Summer Cocktail Series, Pt. 5: Whiskey
Our Summer Cocktail Series took a brief detour in Pt. 4, looking away from the nobler spirits to consider the illicit moonshine of backwoods stills. But it's time to step back toward the grand lineage of distilled beverages and consider perhaps the mightiest drink of them all: whiskey (or whisky, if you prefer). A traditional Irish drinking song charges, "Whiskey, you're the devil," and indeed there is something almost supernatural about the grain mash-based concoction, a beverage so central to drinking culture that the name itself stems from the Gaelic word for water ("uisce"). And while tequila inarguably belongs to Mexico and rum to the Caribbean, whiskey belongs to the world. Try telling a Kentucky Bourbon fanatic that Irish whiskey represents the fullest realization of the spirit.
Popular music overflows with whiskey tributes, although one often suspects those singing its praises couldn't tell you whether they were sipping single-malt Scotch from Glenlivet or quaffing blended Canadian whiskey courtesy of Black Velvet. In fact, plenty of whiskey fanciers seem to think the bottle just gets in the way: One of Willie Nelson's most legendary songs (written by fellow country artist Johnny Bush) imagines a "Whiskey River," while both North Carolinian banjoist Charlie Poole and Tennessee bluesman Sleepy John Estes wished they were ducks diving to the bottom of a pure whiskey stream. Proto-metal guitarist Pat Travers even racked up a big hit in 1980 by claiming he wanted to snort the stuff.
But most whiskey fans have brands they prefer: Outlaw country figurehead David Allen Coe requested "Jack Daniels, If You Please" on a 1979 single, and we're guessing modern country outlaw Eric Church wouldn't mind being Coe's drinking buddy (although Church's 2011 "Jack Daniels" makes clear the Tennessee whiskey laid him out flat). On the other hand, Steely Dan's saxophone-blowing Deacon Blues drinks Scotch all night long, while Austin-based country group Asleep at the Wheel made it to the Top 10 in 1975 with a tribute to the pride of Kilmarnock ("The Letter That Johnny Walker Read"). Rhett Miller of alt country band the Old 97's even catches somebody pouring a few glugs of whiskey into his Slurpee on "Bel Air." So go ahead, belly up to the bar and fill your whiskey glass. As Dwight Yoakam promises just before tumbling off of his bar stool, "It Won't Hurt."