Whiskey Time Traveler

Whiskey Time Traveler, Chapter 3, Part 1: Whisky as a Memory Marker


Each month we’ve been bringing you little bits of the upcoming book, Whiskey Time Traveler, by S. Garth Smith. Every section has been fun and insightful. We can’t wait for the book to come out! This week we’re happy to present you with chapter 3, part 1. If this is the first you’re hearing of the Whiskey Time Traveler, then check out the previous chapters! As always, enjoy and let us know what you think in the comments below.

— Zac Smith


Part 1

I like to look at my life as a, hopefully long, timeline.  There are thousands of what I call markers left along the length of my timeline.  Each marker is an event that has happened in my life.  So technically speaking, every second of our lives would have a marker because something is happening every second we’re alive.  But from a practical standpoint, we shall identify markers as events significant enough to be remembered.

To travel through time we must be able to set a marker as a destination point otherwise we cannot travel to that spot in time.  Remember, we learned in the last chapter that without memory, time travel is impossible and without time travel we don’t have a story to tell.  Since our goal is to be better at talking about and telling stories about whisky, we need to learn how to use whisky as a marker so that we will always be able to drop in on and recreate our story.

Markers can be weak or strong.  For example, can you pop back in time to last Friday night to see what you had for dinner?  If there was nothing special about that dinner it would be a weak marker and you would have a hard time describing what you ate that night.  However, if it was a special occasion and you went out for a special meal, you would be more likely to remember it.  Special occasions create strong markers.  Special whiskies create strong markers.

Or if you eat the same dinner every Friday night, consistency creates a strong marker and you will be able to describe that dinner for years.  The same is true of your whisky.  If you consistently drink a particular brand or style of whisky, it will be easy to talk about that brand or style and how it related to a certain aspect of your life.

Every Saturday afternoon I would head out to my one-man print shop, the first thing I would do is pour myself a glass of Singleton.  I would let it sit on my desk without touching it for the next 25 to 30 minutes while I got everything turned on and ready to print.  The light floral fragrance of the very reasonably priced 12 year old Highland Scotch would fill the air creating anticipation.  It wasn’t until all the paper was stacked and the ink was loaded into the machine and it was running smoothly that I would then sit down and take my first sip.

This is a traveling back to, not a specific event, but of a series of consistent events.  Singleton became a very strong marker because of its consistency.  Stories like this may not be specific to a single point on our timeline, but they are still very enjoyable because they speak to a time period or era.  They give us a snapshot of what our routine of life was like.

Occasions that have a high emotional factor also create very strong markers.  When I was five years old our family lived in Munich Germany for a year and a half.  There are a lot of pictures that I’ve seen over the years of that time period, but I wondered how many events I could remember that I was sure there were no pictures of.  In about ten minutes I came up with twenty different events or markers that fell on my timeline during that year and a half.  Almost all of the events had a higher than normal emotional charge associated with them.

It’s 1970.  I’m sitting with my family in a restaurant that is dimly lit, for atmosphere I think.  My younger brother is sitting to my right and my mom and dad are sitting opposite us at a large round table.  We were talking, about what, I don’t know.  The maître d’ leaves his stand and walks down the two steps that span the entrance of the restaurant and leans over to my dad and speaks to him in a low tone.  My dad nods his head and the maître d’ heads back up the stairs to escort, what appeared to me, to be a very old lady, down the steps and toward our table.  She was dressed as if she walked right out of an old black and white picture.  Plain black woolen skirt with a grey blouse and an off-white knitted shoulder wrap.  To my shock, she was seated in the empty seat to my left.  My father said a few words to her with his limited German and she said a couple of words back.  We finished our meals without another word being spoken at the table.

On the way home I asked my dad, “Who was that lady?”

“I don’t know.” He responded.

“Why was she sitting with us?” I persisted.

“In some countries when you eat at a restaurant you don’t have the table, only the seats at the table.  And if you have an empty seat and someone needs a place to sit, they will seat them at your table.” He explained.

I was traumatized!  What kind of place was this?

For a five year old who wasn’t used to sharing a table with complete strangers this rated pretty high on the emotion scale and so, although there are no pictures of that evening, I have the mental image burned into my mind 45 years later.

How can we use this to help us remember what whiskies we’ve enjoyed and build stories around them?  It certainly helps if the event rates up there on the emotion scale, but more important than that is the whisky itself.  Is there something that bumps up the excitement about the whisky?  One of the most dramatic ways to remember a special whisky is by its price.  If it is unusually expensive compared to what you would normally drink on an average day then it becomes easier to remember.  There is something about drinking from a $1500 bottle of Scotch that is more memorable than drinking from a $40 bottle of Scotch even if they taste about the same.  The emotional impact makes it nearly impossible to forget the experience.

— S. Garth Smith