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99 Drams of Whiskey: The Accidental Hedonist's Quest for the Perfect Shot and the History of the Drinkby Kate Hopkins
I am in a surly mood.
One would think that a person who was off to distant lands to drink whiskey, and who was then off to write about the experience of drinking said whiskey, and who would then get paid for the aforementioned writing, would be as excited as a pug whose owner had just come home drenched in the odor of ground steak. And yes, a mere twelve hours ago, I was that thrilled.
But that was before the plane ride from Chicago to Dublin. About five hours into the flight, somewhere around 35,000 feet, and between the time when my "aisle buddy" started snoring and the child behind me began kicking the back of my seat and then sadistically counting along, I felt my anxiety slowly evolve into something more . . . menacing. This was never a good place for me to go, and quite frankly, it was only adding to the frustration that was my "Happy Travel Fun Day."
I have decided that everyone who claims to like to travel is lying. No one could like this torture, let alone love it. No, what they mean when they say that they "like to travel" is that they like being somewhere (Point B) that isn't where they spend the majority of their time (Point A). But to get from Point A to Point B and back again requires a long series of frustrating and degrading activities. What ever romance travel may have once held has now been stripped clean, dipped in an acid bath, and shoved out into the cold, where knowing businessmen point and stare at it, and say in hushed tones to their compatriots, "Hey, isn't that the romance of travel? I've often wondered what happened to it."
Like I said, I am in a surly mood.
As my annoyance swells, I am finding ways to blame anyone for my predicament. I could blame American Airlines, for having the cheapest flight to Ireland. I could blame the mother of the child behind me, who apparently has been born with a supermutant popliteal ligament and a predisposition for pulling wings off butterflies. Or I could blame myself, for not making enough money to afford first-class or chartered flights.
Instead, I do the reasonable thing and blame someone elsean anonymous man from round about Surrey, England.
On May 24, 2005, Pennyhill Park Hotel in Surrey, England, sold their only bottle of Dalmore 62 Single Highland Malt Scotch Whisky to a regular patron of their hotel. Their bar manager negotiated the price. This wasn't an auction or a convention. This was a bar at a hotel, where this anonymous ruiner of my travels saw this rare bottle of scotch (probably on more than one occasion) and thought to himself, "I want that. No matter what the cost."
This anonymous buyer (whom I'll henceforth refer to as "Mr. Disposable Income") ended up paying £32,000 (or a little more than $70,000) for the honor of owning the bottle of whiskey, one of only twelve bottles of Dalmore 62 Single Highland Malt Scotch Whisky then in existence.
Following the sale, Mr. Disposable Income opened the bottle and shared it with a few of his friends, including the bar manager. By the next morning, it was mostly gone. It is at this point that those who hear this story typically fall into one of three camps.
The first call Mr. Disposable Income insane for spending this amount of money on such a trivial item. Who in his right mind would spend that amount of money on a bottle of whiskey?
The second call Mr. Disposable Income insane for wasting such a fine investment. These are the collectors who most assuredly throw jokes around, wondering about the value of Mr. DI's urine soon after imbibing the rare liquor, and stating that the owners of the eleven other bottles of Dalmore 62 were most likely pleased because now their own bottles appreciated in value overnight.
Then there's the third camp. These are the folks who, upon hearing this story, think to themselves: "Damn, I bet that was the best £32,000 Mr. DI ever spent."
For reasons I cannot yet fathom, I find myself drawn to the people of the third camp. I'm not sure whether I am inquisitive about these types of folks in the way that Jane Goodall is fascinated by chimpanzees or whether I'm drawn to them because, somewhere deep within the darker recesses of my soul, I know that I am one of them.
What would drive a person to spend that amount of money on a drink? Breaking it down, there are only three answers I can come up with.
One: Mr. DI is indeed quite mad. If he is, then there's not much more to add to the story.
Two: Mr. DI wants to bask in the status afforded to him for having sipped one of the rarest of liquors. But since he purchased the whiskey outside the typical auction circuit, and he distinctly asked the management of the Pennyhill Park Hotel to keep his identity from the public, there's little status that can be afforded to him (outside that of those who partake of pricey drinks).
So that leaves me with the third reason: He felt that the drink, and the experience that it brought him, would be worth the money he had paid for it.
This conjecture on my part leaves me with several questions: Can a bottle of whiskey be worth this amount of money? What properties or characteristics does such a whiskey need in order to be considered "worth it"? Is the price paid for such a drink a reflection on the quality of the whiskey, or on its rarity? If it is the quality, does the price reflect that the whiskey is close to perfection? Is there such a thing as a perfect whiskey?
I am vexed by what a £32,000 bottle of whiskey means to my inner philosopher.
In the years after I heard this story, I created an agenda for myself. I needed to learn about whiskey as well as the associated passion for it that Mr. DI, and those like him, carry. I arranged various tours of whiskey distilleries and interviews with several folks who carry their own obsession for the spirit. I asked a friend to come along so that I wouldn't have to drink alone and so that she could, if needed, let me know when I was getting too obsessed about the drink. Finally, I made travel plans that would get me to the various destinations I had planned . . . which is how I ended up on an American Airlines 777 at around five o'clock in the morning Greenwich Mean Time getting kicked in the tuckus by Timmy the wonder kid with ligaments of industrialized rubber.
I decide to get out of my chair to flag down a flight attendant. I shoot Timmy a look that shows him a version of his future where he's forced to let me take a swing at his seat, and then I try to wake his mother.
"Your boy is kicking my chair. Could you get him to stop?"
She looks groggily over at her son and says, "Jons, bhve or tel dad," which I interpret as a passive- aggressive threat to Jonas that Dad is about to get involved, and apparently that means something dreadful. Jonas pouts to himself as I head to the flight attendant's station.
"Would it be possible to get a drink?" I ask. "For nerves," I add, as if I needed a reason.
The flight attendant nods in the affirmative, and I walk back to my seat with a tiny bottle of Glenlivet, an empty plastic glass, and a separate glass of water. I pour the Glenlivet into the glass and add a minimal amount of water. Life is a little better. There's no more kicking, there's no more snoring from my aisle mate, and I have a glass of whiskey.
I take a drink. It goes down nicely.
But there's no way in hell that a bottle of this stuff is worth £
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