20160830_201856 It was only 9:00 am and yet I felt as though I’d already been running at full speed since 6:00. I was tired.

I arrived for the first of the day’s several visitations. The mechanized doors to the care facility swished apart as if I were entering the bridge of the starship Enterprise. And just beyond its frame, not far from the receptionist’s desk, an elderly man sat in a wheelchair with a younger man hovering behind him.

Both noticed my clerical collar.

“Father!” the seated gentleman called with a rasp and leaned forward to show he expected my immediate attention.

“Good morning,” I said and slowed my hurried pace, although still intending to pass them by.

“I’m Melvin.”

“Have a blessed day, Melvin.”

Directing his thumb to the man behind him, he continued loudly, “This jackass pushing my wheelchair is the biggest sinner I’ve ever met in my life and he needs your help.”

I stopped.

“You’re looking at the chief of sinners right now,” I turned and said pointing to myself.

“No, not you, Father,” he answered. “This guy, right here. He’s going to hell for sure.”

I could tell that the young man had been at the receiving end of this ratchety and enfeebled man’s accosting for quite some time. He was taking the remarks in stride. He simply closed his eyes, shook his head, and gave an energy-sapped smile.

“What makes you say this?” I asked.

“I know people like him.”

“You do?”

“What?!”

“I said, you do?!”

“Yeah, I’ve been around a long time. He’s a lost one, for sure.”

“There is a way to find out, you know.”

“What?!”

“I said, there’s a way to find out!”

“There is?”

I turned my attention to the young man. “Do you believe that you are a sinner?”

“You don’t have to do this, Father,” the young man quietly urged.

“Just work with me, here,” I whispered in return. “Do you believe you are a sinner?” I asked again so that the elderly man could hear.

“Yes,” he answered.

“Do you believe that Jesus Christ has borne your sin and won your salvation by His life, death, and resurrection?”

“Yes, I do,” he answered again with a tad more boldness.

“Your sins are forgiven. Welcome to the kingdom of heaven, my friend.”

I dropped to one knee and continued, “Looks like he’s not going to hell anymore, Melvin. Rejoice as even the angels rejoice when one sinner repents,” I said and gave him a smile while reaching out to pat his shoulder.

Standing up, I urged the young man that his labors were not in vain, and then continued with my previous stride.

Only a few paces away, I heard, “That priest is probably going to hell, with you.”

“Well,” I whispered to myself, “I’ll look you up when I get there.”

Crap.

That—right there—showed my fellowship in the nature of sinful man. Sure, I could make the excuse that I was tired. Still, I shouldn’t have said that—even to myself. Maybe Melvin was the victim of a stroke. Or perhaps he was suffering from some other condition that affects the amygdala in the limbic center of the brain. Or maybe he really was an evil old man with nothing better to do than criticize the people who were trying to take care of him. Who knows? The point is, I could peer into and read the spiritual fibers of the grizzled old man’s heart about as well as I can see into the opaque Octomore bottle being considered in this review.

And so we tread in humility. We pop the cork of human interaction, pour, and do the best we can to discern.

Thankfully it’s a lot easier with whisky. I don’t feel so bad when I engage and then find myself assuring my readers with absolute certainty which particular editions will be served in hell. But I can only make an educated guess as to who will be holding the rock glass.

Not to worry, Bruichladdich. Your youthful Octomore 6.1 appears to be positioned for the realms of eternal glory.

The nose of this tab-collared black bottle is quite sumptuous. Straight from the bottle wafts the thickened incense of apple juice in a swirling deluge of palling smoke. Very nice. Incredibly balanced. In the glass, the juice and the smoke each becomes its own stream.

The palate is an artisan’s wash of tarry smoke and saltwater. The apple, which in the nose is a Golden Delicious, becomes a Granny Smith. The sour is nice, although unexpected.

The finish leaves a bit of a salty residue as well as a tinge of ash. Gritty, but ambrosial. Perhaps a bit unorthodox, but it leaves me imagining as a first thing, sitting on my deck early in the morning—the sun just peeking above the tree line and beginning its effort to brush away the river’s mist—a plate of scrambled eggs, bacon, and a dram of the Octomore to stir what would be a gentle day’s spirit.

Sure beats hearing as a first thing from a crass old man that you’re probably going to hell.