Scotch Night at The Harvard Club

Posted: December 7, 2014 in Uncategorized

The first time I tasted scotch was pretty much like the first time I tasted any hard alcohol – procured from my father’s standard bar set-up that dads in circa 1970 prided themselves in.

You had your vodka for those gimlets, the gin for those high balls, the Seagrams for those Seven and Sevens, a few assorted Drambuies for the ladies and a couple of other sweet liquors that nobody touched for years. Then you had the mother of all liquors, the granddaddy bottle.  The scotch section, reserved for those uncles and poker playing pals of dad’s who went large when they drank. You had Dewar’s for sure, but then looming larger than everything was the Chivas, the top of the line, the creme de la creme of the scotch world. Regal indeed. It promised delivery right to heaven after maybe four sips.

Well, if heaven is leaning over a railing on someone’s back porch heaving away, I am voting for Satan’s living room when it comes time for me to go. I can recall the taste of metal mixing with nail polish. I vowed that night to never touch the devil’s brew again.

In college, some of the more savvy dudes sat in the corners of parties sipping the dark brew like early incarnates of The Most Interesting Man in the World. I gave them a wide berth as I remained loyal to my keg an the occasional Rambo-esque wild night out with loco juice, otherwise known as gin.

Years piled on but still no scotch for this boy. Until  one day when I read John McPhee’s essay , no, hommage to  scotch making in of course, Scotland. As with all of Mcphee’s detailed and insightful writings, by the  time you finish the piece, you ARE the piece. Read the Pine Barrens book and you are in the largest fresh water aquifer in the United States. Read his piece on growing oranges, and you become Anita Bryant. You get the idea.

So by the time I was halfway through his piece on how single malt scotch is made, I was on the way to now-defunct Mel’s in the Cherry Creek section of Denver to sample this nectar. And what a honey spot it turned out to be. What McPhee illuminated for me and who knows how many others was that blended scotch is to single malt what high school pitching is to Clayton Kershaw. They are both pitchers, but then all comparisons stop there.

If there is a more civilized beverage on the planet, they better get it to Mr. McPhee.  Martinis can render one fairly helpless but in a narcotic-induced way, evidenced by the adage – One martini is not enough. Two is too many. And three is just right. Single malt scotch , with a touch of water to release the tension, or even with an ice cube to help it along, suggests tomorrow is going to be even better than today.

So when my friend, a Harvard Club member, invited a group of us who grew up together in Brooklyn, for a scotch tasting event, it would have been rude to decline.

Once ensconced in the venerable club,wrapped in mahogany and money, we were shown to a private room of about eight round tables, well-dressed waiters bearing gifts of chicken skewers, shrimp and sushi darted in and out of the attendees. I could hardly wait for the first taste. Would it be a pedestrian Glenfiddich, a 12-year-old Glenlivet? Or perhaps we’d go up the ladder to one of my favorites, a Highland Park vintage.

I was handed a short narrow water glass instead, filled with what some say is an excellent pairing – ginger beer and scotch. Roh-roh. I have tasted ginger beer, by accident, and thought it was good for removing paint on garage doors, or driving rodents out of basement hideaways. To mix it with any of my beloved scotches felt criminal. However, as we were demonstrating that even ruffians from Brooklyn can blossom into gentlemen, I restrained myself from acting like Groucho Marx at a high society gala and simply placed it unobtrusively on a passing waiter’s tray, like an auto part might descend effortlessly on a passing chassis.

Once we moved beyond the experimental stage, a man in a kilt, the night’s host from a distributer in Scotland, entertained the small but enthusiastic crowd with tales of  this homeland as they related to his whiskey business. Honestly, I can’t recall a word he said by the third sample. Not because we were becoming unloosened – we had enough foot at each tasting to sate a team of Clydesdales – but simply because what he was saying seemed superfluous to what we were sampling. Whether we drank a heavy smokey scotch, or a nut-flavored number, seemed unimportant, honestly.

You can debate if an Oban outperforms a Talisker, or a McCallan 18 trumps his older brother all  night. What mattered is it was scotch, a single malt scotch, and it raced down a throat as promising as a fresh summer night when you were 18 and cruising in your ’61 Buick Invicta, picking up your best girl for a sweet night of laughs and love.

That, my friends, is what a night of single malt scotch tasting brought to mind, as I was surrounded by friends since kindergarten in a moneyed club in the heart of New York City on the cusp of the 2014 holiday season.

If it gets any better than that, I’ll drink a ginger beer and chives.



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