When everyone was telling me that I was too young to drink, I felt compelled to act out against the restriction. I didn’t understand that this was a natural reaction to having someone tell you they can do something but you can’t; I just knew that the other kids in high school were drinking too. ‘Keggers’ were parties that we usually had in the woods in Montana, even when it was well below freezing. We kept warm by hovering around a bonfire, cuddling with other drunk kids, and drinking from the keg of beer that was often buried partially in the snow.
I liked getting drunk, but I hated the taste of beer. Instead, I decided that my drink of choice would be a cheap but popular brand of American whiskey. I would name it, but just typing it out might make me feel a little nauseous. I’d drink the stuff until I was good and loaded, and then I would keep drinking. It didn’t just make me feel tipsy, it made me feel like an adult.
Only they were allowed to drink, after all.
I got to live in Canada for awhile when I was nineteen, and suddenly drinking was not about freezing in the woods or hiding behind the school. I could go to any bar I wanted, and try any beverage I could pay for. It was the worst hangover I ever had, even worse than the ones I got in high school. When I went from having to hide it to being able to be loud and proud, all in a day, things got pretty out of hand.
As a result, I was pretty burned out on drinking by the time I reached twenty-one. I was back in the United States, and not impressed by people my age when they hit the bars.
They were acting like a bunch of nineteen-year-olds, to me.
I got into meditation when I was twenty-one, and was all high and mighty about being in control of my consciousness. I didn’t drink at all, but I understood at that point why I’d had that relationship with alcohol earlier in my life. Other cultures don’t tell their kids they can’t drink, and they have little or no problem with this type of acting out. When I realized that my self-control was largely an illusion, and was getting in the way of me having a good time, I considered my options in a new light.
Unfortunately, my options were beer or cheap whiskey, as far as I knew. I didn’t even know that there were different kinds of whiskey, until a good friend insisted I try some.
(It was years later that I realized how to spell the kind of whisky I like to drink, and that even good American whisky didn’t have an ‘e’ in it; but we aren’t caught up to that phase of my drinking, just yet.)
I didn’t like it at all, and I didn’t care for the first two wines he had me try either. The third one tasted like it was made to live on my tongue, though; and it was even better when I swallowed it. Soon I was drinking Merlot like it was going out of style, and soon after that I realized that it was. My tastes changed, or I got more in touch with them over time, and I ended up settling on drinking a lot of Syrah without feeling like I was settling at all.
That was how I learned that wineries are not full of stuffy or pretentious people, unless you hit the wrong one. If you do, just keep moving; the wine is just as good at the next place, the people are more fun, and the prices for the same quality of stuff are often much lower. I still love wine, and drink it sometimes…but I have now entered the next phase of my drinking.
I’ve known for quite some time that many brilliant writers of yesteryear were big fans of scotch, and many of the ones alive today are as well. I was scared to try it for the longest time, even though those high school memories had long since faded. It took another good friend to steer me in that direction, and soon I wasn’t just drinking scotch; I was studying it.
Which leads us to brandy. Finally.
See, the process by which all booze is made is pretty similar. Beer and wine have their own way of coming into being, but most spirit production follows a fairly basic formula. It involves a still, a liquid that contains any form of sugar, some temperature to operate that still, and usually some time to age…but when it’s done, it all has something in common.
It’s all brandy!
A brandy is, by the strictest definition, a spirit made by distilling a liquid that contains any form of sugar. That’s a big umbrella.
Vodka is the result of this process, using potatoes and grains. Gin must be made with at least some juniper berries, but it can be made with all kinds of different sugared liquid mixes. Tequila uses agave, but puts it through the same process. Whisky is made with corn or grain, and sometimes rye.
The kind of whisky I like now must be made from certain ingredients, produced in a certain country, and aged for at least three years before it can be bottled and called scotch. If you’re ever looking to gift me something I’ll definitely use, any single malt or blended scotch that has been aged at least twelve years will probably do just fine. If you want to really get on my good side, the older the better.
Brandy can be made from anything, and we’ve been over that. However, what we call brandy is really some kind of wine that has been distilled twice; it sits in a barrel for a long time before it’s ready to drink, unless you short-cut the process.
Good luck finding a true brandy, for exactly that reason. Brandy starts out around a hundred forty proof, then goes into the barrel. It loses about one percent alcohol for ever year it’s in there, and it isn’t ready to drink until it gets down to about eighty proof.
As an aside, one proof is one-half percent. Two hundred proof is one hundred percent, which means the strongest booze could never exceed that number. No matter how strong something seems, the math is pretty easy when it comes to figuring out how much actual alcohol content is in there. Just check the proof, and divide by two.
Now, back to brandy…or at least the stuff that says ‘brandy’ on the bottle. If you get a true brandy, you’ll know it. After as much as fifty years in a barrel, the stuff doesn’t come cheap. More likely, what you’re drinking when you think you’re drinking brandy is very young brandy with a lot of distilled water mixed in. That way, it doesn’t have to sit in barrels for so long that very few people could afford to drink it. To mask the process of watering it down, sugar and caramel are added. That way it looks and tastes more like true brandy.
So, to sum up…
All booze is brandy!
Except brandy, which is generally fermented distilled grape juice that’s been heavily watered down.
Thanks for reading!
All the best,