Elegy to a Speed Freak


My college roommate — I'll call him "John" — was addicted to amphetamines.

John was a genius, but he seemed alien to everything else I encountered at school. He was a computer science major when that still meant painstaking programming in COBOL or Fortran — writing thousands of lines of original code to create a generic accounting program. To see him through these daunting assignments, John popped amphetamines for days on end.

This was just at the advent of personal computers, so even if there'd been a computer in our apartment (which there wasn't), it wouldn't have been powerful enough for him to use. So he spent those manic hours mainly in the computer lab, adrift in lines of arcane text in a frenzied effort to write and debug the code.

To wind down, John had another interesting habit. Once his program was working, he'd go to the five-and-dime and buy a 2-liter bottle of generic cola. He'd then get a fifth of Old Overholt Rye Whisky from the corner store. Returning to our three-bedroom railroad apartment, he'd sit on the living room floor and chug big plastic cups of rye and cola until the whisky was gone (along with some of the cola).

Then John would collapse on the floor, seemingly comatose for several days, sleeping off the speed-inspired weariness. We'd stick a mirror under his nose occasionally to assure ourselves that he was still breathing, and eventually he'd wake up hung over but itching for another assignment — and more speed to help him see it through.

So what's the point of this elegy to a speed freak, with whom I lost contact decades ago? This: Old Overholt Rye Whisky. John used to joke that he chose this brand of rotgut because on its label it bore the likeness of "George Washington with a hangover." I bought a bottle recently ($11/750 ml.) on a whim — call it nostalgia — and it's a tremendous bargain.

It has a decidedly granular texture and loads of overt rye spiciness on the palate. On the rocks, it's soothing yet exudes a palpable energy, a nervousness that must have appealed to John the speed addict.

It's fairly primary — don't look for loads of complexity — but if you want a good, cheap whisky that holds your interest from the first taste to the last (regardless of how many that is), try it. You won't be disappointed.

CONTACT MICHAEL SCHIAPARELLI: michael(at)cincinnatuswine.com

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