When it comes to some things in life, you can't think too much about your decisions. You gotta go with your instincts. Things like- Cars. Women. Whiskey. Blackjack. The answer to questions like "another round, gentlemen?".
Regarding Whiskey, the last time we were pondering a question of reason, we were face-to-face with the serious mug of old Pappy Van Winkle, starting down at us from a bar in Ile-de-France.
A month or so later, chance and good fortune bring us to Japan. Ms Lodge located a serious cocktail bar in Tokyo, called Old Oak. Entering the joint, one observes bow-tied Japanese bartenders fronting an impressive whiskey-stocked long bar. The menu lists but 20 or so varieties, but hundreds are on offer. We request a review of the oldest American whiskeys available.
After a bit of a hunt, our host proffers three bottles. A nice cut-glass bottle of IW Harper, which at 12 years is young one, but rare. An Elijah Craig 20 year single barrel, one of the oldest single-barrel American whiskeys on the market. A spare, hard-to-read bottle called Vintage, a 23-year old from Kentucky. We choose the Vintage Bourbon, having heard of yet never seen this brand before. Our preference – neat, with an ice water to chase.
The pour, is a handsome red color, like deep fall leaves. The Vintage has a nice scent- warm, sweet, some caramel, a bit roasted. A sip is taken and wow- it’s smooth on the front. Remarkably, it’s smooth on the back with no alcohol bite at all. The more we have, the more we like- this is a damn good whiskey. It seems like we've discovered another Gem of an American whiskey.
Being a fan of the brown stuff, of course I’m pontificating on the merits of aged American whiskeys over other nationalities. I recount my Paris run-in with Pappy 23-year. The bartender smiles, walks and climbs, and returns with that recognizable profile of Mr Van Winkle himself with his cigar, those glasses, the half-grin. A nice 20-year is available right here. I can't believe my luck.
How much, we ask? Much less than we expected. So I take him up on his offer for 2,000 Yen with the same treatment- neat. The pour reveals rich brown nectar with a warm glow. Savoring the roasted, caramel, vanilla, and chocolate scents, I take a sip. Simply incredible. Smooth on both sides with just a bit of warmth as it goes down. I thank Mr Van Winkle himself for crafting such a damn fine whiskey. It's every bit as good as I expected and very clear why this stuff is so hard to come by. When you find some, keep it to yourself. And while I'm sitting in a bar in Tokyo, it reminds me that the best things in the world are made by hand, by American craftsmen.