The first rule of Single Malt Club … is no sloppy drunks. Assuming you’re not the one with the car keys, or have a destructive tendency to become a bad drunk, the ideal—in line with drinking responsibly—is to “drink elegantly.” And this means setting yourself up to feel just right the next morning, with just enough of a cognitive fuzz to help you remember. It’s like the way pool players look several shots ahead of their current shot. It’s the balancing act of sinking the eight ball while simultaneously lining up the next nine-ball shot. When one knows there are a few more drinks to be had, it’s the smart taster who treats the more immediate drink as a stopover on the way to the coming drinks. It wouldn’t do to slam home the next couple of drinks and then stumble into your doorway.
This is the delicate dance of drinking that goes on at our semi-regular Single Malt Club gatherings, in which there are two or three bottles of scotch on hand and an unholy assortment of potluck fare. In case I have given the inaccurate impression of a dimly lit room full of evening dresses and sport coats, allow me to clarify: nothing could be further from reality. The food spread almost certainly includes an obligatory bucket of KFC with all the sides. There are some cans of beer in the fridge as well. Who would’ve thought that The Colonel’s spicy recipe goes so well with scotch? (The mashed “potatoes”? Not so much.) These gatherings are a learning experience in dexterous eating and drinking. Get the balance wrong, and the body has a way of being very clear about it the next day. If you feel up to the challenge, it’s worth the effort to do it right.
Single Malt Club began simply enough. It had taken a couple of months to find the correct convergence of schedules that would allow my childhood friend and me to get together for a drink. He and I had wagered a little alcohol on that summer’s Tour de France. While the event’s results ended up essentially as we had both predicted, he had picked some riders who had fared better than mine during the three-week race. The long and short of it was that I had to pony up a fifth bottle of single malt scotch—twelve-year-old McCallum (he chose the genre, but its expression—“make and model”—was left to me). Of course, our unwritten code of conduct stipulated that he had to break the seal on that bottle then and there, so we could each sample a dram or two. Before the night was out, I had pulled out my meager single malt collection for comparison: Talisker, Lagavulin, Laphroig, Glenfiddich … our discussion of this evening got the gears turning in the mind of another scotch-loving friend.
And so it came to pass, that about three months later there were about a dozen of us converging in one friend’s downtown apartment, preparing to embark on our first-ever Single Malt Club meeting. Two bottles of “the good stuff,” proudly stood in the center of the table, where—in another context—an elegant centerpiece might have rested. Surrounding these bottles, like crystalline castle walls, was an assortment of empty glasses and a couple of carafes of water. The space was abuzz with anticipation and activity. There were some significant others, some friends of friends—and everyone was interested in tasting single malt scotch. A couple of things were being prepared in the kitchen, while newly arriving participants were adding their contributions to the big dining room table and its ever-growing buffet. Pretty soon, everyone who was expected had arrived, and—having been tempted by the regal bottles on display—everyone was eager to slake his/her collective thirst.
The meeting was called to order and the first drams poured. There was a little bit of nervous talk, as no one was sure how to act. We needn’t have worried. As the focus of the evening turned to the scotches, the comments flowed naturally, drawn forth by the inspiration of connecting to an ancient culture, a distant land, and the salty Atlantic air that, caressing lush green countryside, had produced such miracles. Some of us city dwellers couldn’t tell peat from cow pies. But for this brief evening, we could imagine what it might be like to touch the earth from which these drinks had been born.
My minutes from that night read like … well, like notes taken during an evening of drinking. However, as I sat at the computer a couple of nights later, those cryptic scratchings were enough to open the floodgates on many (humorous) recollections. Some of our club’s first minutes follow:
After much tasting of The Balvenie, and exchange of ideas and opinions, a glass of The Glendronach was introduced. This brought in a comparison with which to discuss the merits of both. As most participants neared completion of the first drink, an eating recess was called. An attempt was made to “blend” the two Scotches. Much coughing and diplomatically pensive mutterings ensued. Discussion followed as to how that’s not a good idea …
The Balvenie (club total: 63 points)
- wow really smooth
- I like how this gets you really [drunk] really fast
- not too smoky
- light peat presence
- addition of water (Evian) brings out the bouquet, evens it out
- prefer without water for the bite
- nice finish—the wave of flavors that burst forth after the swallow
- unanimous doubt as to whether this merits the 85 points awarded in the MJ book (Michael Jackson rated this an 85? How do you know? What? Oh, not that Michael Jackson.)
- it makes my mouth really warm
- some discussion likening this to Miles Davis in his Kind of Blue album
- the bouquet flowers as dawn breaks on a glen, only to be fleeting after the initial hit, there’s a shimmer of flavors underneath, but they are not strong enough to match the initial hit
The Glendronach (club total: 64 points)
- noticeably darker in color
- better without water! water kills it all around
- there’s an off taste that lingers when it’s bruised
- a little water changes everything
- peaty leathery finish, but with the addition of water, simply an old leather chair
- hydration is good
- not as good—hits in the eyes
- has more character, making The Balvenie seem forgettable
- has a distinct character
- weaker initial taste, but a better finish with a good end
- this is a more dramatic Scotch
- it is more up and down in intensity (lots of hand motion here), and generally uneven in its delivery
- overall, foods went well
- clams casino—delicious, but the smoked taste of bacon competed with the peaty flavor in Scotch
- peppers—fantastic, but the intensity of flavor overwhelmed the subtleties of Scotch, though others liked the combination
- lox good
- caviar good
- oysters on the half shell—great pairing
- cheese—okay pairing but nothing special. Wines seem to pair better with cheeses. these are the Friendsters of Scotch foods
- dark chocolate—very good pairing
Each participant scored the scotches on a hundred-point scale. The mid-sixties (above) seemed like a good starting point. Several meetings later, we had a scotch that scored a collective eighty four points. It’s since made appearances at special occasions. These scores are a nice reference to have when shopping for single malt scotch.
And so, now you too can gather up some friends for a little club of your own. Here are some ideas to get you started:
Start with a couple of friends who share a passion for your drink of choice. Have each person invite a couple of like-minded friends. One person will play the host (chair of the meeting). Another person will be secretary and take minutes. Another person should serve as scorekeeper, and log everyone’s ratings of the drinks.
The host should pick up at least two bottles of spirits. We figure a one-fifth bottle for every five participants (adjust accordingly if you have heavy or light drinkers). As the guests arrive, have each person put in for their share of the bottles. Good liquor can be pricey. It’s best to get the accounting out of the way before the fun begins.
All good drinking should be paired with plenty of food. Otherwise, all you’re doing is getting drunk. Inform all participants that it is a casual potluck. Keep it low-pressure so people are more likely to contribute. Include people’s comments on the foods in the minutes.
The chairperson/host will start the evening by calling the meeting to order. Have a loose agenda (sequence of events) so people have a sense of the order of drinking/eating. Participants may need to start with a little eating first, so as not to drink on an empty stomach. The agenda may have to be a bit flexible.
Our meetings evolve into a social evening after the last scores have been tallied, and people start milling about, eating, and chatting.
The scorekeeper should distribute the tally to all participants. The secretary should distribute the minutes to all participants before the next meeting. The minutes usually take a little longer because they have to be composed, and typed or pasted up. Our minutes have ranged from text e-mails, to web pages, to multimedia slideshows.
This is the basic way in which our club has functioned. Perhaps you have experiences with other strategies and styles that have worked for you and your friends. Bottom line—make sure it’s fun!
Illustration by the author
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