Iffy, Crumpets, and I had just ordered dinner and somehow—I don’t remember how or why—I said something about the angel’s share. “Wait,” said Iffy. “What’s that?” said Crumpets. And so I began to explain…
When a distilled spirit—whisky, brandy, cognac, for example—is put into a cask to age, a small amount of the liquid seeps through the porous membrane of the barrel and evaporates into thin air. It’s not much—about 1% of the volume of the liquid per year of aging—but enough to satisfy the angels who (like the rest of us!) surely appreciate a wee dram or two when the weather turns cold as it usually does about this time of year. “You mean there’s whisky in the air?” said Crumpets. “Is there bourbon, too?” asked Iffy. “Well, yes,” I said, “but it’s for the angels, not us.” I didn’t have the heart to tell them about the devil’s cut.
The devil’s cut is different. Distilled spirits are often aged in casks that originally held bourbon (or port or sherry) and a fraction of that original spirit remains trapped in the wooden staves of a whisky barrel. That iota of residue is the devil’s cut and it provides the aromatic essence that can give certain whiskies their slightly sweet finish. The tiny loss of liquid volume is the price we gladly pay to the angels and the devil. Just imagine the party they must be having!
There’s metaphoric gold to be mined here. Nothing good comes without a price. The pleasures of our lives may be few and far between—niceties, necessities, even luxuries—but they’re rarely, if ever, free. Clean air, clean water? Just think how much these essentials are worth to us and if you doubt me, ask the good people of Chernobyl or Flint, Michigan how much they would be willing to pay for a lungful of fresh air or a glass of clean water.
Or consider this: if the angels and old Dr. Evil are taking their share and cut out of what is intended for our palettes, is that a tax we pay or a hidden cost of doing business that is quietly passed along to the consumer? Either way, it’s hardly a transparent transaction; in fact, it’s just the opposite. Talk about a cloak of invisibility!
But you know what? I’m ok with sharing with the angels—after all, they do us a world of good. Just ask George Bailey. And as for the devil, I’ll give him his due, too, if only to keep him otherwise engaged and out of my hair. After all, I’d hate to think of the mischief that rascal would make if he were out and about and sober. He would probably be the wise guy that’s rolling back environmental regulations, or denying climate change, or appointing nincompoops to the federal bench, or shaking down Ukrainians, or generally fomenting hate while running water in our sinks and flushing our toilets all day long.
I’m willing to pay my fair share for a safe infrastructure, good public schools, healthy food, and a strong national defense—within reason, of course. If death and taxes are what Daniel Defoe identified as life’s only true certainties in his “Political History of the Devil” way back in 1726, then I’ll gladly pay the latter to avoid the former. And if in the bargain, the angels get their fair share, then I’m all the more for it.
I’ll be right back.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015. A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was published in May 2017; a second volume of Musings entitled “I’ll Be Right Back” was released in June 2018. Jamie’s website is musingjamie.com
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