08 Feb My Canadian Love Affair – As The Barrel Turns
This month’s theme for The Canadian Food Experience Project is “My Canadian Love Affair.” This is definitely a love story. I’m just not sure if it’s about me and my husband, Andrew and whisky, or a testament to community. All I know for sure is I never saw it coming. But isn’t that how love so often works?
Back in 2008, when the blog was young and operating under another name, I gave Andrew a home whisky finishing kit for Christmas. I figured it was a short-term hobby that would provide a unique whisky for him to share with this friends. I had no idea it would turn into a 30-week pseudo-soap opera, dubbed As the Barrel Turns, involving musicians, family, friends, bobbleheads, elves, a piper, and the mayor.
How did it come about? And what did we learn? We were both hazy on the details, so we sat down and cobbled together our memories for this post. Here’s a transcript. It’s just us talking it out. Just him, the historian/whisky buff, and me, the drama queen food writer, explaining it all to the cat.
How did we come up with the idea?
Charmian: It was just fun and silly and something we could do together.
Andrew: For 12 seconds a week.
Andrew: It began, as many things do, when I read an article in the Globe.
Charmian: He talks like that.
Andrew: That’s true. I do. Anyway— A small Canadian distiller was promoting the idea of aging your own whisky in a small barrel. They were selling a home starter kit complete with the whisky. I knew I had to have one. But I made the mistake of telling my wife.
Charmian: Mistake? Mistake?!
Andrew: Given that it was close to Christmas, I was not permitted to rush out and buy it immediately.
Charmian: Damned straight. Each year he buys stuff just before Christmas and I’m left with nothing to get him. So, I called the liquor store, found they had one left, begged them to save it for me — promising to be there in 15 minutes. And I lied to Andrew about it. “Nope. Sorry. All gone. I gotta go get butter and eggs. Bye.”
Andrew: I prepared to learn to live with disappointment.
Charmian: I bought the kit. I hid it in the closet, and then I threw out the newspaper article so he wouldn’t obsess.
Andrew: Really? I didn’t know that last part. [Beat.] What do you mean obsess?
Charmian: There are so many things you don’t know…. Anyway…
Andrew: Come Christmas morning, I opened the box and was delighted to see my new hobby before me.
Charmian: I told you. He talks like that.
Andrew: Too much education and too many British novels.
Charmian: So, I wrote a post about the kit, thinking it would be a one-off. But then realized it required a bit of prep and maintenance.
Andrew: She talks like that.
Andrew: Our detailed preparations missed reading the instructions carefully. That would come back to haunt us.
Charmian: So, the project would take a few months and I didn’t know how to cover the weekly quarter-turn yet still maintain an interest in the project. So I got Andrew to agree to be photographed turning the barrel. As we worked he joked about which way he should turn it, how hard the turn would be. Did he warm up enough? What would this do to his throwing arm? And pretty soon we had a silly co-written post and a cheeky name for the series.
How did it work out?
Andrew: It quickly developed into almost a skit that we could share with our friends. Of course, while we were having that fun, it turned out we were aging the whisky for far too long.
Charmian: We didn’t know if there would be any whisky at the end, but couldn’t figure out where it was going.
Andrew: Reading the instructions might have helped.
Charmian: Why break with tradition?
Andrew: Turns out we were the victims of an over-enthusiastic angel’s share. All whisky in a barrel evaoporates a bit, but the small barrel and the extended time frame meant a very tipsy angel.
Charmian: And almost no whisky for us.
Was it worth the effort?
Andrew: I tired several versions afterward. It gave me an appreciation of how hard real distillers work. It was a lot of trouble and required a great deal of patience. Which is something I don’t have in large supply. But that first taste of the first barrel was certainly special.
Charmian: It really made me think outside the average storyline. It gave us — or me — permission to be silly. And it showed me how fun our friends are. We got the a senior executive of UPS, a symphony conductor, a theatre director, a lawyer, a business guru and the mayor to participate. My family? That’s a given. You actually have to find ways to keep them from being goofs, but I was stunned at how eager people were to don a personna and join in.
Andrew: She talks that way.
What happened to the barrel?
Andrew: That one’s on me. I left it alone too long.
Charmian: Don’t take the blame. It’s time had come and gone.
Andrew: It fell apart. It dried out too much.
Charmian: Me pulling the rings off didn’t help.
Andrew: We decided on a Viking sendoff.
Charmian: Did Vikings drink whisky?
Andrew: I’m not that kind of historian.
Charmian: Instead of tossing it in the bin, I gave the pieces to my sister. She burned them in her fireplace, toasting them with Andrew’s favourite Canadian whisky. She even took photos.
Charmian: See. Community. We got people coming to the house, dressing up, helping us write horrible puns, taking photos of broken oak casks. This is definitely more about community than whisky. [Pause] Community and love. They did it for us, and I wouldn’t have done it for anyone else but you. What do you think?
Andrew: I’m lucky to have a wife that indulges my flights of fancy.
Charmian: He talks that way. And I’m lucky because he means every word.
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The Canadian Food Experience Project is a monthly series of themed posts from participating Canadian food bloggers across the country. By sharing our personal stories and regional food experiences, we hope to answer the elusive question, “Just what exactly is Canadian Cuisine?”
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