The Alcoholic Hierarchy of Needs

Move aside, Maslow. We inebriates have a different Hierarchy.

CAOL ILA 12—Take me, I’m yours

You know I’ll drink anything, especially in a liquor crisis like the one we’re suffering right now at LBHQ. After waving a sad goodbye to the lovely New Year’s empties, my eye turns to our nasty little cupboard with its languishing Malibu and mescale. But it doesn’t take long for those neglected bottles to start giving me come-hither looks.

We all sometimes slum it when it comes to alcohol. Maybe we’re at a wedding where the freshly married have adorned each table with twin white/red bottles of the 28-day UVIN abomination they cooked up together. Maybe we’re basking at a beer garden listening to a band, too happy to scrutinize the beer. Or being polite at a dinner party. Or on a budget. Or an alcoholic—like your furry host here.

Increasingly the budget matters when it comes to booze. Market analysts say appetites for high-end hooch have shifted from North America to Asian markets where disposable household income has increased, whereas fewer North Americans can afford premium liquor these days.

That’s what makes my recent exposure to CAOL ILA 12 so poignant, my fellow inebriates. The knowledge that we can buy top-notch whiskey only on very special occasions (“not just so you can get wasted, LB”) makes me want to lash my parents into productivity and financial ease so we can purchase our own bottle of this golden stuff.

You see, we sampled CAOL ILA 12 at the generous behest of my newest best friend Christine, who brought it in a canvas bag with two other single malts this past weekend. Understandably, she took the bag home afterwards, although if I’d had a moment alone with her I would have negotiated a means of joining her.

I’ve described the first of our three samples, TALISKER 18, already. It was a tough act for CAOL ILA 12 to follow, and perhaps this ordering was unfair. (Perhaps we should have swished with Cutty Sark in between.) But CAOL ILA 12 held its own, offering distinctive characteristics that argued for its rightful inclusion in a tasting against TALISKER 18.

CAOL ILA is the largest of eight distilleries on Islay, traditionally a peat-cutting and fishing area on Scotland’s west coast. While it markets four single malt editions, much of its vast production goes into JOHNNIE WALKER blended whiskey. This might be why JOHNNIE WALKER is so damn good.

But CAOL ILA 12 is better. One whiff tells you this is no simple scotch—aromas of peat and honey, earth and vanilla float from the pale golden liquid. Redolent of campfires and misty nights, it has a medicinal hint, a whiff of iodine, brine, and complex herbs.

The sip is smoky, the peatiness walking a careful tightrope between too much and too little, sweet treacle and spice contributing delicate background notes, with unplaceable floral notes behind. Smooth and dry, it fills the mouth, its shy medicinal quality expanding in a serious, smoky finish. Sipping CAOL ILA 12 is a gift to the tastebuds—layer upon layer of artful scents and flavors, pressing you against the wall and ravishing you like there’s no tomorrow.*

This is the power of an exquisite single malt whiskey. Cutty Sark may get you drunk and Bell’s may get you laid, but a whiskey like CAOL ILA 12 will dominate you, and in a good way.

Unfortunately luxuries cost money, but you don’t have to slum it. Just remember that when you drink JOHNNIE WALKER, you’re getting some of that elysian CAOL ILA with it (albeit with a bunch of other malts). Think of it as a promiscuous Islay whiskey, and it’s all good.

 *What do you mean I don’t know what I’m talking about?


My Fellow Inebriates,

With New Year behind us and 363 days until the next one, it feels like a good time for an anti-drinking/driving message. We all want to survive for the next party, right?

Dumbass falls asleep with foot on gas pedal—rescued just before conflagration.

I started thinking about it when I read an interview with MI police officer Eric Hornbacher, who pulled a drunk from a burning car December 30—so soused that he’d fallen asleep with his foot on the gas pedal. The car was enflamed minutes after his rescue. Thankfully the would-be driver’s neighbors phoned the cops to say he’d been revving his engine for an hour. Lucky for him he was so loud—had he not made such a racket, the neighbors’ complaint wouldn’t have concerned noise— but rather a weird KFC-like odor coming from the street.

Drinking is awesome, but burning to death obviously sucks. This drunken idiot (who spent the night in jail, which beats the burn ward) really needed to take a page out of my friend Christine’s book. You see, the other night Christine visited with a canvas bag full of single malt scotch. Together we started drinking pale ale, progressed through two bottles of red wine, and finished with samples of three gorgeous whiskies.

At which time Christine did not get into her car, slump across the wheel and rev the engine until the car exploded. Instead she retired to our messy guest room for the night.

This is why Christine is so smart, and partly why she is my newest best friend. Any woman who shows up with a bag full of whiskey is okay in my book, but the three she brought were exceptional. She even left them out after she went to bed, although my paws suffered the typical defeat at attempting to pry them open.

Christine is actually perfect. I think, if she had known me a little better, she might have even suggested a dram in the morning. But I guess it didn’t strike her as kid-friendly at the breakfast table. Perhaps she reckoned my parents to be too boring. Perhaps if we’d been alone…

But on to the TALISKER 18. Apparently this stuff is as scarce as hens’ teeth, but Christine is savvy about scotch; she espied the bottle at a specialty shop in Vancouver. Immediately she recognized the treasure it was (unlike the shopkeeper, who parted with it very reasonably).

TALISKER 18, 2007’s “Best Single Malt in the World 2007,” is one of the peatier non-Islay products. The sole distillery on the Isle of Skye, Talisker dates back to 1830. The malt comes from Muir of Ord, the water from Cnoc nan Speireag, which flows over peat.

If you search for TALISKER 18, you’ll often find this: … and you may need a friend like Christine to locate some for you.

TALISKER 18 is leggy in the glass, the color a deep, golden amber. The first scents are of caramel, vanilla, honey and maple, with a floral essence aloft on those warming notes, balanced against the slightly medicinal tones of brine and iodine.

On the palate the peat is striking but not predominant; toffee and roasted nut flavors weigh against it, along with dried fruits and smoke. The mouthfeel is extravagant, almost buttery on the tongue. It coats the throat with an engulfing warmth, its peppery nuance emerging to join with the soft peat. It has a moderate but generous burn. This whiskey is polished, with every note in perfect harmony. Drinking it conjures up a damp seaside, with distant soot and smoke drifting across the senses. If it weren’t so evenly crafted, TALISKER 18 would constitute sensory overload. But its triumph is to balance on the head of a pin, like so many dancing angels.

I’m grateful to Christine for this glimpse of supernatural perfection. I am at her service forevermore, and—needless to say—am available for cuddles.