It's amazing how much your Uncle learned about the world from cartoons through a form of unconscious osmosis that festered until he grew old enough to push out the fog. Being a doinky kid growing up in the bluish glow of an Admiral CRT tube, little did I know at the time that the humor behind "Rocky and Bullwinkle" was concocted by Jay Ward's merry band of anarchists pushing against the restrictions of the anti-communist repression of the 60s.
Who knew that Foghorn Leghorn was an archetype for bloated corporate CEOs that foisted their autocratic view of the barnyard pecking order on little "chickadees". And Top Cat was a friggin' gang leader!
Finally, when Andy Kaufmann elevated "Might Mouse" on Saturday Night Live to cult status I woke up to the reality that my 2-dimensional universe of anthropomorphic heroes was actually 3 dimensional constructs inhabiting every space from the office to the grocery store.
And when The Butthole Surfers released a cover of the "Underdog" theme song, my haze was lifted. Holy Heidegger, Batman.
Underdog. I love that word, I love that concept, someone coming up from behind, from a humble background (Shoeshine Boy) to reveal the strength of purpose that is rightfully theirs. The dark horse, the palooka from nowhere, the one we gave no respect until they grabbed the light and showed us the glimmering glow of their soul and humbled our preconceptions.
That's Canadian whisky and Nicaraguan tobacco, my good nieces and nephews, and I'm here to champion their resurgence. I'm in the presence of 2 contenders that will set the world straight and banish forever their heretofore "throw out the bum" purgatory.
|Rocky Patel is a master cigar maker and his brand name conjures a sophisticated yet down-to-earth accessibility in each of his lines. Later in his evolution as a blender, after working with prime Honduran tobacco and the brilliant and underrated Nestor Plasencia, he decided to take on the supposed runt of cigar world, the tobacco of Nicaragua, a leaf that was previously considered harsh, coarse and at best, rustic. An underdog.
I'm about midway through the Rocky Patel Nicaraguan Toro and this is a smoke that is so rich with flavor, bursting with complexity and subtlety that I'm tempted to gather the resultant smoke in a paper bag, recycle it and inhale it again. No, I want to eat it, chew on it, relive the nuttiness and that touch of tropical fruit that showed up mid-way in my mouth.
The burn is a methodical, slow creep down the stick, gathering up the rich, oily, dark wrapper in a thin line that delivers the underlying fullness of the filler in gobs of mouth-filling ecstasy. Throughout is a slight trace of what I can only describe as fermented vegetation, a perfect wisp of pickled parsnips that aficionados of Middle Eastern food recognize in their mezza platters. It springs up on the exhale and provides a light contrapuntal balance to the darkness of the prevalent fruit. Glorious, and in every puff, a washing away of all the supposed sins of past Nicaraguan overbearance.
Swigging around in my mouth, rolling the smoke around in playful punchbags, is the lingering elegance of Forty Creek Confederate Oak Reserve Canadian Whisky, produced by another master of his craft, John Hall. Canadian whisky has had a hard time of it in the past few decades. What was once the staple of suburban swingers and highballed MadMen for decades, Canadian whisky has been missing out on the whiskey revival for exactly the opposite reason of Nicaraguan leaf: a supposed "lightness of being". A true blend by its very definition, Canadian whisky, as a category, has been unfairly trapped in the stigma of the last generation's avoidance of full flavor.
Many brands, existing from the days when whisky was drunk primarily as a mixer with lots of ice and a preponderance of soda or ginger ale, still occupy the bottom shelves of our consumer mind. They were a beverage, an adult version of Kool-Aid, carried around the pool in tumblers and nothing to be taken seriously when delving into the complexity of a whisky's full aroma, texture and flavor.
Yeah, a true Underdog. But Hall has been negating that with the introduction of his Forty Creek line, and his Confederate Oak Reserve brings a rich, full-bodied triumph roaring down from the land of Tim Horton and year round hockey camps. Harvesting older Canadian oak trees near his distillery, some over 150 years (from around the time of the Canadian "Confederation" of 1867), Hall, a former wine maker, exploits a specific Canadian "terroir" that only these trees can bring to a barrel: slower growing trees that produce richer lignins and vanillans not normally found in the standard American oak.
His skilled, balanced blending of separate corn, rye and barley distillations produces a spirit that is unctuous and oily without being treacly or sharp. The result is a full bodied flavor, bright and big with undertones of fig and raisins, maple butter-cream, nuts and spice. It's a winner and it will change your mind about what Canadian whisky can, and should be.
Underdog spoke in rhymed couplets, like "when Polly's in trouble, I am not slow. So it's up, up, up and away I go". That still rings in my ear, and he inspired your Uncle to add his own: "I smoked my Nicaraguan down to the nub, and drank my 40 Creek while I filled up the tub".
Okay, so maybe I'm the real underdog.