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Some say the world will end in fire; some say ice. But with whisky you don't have to choose! It's the drink born of fire that goes great on the rocks. And it will end your world by bringing about a new one. So put on your big boy pants; it's whiskin' time!

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Where there's smoke, there's firewater

Whisky is that drink that lets you walk up to strangers who have more money than you do. "Hello, soon-to-be friends," you say, completely sober. "I am holding a whisky."

"You must be interesting!" they greet you in reply. "Tell us about your travels in Java!"

And then you lie to them, because you've never been to Indonesia, but it's poor form to disappoint new friends. As you spin your web of deceit, you swirl the whisky in your glass like it was brandy. Holy cow! You are breaking all the rules tonight! Look what whisky has led you to do!

Types of Whisky

The distillation process would take longer to discuss than the average batch of whisky takes to come to fruition. Just know that it's an arduous journey in which grains cease to be burdensome nutrition and finally become useful as sour mash. That mash will ferment, somehow yeast will be involved, God smiles, and now you've got whisky. It's just that simple.

Very often the grains are malted before fermentation, just to mess with their heads. When they think they're going to promulgate, they get roasted along with their hopes and dreams.

A great many whiskys come from a single plant in Indiana. This may be disheartening to craft whisky fans, but it's very heartening to those of us looking to buy whisky by the barrel.

Whisky in general

Whiskey -- or whisky if you're nasty -- means "water of life" in Irish ("uisce beatha"), which says a whole lot about the micks and even more about the quality of their well water. Corrupted through years of Anglican misuse (much like the Irish themselves), the phrase came to be known as simply whiskey, which you're clever enough to recognize as "Water." How are you going to mature and flourish without water? You'd be dead in a week. Therefore whiskey is life.

In America and Ireland the e spelling is used. Everywhere else is wrong. Interestingly, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms disagrees. But what do they know? They can't even break up a hippie commune correctly.


Scotch refers specifically to whisky from Scotland made under these conditions. Scotch is a word so old it doesn't even describe Scottish things anymore, because whisky is so great it displaced an entire country from its own descriptor. This language isn't big enough for both the Scottish people and all the drinking they intend to do.

Scotch is usually a smooth drink and one that has fond associations for me of when the English sent my Scottish ancestors to Ireland to breed out the Irish.

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You're not a man until you've pondered how to make genocide more humane.


Hoo boy, this is one of the ongoing tragedies of Prohibition. Rye used to be the predominant American whisky until a bunch of do-gooders decided to ruin everything everywhere for everyone forever.

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A lesson we have since learned we must never repeat.

In the 1920s, rye production shifted to Canada, where men were Mounties and women were in love with those men's horses. The only problem is Canada is a lawless place that doesn't even require its rye to be made with 51% rye like we do.

... or at all.

Canada, there's a lot great about you but calling a drink "rye" when it lacks any rye ingredient is as messed up as Southerners who call all soft drinks Coke. You don't want to be the South of the north, do you? That is a game with no winner.


Whereas rye must be distilled using 51% or more of its grains from rye in these sane United States, bourbon must be 51% corn, "aged in new, charred oak barrels," and sipped while fondly recollecting last summer. It's a strange requirement, I agree, but a fitting one.

Many brands of bourbon are distilled in Kentucky, but none in Bourbon County. Happy hour special: free irony with your drink!

Tennessee whisky

I went to a wedding this summer where the bride's family was from Tennessee. They were lovely people, and not one of them called a ginger ale "Coke." That's salt of the earth. The only thing strange about them was they filtered all their whisky through charcoal because their government commanded it be so.


Quite popular among people who intend to go blind in the next few years.


Maturity! I've heard great things about it. It was never my bag. But as I now enter my 30s four years ago, I see the virtues of adult behavior, like saving for retirement, using a tablesaw, and not passing out on the 7 train to work after chasing it a half-mile in the freezing dawn with last night's booze still sloshing through my veins.

When I was a college graduate working on ferryboats to develop those rope-and-knot skills so crucial in the digital communications job market, I worked with a guy named John. On John's last day, at the end of the summer season, we were the last deckhands standing, so I took him out for a fare-thee-well drink. And being a latecomer to the demon drink, I was still indulging my sweet tooth. I ordered a Midori sour (go ahead and judge), then went to the bathroom.

When I came back, no neon green cocktail awaited me. There sat a bronze beauty in her place, beaming.

"This is called whisky," said John. "It's what a man drinks and it's what I drink and it's what you're going to drink because I can't watch you sip any more candy."

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There's a reason we stop crybabies by rubbing whisky on their gums.

From then on, I was a whisky man, whereas before I'd been a glucose gal. And don't think you won't experience your own version of that moment just because your coworkers aren't sailors. Anyone can enjoy the dulcet kiss of the highland drink. In fact becoming a whisky man is as inevitable as puberty.

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But far less awkward

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Dear other people: why can't you be whisky? Unlike most of humanity, whisky never trolls YouTube and instead chooses to be valuable to society in these ways:

Refining its users' tastes

Whisky gusses up your palate overall. No longer will you sip the pisswater beers of your college parties because they're all you can stomach. A roasted stout might taste like burnt popcorn to you now, but after a toot of whisky, they're as smooth as water. And in an era when IPAs run rampant and roughshod over the beer scene, you need that whisky.

Sign of goodwill

Whisky is a currency of respect among men. A bottle of it presented to a fellow says "I acknowledge you as a man and have no plans to stab you."

When Cracked heartthrob Gladstone published his first book, it was a diary of drinking whisky and secondarily investigating the internet apocalypse. To celebrate, we, his friends, got him whisky stones emblazoned with his name. That way he could mark all the whisky in the world as his own, and with all that drink in him, pee on everything. That, of course, would give him ownership of all that his mighty flow touched. So basically that gift acknowledged him as our rightful lord.

Gladstone and I have a friend--let's call him Nigel since he's so English you'd never believe his real name is Nick--who threw me a lot of work when I was freelancing, desperate to pay my rent and if there was any money left over that month, perhaps eat. Time and again, I'd be scraping bottom on my finances, and in came a plum assignment from Nick. When I reached the relative security of a day job, my only mission was to find out what Nick's favorite whisky was and present him with a bottle and a "Thanks for keeping me alive."

When giving thanks to your savior, only a bottle of whisky will do.

Mark of taste

Whisky also makes an excellent housewarming gift when meeting your girlfriend's parents for the first time. A mellow, smoky whisky says to these people, "You may relax in the knowledge that someone thoughtful and competent is fucking your daughter."

Eliciting poetry from the elderly

I asked my old man why he drinks whisky. He said, "When you've been out walking all day it feels good in your joints and bones. It's better on the rocks. Always better in front of a fire." That's about as concise a thesis for this article as I can find.

The Ratio of Whisky to Manly Virtues

What is a man? Is it testes? No, Fight Club proved otherwise. A Y chromosome? Pfffft. There's tons of dames with a Y chromosome and some guys without one.* Upholding socialized gender roles? I would remind you we're praising a drink from a country that gave us both Groundskeeper Willie and man-skirts.

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A rose by any other name would still be terrified of Scotsmen.

*If you are one of the latter, I recommend attending one of Robert Brockway's book readings. Robert possesses the rare YYY configuration where even his cells' nuclei have little tiny beards. You may get to see him turn water into whisky, and if you touch the hem of his cloak, you instantly gain the ability to fix a car.

No, the definition of masculinity is more elusive. Imagine if centaurs were real, but some were more horse than man and vice versa. You might even come across a regular-looking horse who, nevertheless, spoke fluent centaur and had a good smithy business going. You wouldn't tell him he "wasn't centaur enough." That'd be a dick move. If you bought him a whisky instead you'd end up focusing on what you have in common instead. Perhaps you both shoot arrows at things or abduct naiads? If the latter, turn yourself into the ancient Greek police immediately.

My advice to you is to worry about yourself and not the other centaurs. Gender taxonomy is too broad to define in a single article. You'd have to ponder it over whisky for, like...at least ten minutes, so we'll have the answer for you at the end of this column.

Similar to your centaur conundrum, drinking whisky doesn't make you manly; not caring what makes you manly does. And that is the common attitude of whisky-drinkers. Nobody lasts long drinking whisky to impress others--

GQ -- Ha! No, fear real though, it's Esquire
Unless you're drinking to impress noted whisky lover Christina Hendricks, obviously.

--because A) nobody else cares what you drink unless it's gasoline. That would be impressive, and B) you either have enough gumption to stomach whisky or you're the kind of person who only cares about image.

If it's the latter, you won't enjoy it, and also you are weak and should be culled from this earth because people like you make reality TV possible. If it's the former, hooray! You've discovered that the manliest virtues are also the most attractive feminine ones: self-confidence, self-awareness, self-sufficiency. You have transcended your binary socialization! Have a whisky.

Lesson learned: it's not what you drink, but how you hoist it. Funny you had to drink whisky to learn that.

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Whisky! To warm the body, soul and heart. You are once again alive. Though a stiff wind batters the door, you have a happy hearth and the louse-obsessed poetry of Robert Burns to keep you well.

Yea, the night is long and dark and the wind will rip the heat from your bones. But ye are tucked in your home with whisky and strength and you abide. For there is a secret to happiness that only the whisky-drinking man knows, and it is--hang on, the results are in on what makes a man...

According to this it's "his ability to nurture eggs with prolactin after the female's ovipositor deposits them into his brood pouch." Hunh. Turns out the definition of manliness is "seahorse." Tough luck, everybody.

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Except you seahorses. Good job.

So join me in raising a glass to seahorses, the centaurs of the ocean. There is much we can learn from them about what makes a man, and we'll do it with a drink in hand. We may grow up, and we may even let death happen to us one day, but we'll never get old, for we are preserved in whisky.

Brendan interviewed Epic Meal Time's Harley Morenstein about whiskey and bacon. You can tell him how much you enjoyed it on Twitter @brendanmcginley.

Related Reading: Brendan taught you the secrets of classy drinking and classier sobbing at the bar in Martini-a-Go-Go!

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