I’m sure a lot of you grew up the same as me. If your mom took you for ice cream, there was vig to be paid. By that, I mean the distance between the drive thru window of your local frozen treat establishment and the middle row of a 1982 Buick station wagon was bisected by your mom, who would invariably take a bite out of your delicious sugar cone filled with Southern Butter Pecan, Rocky Road or Double Fudge Chocolate with sprinkles. If you were like me, that drove you to angry tears. I was able to counter this offensive by determining which flavor mom hated, and training my palate to enjoy only that: Mint Chocolate Chip.
And did anyone else believe that Halloween was a fictitious celebration created by some sinister branch of the Masonic order, whose entire goal was to give fathers of the world the opportunity to sit around the house on a perfect fall evening, while their kids dressed up and left the house for 2 hours, only to come back with baskets filled with delicious candy? (disclaimer: Dad is a Mason.) Did anyone else’s father yell “Bring back Snicker’s….full size.” After 3 costume changes you’d tramp in with your winnings, and before your stunned eyes the basket would get picked over and groused through until nothing was left except the miniature Hershey Special Dark bars. But it technically qualified as candy, and as such I would learn to love it and revel in it’s subtle sweetness.
Even the Easter basket held no sanctity in my family. My sister, having devoured hers like the Rock Biter in the Never Ending Story would find a way to home in on my bunny treasure, leaving me with nothing but those damn black licorice jelly beans. I tried stashing my sugary hoard in a purpose built vault, which was really just a tunnel system hollowed into a pile of dirty laundry in the back of my closet. But after weeks I would just forget it was there. And my sister would still find it anyway, going so far as to tunnel through the wall of her adjoining closet. Such was the measure of her resolve. In time I realized that sweet revenge could come swiftly by leaving that rabbit a note that said, “Dear Easter Bunny. Leave black jelly beans. That is all.”
Which brings me around to Kentucky Tavern 8yr, bottled in 1968 at 43%.
I love old bourbon. There is something intrinsically cool and fascinating about drinking juice that was purchased new by relatives that are still with us or long gone. I think about its life, where it’s traveled, and what stories it could tell. If it longed to reach its true potential of providing the final drinker with ultimate satisfaction and enjoyment, thus fulfilling its role in life. This particular pour came via a friend, who found it after 40 some odd years, lurking in his wife’s grandmother’s basement in Alabama. What an amazing journey. From Kentucky, to Alabama, to North Carolina, to the Internet cul-de-sac occupied by Epic Bourbon…..
As I poured it out I said to myself “I hope I can do this one justice.”
The nose opened, as I expected, smooth. The low proof meant there would be little in the way of alcohol burn or astringency. My nostrils were filled with the sweet scent of mild oakiness and spice. And delicious black licorice. It was really effervescent, and I half expected to open my eyes and see champagne-esque bubbles dancing around in the glencairn. But most enjoyable to me was the way it just smelled….old. Not old like a 22 or 23yr old bourbon, but more like the inside of a photo album your granddad shows you of him and his buddies before the war, or the way the interiors of classic cars smell. History. Its not something that can be duplicated.
The flavor was a full on, full blown Easter basket from my youth. Thank you, drunken rabbit. My notes said BLACK LICORICE, ALL THE WAY, “all the way” being a time-honored phrase old southerners say at the lunch counter when ordering a burger, meaning slather that thing with all the good stuff, as much as you’ve got. Heavy on the front end with the black licorice, the warm loving spice of black jelly beans hit the front of my tongue, transitioning over the ridge into subtle special dark chocolate. It’s everything I could have wanted. Why didn’t I ask the Easter bunny for 1968 Kentucky Tavern?
The finish was a tingly burn in the center of my upper soft palate, near the back teeth, and the sides of the tongue. It was such a nice experience. It hung around for quite a while, long enough that I was surprised, minty and electric with hints of the dark chocolate still lingering. That put a vision of my mom, sitting in the front of that mammoth Buick, the hot sunlight of a beautiful southern Indiana August sky beaming through the windshield and radiating off the red vinyl dashboard, already sun-baked and cracked. Her face grimacing as the cool menthol minty ice cream dotted with bits of chocolate dripped onto her hand, and saying “this green shit…” under her breath.
With my final sips of the Kentucky Tavern, I closed my eyes…I sat in the back of that car, politely eating my mint chip ice cream, a plastic baggy filled with black jelly beans that I’d snuck along, lapping away with delight as we crossed the Kennedy bridge into Louisville, the Doobie Brothers “For Someone Special” on the radio, on our way to the now long-gone Galleria….
God, I love old bourbon. Only old bourbon can do this……