I think a lot about country music, and how it appeals to me. There’s not many that don’t, come to think of it. They’re all songs, all about things that mean a lot to me. One of my most treasured childhood memories was in agriculture class in high school, and the many trips to town shows we spent doing it. The schools of the regions would show up and the students would tend to the cattle and address the beds of sawdust they laid on where they were tied up to (there would probably be a name for it, if I remembered it). And cleaned and groomed them prior to being shown. We would square their hooves with the pole, standing beside them while the judges decided who had presented their beast the best, or which beast was the best as the case may be. All those cherished memories sitting up on fences watching the cattle. The feeling of salvation of watching dark clouds roll in on a hot summer’s afternoon. All the early morning starts to the sounds of diesel motors rattling past or the cattle calling out to one another. The smells of the early morning dew in the grass disturbed by hooves, sawdust being shoveled up and raked for bedding, and fresh manure scooped up for fertilizer. Right up to night when the showgrounds cafeterias would shine out in the darkness like an oasis to insects. And I would sleep on a camping mat in my sleeping bag, in what was sometimes little more than an unused open horse stall. I miss those days. I often fear I have lost touch with my bygone agriculture days of high school when such sensations were everyday. I used to live half of these things, now I merely think about it when I see a herd of cows, listening to country music on my way to work. But every year I’ll go to the Maryborough show, to see my old high school’s agricultural stall. And all those memories come flooding back. I almost want to take a beast by the lead and walk it around the ring for old times sakes. All those cattle shows in all those country towns sprinkled throughout the interior of rural Queensland. I still crack a nostalgic grin in the corner of my mouth when I think back to that day years ago when I was at a cattle show one year when I was still in school. I just dropped by to see my school’s stall and they lent me a school dress coat and hat and I ended up participating in the show. Tiaro, if I remember correctly. I was showcasing my school’s prized breeding bull, a Belted Galloway named Ajax. I was standing beside him when he decided he would put his foot on top of mine. I was not wearing steel-toe boots, as I never meant to be showing, and he was by no means a small animal, he was a well-fed full grown bull. I remember trying to keep my cool while the judge watched on and tried to subtly push him off of me, but me pushing him in the shoulder as hard as I could was probably only noticed by him as a friendly rub. How a stud bull putting a fourth of it’s weight down on my foot never broke any bones I’ll never know. Country music strikes a chord with me because it brings back all these memories. And everything they all sing about is all true. My hometown does mean everything to me, school kids do fall in love with each other as kids in the playground and get married and have kids years later. We relish the sight, sound and smell of much needed rain hitting our roofs and the dry dust. We all live to enjoy our Friday nights and savor the weekend. All these memories, all these values, all of these things. And yet, they transcend through national borders. Most of these songs aren’t even from this country! They’re from America, halfway round the world. And somehow it’s the exact same all the way over there. All those little things that make up life, love for your little hometown you can’t bear to leave, the old dirt roads, the four wheel drives, those little old aged wooden buildings in the field beside a country road with rusted iron roofs that’s caved in at the back next to some old diesel-caked farm equipment, those tiny little shops where our grandparents bought use icecreams as kids that haven’t changed in twenty years, the bars, the attitude, the people. All these values. It really is humbling. Reassuring even. That this world exists outside our own.
I love the idea of Texas. From everything I’ve seen and heard, it encompasses everything about what life should be, and just a few things more. If you’re into YouTube, search “It’s A Southern Thing“, it really helps sum up what I’m saying. And this bottle is the first one I’ve ever had from the Lone Star state, so naturally I had to push the boat out for it. Tito’s Handmade Vodka. America’s first craft vodka. In the city of Austin in nineteen-ninety-five the founder Bert “Tito” Beveridge obtained the first license to distill in Texas, becoming the Lone Star’s first legitimate distiller. The founder, Tito as his friends call him, was in the mortgage business but was known for creating great flavored vodka amongst his friends. So much so that the thought crossed his mind to produce his products commercially. He approached businesses asking if they would sell his products, all of whom turned him down. Eventually one of them gave him the idea that if he could produce a vodka that could be drank neat then he would have something. Interesting.
Although I want to use this opportunity to address a strange abnormality in the spirits trade of late. Vodka, by definition is a neutral spirit, distilled from starches. Wheat, though most believe potatoes, though in some cases this is true. But apart from gin and other white spirits there is another white spirits that comes under a somewhat novel headings – Moonshine. I say moonshine, what this refers to is unoaked whiskey distilled from corn, sugar, barley, and anything else available. Made in the Prohibition Era, distilled out in the backcountry by men with shotguns at arms length, in stills with thumper kegs and barrels for condensers, and raced into town in a nineteen-forty Ford Coupe. What we can buy on shelves nowadays, though boasts to be that same illicit substance, a strange oddity of an unoaked whiskey in itself, but it sure isn’t moonshine. Tito’s Handmade Vodka, while it is distilled from corn, a cereal grain and therefore potentially a whiskey, hasn’t fallen into the trap of calling the product a moonshine. So, after researching distilling, stills, and all sorts of related materials, including, yes moonshining. Tito built a still and began tinkering with his mash – “We bought every vodka that was on the shelf, we put them in little mason jars and tasted all of them and came up with the two best ones. When mine consistently beat those two then I figured that I had my formula right.” After the brew was perfected, a justified bragging-right in itself, he found difficulty getting the business started, as nobody could see him obtaining a distilling license (and this was only back in the nineties too). But eventually, the label, self-funded out of a one man micro distillery in Austin, got underway. One man distilling, bottling, and marketing amongst friends himself. Evidently, it had made it’s way in the world, as it has after all made it to shelves all the way here in my hometown. A Texas-distilled, corn vodka. Distilled a total of six times, for the specific goal of being able to be drunk neat.
So let’s see what taste this bottle has, if any. The bottle, simplistic and straightforward. With a brown label paper, and a bronze cap and glossy bronze logo. Not expecting much, I open the bottle. Unsurprisingly, the nose is typical white spirits. Just a nose of ethanol. Nothing showing there one way or the other. But the bragging-right of this bottle is in it’s taste. So I try. While I cannot deny that the sting of white spirits remains, this has to be the most inoffensive, mildest vodka I have had. A smooth and easy entry and what I may even go as far as saying is a taste of what I can best describe as unoaked bourbon. Certainly, it has some thin ghost of a similar flavor of it, unsurprising as this is one hundred percent corn, and bourbon by law is a minimum of fifty one percent. Even the last sting in the tail has been softened from what usually is an agony to be endured.
In summary: If ever there was a white spirit for neat sipping, this is it. The label worked hard to make it what it is, and it shows. Smooth and satisfying. I look forward to drinking this on a hot summer’s day. God bless Texas, cheers!