Opinion: Preparing for the new year with a 'winter sweep'

Opinion: Preparing for the new year with a 'winter sweep'

A seasonal declutter brings reminiscences and reflections

Thoughts from... | 11 Dec 2023 | Issue 196 | By Liza Weisstuch

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I’ll never understand why spring cleaning gets all the love. Spring is when people start to spend more time outside their homes, after all. I, for one, am a fan of the winter sweep – christened as such (by yours truly) for its implications of being both a physical dusting/mopping/polishing exercise and also rampage-level purge. Winter is, of course, nesting season. Doesn’t it make more sense to do a deep clean and eliminate as much as you can before you settle in and get cosy for the next few months?   


I have written in these pages before about my collecting habits — something that I’m sure many readers relate to, as whisky enthusiasm lends itself to purchasing, swapping, cataloguing, and storing spirits. If you carry out those third and fourth steps, you can tell any family member or friend who looks at you with annoyance or concern that you are categorically not a hoarder. Hoarding is a clinical disorder classified by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. People who accumulate items with strategy, passion, and an inclination for showcasing their collections are not hoarders. Hoarders, the psychological literature tells us, are ashamed. Collectors are proud.


The one thing that does toe the line, I find, are magazines. With their prominently displayed and often thoughtfully designed spines, books make a statement to someone who visits your home. They speak of an intellectual curiosity, a status of being well-off enough to have leisure time, commitment, and, of course, knowledge. Magazines – regardless of how intellectual or high-brow they may be – do not telegraph the same message. It’s a matter of superficiality, really, but a year’s worth of The Atlantic or The Economist looks like little more than a pile of afterthoughts, a stack of old, worn-out thoughts and events. Why bother with it? New news is breaking every minute. Unless, that is, you’re a journalist.


I like to quote Robert Redford in his role as Bob Woodward, the journalist who exposed Watergate, in the 1976 movie All the President’s Men: “That’s why I became a journalist. I get to write things down so I don’t forget them.” It’s foolhardy to be a drinks writer and think along the same lines as the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who brought down an American president. But there is something resonant in the notion that physically recording an experience, be it first-person or learned, serves memory as well as, if not better than, a photograph. My winter sweep typically entails flipping through old issues of Whisky Magazine and putting them in order and, yes, on display. (Props to Paragraph Publishing for printing a magazine with an actual bounded spine.)


As one who’s been chronicling the whisky industry in these pages for more than 15 years, going through old issues is like thumbing through family photo books. In issue 85, from April 2010, I wrote about Elmer T. Lee turning 90. While I was not able to attend his formal celebration for family reasons, I had an opportunity to visit with him one-on-one at Buffalo Trace Distillery. That is, until Wild Turkey’s Jimmy Russell, more than a decade Elmer’s junior, wandered into the distillery on a casual visit. The thrill of watching two friends, each an icon, swapping impromptu stories about the old days is easily my favourite few minutes I’ve spent in Kentucky.


This year I was particularly taken by issue 105, published weeks before President Obama won his second term in the 2012 election. In it, I detailed a bar-hopping route in Washington DC. It includes a few bars that are now shuttered, which gives me pause for the ever-fragile nature of the industry, as well as Jack Rose Dining Saloon, the now-stalwart whisky shrine that had opened merely a year earlier, a symbol of the industry’s strength.


It’s the latter I dwell on as I read the sweet exchange between Jimmy and Elmer and think about the many stories to be written in the years ahead: “Fads come and go, you notice. I remember wine coolers. That’s all you heard. How much do you hear about them now? But bourbon stays the same. It’s a drink that everybody likes.” Elmer agreed: “If you settle on Kentucky bourbon, you’re not gonna go wrong.” 

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