rules?

Oklahoma sounds like Alabama of 40+ years ago. Some of those rules are made by counties, so there could be huge variations within a few miles.

Question: what is the difference tastewise between bourbon and Jack Daniel's? I haven't had bourbon in ages but last night I was out with some friends and on a whim ordered a JD neat. I added a little bit of ice water, and I actually liked it quite a bit. I've been testing the waters with single malts recently and the JD was an interesting change.

I noticed that JD was very sweet at the beginning, but then leveled off to a nice but not very lingering finish, as compared to the malts. There was also a pleasant "heat" in the finish.

So Mac or whomever, if I'm going to try a bourbon again after about 10 years, and after spending the past couple months largely sipping Scotch, what would you recommend? I don't plan to buy a bottle, but just to have one at a local watering hole.

As far as malts go so far I've found two that I really like, Lagavulin and Old Pulteney. The former is out of my price range, however, hence my next trial will be Ardbeg, which is supposed to be similar to Lagavulin but a good bit cheaper.

As far as I'm concerned, Jack Daniels is bourbon, though the company insists it's not. If that's based on some technical difference I don't know what it is.

I'm not a good person to ask for a recommendation. I don't have enough experience or a sensitive enough palate. One of my children gave me a bottle of something expensive a few years ago, but I can't call the name to mind right now. It was very good though I couldn't say anything more precise than that. Maybe I'll remember the name's a small distillery...I can sort of half-visualize the bottle....

Along with Jim Beam the two biggies up here seem to be Knob Creek and Maker's Mark.

So would you consider JD a "standard" bourbon then? It struck me as sweeter than I remembereded bourbon, but then that's been a long time and I've been drinking mostly Scotch, which tends not to be very sweet at all (Scotch drinkers tend to see sweetness as a liability).

During the summer a friend brought a bottle of Knob Creek Rye to a party I was at, and that was quite good, but then again, rye isn't bourbon.

Knob Creek--that's it.

I don't know about "standard" one way or the other. Bourbon is definitely sweet-ish. As I may have said earlier in this thread, when I upgraded slightly from Old Crow to things like Early Times, I thought the "better" ones were too sweet.

Same daughter that gave me Knob Creek bourbon also gave me a bottle of rye last Christmas, and I really liked it. Rich but not as sweet as bourbon. I think it was Knob Creek, too.

Thanks. The same friend that brought the Knob Creek Rye to the cookout generally drinks either Jim Beam or Early Times. I'll have to try them. Knob Creek too, mebbe.

Jack Daniel's vs bourbon.

Interesting. So there really isn't a whole lot of difference at all.

I liked the JD well enough, but I think I'm going to give Jim Beam Black Label a go before I try anything else. JB regular doesn't do much for me, but the Black Label is supposed to be a little "smokier," which is a thing I like in a whiskey.

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