What my toilet experiment isn’t

My Fellow Inebriates,

I live for big parties like Mardi Gras, and I’m sad that it’s in the past. The worst part of it, though, is the concomitant idea that now, the Wednesday after, it’s time to behave ourselves. Apparently the big pig-out, love-in, and piss-up shindig was a kind of last hurrah that ushers in 40 traditional days of fasting and penance before Easter. OMG!

Despite having plenty of reasons to feel contrite (i.e., hung over), plus at least one parent who’s schooled in the Lenten ritual, plus a furry liver that’s pleading for a 40-day dry-out period—it just ain’t gonna happen, my fellow inebriates. Mardi Gras may be a fond short-term memory, but bourbon doesn’t have to be.

What is bourbon exactly?

I thought I knew, but it turns out I really didn’t. I tried to find some Canadian bourbon for today’s review. With all the grain in the prairie provinces, I figured we’d be a big producer. But I was wrong. It turns out that, for a grain whiskey to qualify as bourbon, it must:

  • be produced in the United States
  • consist of at least 51% corn alcohol
  • be aged for two years minimum
  • be aged in new oak barrels

I had no idea! This explains why I’ve never seen an Alberta bourbon. And it means the liquor I’ve been distilling in the toilet tank won’t ever legitimately bear the name “bourbon.” If I want to get serious about making my own, I have to move to the US—preferably Kentucky, where the hot-cold seasonal variation is ideal for barrel-aging bourbon, and where limestone water (void of iron, which can turn the bourbon black instead of lovely honey-brown) flows abundantly.

Without barrel aging, bourbon would just be a clear corn-based spirit—harsh and alcoholic. As awesome as that sounds, two to four more years in an American white oak barrel can change that spirit into something darker, softer, and more refined. Four percent of the alcohol evaporates each year (called “the angels’ share”), effectively reducing the bourbon and creating richer, more complex flavors.

My favorite thing about bourbon is the way, when you stick your nose into the glass you’ve just poured, it almost singes your fur off. I bet I’d enjoy that pre-aged bourbon—the pre-bourbon—even if I’d be robbing a few alcoholic angels of their 4 percent per annum. But I love the finished product.

“So that's us: processed corn, walking.” ― Michael Pollan, The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals

I’m not so sure about moving to Kentucky. It sounds friendly there and all, but moving is a big deal, and I have one or two reasons, including Sarah Palin, to fear American life. But who knows? There’s plenty of corn growing everywhere (too much, as Michael Pollan argues in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, detailing the ascent of corn in an agribusiness agenda to push corn into every corner of our lives, if not every bodily orifice), and I found a barrel manufacturer who can supply the new, charred-oak barrels I’d need. And get this—at the bottom of the barrel maker’s web site is a charming little note:

For those of you who believe in man made global warming: When you buy one of our recycled Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey Barrels your [sic] are helping save the environment. By keeping these barrels at home we prevent the thousands of pounds of hydrocarbons that it takes to ship each of these barrels overseas from entering the environment. Hydrocarbons which may contribute to climate change.  Help save the earth, buy a recycled Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey Barrel today!

Isn’t it nice that with Kentucky Barrels you have the convenient option of opting in or out of the consensus held by credible scientists on anthropogenic global warming? Does it get any friendlier than that? Never mind the mind-boggling confession that it takes thousands of pounds of hydrocarbons to ship each barrel overseas.

I can’t wait for my toilet experiment to yield its alcoholic goodness and provide me with the mind-altering non-bourbon product I need in sufficient quantities to bring the ongoing neoconservative attack on science down to a dull roar, if only inside my own head. But at least I don’t have to observe Lent, which means Mardi Gras will continue at LBHQ for the foreseeable future.