As most drinkers know, bourbon has a distinctive taste. It’s not like scotch or Canadian or Irish whiskey. Even though I was never much of a bourbon drinker (I preferred the smokiness of scotch) I still remember how it tastes. Jim Beam was one of the only dark liquors my parents kept in the cabinet regularly (usually for whiskey sours). In the weeks leading up to my suicide attempt I’d pour the Jim Beam over a few ice cubes when we’d have company over. It was tricky to make sure I was giving myself enough to catch a good buzz but not so much that the amount in the tumbler would raise an eyebrow. Sometimes I could sneak a bonus in or top off if everyone was otherwise engaged. I never had the affection for bourbon that I did for scotch, or for certain red wines or pints of hoppy IPAs. But it found its way into the line-up as a strong utility player, especially in the last few months of drinking.
I have gone 668 days without a drink (as of writing this). I’ve been tempted a lot in that time, sometimes by a particular drink, a mood, social convention or out of a longing for the real (though mostly hollow) relief drinking provided me. I had a unique experience over the weekend.
As I’ve written before, I (rather stupidly you may say) began smoking cigars and pipes as a sort of replacement for alcohol. Something about the distinctive similarity of smoking pipes and cigars that reminds me of drinking good scotch or wine where you try and find the layered textures, aromas and flavors of something crafted to appeal to your senses of smell, taste and texture. So a few weeks ago I tried a blend of pipe tobacco with a Bourbon Whiskey flavoring. The truth is I was looking for the brand’s Original blend but the packaging was similar enough that when I pointed it out to the clerk behind the counter and they rang it up I didn’t realize until I was home that I had the wrong blend.
Maybe I should have stopped there, gone back, explained. But I figured what harm could it do? There’s no actual alcohol in the tobacco. It’s not like it will get me drunk. And it didn’t. To tell you the truth, while I was smoking it I couldn’t really pick up on any whiskey flavor, bourbon or otherwise. So I decided there was nothing wrong with finishing the pouch. Since the first time, I’ve had a few more bowls of the so-called bourbon flavored tobacco and never really got that from it.
Until last night. Last night I hit me like I was tossing back tumblers of Jimmy Beam. When I tasted it I didn’t just taste it- the smell was filling my nostrils, my heart fluttered and I found myself licking my lips. I brushed my teeth and could still taste it. It was on my tongue and the roof of my mouth. The distinctiveness of bourbon. It finally took eating some crackers and cheese to make it fade.
Did I panic? You might say that. My mind immediately began to worry that the taste of bourbon would overwhelm me, and like a newly transformed werewolf I’d lose control and burst out of the house hunting for Maker’s Mark while foaming at the mouth and roaring at people. That didn’t happen (if it did I probably would have been on the news). I was worried and my thoughts began to fly off in ten different directions, with things like “FOOL!” “I TOLD YOU SO” “YOU MORON,” etc. I questioned my self control, I questioned the progress I’ve made over the last 668 days and I questioned whether or not anyone would respect me for what I saw as a huge personal failing. The anxious mind leaps to conclusions that aren’t based on fact (panicking because I tasted bourbon in something that doesn’t actually contain alcohol- which is lost to evaporation in the infusing process). I wasn’t intoxicated. I wasn’t falling off the wagon. I hadn’t lost control.
But this was a reminder that maybe I’m playing with fire. Sure, there’s a lot of difference between having a drink and the taste of bourbon flavored tobacco, but there’s not that much separating them. So I think I’m going to be throwing out the rest of this blend and avoiding it in the future.
Speaking of playing with fire, maybe this is the sign to just quit smoking all together.