If the Word Tastes Like Bourbon

Harriet married a gossip columnist when she was 26. It seemed like they were uncomplicated kindreds, but Richard, who liked to be referred to by his assumed, not-very-clever-at-all, pun on insert celebrity’s name here nom-de-plume, tended to bring his work home with him. At 26 and a half, Harriet was on a first-name basis with the intimate life details [confirmed, unconfirmed, didn’t matter] of several hundred [or so] people of varying degrees of local and pop-culture relevance. At 26 and three quarters, she’d acquired a keenness for the D-listers. She found their tenacity fascinating—how they would barrel forward from their short-lived sitcom personas or sporting careers or various other feats of fleeting notoriety, putting themselves in increasingly more bizarre and perverse situations to squeeze the last seconds out of their proverbial 15 minutes. She’d try the same pharmaceuticals they did, for re-creational purposes. She would buy their jewelleries or perfumes or clothing lines with the same conviction estranged sisters sip tea after years of frostbitten phone conversations: just happy to be there to share something in common after so long.

Bourbon’s creation is most often traced to the founding of Bourbon County in 1786 or wandering drunken Baptists like Elijah Craig. There are many conflicting legends and claims told around the hillbilly still fires. On particularly hazy evenings of epic, the stories billow in smoky notes and oxygenated oranges. A monolatry of iridescent tones when they first catch the light of day: taste textures tinted in tetrahedrons creeping out over the tongue and then the horizon like a dysfunctional staircase.

At night, Richard and Harriet would sip white wine over microwave dinners. The make and vintage never really mattered, as long as it was as cold as possible. After dining, they would retire to their bedchamber: a corner eked out of a larger room, the only room, partitioned off by tacky tapestries and plastic feng-shui pieces with shojis placed perpendicular and decorated with the record sleeves from the soundtracks to films no one needs to see. Richard read her stories from magazines or Tales of Adventure and Romance when she couldn’t sleep. This happened frequently for the couple and he’d become quite good at entertaining her with all the things he’d collected during a hard day’s vocation: notes, sound bites, photographs, etc.

“Hetty, so and so did this,” he’d say with a dulled enthusiasm.

“You know I hate it when you call me that,” she’d respond glibly.

“But can you believe it?”

“You wouldn’t like it if I called you Dick, would you?”

“A well-known house husband; his wife has a high-powered job. I can’t say who they are, you know, li-bel, but you’ve heard of them Hetty, I swear.”


“Hetty, he writes letters to Sarah Palin. Runs a website or something about her.”

“Well, she’s a national treasure.”

“Hetty! He’s been trying to convince his kid to play hockey. Hockey! In this climate. But the kid wants to play Dungeons & Dragons in a league. Dungeons-And-Dragons! In-A-League! Who does that? The husband does weird role play stuff with the wife, too.”

“Shut up. Really, Dick?”

“She always complains about his cooking. He showed up with a black eye to his Pilates class last week. That’s how we heard about it. He was telling some of the women there about his website. He asked them if they had any good recipes for bouillabaisse. They asked about his shiner. And it just sort of went from there. Or so I heard.”

“Guess they didn’t have a safe word for that one, huh?”

“I’m gonna call Clifford. He has to hear about this.”

Clifford, the couple’s dearest friend in the county, lives across the street. He really likes V-neck sweaters, but isn’t big on collared shirts. This became a source of tension in their relationship. It flared up during a conflict the couple had with Cliff over his last girlfriend. She was nice; too nice. So nice it caused problems for Richard and Harriet. Their lives had become unmanageable during this period. Harriet had been in an auto accident as a result. Richard had bouts of depression and radical mood swings and began to have swelling in his feet. The county itself experienced volatile weather conditions and an increase in crime. A fast food chain went bankrupt and a 16% decrease in the scale of the local economy occurred. Harriet and Richard had tried counselling, but their therapist, seemingly also afflicted by the same phenomenon, slipped into an incurable form of dementia, which adversely affected her practice. Since Freud had gone out of fashion, people weren’t as fond of tarot card readings and unisex lingerie fittings as an aperitif to their psychology. The hot-shaves and waxing-while-you-wait had been a success, though, inexplicably and demonstrated a remarkable penchant for efficient time management and multi-tasking on the part of the therapist, it should be noted. After a few months the couples stopped socializing with each other altogether, until they inevitably scheduled an intervention for Clifford. He didn’t take it very well, but eventually persuasion triumphed. He still dislikes collared shirts.

Bourbon is experiencing a resurgence in popularity in the 21st century, even pressing the competitive edge to challenge scotch as the preeminent drink for wealthy dowagers and the opulent captains of society and industry alike. Barrelling back. The Kentucky Bourbon Trail has become a tourist attraction during what is often referred to as “the amber wave of capital investment.” The Magic Kingdom for the overproof. Alcoholidays.

Cliff influenced. His content was dedicated to all the things he would be if he were incomprehensibly well-to-do: silk stockings neighborhood. Not just well-off or financially secure, but so loaded that developing a talent at anything is a waste of time and money. Wealthy to the point where it’s a struggle just to find stuff to do with your day. Writers speak about how blank sheets of paper inspire an overwhelming blockage of competing possibilities, well immeasurable money does the same, but for depravities, or so Cliff figured and posted about. He wanted to be philanthropy-rich. So rich you sleep in ‘till two in the afternoon every day or work a job that doesn’t pay anything, just because. A job at an avant-garde film studio fascinated by finger-painting as a therapeutic art treatment for retired silent film stars or a record label that documents sound in space or an oxygen bar that has you served by a fleet of show ponies carrying former coral reef explorers who had been adversely affected by the bends. A blog about being that kind of rich, Cliff would say. People need to know about these things: what life could be like.

“Uh, yes. Oui, Bon-jour.”

“Cliff? It’s Richard.”


“You’ll never believe this?”

“I might.”


“Let me stop you right there.”


“Because I’ve been working on something, too. A post. The post. A gala, Richie. A gala. For my philanthropy.”

“Your would-be philanthropy?”

“If you will it, Rich. If you will it. But get this: an interior decorating course for children with acid reflux. Pukey little piggies always having the best time, ever: looking at wallpaper. Isn’t that just precious? I mean, you can’t make this stuff up.”

“I guess not.”

“My word. I’ve got the opera glasses out, Richie. You’ll never believe me, even if I told you.”

“Told me what?”

“That weird pervy rich kid neighbor and his creepy too-old-to-be-his-friend friend. They’re out for a stroll.”

“He’s like 11, Cliff.”

“I know. But they’re holding hands. Now, what do you suppose that means?”

“He’s his guardian?”

“Now, you know the parents are passed beyond, god rest their souls.”


“Now back to my gala.”


“I’m thinking we should have a practice, like a rehearsal for it.”

“For your fictitious gala?”

“Do you listen to anything I say, Richard? Now, I’m not sure if rehearsal is the proper word, but that’s what it will be.”


“I’ll call Suzette. I’ve been seeing her again. We’ll have it at your place, tonight.”

“So…dinner, Cliff?”

“If you have to be so pedestrian about it, yes. It will be a dinner.”

“Hetty will love that. We’ll order out.”

“Perfect. Now, we’ll have to get to the liquor store around four. We’ll need to get refreshments. It’s important that everything goes smoothly, Richie.”

“For Suzie Q?”

“Just come pick me up.”

Not one to be affected in a breezy manner when it came to provisions, Harriet decided to stay behind at the apartment, citing a previous cab ride from hell through the west-side casbah as a source of apprehension. The liquor store was three blocks away, beside Whole Foods. Strip mall structuralism: how their architecture only exists in comparison like similes or archway columns. Bizarre dichotomies existing outside of time; a nexus for the identity of spaces between days or those parts that cat about in the subconscious, hammocking between schemas, the way a place in the sun makes a better excuse for long afternoon naps than ambition. Beyond the parked cars and canvassers that moat the mall, there’s a man standing. He’s outside of the store, hat-in-hand, so-to-speak. Off to the side a bit, a few feet from the sliding doors—out of the range of their sensors. It’s situated in a way like how empathy must work: by approach or push buttons or access controls or automatically. The pockets had worn from the insides of his grey, Brooks Brothers tweed coat and from beyond the burgundy-gold lining, you could see his hands protrude through the inside jacket walls, extending in front of him, with palms out.

“Good afternoon, sirs. Could you spare five dollars?”

“Five dollars? That’s awfully ambitious,” Richard chimed, enthusiastically.

“I drink bourbon.”

“What does that mean?” Cliff asked.

“It’s a spirit. But more to your successive point, it’s about the relative cost. Consumer Price Index. If malt liquor costs four dollars and I ask you to spare a couple of quarters, it’s equivocal, is it not?” he replied.


“Yeah, huh?” Cliff confirmed.

“To each according to their needs; from each acceding to their means, like adjustment payments and to support artisanal beverages and their domestic manufacturing.”

It’s sort of subtly spicy and caramelly and sweet. For bourbon to legally be called bourbon, it needs to be aged in charred barrels for at least three years, but the more common practice is to age the bourbon from 5 to 12 years. The material of choice for the barrelling process is usually oak due to the large amount of sugar within the wood. When a bourbon barrel is charred, it creates several organic compounds, one of which is called vanillin or C8H8O3. Vanillin is also found to occur naturally, not only in wood, but also maple syrup, as well as butter. As one would expect, the highest density of vanillin found in nature is in vanilla beans where 2% of their body weight is the organic compound vanillin. Notice that as a solution, vanilla extract consists of a large percentage of alcohol due to its high solubility.

“Look, I don’t see why you need a $50 bottle of booze.”

“Higher proof. Those other whiskeys are watered down.”


“Well, you get more for your money. Quality and quantity.”

Though outsold by vodka for a long stretch of the twentieth century, whiskeys were the adult beverages that best survived prohibition. Bourbons were granted some of the few licenses to produce medicinal alcohols. Vanillin as an extract contains vitamin B. Thiamin, or vitamin B1, will help to prevent Korsakoff’s psychosis, a condition occurring in severe alcoholics or the malnourished due to a vitamin deficiency. The health benefits of vanillin can also range from having antioxidant properties, to fighting tumors or cancers, to helping with coughs or toothaches.

“Shouldn’t you be getting a job?” Cliff interjected.

“It’s a recession. Or it was, or still is. I’m not even sure how you’d go about buying a bond, truthfully.”

“Or at least drinking cheaper liquor? Or not drinking at all? Why would you drink when you can’t even support yourself?”

“Quantitative easing.”

“What are you even talking about?”

“I like bourbon. I enjoy the craftsmanship. I guess I also have trouble sleeping. Something to do with stress or alcohol in small portions.”

While bourbon is sitting in barrels, it has a long time to dissolve all the available charred vanillin in the wood. By charring the bourbon barrels at different degrees, it will create different tasting vanillin compounds ranging from a light, flowery vanilla, to a deep toffee flavour. Bourbon is often made in small batches as a means to exact this flavor making process and to replicate it in the subsequent batches.

“Oh…and why is that, deadbeat-science-guy?” Cliff interjected. “Do you like spelunking? You must be a speleologist, because you look like you’ve found the bottom of every bottle in this place.”

“Well, that may be,” he said. “I don’t want to be a bother; just making conversation.”

“Not very well, by the sounds of it.”

“Ok, tell me about yourselves?” he asked, politely.

Photo by Marvin L on Unsplash

Brandon Kashani was born in Ottawa, Ontario. He has lived in Montreal, Quebec for the last decade plus. In the past, he studied Creative Writing at Concordia University.