How White Owl Whisky made me a more responsible writer

My fellow inebriates,

I’ve been a fan of This Week in Virology (TWIV) for quite a while, even if 99 percent of it is beyond my two brain cells’ capacity to understand. I even pasted a poem into TWIV’s comments a couple of weeks ago, which they deleted.

In TWIV episode 760, the virologists and some guests took on the Nicolas Wade article about the possible origins of SARS-CoV-2. They accused Wade of not bothering to do the proper research.

Photo by CDC on

Then they addressed all writers, which I took to include yours truly, saying we need to be more responsible in our reporting.

Duly chastened, I went back to my post about SARS-CoV-2 to check it for balance.

After reading it carefully, I realized I had oversold you on Moosehead beer, which is basically a typical lager-style hockey beer.

It is refreshingly fizzy, though, and I stand by that.


This experience has taught me something.

I realize I have a duty to warn you about White Owl Canadian Whisky, made from wheat and rye and stripped of colour through charcoal filtering.

A small shelf-talker bottle of White Owl Whisky had hitchhiked home around the neck of a big-ass bottle of Wiser’s Deluxe that my mum bought before Christmas. (I’ll tell you about the Wiser’s another day.) The tiny bottle naturally ended up in my Christmas stocking. Delightful though that was, my paws were unable to open the damn bottle, and so it took up residence on the coffee table, taunting me.

Finally, I got it open. The effort was so jarring that I spilt it all over myself. I didn’t mind, though! I happily slurped it out of my fur—and as a bonus, White Owl is clear, so no washing machine for me.

But White Owl ain’t no sipping whisky. The filtering process that makes it look like vodka takes it halfway to tasting like vodka. It’s not mellow or caramelly; it’s harsh and spiky—a weird, in-between product. Granted, it’s more viscous than vodka, and it tastes rounder and more complex, but OMG, there were some nasty-ass flavours fighting it out in that little bottle (and in my fur!).

So consider this my (unaccredited) journalistic warning—White Owl Whisky should not be savoured. Throw it into a strange cocktail you’ve never heard of before. Why? Because then you won’t compare it with your experience of drinking that same cocktail made with a nice brown whisky. Try it in a Whiskey Smash maybe.

My mum came into the room while I was licking my fur and gave me a weird look. “What?” I said. “That’s what animals do. Look at the gerbils—they’re licking each other right now.”

She sniffed and then uttered the words: “washing machine.”

But she can be super-lazy, so she forgot all about it. And by the next day, the smell of White Owl Whisky had entirely evaporated.

Said my friend Scarybear: “See? That’s what happens to evidence.”

Math is tough! Can Bearface whisky help?

My fellow inebriates,

As Barbie used to say, “Math class is tough!”

When I saw V’s grade 8 math, I had to concur. Surface area of a prism? Square root of a four-digit number? Diameter of the hide covering of a drum being used in an Indigenous ceremony? My two brain cells got injured just watching her do these computations.

Mum’s brain cells were also injured. Being ancient, she couldn’t remember surface-area problems from math class, so she spent an afternoon relearning them (or perhaps learning them for the first time). I pictured her putting dresses on Barbies, puzzling how to wrench their disproportionate limbs through the holes and pulling Barbie’s string for reassurance. And of course I offered her a drink.

As for V, it was all she could do to stay with us. She’d already spent an hour online with these equations. It was probably worse watching Mum scratch her head than battle them herself. I pictured V wrenching Barbie’s disproportionate limbs off and setting her on fire. And of course I offered her a drink too.

This did not go over well. Apparently there are some rules about teenage drinking in our house. Rules that, as far as I know, have never been violated. In fact, V said she had no interest in drinking, having spent her whole life observing yours truly.

But you can’t really blame me, right? Math is tough! Even when Google offered to calculate the surface area for us, I felt unsettled.

Then my mum told this stupid story about how, when she was a kid and brought math problems home, her parents would say, “Oh, that’s the new math. They’ve changed everything; we can’t possibly help.” So she just muddled through it and immediately jettisoned all knowledge of it. Totally.

I mean, get this. My mum thought she was pouring an ounce of Bearface whisky the other night.

Turned out it was more like 2.5 ounces. OMG! If she’d had two of those in one night (which I generally encourage) she would have had a huge headache.

Her massive underestimate of liquid volume was revelatory. It explains why we can’t keep a decent supply of whisky in the house. And it puts the lie to any theories that the kids were drinking the whisky. It was all my mum, with her big, generous pours!

So how much should we be pouring at one time?

Wikipedia: standard drink.

HealthLink BC recommends these “low-risk” drinking portions:

Men: Up to 3 standard drinks a day; no more than 15 a week.

Women: Up to 2 standard drinks a day; no more than 10 a week.

But what if the drink is really yummy? Like Bearface whisky, which is “elementally aged in the Canadian wilderness for a bolder, smoother flavour”?

What on earth is elemental ageing? Apparently, if your oak casks are in an extreme northern climate (or southern, I imagine), the cold amplifies the interaction of the wood with the booze. The makers of Bearface say the whisky temperature can fluctuate between minus 10 C and plus 40 C within a single day.

So, this sounds more like the planet Mercury than a Canadian wilderness. But what do I know? I’m as bad at science as I am at math. The only thing I do know is that Bearface is an interesting kind of hooch. It’s rich and dark, with a surprising kick of spice and a tannic, almost winey quality. The mouthfeel is medium-viscosity and slightly oily—substantial and bearlike, if I do say so. Bearface spends seven years sitting in a cask that sits inside a shipping container being abused by Canadian weather extremes, and that is how it comes by its oaky, toasty, woody, spiciness. Not super-complex, but it has enough going on to get you wondering what’s in it and how it all computes. (Did you see what I did there?)

What would anti-math Barbie say about Bearface whisky? Despite the zillions of words she was advertised to have said, no number of string-pulls could have anticipated a request for a whisky review. But if she had produced one, it could hardly have been more offensive than her claim that math was tough. At the time, everyone jumped on Mattel. How dare they represent Barbie as being dumb at math? After all, she was a role model for girls. What if Barbie’s defeatism deterred girls from STEM?

But maybe Barbie was just being honest. After all, she was contending with tons of physiological challenges. Her head was teetering on a neck that could barely support it. How did all her organs fit inside her body? She must have been missing at least one of her intestines and possibly her liver. Her proportions were such that, had she come to life, she would have had to walk on all fours. How could you expect her to do math? Especially hanging out with a himbo like Ken, who probably couldn’t do math either.

V was born long after the Mattel debacle. She never played with Barbies; she felt an instinctive revulsion about them. She doesn’t think Barbie represents women, whether doing STEM at UBC or fighting over a purse at Nordstrom Rack. V doesn’t give a crap what Barbie thinks about math, or anyone out there trying to imitate Barbie. (In fact, she eighty-sixed her Discord account this week.)

Regardless of the 30-year-old math-class-is-tough kerfuffle, it’s painfully obvious that Barbie can’t help us with our math today.

Nor, for that matter, can Bearface whisky, which is tasty enough that you might eyeball a 2.5-ounce pour as a HealthLink-recommended 1.5 ounces.

And my mum is worse than Barbie and Bearface put together, especially with a headful of Bearface—in which case, surface area of a prism be damned.

But you tell me, my fellow inebriates. What do you think about math? Are you good at calculating surface areas? What about liquid volume? Do you walk on all fours? Let me know!

COVID, Jameson’s Caskmates Stout Edition, and ramblings about isolation

My fellow inebriates,

I promised to tell you about my dad’s tangle with COVID, and here it is.

It was not as fun as I thought it would be. Turns out I had a lot of misconceptions about COVID.

It wasn’t a holiday.

Photo by Kampus Production on

I figured if my parents got COVID, it would be an instant two-week holiday. Our liquor cabinet is stocked. Even by my standards it can cover two weeks of all-out hedonism. But I didn’t account for how shitty COVID makes you feel. My fellow inebriates, my dad went dry while he was sick. He didn’t have so much as a beer.

So why did my dad bother getting COVID if it his quarantine wasn’t going to be a big party?

Turns out my dad didn’t mean to get COVID. In fact, he thought he was being super-careful. He wore a mask everywhere, including at work, except while sitting down at his desk. If he got up to grab a coffee or use the photocopier, he’d mask up again. He was in a large space with high ceilings and no one worked close by. When my mum asked, “Shouldn’t you wear a mask all day?” he’d pull out a piece of paper and draw her a little diagram of where everybody sat and how safe it all was.

To be honest, I didn’t pay much attention to this. Bears are teeming with microbes and viruses that could probably shit-kick the coronavirus to kingdom come. I wasn’t worried about my dad because he was so sure things were safe at work. But he had forgotten to mention colleagues who were in the habit of making mask-less visits to his desk.

Photo by Kindel Media on

Who was patient zero?

Before I knew about those people, I would have put money on Miss V. After months of online learning, she had returned to in-person school and was trying to sort out whether she hated it as much or more than virtual instruction. COVID-19 notices had started coming home on a weekly basis, but we hadn’t yet been warned of an in-class exposure. But it seemed inevitable.

But V actually liked keeping her mask on 100% of the day. As soon as the recess bell rang, she would beat it outside and read a book in whatever human-free zone she could find. (She got called out on this once—one of the higher-ranking admin types actually accosted her and told her to stop reading and play dodgeball instead. More on this in another post.)

Anyway, my bet was on school as the scene of transmission, not my dad’s work. So it was a big surprise when nearly everyone there got ill.

Helping the sick

My first impulse was to offer Dad a glass of Jameson Caskmates Stout Edition. His throat was in pain and I reckoned it would help. Stout Edition is finished in Irish craft beer barrels, which adds to Jameson’s already lovely oaky, orchard-fruit complexity and long caramel finish. I was willing to drink from the same glass with him—it would be medicinal for both of us, Dad with his spike proteins and me with my raging bear germs. But he declined.

His sore throat was accompanied by a slamming headache and drenching fever that persisted for more than 14 days. When he finally called the doctor, he was diagnosed with pneumonia and prescribed antibiotics. We didn’t think he was going to die, but he sure looked like hell. He didn’t just abstain from booze; he stopped eating and lost almost 20 pounds.

Meanwhile, the other humans at LBHQ got themselves tested, several times. On the second try, J (formerly Miss P) scored a positive. Fortunately for her teenage self, COVID didn’t alter J’s life or behaviour in any respect. Clearly J had got COVID from hanging out with Dad.

Mum and V began to make a habit of doing drive-through COVID tests, each time negative. Because they didn’t have COVID, the entire family’s isolation period was extended to encompass not just the time Dad and J were sick, but also the window of infectious potential for Mum and V.


Photo by alleksana on

We were grateful for the kindness of family and neighbours. Mum’s sister and brother-in-law drove out from Vancouver and braved Langley Superstore to do a big shop. My friend Scarybear was impressed with this, as he had been wondering how we would get more Miss Vickie’s chips. But I was even more impressed by our friends, who dropped off a bag of groceries and a cooler full of random beers. That’s how quarantine should be!

Final thoughts on COVID

COVID seems to come in as many flavours as there are people. You don’t know which one you’re going to get. My dad had a shit time with it, but ultimately he was lucky.

Public health people continue to insist there is no transmission in schools, but V’s school has been sending home exposure alerts almost every single day.

Bonnie Henry, please be more emphatic in telling people not to socialize. Don’t ask them to use their own judgment. That’s like asking someone how much income tax they want to pay. Make them isolate so this so-called circuit break actually stands a chance of working.

Mask? Or muzzle?

People, wear a mask. Masks are far more comfortable in April than they are in July. If we get our vaccines and keep to ourselves just a little bit longer, maybe we won’t have to wear them in July.

Get a test as soon as you feel symptoms. COVID starts with the tiniest little throat tickle. It’s so minor that many of my dad’s workmates didn’t bother going for a test—despite discussing the tickle. Then one person went for a test and set off a cascade as they realized the whole office was infected.

Finally, don’t drink hand sanitizer. (Sorry, that one was for me—sometimes I need a reminder.)