Last year, months before I had left for a year-long deployment, I had an opportunity to sip an exceptional whisky. It’s not often that I get to drink something this special and that dram presently holds the position of the best whisky that I have ever tasted, (for now). This is the story of how it happened.
My close friend Mac, who I had served with in the military for over a decade, called me and asked, “Have you ever heard of Glenfed…Glenfideshe…Glen…?” As he struggled to pronounce it, I offered, “Glenfiddich?” “Yeah that’s it.” he confirmed, “Have you ever drank Glenfiddich 40 Year Old?” “No Mac,” I said, “I’ve never even seen a bottle of that.” “Well I’m staring at a bottle of it right now.” he said, “And I want to buy you a glass.”
Mac was in Arizona and I was in Maryland. “That has got to be a three or four thousand-dollar bottle of whisky” I said. “I don’t care,” he interrupted, “I want to buy you a glass of it; you need to get out here.”
I had to go to Arizona for work anyway, so four days later we met up at dawn in Eloy for some sky diving. That evening we drove down to the bar where he had been staying to buy me that drink.
The location was the Ritz Carlton at Dove Mountain Marana, Arizona. It was a beautiful spot in the desert. It had been raining just days before and all of the desert foliage was turning bright green and starting to blossom. The sun was low when we reached the hotel and from the parking lot I could hear the sound of a wood flute somewhere being played. As we walked around the dry-stacked stone building the valley view opened up. The expanses of the inclines were seasoned with dark volcanic rock and the monstrous cacti that were reaching upward were lit dramatically throughout the entire view. The sound of the flute resonated off the valley walls. As we rounded the building Mac said “There he is.” pointing to a hill half a kilometer off in the valley and just slightly higher in elevation.
“There who is?” I asked. “The flute guy.” he said “Over there in the red shirt.” I strained my eyes to the next hill over and I could make out a lone individual on the hilltop wearing a bright red shirt and playing the flute that I could hear around me. I was surprised to learn that the origin of the sound was so far away.
I could see Mac was excited the flute guy was playing outside on the night that I came here. He’s into this kind of spiritual stuff and so am I to some degree, but not too many of our other friends are, so we take advantage of the time when we can have a drink in this kind of atmosphere.
We went inside Ignite, the tavern here at the hotel; he wanted to show me the bottle. As we rounded the bar I was struck by the whiskey selection. There were so many great bottles, many of which are too pricey for me to drink except on special occasions. There was a bottle of Highland Park 25 and Macallan 30. There was also a bottle of Macallan 25 – one of my favorite whiskeys that I can’t regularly afford. The last time I drank that one was a glass my wife bought for me on my birthday over ten years ago; I can still remember exactly how it tasted.
Tonight however, I was going to blow all of those over-indulgences out of the water thanks to the generosity of one of my closest friends. Mac doesn’t even drink scotch; he can’t even stand the smell of it. He likes bourbon and rum but mostly drinks beer and likes a good cigar. But he loves to share in my enthusiasm towards the finer whiskeys. That’s just the kind of guy he is, he loves to create and share in exceptional experiences for all of his friends, even when it’s something he can’t appreciate on his own.
I looked over the whiskeys on the shelf and we agreed we should start with a cocktail and get some dinner before we set into all of that. I ordered a Sazerac Rye to start things off, he got a beer. We took our drinks outside and sat on the terraced patio with other guests in silence as the sound of the wood flute continued to hold mass.
After about twenty minutes the flutist stopped and disappeared from the neighboring hilltop and was done for the evening. It was curious how everyone continued to speak in whispers even after the service was complete. The scene was that moving.
We went inside and had dinner. I had a Glenmorangie 18 with my meal. After, we retired back to the bar. I had already had two great whiskeys and thought the entire experience was enough without a two-score year old bottle. Mac wouldn’t have it, “That’s why we came here.” he insisted. I had no idea how much it would even cost when I placed my order; The Glenfiddich 40 Year Old, neat, in a snifter with a side of water, no ice.
The bartender was entirely nonchalant as he grabbed the bottle and gave it a good measure. I asked if I could check out the bottle and he gladly handed it over for me to read and appreciate.
I took the snifter and gave it a smell. It smelled awesome. “Let me smell it.” Mac asked. He raised the glass to his nose and gave it a sniff. His head jerked reactively to the left as he moved the glass away from his face. “I don’t know how you can drink this stuff!” he said and slid the glass back to me.
Cheers! And I clinked his glass of Coors Light with the $495 snifter of whisky he just bought for me.
The smell was definitely Fiddich, there was no mistaking that. But it was much smoother, even in the smell. I was expecting it to be excessively woody and over-oaked but it was perfect. The ABV was 43-and-a-half and it was like velvet.
I dropped in, literally, 2 drops of water. More for ceremony than necessity as it needed no water; even for someone like me who always adds water. The mouth feel was like melted chocolate. It had the sweetness of the 15 Year and the character of the 18, but to a much greater and grander level. It was rich and had a fullness and presence that was unlike any other whisky I had ever tasted.
The Glenfiddich is one of my favorite brands. A lot of people think they’re too big to make really good whisky but I think the proof is in the glass. I have said before that I think the Glenfiddich 18 Year Old is the 57 Chevy of scotch whiskies. The 57 Chevy is not the best automobile ever built but, it by far and away, most typifies the great American car.
To me, The Glenfiddich 18 best represents the quintessential Scotch whisky. It may not be the best, and it’s not my all-time favorite, but it has everything that a real scotch whisky should have; and I love it.
To that I would say this whisky, The Glenfiddich 40 Year Old, is a Rolls Royce. It’s that exceptional. They say about the Rolls Royce, It’s not a luxury, it’s a privilege. Well I don’t know if drinking whisky is a privilege, but this whisky is certainly a luxury I can’t often afford.
We took our drinks outside and found a spot in the shadows to light up cigars and hopefully not be harangued by the hospitality staff for not being in the designated smoking area out front. The desert sky was black now and smelled like sage. We sipped and told stories and remembered places and people we no longer see, and occasionally we would lower our cigars to hide them behind our wrist as the headlights of the hospitality staff golf cart would zoom by on the nearby path. I felt like we were smoking in the boy’s room again, with twenty-dollar cigars.
Tomorrow Mac will be on a plane for his next location and I will be skydiving and working here for a few more days and then will be off, back to the East Coast. I have no idea where or when we will meet up again, as Mac and I have been promoted up into different military units now, but work has our paths crossing every so often. I’m sure it won’t be too far off into the future. I’m sure there will be cigars and good whiskey or rum or maybe just a warm can of beer. I’m sure we will laugh a lot and cuss some and try not to get too sentimental remembering our old friends that are now gone. This is how we have always done it. Be it a rum pina colada and a counterfeit Cohiba on a dirty beach on some island, or a Pilsner Urquell in Pilsen with a dried out duty-free Romeo and Juliet, a Jamison and a Guinness in Dublin, or a hefeweizen in Ramstein; anyplace in between, above or below. Lots of times with a rye or bourbon, sometimes with a fine rum, often with a whisky, and occasionally with an imported can of Bud. Now I can add that once in a while, it’s with a forty-year-old scotch.
So, is this whisky worth five hundred dollars a glass? To someone who has that money to spare I suppose it would be. For me it was another evening I won’t forget and that had little to do with the cost of the whisky. I’ve learned the price of the drink does little to affect the value of the occasion. These events are not christened by the alcohol as one might think, but rather the libations are blessed by the experience.
[wpurp-searchable-recipe]The Price of the Experience – – – [/wpurp-searchable-recipe]