Balm of Usquebaugh – Peat Smoke, Allergies & My Hard-Packed Nose

This is not a review of a whiskey. Rather, it’s a story of miraculous healing, with good whiskies as the central characters.

My experiences with those characters are, of course, chronicled below, so you might say there are reviews embedded here, but that is not the point of this particular piece of writing.

The point is: To find a remedy!

REDNOSEThis time of year, my allergies grow intense. Sneezing, watery eyes and, above all, sinuses as productive as an active volcano one moment and, the next, as crammed, jammed and densely packed as a pint of fossilized Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream. The first stage is annoying as hell and the second is painful. Like a migraine headache is painful.

Among the standard remedies, Afrin works. However, if you use enough Afrin to clear your sinuses, the next day is worse still, with sinuses even more densely and dryly jammed with snot-rocks than they were the day before. Use Afrin again and the consequences are even worse. It becomes a vicious cycle of relief followed by ever-intensifying sinus pain.

Afrin, then, is not the answer. Not for me.

Last evening, about an hour or two into the second, hard-packed phase of my daily sinus vexations, as the migraine-level pain commenced, I decided a good strong whiskey might help. And, if not, it might at least dull the pain.

blogger-image-1028707313Having recently acquired a bottle of Auchentoshen Valinch 2011, which comes at you with 57.5 percent alcohol by volume, I chose that as experimental remedy #1. This Valinch is a little odd, but wonderful. Tart-sweet red fruits, like a warm Naked red berry smoothie, swirled together with a goodly measure of refined, high-grade, tasteless but burning rocket fuel. The startle of the alcohol even pierced my stuffed-up nose. In the mouth, this intensity is mollified somewhat with the taste of a creamsicle melting on the tongue. Really quite nice. I highly recommend this whiskey, as whiskey.

However, as a remedy for my beleaguered nose, it did not work.

And yet, a sense of mission had overtaken me and was driving me forward with grim determination and fortitudinous resolve. With my chosen arsenal (my whiskey cabinet), I was determined to defeat this sinus-pummeling foe of the nose.

I remembered reading somewhere, in some review of one of Bruichladdich’s Octomore releases, the speculation that peat phenols, at a high enough concentration, would prove to have medicinal qualities. I hadn’t read of any further research on this premise, so I decided to engage in some research of my own.

LGVOB.12YOV1My mind seemed to take on whiskey-soldier status as it marched about my whiskey cabinet, seeking out the strongest phenologic impact on the nose that I could recall. Then it hit me, a memory arose, sitting with my good friend Brad on the night I opened a bottle of the wondrous Lagavulin 12 Year Old Cask Strength, which also came in at 57.5% ABV. We both immediately commented on how the peat-soaked aroma filled the room. The nose on this whiskey was (and is) so intense that, as I recall, neither of us tasted it for a good twenty minutes. In addition to the peat, the vapors rising from the glass wafted sea and salt and fresh squeezed lemons through the air. And sugary vanilla. As all these scent-memories converged, it struck me that this would be the perfect whiskey to deploy as experimental remedy #2. So I poured me-self a hefty dram.

The taste of this glorious stuff, even with barely functioning nostrils, is a natural wonder of the whiskey world. All kinds of sweet and citrusy fruits merge with smoke and peat, a windy beach and an intriguing, mild saltiness to form a taste experience that is at once powerful and elegant. A wondrous whiskey!

AND, as it turns out, an effective remedy for severe sinus congestion! After just a few sips of this phenolic elixir, I noticed my sinuses clearing. By the time I drained the generous dram to its bottom, my sinuses were better than they had been all week!

Blessed relief!, the whisky-soldier cried. And yet, my sinuses were not completely clear, so I felt my mission was not yet fully achieved and I could thus not be discharged from my duty. Like it or not, I would have to continue my quest. The search for experimental remedy #3 began.

My guess is that the Lagavulin 12 Cask Strength has a peat phenol ppm of about 50-55. Strong stuff. But, if that much was good, might not more be better?

When the talk is of ppm, the conversation will likely begin and end with the mighty Bruichladdich Octomore range.

I have two of them in my cabinet – the first release, with a ppm of 131, which will remain unopened for the foreseeable future, and the most recent release, the 5.1, which is a veritable pipe bomb of peat phenols with a ppm of 169 and an ABV of 59.5 percent. It was already open and more than half gone.

octomore5whiskynl-620x350Although I’ve never done this, my guess is that, in a blind tasting death match of the Lagavulin 12 vs. the Bruichladdich Octomore 5.1, most of the judges would guess that the Lagavulin is the stronger in terms of peat phenol ppm. The nose on it is certainly much more smoky and puissant.

The mighty Octomore, in contrast, has a more reticent aroma. The nose here is a perfect integration of sweetness and peat, yet it is not overpowering in any way. There’s a bit of port and dark chocolate in there, red fruits, almonds, and a simple syrup sweetness.

Pour it on your tongue and that 169 ppm explodes in your mouth! This is a walloping coastal storm and you can taste the sea-sprayed searing coals and the hot-spiced barbecued steaks on the grill, the salt in the wind and, again, that sweetness, something reminiscent of salt water taffy with a liquid center of ruby port.

Yes, this is medicine! And, two days later, with just the smallest drams of reinforcement as part of a salubrious regimen I have prescribed for myself, my sinuses are still open and clear. A remedy has been found! While I am not so cruel as to wish on you any of the sinus pain and blockage I experience, I highly recommend the cure – whether you think you need it or not!

9 thoughts on “Balm of Usquebaugh – Peat Smoke, Allergies & My Hard-Packed Nose

  1. Very interesting. Sounds crazy enough to be true! Although, my experiment with drinking whiskey the other evening when I had a cold didn’t work out so well for me. I guess I should have reached for the peated whiskey!

  2. Love to have a more detailed review of the Octomore. I feel that the wood changes the peat characteristics- changing them from dry smoldering ashes to smoke from burning damp vegetation.

    • I’d love to do a comparison of one of the previous Octomore bottlings to the most recent one I have (which is not, unfortunately, the new 10 year old! – we gotta get some of that!). I have the 5.1 open; does anybody have one of the earlier versions open?

  3. I’d like to see a comparison of the Valinch 2011 with some other cask strength whiskies without any sherry or wine finishes, say Glenmirangie Astar and Glenlivet Nadurra. I have yet to open my Valinch or Astar but I have enjoyed the Nadurra. It has that nice slow burn I have come to love from cask strength whiskies and a nice vanilla/honey like sweetness with a clean profile.

    • Well, you’ve got the Nadurra open and I’ve got the Valinch 2011 open. Making that comparison is as easy as the two of us getting together some night soon. I’ll look through my cabinet to see what other bottles I have meet your criteria.

      • The “object of my desire” in this category would be the Caol Ila 14 year old unpeated cask strength. I think I saw a bottle or two last time I was at Julios. Add that in and we’d have quite a night!

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