Single Malts and Sehnsucht

One of my favorite places to go in NYC is the Brandy Library. It's a library quite like no other, with bottles of every imaginable spirit on bookshelves surrounding the quiet TriBeCa bar.

For around $80 you can get the "Malt Masters" tasting, a flight of six small pours of their high end single malt scotches. I almost never have Scotches older than 15 years so I thought I'd comment on this somewhat singular experience.

1. Oban 18 years
Raisin, green apple, toffee, and vanilla. Starting on a lighter note I found this gentle yet expansive in a way previous experiences with younger Obans haven't done.

2. Bruichladdich 1989 Black Art
Vanilla, Chocolate raisin, cinnamon, ripe blueberries, aniseed, and fruits. My second favorite from the batch starts out with a light mouth touch--as if it's going to give a hug--but then it punches you in the face with a rush of flavor. Everyone at the table remarked on the experience quite unlike that of other Scotches. This is a black art in both senses, lovely in the glass, immense flavor, and lingering with a powerful afterburn. This would be a great bottle to purchase.

3. AnCnoc 22 years.
Sweet and spicy with toffee, honey, cake, green apples, and flowers.

4. Springbank 18 years
Light smoke, licorice, rich & oily with dried fruits, candy, and almonds.

5. Bunnahabhain 25 years
Sherry nose, caramel, oak, leather, berries, cream, and roasted nuts.

6. Brora 30 years
Incredible body, smoke, biscuits, apple, walnut, earth, and lemon.

C.S. Lewis talks about experiences of what he terms "joy", but to more accurately understand what he means by that word, I like to call them brief moments of transport to another world. He uses the German word, "sehnsucht" which has no direct translation, but communicates some combination of longing, yearning, craving, and joy. These spiritual experiences are important and significant and I think are worth recording. Sometimes it's a view of nature. Sometimes it takes the form of a line of poetry or literature. Sometimes it's a sense like taste with food or drink. There are two caveats to these experiences. Firstly, an experience of joy seized is an experience lost. They are very rarely repeatable and usually second attempts only remind us of our first encounter. We must approach these moments with open hands and not look for repetition or addiction. Secondly, experiences of joy are very difficult to share. Often we read a chapter of a book that is transformative and gripping, recommending it to friends who afterwards find no great significance in the pages. Given those caveats though, I still believe it's worth sharing the times we experience "joy" with others.

I have had several experiences throughout my life, some brief and others strong, that I would classify in these categories. My experience drinking Brora 30 reminded me of one of these times. I've enjoyed plenty of peaty, smokey scotches, but this one transformed into something other than smoke. The nose is potent but once it enters the mouth it grows and expands as a crescendo in a symphony or a swell in the ocean. It's masculine, fearless, and endlessly complex.

Upon a little further research however, I found this particular distillery is no longer operating. This is the nature of joy. It's short, memorable, and transient. Life is fleeting. We seek permanence and hope. Sometimes we glimpse that world in moment and then it is gone to not return. Of course one could acquire one of the few remaining bottles, and perhaps I will at some point. Given what I know of joy though, the purpose wouldn't be so noble. An experience can be pursued again, but a joy cannot be retained.

My philosophy professor often said of humanity, "we are wanty, needy creatures, constantly on the hunt for goods, who live by projecting ourselves onto hopeful futures." Sometimes a single malt would communicate the same if we taste.