The other night I was at work waiting tables. This couple comes in and asks to see a whiskey menu. We don’t have a whisky menu. We have a pretty big liquor selection, but this isn’t the kind of place that puts all of their spirits on a separate list.
I tell the customers, “We don’t have a menu, but I can tell you what we carry. What are you thinking about, bourbon? Scotch?” The woman says, “Scotch.” The man pipes in, “Single malts.”
Damn. I wish they said bourbon. I can actually name all of the bourbons that we have. And I like bourbon. I’m not a huge scotch fan. I imagine that when talking about liquor, about hard alcohol and taste, it’s all pretty relative. The first time I tried beer I thought it tasted terrible. It was all I could do to finish a whole bottle. And booze? Please. Who doesn’t have a memory of trying to take a shot of something but not getting your throat to be able to physically swallow what’s inside your mouth? But you try something enough times, you get past the gag reflex that is your body’s way of telling you to avoid the poison you’re about to ingest, and then maybe you start to not mind the unusual flavors, maybe even appreciate some of their subtleties.
But I’m definitely not there with scotch. It smells like the inside of a machine. It’s like whoever distilled it took some regular whisky and mixed it with a can of WD-40. Whatever, not my cup of tea.
Here I am, called out on my scotch chops, by paying customers, customers who, if all goes well, will hopefully reward my service with a cash tip. First thing’s first: can I get through enough of this interaction to make it look as if I know what I’m talking about?
Kind of. I could rattle off a bunch of scotches that we carry. Maybe not all of them. Maybe like eighty percent of them. Because what am I supposed to do, tell this couple that I’m not sure? That I’ll be right back? Anybody that sits down and asks for a whisky menu is probably going to be a little dissatisfied if their server can’t even answer their first whisky related question.
And then say I go try to find somebody who might have an answer. This is a busy restaurant. It’s going to take forever. The couple is going to get impatient. My manager might get impatient, or fake impatience if he or she also doesn’t know the answers I’m looking for.
List of scotches. Single malts. I decide to ignore the single malt aspect of the question and just start naming brands. I’m guessing Johnnie Walker was probably a stupid thing to start out with, because as the words escape my mouth I can all of the sudden clearly see the label in my mind and it says “blended scotch whisky.”
Whatever, I’m already going, and I’m just warming up. Macallan. That’s a good one because we have two Macallans. So I can say Macallan twelve and then Macallan eighteen. The same with Glenlivet. And that’s great because saying Glenlivet reminded me that we also have Glenfiddich. One of those two Glens has a twelve and an eighteen year variety also, but I can’t remember which, so I just pretend that they both do. This is nice because that’s four more things that I just got to say.
I feel like I’m doing great. I’m saying all of this nonsense without hesitation, just rattling them off very confidently, smiling, pretending like I’m the king of Scotland. The Glenfiddich triggered in my mind the super Scottish sounding brands, and so I continue with Oban. How do you pronounce Oban? I remember one time overhearing two managers having an argument over the pronunciation, but realizing that I had a fifty-fifty shot of screwing it up wasn’t helping with my confidence.
Lephroaig. I forgot about Lephroaig. I hope these people pick something soon, I thought, because my mind wasn’t making any more mental connections and if they didn’t stop me I’d have to stop myself, maybe repeat something, maybe mention Dewar’s, or the ultra expensive Johnnie Walker Blue, or Jameson, which isn’t a scotch at all, but seriously, just pick something to drink.
The woman doesn’t even look up but finally says to me, “We’ll take two Lephroaigs, neat.” As if her dismissive tone wasn’t bad enough, she pronounced it, Lef-roig, where as I had said, Lef-roe-ag. I’m positive by her own confidence that I was probably in the wrong on that one, that I definitely butchered the name, betraying not only my lack of knowledge about the very things I’m supposed to be knowledgeable about, but also my fumbling of an entire drink order. What kind of drinks do you have? I don’t know, but let me stand here and arrogantly pretend like I know what I’m talking about.
I felt kind of stupid, but whatever, I told myself, how many people order scotch? How many times have I ever had to put in an order for Lephroaig? It seems to me that, if your palette is refined enough to appreciate Lephroaig, you shouldn’t be going around to restaurants that lack a dedicated whisky menu and asking for a list of single malts. Just throw out some names. “You guys have any cool scotches? Glenfiddich? Lephroaig?” That’s what I would do if I were some sort of a connoisseur.
I wouldn’t go around with my obscure knowledge of fine spirits and correct the pronunciation of my waiter. When people order the rosemary focaccia bread and pronounce it “f-f-foh-cack-ck-ia?” I don’t turn my nose up and offer them a linguistics lesson. I just go with it. But I guess the fault lies with me. Technically, that’s all within my job description, knowing what we have available for purchase, and I failed.
Still, when I brought over the glasses from the bar, it was gross, from a non-scotch guy’s point of view. The smell, everything that I hate about scotch, it was amplified, this single malt especially unbearable. And after the couple paid and left, another server came over, helped me bus the table. And she was like, “Oh my God. What’s that smell?” It was just the empty glasses. It was still overpowering. And I was just like, “Yeah, it’s that scotch. Nasty, right?”