It was a Tuesday morning in mid-August, one of those muggy days when the heat becomes steam on contact with the road and makes the New York City air hazy. I had been very hard at work in the paint aisle at Home Depot because apparently finding just the right shade of white paint is a herculean undertaking.
After about 10 minutes of flipping through samples I lost my focus, forgetting about shading, brightness, shadows, warmth and tint. How can anyone bother with such mechanical technicalities when you’re scanning through colours named Wind Swept, Elusive Blue, Touchable, Pearls and Lace, Maybe Mushroom, Tiara, Violet Hush, Twilight Twist, Just Perfect, Ageless, Sterling Shadow, Slices of Happy, Wistful Beige, Pacific Pearl, Oyster Cracker, Fountain Frolic, Willow Springs, Velveteen Crush, Forgive Quickly. What Romantic Age poet runs paint companies’ creative departments these days?
The distraction factor intensified quickly because the task was making me hungry. Glazed Pears, Apple Core, Berry Frost, Peach Surprise, Toasted Marshmallow, Touch of Lime, Butter Icing, Magical Melon, More Melon, Tea Biscuit, Pita Bread, Oatmeal, Macadamia Nut, Irish Cream, Hint of Pine, and Horseradish. Hang on
a second... do paint companies base their creative departments at Scotch distilleries?
I was in no particular hurry to leave, but my stamina was wearing thin. On the way to check out, though, an overwhelming smell of raw oak stopped me dead in my tracks and stamped out the slightest imagining of Peach Surprise, Fresh Dough and Malted Milk. In a flash, the Home Depot around me fell away and in its place rose the warehouses of Speyside and the Kentucky rickhouses, where narrow streams of light seep into slender spaces to barely reveal cracks in barrels, through which restless Bourbon escapes.
What can I say? The Behr Paint bards had permeated my brain as I paused in the lumber aisle. With planks of oak stretching skywards and lengthwise, my mind lapsed. Next time I’d have to bring a flask, I thought. Or at least a Scotch-soaked hand towel to sniff on.
With the pandemic lumbering on (see what I did there?), the news has been increasingly grim. In August, the Distilled Spirits Council of the US released a study projecting devastation for American craft distilling, a $1.8 billion industry that generated approximately $3.2 billion in retail sales last year. But that massive sector is made up of tiny parts. About 60 per cent of the 2,000-plus distilleries sell less than 2,500 cases per year. According to the report, the pandemic will cost craft distillers $700 million in annualised sales, a loss of 41 per cent of total business. About 30 per cent of employees, 4,600 people, have been furloughed. Meanwhile, a September headline in the Sunday Times blared “US tariffs put a big dent in whisky sales”. On 13 August, a Guardian story announced, “Scotch whisky makers rail against UK government inaction over US tariffs”.
Is it any wonder that any faithful whisky lover walks around with a low-grade feeling of mourning these days? When you lose a loved one of any sort, everywhere you turn you’re reminded of them. Or it. I realise this is can be construed as a tad melodramatic or even brutishly insensitive. Small distilleries are in crisis and global companies are taking a lashing. But as far as entire industries go, there are others that will take much longer to rebound, if they bounce back at all (see: bars and restaurants, theatre and live music, retail, hotels, air travel, train travel, pro sports and museums). Still, we all miss what’s familiar.
I end this column in a way I haven’t typically done: with calls to action. Please support small businesses, tip your wait staff and delivery drivers, tip them very well, keep up your safe social distancing and wash your hands. Take advantage of moments that bring you joy, especially if you unexpectedly trip over them in a giant home improvement retailer. Now, if you need me, I’ll be flipping through swatches of white paint – Arctic Dawn, Tundra Frost, Silvery Moon, Snowy Mount – and dreaming of winter’s chill.