A History with Whiskey

Since I’ve retired, I’ve looked for things to do to fill out my routine.  One thing I’d never done before retiring was check out garage sales.  I’d been hunting up garage and estate sales all over O‘ahu, looking for interesting books that folks may have had in their possession, you know, buried away in boxes, in closets, what have you.

Last month I was making the rounds on the Windward side.  Beginning up toward Kahuku, I’d worked my way down to Punalu‘u.  Coincidentally, I’d also worked up a pretty good thirst, and figured maybe I might get hungry after a few. There was a place I’d not remembered seeing before called Paddy’s Place, a small restaurant and bar.  I pulled in.

The bar was cool and dark, made up to look like some kind of a retro tiki bar.

Flopping down on a high stool, I smiled and waved to the bartender to get his attention.

“Well, well, well,” the bartender says, who happens, I discover, to be Paddy himself, “if it’s drinking you’re looking to do, you’ve come to the right place, my friend.  And if it’s good whiskey you’re after, I’m proud to tell you that this humble establishment of mine is the most genuinely Irish bar you’ll find in the entire State of Hawai‘i.  Might I be able to interest you in a sip or three?”

“Right on to that suggestion,” I say. “It’s been a while since I’ve had any Irish whiskey.”

Says Paddy, “I’ve some good ones.”  And he names them:  Teeling, Green Spot, Tullamore, Tyrconnell, Connemara.  “I’ve also the old standbys,” he says, “Bushmills and Jameson, if you’d like to stick with what’s for you undoubtedly the tried and true.”

“I have indeed tried Bushmills and Jameson,” I say, “many times, much to my sometime regret, Paddy.  Sad to say, I’m a sort of ugly American in sticking to those two popular brands.  I’m, however, unfamiliar with the others.  Which would you recommend?”

“Well,” says Paddy, “there’s not a thing on this earth the matter with either Bushmills or Jameson, so don’t go beating yourself up over the limits of your tasting experience.  It’s not as though you carouse the streets of Dublin every evening.  I can tell you this to hearten you.  Of all the Irish whiskeys I’ve ever tried, the very best of all of them is every single one.”

I laugh.  “Paddy,” I say, “that’s a fine recommendation, but I have to tell you that what you’ve said has in no way helped me to narrow down my choices.”

“Exactly.  We Irish have a saying,” he says, “and that is that narrowing of choice is a narrowing of mind.  We must fight to keep ourselves as broadminded as we can, we Irish believe, so if we’re presented with five kinds of whiskey we’ve never tried before, we show not a bit of prejudice when it comes to being accepting of each and every one of them.  In short, here’s to fighting prejudice in this world as best we may.”

And with that Paddy sets up five whiskey glasses on the bar in front of me and proceeds to pour me a shot each of the Teeling, Green Spot, Tullamore, Tyrconnell, and Connemara.

“Begin opening up your mind,” he says, winking and heading around the bar to take a tourist couple’s order.

I sip the first, the Teeling, and to speak truth, with just a slight nose of it before I sip, I can feel my mind begin to do a bit of reeling.  It’s good.  I sip again.

Paddy comes back behind the bar, his eyes twinkling.  “So how do you find the Teeling?” he asks.

“Powerful,” I say, breathing a bit of fire.

“Hah hah!,” laughs Paddy, looking all the merrier for his green shirt and his green shamrock patterned vest.  “Here.”  He pours me a glass of water.  “Cleanse your palate before you go for the Green Spot.”

I thank him, rinse, and repeat.

Paddy is making up two Mai Tais for the tourist husband and wife, humming something Irishy.

I sniff at the Green Spot.  Pungent as well.  Probably has singed some of my nose hairs.  I sip.  Yeow.

“Like it?” asks Paddy.

“Wowzers,” I say.

Paddy chuckles and heads around the bar with the Mai Tais.

I rinse again.

“Ah,” remarks Paddy, coming up behind me and patting me on the back.  “You’ve come to one of your moments of truth when you take on the likes of Tullamore.”

I nod, sort of hearing him.  Forgetting to sniff, I sip a little too generously.

“Careful there,” says Paddy. “We’re not doing shots here with our fraternity brothers,” he quips, whipping up a couple of Chi-Chi refills for a pair of young ladies, beet-red, laughing and lounging just outside the doors fronting the lānai.

My eyes are watering by this point, and I have yet to try out the Tyrconnell.  I do, forgetting to swish.  No matter, I’m getting past the point of probably being able to taste things with any kind of fine distinction anyway.

“Tickle your tonsils twice going down, the Tyrconnell will,” I hear Paddy say, perhaps from a mile or two away.  I think I can see him washing glasses in the sink.

“Oy,” I say, my only thought as well as decently articulate comeback I can manage at this point.

Paddy stands before me.  “It’s down to the wire then, is it?  And coming up fast on the inside is Connemara.  You’ll want to hold onto the reins as you head for the wire.”  He laughs, then heads out somewhere himself to do something.

Several deep breaths later, my stomach expanding to a frighteningly large size, seeming somewhat bigger than a basketball to my watering eyes, I lift the Connemara up to lip level and try to take just the smallest sip.

“Holy mother of mercy and overmedication,” says Paddy, magically appearing before me across the bar, “don’t drink the glass as well.”

“Whaaa?” I say, “s’jus one lil sip.”

“Oh Lord,” says Paddy, running out of sight to my right and then suddenly looking down at me from the ceiling.

“Are y’all right, boy-o?” he asks from somewhere above.  “Sorry I couldn’t run fast enough to catch you.  Up, up, up,” he says, and I feel myself rising like heavy fumes.

I distinctly feel honored somehow to be dragged into a back room.  Then all is dark.

My eyes flicker open.  It is really dark.  “Hello?” I say, a little too loudly, the sound much too large to fit through the tiny holes that are my ears.

I feel for the edge of whatever it is I’m lying on.  It does appear to be a bed.  I attempt to sit up.  I attempt to sit up again.  On the third try, I sit up.

A few minutes of rest for my head, propped ever so gently in my hands, brings me some sense of self, the kind of awareness people surely need to feel they are a still a part of the world of the living.

I stand up.   Wobble.  I can hear what I am sure are waves.  “Hello?” I say again.

A light blinds me as a door opens.

“Oh my God,” I say feebly, shielding my eyes as best I can.

“Not quite that almighty yet,” says a woman, maybe a few years my junior.  “Are you all right?”

“All right?  I, well, I guess I will be.  If you can get me out to the bar, I could use some coffee.”

“The bar?” she says.

“Yeah, if I could please just get some coffee.”

“Okay, sure, I can make you some.”

She steps aside and gestures for me to step through the doorway.  I do.

“What?   Where am I?” I say, looking around.  “Where’s the bar?”

“I’m sorry,” she says, “I don’t know what you mean.”

“The bar,” I repeat, as though by saying it again I think I can make her understand any better what I mean.  “Where’s Paddy?”

“Who?”

“Paddy.”

“There’s no Patty here,” she says.  “At least I don’t know her.”

“Him,” I say.  “The bartender.  The owner of this place.  Paddy.”

“Mister,” she says, “I think you don’t remember where you are.  You came to look at my books, said you were looking for anything old.  I brought you up here to look at my grandfather’s collection.  We hadn’t brought any of them down for the garage sale.  We didn’t think anyone would be interested.  I brought you upstairs because you seemed like a serious buyer.”

“Please,” I say, not quite wrapping my head around this whole thing.  “I gotta sit down.”

She helps me to a seat in what is a rather large study, a small library really.

“Isn’t this a restaurant and bar called Paddy’s?”

She gives me the oddest look.  “No, mister, this is my home.”

“Is this Punalu‘u?” I ask.

“Well, yes, it is Punalu‘u.  This place you call Paddy’s.  My grandfather ran a place, it was near here, called Pat’s at Punalu‘u.  A long time ago.  Are you thinking of that maybe?”

“Your grandfather?” I ask, absolutely confused.  But I can see the Irish in her red hair, pale skin, green eyes. “So was this is his . . .”  I look around, gesture with a sweep of my hand.

“Yes, yes, this was his home and we’re in what was his study.  You were sitting right there at his desk.  You were looking at some of his books.  She goes over to the desk. “When you passed out, you were looking at this one.”

She brings it over to me.  I read the cover:  The Death of the Irish Whiskey Industry.  I open it, see that the publication date is 1954, the same year I was born.

I flip to the introduction.  At the top of the page, there is a handwritten note:

Here’s to all the drinking we’ve done, and to all the drinking we should have done.  Cheers for eternity, P.

I read the introduction:  There were 88 fully functioning whiskey distillers in Ireland at the turn of the 20th-Century, as well as innumerable home brewers.  With the advent of Prohibition in the United States, the number one importer and consumer of Irish whiskey, the industry declined precipitously.  Compounded by the catastrophic advent of World War II, when the English market dried up, by the end of the 1940s there were only two distilleries left, Bushmills and Midleton.

I stop reading.

“Have I been drinking?” I ask.

“Not that I know of.”

“I wasn’t drunk?”

“I don’t think so.  I came up to check on you and you were down on the floor.  I figured you’d fainted.”

“Oh boy,” I say.  “What a dream I had about your grandfather.”

She laughs.  “Would you like to come back to look at his books again?”

“Yes, yes, I’d like that very much.”

We decide that I’ll actually come back the following day after lunch.  I drive home, groggy as hell for not having drunk a drop.  The next morning I wake up late, feel hungover for some reason.

What a dream.

I drive out to Punalu‘u, then realize that I really don’t exactly remember where the house was.  Finding another garage sale going on, I stop to ask if the people know the place that had the garage sale yesterday.

“It was right around here,” I say.  “I’m sure.  A woman.  Little bit younger than me.”

“Sorry, brah, I don’t know about that,” the elderly man running the sale says.  “Us guys, we all know about each other’s sales.  It’s funny.  It’s like out here we all buy from each other, and the more you go to the other sales, to more you see stuff you sold them.  More dumb, sometimes you buy your own stuff back.”

I laugh, can see that happening in a small community like this one.

“Try wait,” he says.  He goes over to an elderly woman, maybe his wife, has some kind of exchange with her.  I watch her shake her head.

He comes back.  “Sorry, brah, my wife don’t know of any garage sales in Punalu‘u yesterday.  You sure wasn’t Hau‘ula maybe?  Someplace else?”

“No, no, it was right around here.  I recognize this area.”

“Sorry,” he says.  “I don’t know what to say to help you.”

“Well, thanks anyway,” I say, and turn to leave.

A stack of books catches my eye.  Why not?  I go over and begin to look through them.  And then –

“Excuse me,” I say, walking over to the man.  “This book,” I hold it out to him.  “This is your book?”

“Oh, yeah, was my dad’s book.  He was into whiskey.  Mostly because he and this guy Pat – you know Pat’s at Punalu‘u?”

“Yes, yes, I remember Pat’s,” I say.

“Well, Pat and my dad used to get wicked drunk on Irish whiskey all the time.  When Pat was dying, cause he nevah have any living relatives, yeah, he left that book to my dad.”

I stare at him.  “So this book, The Death of the Irish Whiskey Industry, this book your dad got from Pat?”

“Yeah yeah.  Ho man, dat Pat could cook, yeah?  He used to make the best coconut cream pie I evah ate.”

“Yeah, yeah,” I say.  “My folks loved that pie.  We would drive all the out here from town just to eat it.”

“Scuse,” he says, “I gotta go help – ”

“How much?” I ask.

The man looks at me, smiles.  “Eh, you know what?  You look exactly like the kind of guy who would take real good care of that book.”

“I love books,” I say.

“Take um.”

“No, no, I want to pay.”

He smiles.  “I got a feeling like you and that book was meant for each other,” he says.  “I think Pat and my dad would want you to have it.”

With that he walks away to help another browser.

I hurry back to my car and sit down.  I flip to the introduction, my breath catches:

Here’s to all the drinking we’ve done, and to all the drinking we should have done.  Cheers for eternity, P.

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