Van Winkle 12 Year Old Lot B x For Emma Forever Ago
Drink: Van Winkle 12 Year Old “Lot B” – Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery
For Emma, Forever Ago
– Bon Iver
The Holidays are over; all that’s left is the snow. What do you do with a wintery come down, a bottle of beautiful Bourbon, and a severe lack of Vitamin D? You spin some Justin Vernon. Justin Vernon, creator of Bon Iver, has put out a lovely basket of music all with one thing in common – Justin has the power to make you feel a watercolor-y slush of emotions. He doesn’t hit you with a single note of happiness, desperation, loss, or anything you could throw a dart at on the emotional word wheel. He does this with precision timing, word choice (or lack thereof), and instrumentation. Grab a glass, let’s warm up a bit.
If you know Bourbon, you know Pappy. The white whale of many a collector and drinker, the Van Winkle name conjures up images of all the most lovely stereotypes associated with Bourbon. Leather chairs, dark wood, swirling smoke, old barrels, quiet porches. These are not drinking Bourbons, they are sipping Bourbons, thinking Bourbons. This forced on you both from the quality of the liquid and the price tag/effort a person has to put in to procure a bottle. You get a feel of all the years in this drink. In blood red letters it says right away, “12 Years Old”. It makes you think of what 12 years means. What you’ve done, what you haven’t, “what might have been lost” as Bon Iver sings on “The Wolves (Act I and II)”.
Open up the bottle and pour out a dram and give it a swirl. It seems thicker than most other liquors. It clings to the sides of the glass a bit, it moves as a heavy wave around the glass. This visual starts setting the stage for flavors and feelings that fill your palate and your head. Smell and you get caramel sauce, whispy campfire smoke, creamy pears, dead flowers, and warm vanilla, like in a candle that got put out 10 minutes ago. Nothing harsh here, all velvety warm notes. Go ahead and put on Side A and let’s see what’s up in Wisconsin.
If you don’t know the mythos surrounding this album, the story goes that Justin Vernon, Wisconsin boy, was playing in a band and living with his girlfriend, in Raleigh, North Carolina when both efforts flamed out. A loss of purpose was tugging on Vernon who decided to rip the band-aid off and replace it with a heavy flannel and an acoustic guitar by shipping up to his Dad’s hunting cabin not far from his old home town. Justin stayed for 3 months. If you haven’t been to Wisconsin, or any points far north in the Winter, the air is so cold and cleas that breathing in deeply leaves you with a sense that you have cleaned out parts of your body and soul that haven’t seen fresh air in a long time. In those 3 months, Justin recorded most of what would become “For Emma, Forever Ago” under the name Bon Iver (a play on Bon Hiver, French for “Good Winter”). Vernon is a master of that cold Wisconsin air. He lets rusty notes hang in it, he splits words with it, he warms it up with sound, he exercises his past with it, the clean and cold Wisconsin winter air is the most important instrument on the album.
He lets rusty notes hang in it, he splits words with it, he warms it up with sound, he exercises his past with it, the clean and cold Wisconsin winter air is the most important instrument on the album.
Side A opens with “Flume”, maybe my favorite track. The lyrics are open for interpretation but you get what Bon Iver’s goal is right off the jump – make you feel this. Echo-y vocals, tin-y guitars, and words that have meaning in chunks of twos and threes, more than in whole lines. “Lapping lakes like leery loons/Leaving rope burns/Reddish hue” You hear the sond of the lake pushing up on the shore unendingly, the loons calling out, the feel of a rope burn from holding on to something too tightly while it’s slipping away.
Take your opening sip of Van Winkle 12 Year and you get a warm rush of much that was on the nose. Caramel, orange, vanilla, char, spice box, toffee, and coffee. The great thing about this liquid is that it feels thick. It feels important and close to you, like it was cared for. Layers of flavors working together to warm your blood and remind you that feelings can come from strange things and strange parts of yourself.
As the record spins on you get more of Vernon’s layered vocals, as well. Often more that 8 on a track. This creates a feeling that it’s not just a guy singing with a guitar, it’s a feeling set to music. It’s like when you recall a memory and every time there is a slight variance in the details but the core of the feeling always remains. The lyrics are included with the album but still sometimes difficult to understand in many parts. But the feeling of each song remains. The one, more straightforward tune here is “The Wolves (Act I and II)” where Vernon sings “Someday my pain, someday my pain/Will mark you” which is about as upfront as this album gets. This is the part of loneliness where Vernon hopes that someone else in the world can knowledge his hurt. He’s alone in his mind and alone in this cabin, trying to make sense of what has happened and who he is and he just wants to know that it is resonating.
The album finishes off with “For Emma”, a conversation song that reads like a mini play. It opens on a sunny snow and we know in the first line that something is going to die. In this case, a relationship between the two characters. The boy is trying to wax philosophical about life and relationships while the girl just wants to to spit it out and cut the crap. She knows the relationship is over and he can save his musings, but he wants a chance to explain himself. The girl yells at him to “Go find another lover;/To bring a… to string along!” but admits to still having a loving feeling towards him. He finishes by saying that he’s seen the light in Emma and he has never seen anything like it in his life. This takes us to the final track, “re: stacks”. Both haunting and revitalizing, this track is a beautiful choice to finish this album. It reads like a song about losing your shirt at the poker table but when you put it up with the rest of the album it takes on more of a reflection and finishing of a chapter. “everything that happens is from now on” is the most perfect way to put a bow on the end the the end of a relationship. Not just that physical break up, but the messiness that comes along with it. A star doesn’t just blink out of existence, there is fire, and smoldering, and dust, and particles forever. The singer here is ready to say goodbye to every bit of that, carry on only the lessons, and move on to the new him.
This is only a 37 minute album, just enough time to savor that Bourbon and maybe pour another one and give it a second spin.
Sip & Spin
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