One Day In A Bottle — Cragganmore Distiller’s Edition

I consider myself to be a pretty lucky guy.

I grew up in a small town; was raised in a two-income upper-middle-class family and low and behold, my parents are still married and seemingly in love. I went to college. Grad school. I graduated with my head held high. I have a new career. A fiancee. Two dogs. A home. But I wasn’t always this cool.

When I was 12, my height sprung up and suddenly I was the overly-tall awkward looking guy with glasses and incredibly straight hair. I got braces at 13. For some reason I thought my hair would look good if I stood it straight up — imagine my hair now, just all over the place like some sort-of Quidditch broom receiving electro-shock therapy.

But shit. By the summer of my 15th year, the braces came off, I discovered contacts, and I let my hair fall back down into its natural part. When I arrived to high school band camp in the summer of 1994, I was greeted by two girls who seemed genuinely excited to meet me. Shocked, I thought to myself, “Wow. This is what it feels like to be every guy I’ve ever been jealous of.” High School was a good three years.

Then came my 20s. They started out at 18 when I got my job as a professional radio DJ. Lubbock wasn’t that big, and if you’re the 18 year-old guy who talks on the radio every evening when the rest of the college kids are studying, let’s just say you didn’t need to join a fraternity to enjoy the benefits of being in one. Then my band started to get some recognition and suddenly I was the guy on the radio who played saxophone in that really cool jam band that plays downtown. Then I got into writing classes and figured out that I had a certain knack for that too. Guy who’s on the radio, playing saxophone, writing poetry and short stories…now, who was that gangly kid with braces who read Stephen King books in the back of math class again?

Thank god I made it through my “Roaring Twenties.” The 10-12 years between high school and my current desk-ish job at Leigh Sullivan Enterprises were enough to comprise an extra-long Bret Easton Ellis novel. Maybe behaving like I had a supporting role in a Motley Crue musical isn’t something to be proud of. But I’d like to say I journeyed. I lived on a pseudo-commune with 5 friends and 6 dogs. I wrote for magazines. I played on stage at Antone’s in Austin, Texas. I’ve eaten peyote…off of an Oreo.

But all of that came crashing down last week at the strangest and most random of places – Petco.

I was standing in line to buy a new e-collar for our freshly-neutered puppy, Jameson, when I noticed the man in front of me, who was having trouble using the often hard-to-decipher card swipers. He was elderly, probably somewhere around 70, but he still looked like he had it all together. ‘Cept his ears. Those were broken. “HUH?!” I heard him scream at the young cashier. “JUST ACCEPT THE AMOUNT WITH THE GREEN BUTTON!” the kid yelled back. “I DON’T UNDERSTAND THIS THING!” the old man said, visibly frustrated. Then it hit me.

I’m going to fucking die.

Not today, hopefully, cause I have some pretty rad weekend plans, but someday, I will no longer see my next morning. I will disappear. I won’t get to eat another bowl of Lucky Charms, or have so much coffee that I excitedly ramble on in one of our LSE team meetings. I won’t get to have another cocktail, or write another word, or pet my dog, or kiss Shannon. I’ll just be fucking gone.

And there that old guy was, trying to figure out some piece of bullshit electronics while some kid who will never see a war firsthand, will never know what it feels like to actually work for a living, who has probably never stopped to think about his own mortality, is shouting at him to push a little green button so that he can help the next person in line buy an e-collar for his ball-less puppy. I started to panic and felt this unfamiliar weight upon my chest. It was heavier than the weight I felt during my 20s when I really liked a girl but she was breaking up with me at the coffee shop across the street from campus and I realized that I would probably never see her again. There in that line at the Petco, I realized that someday I will never see ME again. Now that’s some heavy shit.

And then, this morning I woke up and saw this:

Fuck the 1%. Let’s talk about the 67% of Americans who believe they won’t be able to provide financial security for their family. Or the 73% who don’t have shit for retirement. I’m scared. I’m a 33-year-old man who can’t afford health insurance because my student loan payments are suffocating, doesn’t have a lick of money in a 401k because I’m a professional epicurean, and thinks he should probably sterilize himself because taking care of anything more dependent than a dog gives him ulcers. And like I said when we began, “I consider myself to be a pretty lucky guy.”

That’s why there’s a special place in my heart for booze. Throw some killer food on top of that and a drunken dance party with Shannon at 2am and I’m in heaven. It’s an escape from all the stress of knowing that this ol’ world is becoming very different than the world my generation grew up in. One where they told you that getting into a good college, regardless of the expense, would pay off in the long run. That we would all be rich and famous and VeeJaying on MTV 8. That we would all have moves like Jagger and sleep on a bed covered in sheets woven with kitten tears. Now I cringe that the price of a single red bell pepper is $3 and I can only fill up my gas tank halfway.

Depressing for a booze blog? Maybe. But my theory, after years of being behind the scenes of the restaurant industry is that people need a release. Here in Denver restaurants pop up nearly everyday. Being a chef or a bartender is now considered to be a legitimate profession. Regardless of how expensive healthcare gets, men and women head into restaurants daily to fill themselves with food and booze and then give themselves an excuse to go outside and smoke a cigarette or two. We live in a world where excess can be purchased on your iPad in a mere matter of seconds. It’ll save your credit card so you don’t even have to get out of bed to order that Game of Thrones book you’ll only read half of because you forget the character’s names and can’t image reading another description of a make believe castle. It’s all at your fingertips!!

So fuck it. Exhault in something you love because one day you’ll be the old guy at the counter trying to purchase some canned dog food with a youngster screaming at you to engage in some technological marvel that you can’t seem to wrap your head around. He’ll probably be a hologram and you’ll be scanning the items with a microchip in your brain. Or hell, you probably won’t even leave your house, so you’ll have to take your frustrations out somehow. You should drink something nice that you ordered online. Preferably scotch. I’ll make mine a Cragganmore.

Cragganmore Distillers Edition, 1997 — My friend Robert Sickler, Master of Whiskey for Diageo, introduced me to Cragganmore when we were opening Crave Dessert Bar & Lounge in the Spire. Prior to that moment of lips to glass I had yet to fall in love with Scotch. Sure, I knew I was supposed to like it. I had even studied it to the point of being able to pretend to like it. But once that Cragganmore introduced itself to me my whole thought processed changed.

A Scotsman named John Smith — known to his friends as “Big” John Smith — who had been manager of the Macallan, Glenlivet, and Wishaw distilleries, decided that he wanted to lease the land to build a new distillery at Ballindalloch, beside the then-functioning Strathspey railway line. He would use the name Craggan Mor, which was taken from the nearby hill whose greenstone he would build the distillery with.

Smith, a railway fanatic, decided to build the Cragganmore Distillery near the Ballindalloch railway station to distribute his booze; and to capitalize on potential customers traveling near his distillery, Smith ordered the construction of a second track from the distillery to the Ballindalloch railway station. Smart! Unfortunately, Mr. Smith came by his nickname honestly, and at a whopping 308lbs, was too wide to ride the train. Doh!

Cragganmore is a single malt Speyside whiskey — a very specific region of the Scottish highlands that is home to more distilleries than of any other whiskey producing area of Scotland. John Smith had a hand in the production of several popular brands of the region, and was easily the most respected distiller of his day. His peers, both men and women, were clamoring to get their hands on his products.

Smith made his Scotch with malted barley (single malt), peat from the uplands of the south and took advantage of the water at the confluence of three Scottish rivers —the Spey, Avon, and Livet. The barley is first malted (now at the Diageo central malting facility) and then lightly smoked with peat.

Smith died in 1886 leaving the booze business to his son Gordon, who largely rebuilt the distillery in 1901, although Gordon kept his father’s trademark pairs of flat-top stills–a unique type of pot still that allegedly was invented because the ceilings of the distillery were too low for the traditional pot still Swan’s Neck. Who knows? But realistically, this also causes the still to act as more of a column still, releasing a lot of the distillate to condense and return to the still for a second distillation. This results in a smoother spirit.

Like many of its cousins in Speyside, Cragganmore Distiller’s Edition is rich, fruity, and well-balanced with a long finish and has a nice, but not overpowering, smoke. Think toffee, cherries, oranges and the unusual addition of port, which results from the spirit resting in port casks after being aged in used bourbon barrels. It is a beautiful addition to a decadent chocolate cake or a toffee pudding and the absolute perfect way to end any evening. A decadent treat that I’m sure “Big” John Smith relished.

A bottle of Cragganmore Distiller’s Edition — when you can get your hands on a bottle – can run in the $75 range, which to a Scotch aficionado, might not seem like a hefty price. But to this guy, it’s a heck of a lot to spend on a bottle of booze. It seems even pricier when this guy who’s writing right now usually doesn’t have to pay for booze–then it seems downright astronomical.

When I usually go to the liquor store, I’m guilty of the High Ticket Drive By. It’s like window-shopping in the mall, except for alcoholics. You go to the liquor store, fully committed to buying a six-pack of beer or a bottle of Old Grand-Dad. I start at the beer, pretending to browse through the selections, knowing full well I’ll either buy something by Firestone or the Pilsner Urquell standby. Then I slink over to the rums, then the whiskeys, and blow through the vodkas. Finally I hit the Scotches and ignore every bottle until I find the Cragganmore Distiller’s Edition. I scan the bottle, up and down, like a Ralph Lauren or a Karen Kane. Then I look at the sticker price, hoping for a sale. It’s never on sale. I head back to the beers and buy the Firestone.

But after the Petco, after I saw my life flash before my eyes, after the panic and the loss of breath, I went to the liquor store. I skipped the beer and headed straight for the Scotch aisle. This time I didn’t look at the price. I just grabbed and ran for the cashier. Don’t stop. Don’t look back. Don’t think about that bottle of booze you want. Think about that bottle of booze you have. Because life is too short to window shop. It could all be stripped down and set on fire and before you know it, everyone who has every known you will go that same way. In less than 100 years, you’ll be just another photo in a cardboard box at the antique mall. If they still have those.

I’m not saying you should shirk your responsibilities in the pursuit of carnal pleasures. Food, security, and a decent roof over your head should be number one, two, and three on the priority list. Lord knows I claw and scrape for my tiny slice of the pie everyday. But if you’re just saving slices, and you never stop to eat it, that shit’s going to go stale. You have to give in. Life’s just too damned short.

So cherish it. Buy that bottle of Cragganmore and share it with a friend you haven’t seen in a while. Go plant a garden in your backyard. It’s spring. You can do that. Hold the door open for the next person you see, even if you don’t want to sleep with them. Smoke a joint. Go skydiving. Buy a train ticket to California. Eat too much pie.

If you love someone, let them know. Even if they don’t know you’re alive. Make a spectacle of yourself, with or without clothes. Learn a new language. Buy a motorcycle.

And that’s just my list. Make your own. Get out there and live each day like you owe the world something. Even if it is just a bottle of booze.

About Brian Melton

Brian Melton is the Brand Manager and Beverage Director for Leigh Sullivan Enterprises, a hospitality consulting firm in Denver, Colorado, where his duties include marketing, PR and beverage development for LSE's clients. With over 13 years in the restaurant industry, Melton has been lead bartender at several award-winning restaurants including Denver's TAG Restaurant and ChoLon Modern Asian Bistro and is the Secretary of the Colorado Bartenders Guild. Melton is also an avid writer whose work has appeared in 5280, Denver Magazine, Westword and Relix.