“Hey, Tony, what’s new?” I asked, being certain to greet my friend with a firm handshake before scanning the shelves.
“Good to see you, my friend,” he said meeting the handshake with a smile. “Your order hasn’t come in, yet, and I can’t find the Lagavulin Distiller’s Edition anywhere. It looks like it will be a tough one.”
“No worries. It may be harder to get our hands on than we thought. If you find it, that’s great. What else is new in here?”
“Well, you know,” he said and pointed to the top shelf. He knew that’s where my eyes had gone first — but he also knew that I already owned a bottle of each edition resting there. So with that, his words really translated as a heartfelt and yet unnecessary apology that I must wait a little longer for a special delivery of bottles ordered just for me.
One thing I think I have learned about Tony: He sells booze to people who drink booze. That’s his yoke. However, it would seem that there are a handful of customers who are privy to experiencing the essence of his avocation, which is that he is a merchant of fine spirits, that is, someone who actually enjoys exchanging with those who possess a genuine desire and appreciation for what he offers. Those folks have a completely different experience in this man’s shop.
Don’t get me wrong. He treats everyone in his shop with respect, but there are those of us who will get twenty minutes of his time in substantive discussion while others will get five minutes about the weather. I appreciate being of the former.
Tony knows my preferences. He knows that if I can’t find something new, I’ll spend my long-accumulated squirrel fund on a “regular” and it will be a finer bottle. But he also knows that I am always game for discussing the particulars of any bottle and he knows that my squirrel fund is always fated for the “right” edition. And yet, as I alluded before, Tony does not abuse the opportunity of an easy sale with a higher profit. He wants me to get what’s right. This softer side of his trade, a side of uncommon respect he offers to those he considers of the same trade even though they are on opposite sides of the countertop, this side reveals an honest commitment to his avocation and a depth of character for friendship with those of a kindred spirit.
“So, nothing new,” I said. “Any suggestions, then?”
“Have you tried the Tomatin?”
“Nope. Where is it?” I asked while looking toward the upper tiers.
“It is right here,” he said and reached to a shelf just above the likes of Scoresby and Dewar’s. My stomach turned a bit.
“Really?” I asked somewhat surprised. As he handed the bottle to me, I think I muttered something like, “I’ve never heard of this before.”
“Yeah. I haven’t had it for too long, but there’s another guy, Bill, he wears a cowboy hat. Nice guy. He comes in here looking for Scotch. He’s like you. But he’ll get this one, too, sometimes. He says he likes it a lot. It’s really not bad. Good for the price, but most folks don’t know it.”
“Really?!” I responded somewhat stunned that Tony had deliberately directed me to a $29 bottle of whisky knowing my unabashed Scotch snobbery. Again, Tony could have said something like, “Well, how’s your Balvenie stash?” and that would have been enough of an encouragement to choose a more expensive Caribbean Cask or a Single Barrel, but he didn’t. He suggested something new, a sleeper edition I’d never contemplated and few others in my neck of the woods had tried.
We talked a little more about it, but in the end, I bought it, took it home and popped it open. What a pleasant surprise.
At first nosing, I thought I smelled restaurant spaghetti sauce — you know, the kind with a little bit of sugar mixed in to liven the senses. That was very strange. I went for another sniff, this time, it almost seemed to offer the smell of freshly rolled bread, but again, a sweeter bread, still doughy and ready for the oven. I went for another dive and this time it smelled like cookie dough. What the…? This whisky was already confusing me. I couldn’t figure out if I was a Scot trapped in an Olive Garden or a Panera, and perhaps even worse, I couldn’t figure out if I was near the bakery or the cash register.
The first sip was a delight. The palate offered something in the way of a caramel apple covered in nuts.
The finish was delightful as well. The doughy sweetness I smelled in the beginning (its precise origin, still a mystery) returned with a little bit of peat. Not bad.
Now, for $29, I’ll admit I was quite surprised, and I should add that Tony didn’t let me down. I will buy this again…but because my Scotch snobbery does have the better of me, I might ask Tony to keep it between me, he, and that guy named “Bill.”