Whisky Advocate

Guest blog #5: One last drink

September 3rd, 2010

Ryan Beard of serves as today’s guest blogger. “One last drink”  is a deep approach to get to the bottom of a very simple question.

Christopher Hitchens is dying. Whether you love him or hate him the man is now faced with a fate we will all meet by a method of departure most of us hope to avoid. He’s been diagnosed with late-stage esophageal cancer and if he’s very, very lucky he might make it another few years. People die every day and while there may be better men to mourn there might be no better man to answer the question concerning libations and departures we pose to you today.

These are Hitchens’ 10 Commandments for Drinking from his recently released memoir: Hitch 22

1.Don’t drink on an empty stomach: the main point of the refreshment is the enhancement of food.
2.Don’t drink if you have the blues: it’s a junk cure.
3.Drink when you are in a good mood.
4.Cheap booze is a false economy.
5.It’s not true that you shouldn’t drink alone: these can be the happiest glasses you ever drain.
6.Hangovers are another bad sign, and you should not expect to be believed if you take refuge in saying you can’t properly remember last night. (If you really don’t remember, that’s an even worse sign.)
7.Avoid all narcotics: these make you more boring rather than less and are not designed – as are the grape and the grain—to enliven company.
8.Be careful about up-grading too far to single malt Scotch: when you are voyaging in rough countries it won’t be easily available.
9.Never even think about driving a car if you have taken a drop.
10.It’s much worse to see a woman drunk than a man: I don’t know quite why this is true but it just is. Don’t ever be responsible for it.

So here’s the question. Imagine you are told the date and time of your death and, in that final hour, given access to one last dram of any whisk(e)y in existence or out of existence. One final drink before you shove off into the darkness. What would you choose? Would you choose the most expensive in the world? Maybe the oldest you can think of? Maybe that one that you never could find. Maybe the same one your father or grandfather drank, the scent of which you still remember wistfully when you think of Him. Would it be your old standard or a new favorite? Would you break into the Buffalo Trace distillery and crack open a barrel knowing that they’ll NEVER TAKE YOU ALIVE?! I might. 

Either way let us know your thoughts in the comments. And make it a good one; it’s your last.

47 Responses to “Guest blog #5: One last drink”

  1. sam k says:

    Whoa, deep stuff, and thought provoking to say the least. It’s going to take more than one reading and some serious soul-searching to go farther into this one. I think I’ll wait for some others to comment and hope they provide me with a bit of wisdom and perspective.

    Many thanks for the philosophy class, Ryan.

    • sam k says:

      OK, never mind. I guess I really knew this one from the very beginning. Sam Thompson Pennsylvania Rye, last distilled in the early eighties at Michter’s. One of the most delicious modern American whiskeys ever distilled. I still have a tiny bit left in the bunker, but it will be gone long before my untimely demise (I think).

  2. Jason Pyle says:

    Great blog post Ryan. This is a tough one and has caused me to have to think about going for something maybe I’ve never had before that I’ve heard is wonderful vs. something I know is wonderful.

    For me, my last “pour” would most certainly be an American Whiskey. And it would also be a bourbon from the finest makers of the stuff in the country. While age can certainly make for a deep, dark spirit, I would probably choose something with a good bit of life and bite to it.

    Pappy Van Winkle 15 would be the whiskey for me. One of the most complex whiskey’s with loaded proof to boot. Yep, that’s what it would be for me!

  3. B.J. Reed says:

    Yes, love him or hate him Hitch is one of a kind…

    As to the question at hand, I would probably have the Ardbeg Provenance or the Glenfarclas – maybe the 17 or maybe the 40. One represents a bit of the history of a great distillery and the other represents not only a great whisky but the tradition of the family owned distillery which are so few and far between. I have been to both, I greatly respect the people running them and they hold great memories for me.

    Now give me a 1/2 hour and I will change my mind.

  4. JMF says:

    Thought provoking post. I have two ideas for my last dram:

    1) The one you can’t get: I would love to try a whisky that was distilled in an illicit still somewhere in the highlands in the 1700’s just to see what whisky tasted like back then.

    2) Choose my own barrel from Highland Park and throw one last amazing party for all my friends and family.

  5. James says:

    I’m not even sure I will answer the above question, as profound and personal as its true ramifications render it, with what I’m about to write here. I’m inclined to think that investing the required amount of reflection on this topic would take the rest of our lives!
    What I will discuss is the last dram I had to date: a Mortlach 16-year-old with Fleetwood Mac on the stereo and a late English summer evening in development outside. That was damn near perfection. Do I wish it was something fancier, older, more expensive, rarer? No. That would rather impotently have spoiled the uniqueness of the moment. Even if I had known in advance that it was my last? We have no more control over how we will pass than we do how our taste buds, emotions and mood will collaborate with that of the whisky at any time. Did I succeed in not really answering this whatsoever?

    • Ryan says:

      Ha! I love the way you answered that actually. I think that what you described is exactly what makes a great Whiskey so great. A terrible dram can spoil the moment, but if the moment it right you just need it to be good and most importantly, THERE, supporting you and helping to make the memory.

    • Ryan says:

      Ha! I love the way you answered that actually. I think that what you described is exactly what makes a great Whiskey so great. A terrible dram can spoil the moment, but if the moment it right you just need it to be good and most importantly THERE, supporting you and helping to make the memory.

      • James says:

        You’re absolutely right, Ryan, and I’m pleased you appreciated my evasive response! I could give our politicians some pointers. Whisk(e)ys are so different, just as the memories which feature them are. Above all, they are distinct and exclusive, perfect in their own moment. This was what I essentially stated in my original comment but I can furnish it with examples: I could choose the Aberlour single cask ex-Bourbon that I tasted at the distillery in Speyside but it wouldn’t be the same. I could choose the Lagavulin 12yo Cask Strength which I also had on Islay at the distillery, but it wouldn’t be the same, either. It would have to be another favourite whisky for which I would allocate such an occasion to be its own unique moment. Thanks for getting me pondering. It isn’t so morbid when you focus on the extraordinary spirits!

  6. GS says:

    Having just lost a friend last week, I think I have a good perspective on this. I would choose the absolute worst plonk on the planet, but only ask that I have the opportunity to share a final toast with my family and friends.
    (sorry for not answering the question).

  7. The Bitter Fig says:

    I’m too young-in-whisky to know yet what a *last* dram would be. That implies too much of a sense of completion, and I’ve barely started, but I think I know what whiskies I’d go for if I won a lottery and could buy guilt-free whatever I felt like. I’d get a medium-old, not ancient Glenfarclas (21yo?), Alberta Premium 25, and the best independent bottling of Ardmore I could find reviews for. Not necessarily final drink materials, or even the best stuff I’ve read about, but some of the stuff I’m most curious about.

    As to the whole “last drink before death” question, I think I don’t really like it simply because it’s too major. I’ll put forth an alternate question that gets at the same mentality, but not quite as extreme: You are about to begin a year without whisky or other drink as part of a “Prohibition-athon” where a mind-blowing amount of money will be donated to a charity of your choice in exchange for your temporary temperance (kind of like shaving your head for charity donations, but more whisky-focused). What drink do you reach for as your last one for a year?

  8. Mr Claw says:

    Personally I’m quite a fan of Christopher Hitchens.

    I may not agree with him on everything (Iraq, for instance – although he has been deeply critical of human-rights abuses by the Allies following the war/’liberation’) but he always makes a fabulous and passionate case. Easily one of the great orators and polemicists of recent times.

    Yes, he can be somewhat arrogant, but also extremely witty. He’s also got a pair of balls – he’s been to conflict zones around the world, he publicly spoke out for and sheltered Salman Rushdie whilst religious psychos the world over were trying to kill him (because he’d written a novel FFS!); Hitchens also subjected himself to waterboarding to better understand the use of torture in interrogation.

    Anyway, on the subject of a ‘final’ whisk(e)y – that’s a hard one. I guess it would depend on my mood.

    I’d probably go for something I historically have a soft spot for and a knowledge of rather than something extremely rare/expensive. I’d like to take time to reflect on it as my last whisk(e)y and I usually find I don’t start to get that much out of a previously untried whisk(e)y until the 2nd or 3rd time I’ve had it. Of course some whiskies you instantly like, but others take time to get a hold on you.

    I guess I’d probably go for an old dependably brillaint favourite: a Highland Park 18, Lagavulin 16, Glenfarclas 15 – something like that. Although I might be tempted have a Sazerac…

    • James says:

      You are quite right, Mr Claw. Its quite a risk to take on your last dram: selecting one on the basis of reputation and mythology instead of personal preference. In many respects, it would be like trying to form a strong bond with a childhood hero, but otherwise a stranger, just before you pass into the void. Better, surely, to spend your last moments with your very best friend whose character can be trusted to console and inspire?

  9. I have a lot of years left (hopefully) before I think about this. I’m sure I will think about it, though. When you start putting away bottles, you put them away for reasons (big birthdays, events, time passages, etc.).

    I imagine the last dram would be something that took me back to where it all started – like the excitement you feel when you ‘understand’ whisky with friends. So, something simple and not too extravagant – a Glenlivet that I first drank with my mom. Or a young Ardbeg that I drank with friends playing poker when I finally realized where the flavors are.

    As for his 10 commandments, I unfortunately think a few of them are a little silly. Among them – the upgrading to single malt. Anyone that “upgrades” and still doesn’t appreciate the pleasure of Johnny Black (which can be found most places) or see the qualities of interesting local whiskies is drinking more for status than enjoyment.

  10. Rick Duff says:

    While not my last dram.. it reminds me of a recent occurrence. I just had some major emergency surgery 3 months ago. After being sedated and being sent back to the operating room.. my wife was told to say goodbye to me.. I mumbled something to her she just last week asked me what it was I meant..
    I mumbled: “the 66 is on the bottom shelf on the right”… I just kept saying it over and over.. well ..
    what I was saying.. I have a bottle of 1966 (my birth year) Banff that I have saved and is to be opened at my funeral to be shared. I was simply reminding her in case I didn’ t make it.

    So while I’m not as concerned about my last dram.. I’m concerned that those remembering me have 1 heck of a great last dram in my honour.

    • Ryan says:

      That is a REALLY great idea, Rick. I’d like to do the same for my friends. I’ll probably have a slightly easier time finding, and affording, a nice bottle of something from 85′

  11. maltakias says:

    “Make it a Malt Mill…..father priest”

  12. ps says:

    a small dram from the fountain of youth, please.

  13. Stephen says:

    Great post! And it’s too bad about Hitch. The Lagavulin Distiller’s Edition is perhaps my favorite dram, but since I own a bottle of it, it’s too familiar and too predominately smoky and peaty to be my final dram (does this mean I’m maturing away from a longstanding infatuation with peat and smoke? Not sure…). Instead, I would choose Highland Park 30, provided I’d be allowed to drink at least half the bottle. After all, one glass of that intricate, beautiful expression is not enough–and since I’d be dead the next day, the hangover thing doesn’t apply.

  14. bgulien says:

    Oh, I’d go for the Port Ellen 7th annual release any time.
    But then, if I know the time of my demise, I would drink the whole collection I have. No use to leave it for the people I leave behind, because they won’t appreciate it.
    So I will go with a smile after 100+ bottles.

  15. two-bit cowboy says:

    A thought-provoking question, Ryan. Thanks.

    Given time to prepare for that last drink, here’s the sequence:

    Hitch’s rule # 1: I’d grill an aged, inch-and-a-half thick porterhouse outdoors on an aspen fire (grilled onion and potato, and coleslaw)

    Hitch’s rule # 3: I’m always in a good mood

    Hitch’s rule # 5: I’d drink alone (don’t want to be surrounded by a bunch of weepers)

    Htich’s rule # 8: A big double dram of Royal Salute

    ah, heaven (or maybe that other place)

  16. Brendan says:

    I’d find a bottle of one of my regular favorites – say, Glenfiddich Solera Reserve or Macallen 12 – nothing too exotic, but something familiar that my friends and family can empty after me.

  17. Quentin says:

    Hitch’s list is pretty good and safe. For a more witty take, I recommend reading Kingsley Amis on drinking. He has some good things to say about whiskies. As for the final dram, I think I would go with something that I know I will enjoy, rather than run the risk of having something that might have cache, but could disappoint (e.g., boy, that Mortlach 70 year old isn’t all the propaganda cracked it up to be). For whatever reason, at this moment my choice would be the Bruichladdich 3D3 Norrie Campbell Tribute. Although, that Bowmore 15 year old from the sherry butt that I tried straight from the cask was a real stunner, and the location in the Bowmore warehouse can’t be beat.

  18. Bill says:

    Great post, great question. I think for me there’s only one answer, and I’m afraid that it’s a bit obvious (after reflection, of course): I’d want my last drink to be The Last Drop.

  19. MrTH says:

    Mark Gillespie used to ask this question of his guests on WhiskyCast, so I’ve pondered it plenty. Here’s the thing: your last dram will likely be gone before you know it. You can’t plan it. Some day you won’t feel well, and you won’t drink anything because you don’t feel like it. A few days later, you’ll go see the doctor. Next thing you know, you’ll be in the hospital stuck full of tubes, and the next thing you know, you won’t know anything. That last dram will have slipped by pretty much without notice.

    So as far as I’m concerned, it’s nothing more than a theoretical question without any real meaning. The real question is, what’s your next dram? Who knows, it could be your last. Look, there’s a bottle of Nadurra on the table.

  20. Ryan says:

    Wow, I really like what everyone came up with here. I guess it’s time for me to weigh in. If I was given the knowledge of when I would pass away I think I’d opt for something simple. My choice would be to take my friends out and splurge on a bottle of something we all liked but a year that had always been slightly out of reach. Maybe that 18yr Glenlivet I’ve been eyeing lately… But, I wouldn’t tell them about my death. Instead I’d just want to enjoy the moment of sharing something great that we’d never dared to purchase before. I think purchasing that bottle on a random day and sharing it with my friends “just because” would take the power out of my death-sentence and make it a perfect way to say goodbye.

    Thank you guys so much for all the great discussion.

  21. I’d go for the dram with the best memory attached to it. Currently that would be Signatory’s Glenugie 33 that was released a few months ago. My wife got it for me as a 6 months delayed birthday present and it reminds me of A: the missus, and B: our first trip to Scotland where we got it!

  22. Ethan Smith says:

    Michter’s Pot Still Whiskey. Distilled, aged, and bottled in Schaefferstown, PA. I love that little distillery too much for it not to be my last drink.

  23. Andre Girard says:

    Ardbeg 1977 (still have a bottle at home), an Highland Park 40YO or a Bowmore Gold, black or white 1964 would be my choice…

  24. Louis says:

    For my last dram, I would have to go back to the top drams of the late 90’s, when I first got into single malt scotch. So it would be a Springbank 21, or either the Ardbeg Provenance or the 1974 G&M. If the entire world stock of those have been locked away in heavily guarded vaults, I’d go for a 30+ year old Glenfarclas.



  25. Your Mother says:

    Happy Birthday, Ryan! Hope you have a wonderful day! But the real question of the day is, what will you enjoy for your Birthday Dram??

  26. Ray says:

    Great post. I will be one of the few to keep my last dram(s) in the Bourbon category. I am not sure I can limit it to one but I would say 1) Maker’s Mark – the bourbon that started it all for me, 2) Hirsch 16 – still a favorite, and 3) Very Very Old Fitzgerald – still have not been able to put my hands on a bottle of this one but it would be my last dram and so money would not be an issue.


  27. H.Diaz says:

    Balvenie 10 y/o.

  28. Vince says:

    This is an exceedingly difficult situation to ponder as I have so many great memories of whiskey. I plan on having the Parkers Heritage Collections Golden Anniversary bourbon to commemorate my 50th in November. If my unfortunate demise would be near to this (which I am not anticipating) that would be my last dram. If I was able to enjoy an incredible cigar I would probably lean toward the Glenlivet Nadurra Triumph.

    I guess when push comes to shove though, it would be a Pappy Van Winkle 20 year Old. I live in KY and I would anticipate being in this state for this occasion. I always tell my friends from NJ (where I am from) their is nothing quite like drinking a KY straight Bourbon in the beautiful state of KY. For my last dram, I think I would have to reflect on my life by enjoying a product made in KY. (Although I am with Stephen in that I would want to drink half to bottle!)

  29. woodisgood says:

    I do disagree with #7: Sometimes (for me once a week), a small inhale of some fine greenery brings a different dimension to my nightly bourbon sipping. I’ve got the turntable spinning, singles and albums ready to be spun, bourbon by my side, and all is well for a few hours!

    Anyway: I hope one day, somehow, before I myself spin off this twirling speck of stone, I get to try some of that Very Very Old Fitzgerald. But honestly, of all the whiskys I’ve tried, I hope my last is what remains today my favorite: Pappy 15.

    • Henry H. says:

      Surely you jest. The “fine greenery” to which you refer bears no relation to narcotics. That category error aside, I find that cannabis alters the palate so profoundly as to ruin the whisky experience. I much prefer these two drugs in the opposite order – a wee dram or two and then a tiny bit of the greenery – though the latter isn’t at all necessary to make the evening complete. And one must take care with any such combination.

      • sam k says:

        Once again, Henry, nobody’s wrong. Whatever floats your boat.

        I just got out of the hospital after invasive surgery and combined the Dilaudid they provided (when the morphine and Vicodin failed their duties) with a bit of Knob Creek. Slept like a baby, and have no regrets.

        • Henry H. says:

          Hey there, sam k. As you may remember from comments we shared a few months back, I’m not averse to some careful drug combining. That said, I’ll betcha a dollar John would prefer that we keep our comments to whisky and other *legal* drugs here on WDJK (not that your prescription wasn’t legal). At the same time, it’s tough for me to let a drug category error go by without a corrective comment.

          Hope the surgery worked well for you, and here’s to your good health!

          • sam k says:

            Point taken, Henry. The new knee is holding up well thus far. I appreciate your thoughts, and hope we cross paths sometime!

  30. Christopher Hitchens is a unique man.He will be sorely missed.Voices like his illuminates the dark and makes us do something we don’t particularly want to do…think.As to my last drop,I would go with something that reminds me of the hearth and family…Powers Gold Label a finer drink would be hard to find.Nothing fancy just home.

  31. Scotty Freebairn says:

    For me, I have a lifetime devotion to King’s Ransom Blended 12 year old Scotch and it would have to be my last dram. I have reserved a more than adequate supply to share with friends at my funeral.

  32. Debbie says:

    Very thought provoking, Ryan. After much discussion around the kitchen table about this. I have decided, I will still go with my sweet, sweet tea and enjoy my family. Bill will have some vodka with 7 up , sitting under a tree in the woods listening to the wonderful sounds of nature. Keep writing, Ryan.

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