Personally, I am glad autumn is upon us. The summer was long and quite taxing at times. In July, my father Lt. Col. C.D. Breme USMC, passed away. He was only 73. Life never really seemed to get back on track from that point on. The exhausting tug-o-war of emotions has been constant. Good days filled with laughs of fond memories and, of course, those difficult days heavy, aching from his absence. I miss him very much.
So today I wanted to post this tribute to thank him for the lifetime of love and education. Honestly, I could fill volumes of grateful testimony recalling all my father imparted, but this page is about bourbon. So what Pop and I shared relating to whiskey (bourbon specifically) will be the focus of this narrative.
I wanted to begin by stating that without Pop my interest in bourbon would be scant and I certainly wouldn’t espouse myself as The Bourboneer. Pop was one of the most intelligent people I ever knew and I am not just saying that because I am his son. He was highly educated, overflowing with practicality and common sense and possessed the gifted faculty of knowing vast amounts of information on just about everything, much like the topic of whiskey. Yes, that wonderful distilled spirit from fermented grain.
As far back as I can remember, Pop’s favorite whiskey (whisky) was scotch. Blended or single malt it didn’t matter, he was a scotch man through and through reminiscent of the legendary Ron Burgundy. Growing up in our household I can distinctly recall Pop always having bottles of Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, Johnny Walker, Dewars, J&B or even Cutty on hand, rather in a crystal decanter I should say. He imbibed the majority of the time either “on the rocks” or with a little club soda, rarely ever neat. In fact, my first encounter with any alcohol came from an unsuspecting gulp of Glenlivet on ice. To a 10 year old, a mouth full of scotch that was expected to be ice tea was quite the eye-popping experience. I believe I could have sipped gasoline and wouldn’t have had the same reaction. Pure burn! Pop chuckled as I gasped for precious air and chugged water to dissolve the smokey hell fire. A valuable lesson learned about asking before taking.
“How in the world is that enjoyable or even palatable!?!” I’d ask repeatedly over the years. “A refined sense of taste son…a refined sense of taste.” He’d always quip.
Simply put, Pop just had an affinity for scotch and there wasn’t much he didn’t know about it either. He was a literal encyclopedia on the subject. He could explain the “peating” process in remarkable detail, he could, by memory, list the regions of Scotland that produced the specific kinds of scotch and then rattle off many of the labels belonging to each, he would happily recite how scotch was a proprietary spirit of Scotland and could’t be made anywhere else and be called scotch. And I am fairly confident this wealth of knowledge derived not by anything of the written word but more osmotically through his lifetime of imbibing. Scotch and it’s history seeped into his understanding with every drink he took. Seeing how much Pop enjoyed scotch piqued my curiosity for whiskey and essentially poured the foundation for my love of bourbon.
What was even more impressive than his love and knowledge of scotch, was his familiarity with all spirits. You’d think that a man who consumed only scotch wouldn’t concern himself with other “lesser” alcohol. Sure, he had the obligatory gin, bourbon, vodka and rum offerings on the bar, but was a complete and thorough education on other spirits even necessary? I didn’t think so, but like I said earlier he possessed vast amounts of knowledge on just about everything. A true pedagog. Quite frankly, I was captivated by it. I wanted to know more. I wanted to be the Padawan learner to his Jedi.
Pop never seemed to tire from my endless questioning on whiskey. He always took time to answer just about anything I wanted to know.
“So, is bourbon a whiskey?”
“Why is whiskey spelled with and without an ‘e’?”
“What is rum or gin distilled from?”
“What’s the difference between scotch and Irish whiskey or Canadian whiskey?”
“What is straight bourbon?”
The list went on and on. Pop knew every answer. I don’t know if I appreciated him or that time as much as I do now. I miss those precious teaching moments so very much today.
For me, after sampling many, many spirits in search of the one I could call my own, I discovered there could only be one. It was bourbon and there was really no other competition. Like Pop with his scotch, I found the same nose and the same palate for bourbon. And despite not sharing his affinity for scotch, I definitely found a connection with him in my love for bourbon. Both are whiskies and both require that “refined sense of taste” as he always said. Because of that bond, that relationship shared between father and son, “whiskey will always be a part of my life”… just like Artie Lange said.
The last memory I recall sharing a drink with Pop was about 6 years ago. I brought a bottle of Woodford Reserve bourbon down to my parents during the Christmas break. I knew he may have only heard of the label but never had any, so I took the opportunity to share my knowledge with him as he always did with me. I could see a “well-pleased” smile begin to stretch across his face. A moment of pride. I was not surprised when he knew much more than I expected about the label, not surprised at all. But what he said next was truly a surprise and one I will never forget. “Get a couple glasses and let’s try it out.” This wasn’t a blended or single malt scotch, this wasn’t Dewars or Glenlivet, this was Woodford, a Kentucky straight bourbon. This was not in his comfort zone. Yet for me, his son, he graciously sipped bourbon over ice as we talked and shared for an hour or more. Man, I miss him! I miss those times as well. There’s not a lot I wouldn’t do to share just one more whiskey with him.
Cheers Pop and rest easy Marine! I love you and I miss you. Thank you for always taking the time to teach. Most of what I know and who I am comes from what you knew and who you were. Thank you for sharing and making me the man I am today. I look forward to the time we can imbibe once again.
Bourbon enjoyed while writing this article: Woodford Reserve KSBW, 45.2% ABV or 90.4 proof (NAS), Woodford Reserve Distillery, Versalles, Ky.