by David Burris
illustration by Tim Lee
I don’t know much about whiskey, but I know one thing: It is good. Whiskey has inspired writers, musicians, and artists to strive for greatness. It has kept bridegrooms even-keeled before the altar. It has brought soldiers strength as they’ve faced the horrors of the battlefield. It has helped mankind battle the dis-ease of everyday living. It has made my belly warm at football games. These are all good things.
The whiskey I am writing about here, North Carolina’s own Defiant American Single Malt Whisky, is a very, very good thing. It has a uniquely defined character and yet is still a whiskey of wide-ranging possibility. It’s also a product of North Carolina, which for me, being an unapologetically proud Tarheel, is a very good thing.
I’d like to point out that this fine Tarheel hootch is spelled “whisky” rather than “whiskey.” As far as my research goes, it seems to be the first American whiskey spelled without the “e” – as both the Scotch and Canadian varieties are spelled. Defiant indeed. No surprise from a whisky distilled here in the Tarheel state, born from our stubborn and defiant nature.
This fine hootch has kept me company during an odd year in my life – many strange moments along many strange trails. I’ve circumvented the globe twice already, and my big takeaway so far is that I could use a nap. A slightly less profound takeaway: When I roam, I like to have something from home to provide a bit of a touchstone. Defiant Whisky has done the job. Three instances follow:
#1 RALEIGH, NC
Straight from the bottle
My first movie, The World Made Straight, hit theaters on January 9. It was uncharted territory. It was nerve-wracking. The anxiety that was arabesque-ing its way around my noggin was only relieved by the cold fear that machete-ed its way into my gut.
The premiere shindig was in Raleigh at the N.C. Museum of History. On the one hand, it was something I was excited about, because so many friends and family would be there. On the other hand, it was something I was anxious about, because so many friends and family would be there. There would be classmates from Chapel Hill, Broughton, Martin, Lacy. There would be friends of my parents from First Baptist Church and Meredith College. There would be former bandmates. There would be ex-girlfriends.
Before the screening, I posted up in the lobby to say “hey” and thank people for coming. From across the room my friend, publicist, and one-woman-support system Michelle Yelton clocked that my head was swimming (the backstroke, she later told me). She pulled me aside and handed me a handsome bottle that I’d never seen before – a bottle of Defiant American Single Malt Whisky – and told me to “go put it in my car” – code for “go outside and take a cheeky pull off of this thing… and I mean NOW.” So I did.
Straight from the bottle, the reassuring, smoky bite of this fine whisky calmed me down and made me very warm inside. With clear eyes I looked more closely at the label – distilled by the Blue Ridge Distilling Co. of Golden Valley, N.C., only a few miles from the setting and filming location of my movie: a pleasing bit of serendipity… Good.
#2 BANGKOK, THAILAND
With two cubes of ice
About two weeks later, I touched down in Bangkok to begin developing an upcoming film project. I brought a bottle of Defiant, my new favorite North Carolina whisky, with me. A wee bit of home in a mad city of warm, lovely, layered chaos. Bangkok is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s longest city name:
Krungthep Mahanakhon Amonrattanakosin Mahintharayutthaya Mahadilokphop Noppharatratchathani Buriromudomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amonphimon Awatansathit Sakkathattiya Witsanu Kamprasit.
“The city of angels, the great city, the eternal jewel city, the impregnable city of god Indra, the grand capital of the world endowed with nine precious gems, the happy city, abounding in an enormous Royal Palace that resembles the heavenly abode where reigns the reincarnated god, a city given by Indra and built by Vishnu.”
It’s quite a town. Among other things, a town built by Vishnu, apparently, the creator and destroyer of all existences: Clearly, a town perfect for whisky.
The complex layers of Defiant Whisky meshed splendidly with the complex layers of Bangkok. I took to having a glass with two cubes of ice after those spectacularly spicy Thai meals. A perfect after-dinner drink for the City of Angels… Good.
#3: VENICE BEACH, CALIFORNIA
In an Old Fashioned
“What could possibly go wrong with an Old Fashioned?,” said actor Jim Backus (Mr. Howell from Gilligan’s Island) in the film It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. Answer: nothing.
Back in Venice Beach (where my house is only a short hop from the “Big W” from the above-mentioned film), I stumbled on what I honestly believe is the best Old Fashioned I’ve ever utilized to augment a Pacific Ocean sunset. Seriously.
Kingsley Amis famously wrote: “The Old Fashioned is a sweet drink and that just has to be faced… the only cocktail to rival the Dry Martini at the other end of the taste spectrum.”
My variation includes chocolate chili bitters and orange bitters along with homemade simple syrup. Defiant’s grown-up, smoky-sweet character puts a cultivated curl on the classic cocktail… Good.
There are a couple of months remaining in the year. I am guessing I shall find myself wandering down a few more strange trails and facing a few more strange moments. I am also guessing that I shall have a bottle of something from the Old North State at hand to remind me of where I came from (Cardinal Gin would work nicely in London I’m thinking…. Perhaps Raleigh Rum in Kyoto?). Anyway, at some point, I’m hoping to get in a nap. Good.
Defiant Old Fashioned
2 ounces Defiant American Single Malt Whisky or other craft whiskey
1 dash Miracle Mile Chocolate Chili Bitters
1 dash Fee Brothers Orange Bitters
1/4 ounce demerara simple syrup*
1 Luxardo maraschino cherry (Or try a Trader Joe’s dark morello cherry – makes it a tad more tart. Regular old maraschino cherries will do in a pinch.)
1 orange peel (With the orange bitters, I find that the orange peel is a bit superfluous, but still nice to zest the rim.)
Tools: bar spoon, shaker (or pint glass)
In a shaker (or a chilled pint glass), add the syrup, bitters, and whiskey. Stir (do not shake, peasant). Add ice cubes and stir again. Before pouring, fill an Old Fashioned glass with ice and zest the rim with orange peel. Add cherry.
*Make the syrup yourself. It’s easy. ½ cup of water, ½ cup of Trader Joe’s Turbinado Raw Cane Sugar, ½ ounce vodka (the vodka will not affect the flavor and will keep it from going off) – heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Easy, peezy, lemon squeezy.