It’s autumn here in the Northern Hemisphere. The time of year, in North America when minds turn to falling leaves, kids in school, the upcoming holidays, whiskey and football. In my case, college football. Specifically Minnesota Golden Gopher football.
I grew up in Wisconsin. A place where the state of Minnesota is deemed a slightly better neighbor than a garbage dump, Illinois or Michigan. But only just. There is no real reason for the enmity. The two states are much more alike than they are different. The land is mostly farms, trees and lakes. The people are mostly farmers, hunters, fishers. They are both mostly rural with a single large population center. Historically, the politics in both both leaned left but with a hearty dose of wariness about new people and ideas when you got to the Northernmost reaches. There seems to be one of those conservative blips happening in my former home right now, but the point still stands that these two states are much more alike than they are different. They are two siblings always sniping at one another. Each convinced that the other is an idiot.
This, of course extends to their football teams. In the, increasingly hard for me to care about, NFL you have the Packers and the Vikings in the same division of the NFC. And across both sides of the border, you have both Packers fans and Vikings fans. Many of the fans of both teams are insufferable, spewing venom everywhere. I once watched a Viking fan swear at a little kid for wearing a Packer shirt and I’ve seen Packer fans do equally unspeakable things.
In college, you have the Wisconsin Badgers and the Minnesota Golden Gophers in the same division of the Big Ten. In these parts, college fans can be less venomous than the fans of the pro teams. Not always, but as a general rule you can see Badger fans hoping the Gophers win certain games and Gopher fans hope that the Badgers win certain games. Still, growing up in my family in Wisconsin, you were expected to love the Packers and the Badgers and never waver. And I didn’t. Until I enrolled in the University of Minnesota after high school.
When I was choosing colleges, there were exactly two schools in the general vicinity of home that offered the Astrophysics that I thought was going to be my calling. And neither had a Badger for a mascot. One was the University of Minnesota and the other was the University of Michigan. Growing up Badger was hard. At the time they were going through a spate of eight straight losing seasons and before that only occasionally flirted with respectability. Going Gopher wouldn’t be any easier, they’d been floating around the bottom half of the Big Ten for thirty years. Michigan on the other hand, was Michigan. That was a team it would be easy to be a fan of. They hadn’t had a losing season in 26 years. Quite a bit longer than I had been alive at that point.
But the football team is only a determinant of which school you go to if you are a football recruit. As you might have guessed from my choice of major above, I was not a football player. And so I went with the closer and cheaper option in Minnesota and forever changed my college football allegiance. I’ve always had a special spot in my heart for the Michigan-Minnesota game though, both because they are historic rivals and because of my own history.
All of which brings me to this past Saturday and the game between a heavily-favored Michigan Wolverines and the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Michigan was ranked as the 15th best team in the country. Unranked Minnesota was not living up to expectations. Michigan’s coach was the new hotness, a former player returning home from coaching his way into the Super Bowl. Minnesota’s coach had just retired a few days before due to complications from epilepsy after bringing the program back to the brink of respectability.
Going into it, this was a game that I expected my team would lose. But then, a funny thing happened. The Gophers were competitive. More so than they should have been with a extensive injuries and an interim coach. The lead went back and forth before the Gophers finally went ahead on a last second touchdown. But upon review it was determined that the player was down one yard short of the goal line giving them 19 seconds to go the final three feet to win an emotional game. But after two tries, time ran out. They were half a yard short.
In the span of 4 minutes I went from the highest of highs as my scrappy team looked to win an emotional game for a beloved coach to the lowest of lows when poor mistakes brought heartbreak. I am a fan of Minnesota Golden Gopher football and that means I am always prepared for heartbreak, but it also means that I always have hope that the next time my heart won’t be broken.
It’s kind of how I feel about bourbon these days. No matter how much I pay, I’m prepared to be heartbroken. You feel like you can’t lose, that no one would put out a bourbon that expensive and have it be disappointing. But it happens more and more often. Fancy packaging hiding a mediocre product. And then there are times when the package gives you nothing and you just have to hope that you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Heartbreak and hope. Two sides of the same coin. If you don’t have hope that something can be good, you’ll never be heartbroken when it isn’t. But if you don’t hope for something to be good, why are you even buying it?
Maker’s 46 Cask Strength
Purchase Info: $39.95 for a 375 mL bottle. Maker’s Mark Distillery gift shop, Loretto, KY.
Details: Bourbon finished with Oak Staves. 54.45% ABV. Remarkably plain packaging for something with the Maker’s Mark name on it.
Nose: Very sweet with caramel and vanilla. Nicely nutty with hints of cherry, cinnamon clove and nutmeg.
Mouth: Sweet and warm with the spicy tingle of cinnamon, clove and nutmeg. Chocolate, nuts, cherry and oak follow.
Finish: Pleasant sweet warmth slowly reveals a bitter nuttiness and lingering baking spices.