Dark Spirits

A Tennessean would tell you this: the state’s Whiskey Trail is a big reason why the South is home to more craft whiskey distilleries than any other region. Volunteer State sippers savor Corsair, George Dickel, Pritchard’s, Nashville Craft, Nelson’s Green Brier, Short Mountain, Sugarlands, Tennessee Hills. I learned this lore from my friend, Lance. For years I have watched him nurse a few fingers through an evening, the liquid shimmering amber, fawn, tawny, chestnut, russet or umber.

The way each tumbler caught the light sparked a long-gone image: my father communing nightly with his hazel muse. Chasing her with a Rusty Nail, the Scotch-and-Drambuie cocktail he adopted from the Rat Pack: Sammy, Dean, Frank. Vegas entertainers. His icons of cool in the sixties. Those nights, upstairs in my room, I’d play The Doors’ “Alabama Song (Whisky Bar)” over and over. Jim Morrison’s dread at not finding the next whisky bar fled right into the refrain “I tell you we must die/I tell you we must die.” The erotic drama made a fourteen-year-old girl swoon.

One night fifty years later I sat down with those old ghosts and my aging friend to drink the dark spirits that have inspired so much devotion. Kurt Weill’s cabaret songs. The Who’s “Whiskey Man.” ZZ Top’s “Whiskey and Mama.” Willie Nelson’s “Whiskey River.” Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss’s “Whiskey Lullaby.” Chris Stapleton’s “Whiskey and You.” Lance lined up bottles on his handmade table. He served nips of knowledge on the side.
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Gail Tyson shares a log cabin in the Cherokee National Forest, East Tennessee with her husband and border collie. She has published poetry in America, Kindred, Naugatuck River Review, Pilgrimage, and Still: The Journal.

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