Educating My Palate

I went to my local mega-liquor store two weeks ago to pick up some scotch to sip on Christmas Day with my father. I was walking around the "Scotch" aisle, perusing the selection trying to find something new to try, when an employee began asking me what kind of scotch I liked. Honestly, I never gave it a thought before in my life. He started listing off different areas of Ireland that create distinct flavors. He ran through an impressive list and I didn't pay attention to anything he said past the first word, "smoky."

Before that day I had never tasted anything from a scotch other than "burning." My grandfather may be disappointed with me for saying so, but it's true. As I wrote in a post last year about wine, for some reason I can't distinguish tastes like other connoisseurs. I don't know if it's a problem with my taste buds, or something as simple as my uneducated palate searching for something on the surface that is actually found many layers below. Or is this really some elaborate ruse to fool those who are not in the know?

The moment that I said "smoky" the young gentleman spat out a list of scotchs from the Islay area that I had never heard of, much less recognized if I looked at the label. In my defense, the Irish pronunciation of the names were foreign to me. I did my best to feign as though I was searching for any of the names that he had rifled off, and it apparently worked because he pointed one out to me. Another employee walked up and joined the fellow that was assisting me. He noticed the bottle that I was inspecting and said, "That's a great scotch if you want to drink something that tastes like licking an ashtray." The gent assisting me laughed it off, but then quickly agreed.

I thought to myself, "There is no way that this scotch could actually taste like an ashtray." I stood there for a few minutes, running this thought through my head. During this time the two employees had moved on to help others. The desire to try something new outweighed any apprehensions that the two helping me had instilled in me.

The day came when I uncorked the bottle, passing along the story of my experience as a warning to all before sampling it. Apparently, the warning was enough to dissuade any initial taste testers. I poured myself a glass over ice. The only time I can drink it neat is when I'm too drunk to really taste what's passing over my lips. Before bringing the glass to my mouth I inhaled the aroma. Ashtray!

There was only one thing left for me to do. I took a sip. The thought that ran through my mind was that it was as though I was drinking scotch and smoking a cigar or pipe at the same time. It was a bit of time-saver, as well as a lung-saver. I took another sip. This time I made the mistake of allowing it to linger in my mouth too long. The flavor failed to dissipate even after drinking a few other things. It has a pungent aroma and as my glass sat next to me, the smell increased in potency. It was quite amazing.

I did have another glass a few days later. This time sipping and swallowing quickly enough to taste it, but not long enough to endure the same fate that came with my first encounter. I find it pretty enjoyable now. My dad has had it on a few nights as well. So, he must like it too. Now I feel inspired to return to the mega-liquor store and try some of the other flavors that I was told of, but have no concept of what they are.

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