A few whiskies and the men they remind me of

Jack is pure and simple salt of the earth sort

artist Travis Bedel

Balvenie

Chaz.* Chaz liked nice things, but Chaz was also emotionally unstable. He lived in luxury high rises with doormen, rocked custom-fitted cashmere coats, and drove an Audi, but also wore fake Breitlings and played emotional war games.

Chaz drank a lot and frankly he should also have Dewars, because Dewars is what he’s burn through a bottle of a day, but in public he claimed his favorite was Balvenie.

*Not his real name but it might as well have been

Basil Hayden

John. Not that he really earned this or had anything to with it — he was just the guy I happened to be dating when I decided I wanted to try to whiskey and the one who paid for my first real glass. I did the research and I picked the pour and I drank it, while I’m sure he ordered himself a cabernet to go alongside, but I want John to have a whiskey and I never took note of what he drank the few times he did, so he might as well have Basil.

The people I really think of for Basil Hayden are women: like the woman who wrote the article I found recommending this whiskey for starters, which inspired me to make it my first (I wouldn’t second her on this.) And the young woman I met from Kentucky — thoroughly cool in her own right — who casually rocked a jersey dress with a slit uptohere and sat out on the patio with her fiancé while all the dudes smoked cigars; who smelled E. H. Taylor when Chad (see below) handed me his glass to taste, and then told us it was nice but BH was her favorite.

Blantons

Pete. Pete and I worked together for about a year and have been friends ever since. He’s the sort of guy with one style and one mood; the style being “what, I just like button downs” and the mood “solid as fuck.” He isn’t who you call to get the party started but he also isn’t the one to crash it or ruin the night. He’s the sort of guy you have as a back-up to your back-up in case you never get married, and definitely the one you take to brunch.

He and I would routinely meet for drinks at his favorite bar, which had been there since the beginning of Chicago time, where he was such a regular the (dude) bartender would only charge him for one pour. We also went to the horse track together, or watched horse racing at one of the remaining OTB bars in the city, and Pete actually knew his horse-betting shit.

One of the times he finished the bottle, he asked the bartender to have the horse figurine cork and handed it to me, casually saying “here — some people collect these.”

And by now I’ve probably tossed it. Because I am an ignorant asshole.

Breckenridge

What even was his name? Some dude and his friend that my friend and I met in Breck, where we were celebrating our birthdays together. We wanted a shot-ski, our respective boyfriends bowed out (butthurt about something; I don’t recall) and these two locals stepped up to pick up the slack. When the bartender asked “what shot?” the first one answered “Breck.” They proceeded to show us a good time for the next several hours.

Buffalo Trace

Derek. Good kid; perpetually in need of a haircut. We were at a company retreat in Vermont, in this little ages-old shut-away “resort” if “resort” is what you would’ve called that 80 years ago, where the only bar within walking distance was the one in the lobby, and that bar shut down about 2 hours before the last few of us were ready to turn in.

Derek had a bottle of Buffalo in his room, and he ran up to get it. We proceeded to keep our little party going for a while longer — until Derek got tired. At which point, instead of leaving it with us and letting us buy the remaining from him or whatever, he took it to bed with him, effectively ending our night.

Bulleit

Gary. Tailored, tight, but chill AF. No Bulleit drinker has ever done me wrong, and Gary was no exception. More adorable than he needed to be and slicker than you’d expect; disarmingly genuine and nice. Gary lived in a luxury high-rise apartment, and he’s now traveling the world for a year. Gary was very kind. Probably still is. Just drinking more caipirinhas and ouzo these days.

Defiant

Tim, the owner, whom I met at a whiskey-tasting event in Chicago in 2015 when I first found Defiant. Also a deep-sea salvage diver and all-around pretty cool guy.

Also, Stephen, the guy who came into my bar and ordered first Defiant and then Laphroaig — my favorite American whisky followed by my favorite scotch — totally validating my own palate and securing a minuscule corner of my heart.

Dewars

Chaz, see above. But also “Mr. Holly,” the guy who wears white undershirts with each sleeve rolled up twice and orders Dewars White Label on the rocks — and then picks up the tab for half the bar.

Never judge a book, man.

Eagle Rare

Johnny, my current bar manager. Which totally makes sense, because he also likes soda, listens to 1940’s “cigar shop” music, and refers to women as “females” in a way I’m sure he means as loving.

E. H. Taylor

Chad insisted we order this for the bar. To be fair, he’s good friends with Johnny, which helps, but what also helps is that he knows his stuff.

I’m not even a bourbon fan, but poured this for Chad one night and spilled a bit on my hand, and when I smelled the way it hit my skin, I was like “holy shit, man.”

When I later came round to clear the patio’s glasses as they settled into their cigars, he ordered another and offered up the rest of his first glass to me, and, yeah, it tasted as good as it smelled.

F.E.W.

Ben. Ben and I worked together and he was incredibly particular and meticulous and, frankly, a little too high-strung for my taste. I called him “Benin” and he hated it but it took him months to tell me. Ben had it out for me and I found it endearingly funny, like when a kitten goes on the attack.

Ben eventually rage-quit, but chilled out a lot after later coming out.

Jack Daniels

Nobody in particular, and yet a very specific sort of man: the salt of the earth sort, blue collar roots, chilled out AF. Names like Matt or Dave. Or David. They can do no wrong in my book.

Laphroaig

Nobody. This one is mine.

To be fair, an ex-boyfriend introduced me to it, but he can’t have it because he didn’t actually like it. He just saw it in the bar where we happened to be drinking and he knew it was a wild card polarizer — knew you either love it or hate it — and I think part of him was fucking with me because I was not real far into whiskey at the time.

Jokes on him, though. Laphroaig lasted longer than he did.

If I think of anyone, I think of the other people who love it — the two or three customers who have come into my bar to order it, each and every one of them my sort of people and all but a living and walking embodiment of the man I picture when I personify Laphroaig: solid AF, good stature, smart expression, and a little unpolished and imperfect in a perfectly alluring way.

Macallan

Pretty much half of the men who order scotch in my bar.

Old money or might as well be, with their gingham Brooks Brothers and Sperrys, drinking this like it’s the only scotch on the shelf.

Oban

Falan. tbh I pushed it on him but frankly the pushing suited him, so I guess it works for now.

I personify some scotches, and with Oban it was always “kind introvert; scholar” and finding someone who would either prove or disprove this was on “my list” (see below.) So when Falan asked for a whiskey recommendation 30 seconds after his buddy/wingman told me he was a philosophy PhD, I was like “please humor me — Oban.”

Poor Falan endured a “philosophical” lecture from the religious bigot on the barstool next to him and my laughter from behind the bar the whole time, and when I later asked him his favorite philosopher, he wrote down one living, one dead, and his number.

Pappy V

Nate. I had never even heard about Pappy V until Nate said it was his favorite.

I always saw Nate drinking Mount Gay rum and every time he bought a bottle, he would make the same joke about the island on the label looking like a penis. What I never saw Nate drink, however, was Pappy V — which I guess is fair, given that we were like 21* at the time and Pappy would have cost us like an entire weekend of work — but I guess I also hoped that, for as much as he talked about it, he’d at least had it. But maybe he did — after all, Nate also married a woman who’s first appearance on his social media was their wedding (which I wasn’t even 100% sure was their wedding because she was wearing a white sundress.) So what do I know about him.

*we were 20. lol

SIA

Ken was my colleague and found SIA in a little liquor store in the Chicago loop where we worked — not the sort of store that’s been there for 60 years (cougheverywhereChicagocough), but rather a new, tidy place that only carried a few bottles but knew them up and down.

Ken bought it for us and brought it into the office, where it thereby became our first and only “office scotch.” And to some extent, SIA also reminds me of our man-child boss who tried some and I think pretended to like it just to keep up, then snuck pulls from his apple juice box under his desk.

I also think of Carin, the founder, with whom I spoke on the phone right before starting my business.

Stranahans

Clint Eastwood.

I mean, you drink it and tell me that’s not how that shit hits you.

Also, my brother, because I bought him a bottle for Christmas one year. I’d be willing to bet home skillet still has it, because he’s more a white zin man at heart 😂

Remaining men I want whiskies for

  • My late maternal grandpa. He was born and raised in Kentucky, so I’ll be damned if you try to tell me he didn’t drink the occasional bourbon — knowing him, it was some small brand that got popular in the 60’s but has long since gone out of vogue. Frankly, I like to picture Ancient Age or Old Crow.
  • The current boy. He does this thing where he says he doesn’t like whiskey and I’m like “yeah, yeah I get it.” Respect. But I’m curious to give it a shot anyway. I so very want it to be a Japanese (and delicate; a little floral), because it would suit the dear so delightfully well, but I think it could also end up being a blended scotch. Maybe I’ll ruin him proper, pour him J W Blue, and call it a day — I mean, if he’s one and done, what’s it matter*? lol…

*nah. it would ruin him and the game alike

Remaining whiskies I want men for

Like some kind of bucket list like I hear some people have for sexual partners.

  • All of the single malt scotches. And by “all” I obviously mostly mean the big ones — like, I used to say I wanted an Oban because “I bet he reads and/or writes in bars” and I still want a Bruichladdich who doesn’t order it second or based on color — but whatever, the more obscure, the stronger the story and connotation
  • Balcones. Especially Rumble.
  • Mellow Corn. I just want to know who drinks this.
  • All of the remaining American ones too, tbh — who am I kidding? ❤

Darling, let me pour you a whisky

Let me share a little intrigue with you

Let me give you something you might like

I know you’re not too sure of whisky or whether you’ll even like it. Or maybe you already know you do.

But whichever it is, maybe you’ll like this. Maybe I can give you a little something that changes your day. And if you hate it, it’s still a story, and I’ll finish it for you.

Let me share something that I like.

This is me letting you in.

Let me let you see this edge of my world. Let me show and tell this thing to you that means something to me.

I want you to like it, sure, but moreover I want to offer up a little vulnerability and extend some generosity and take one tiny step in your direction. Let me care for you by giving and sharing.

If I pour you what I think you’ll like, I’m exposing my knowledge and judgment to your feedback. If I share what I like, I’m exposing my tastes and very being to you.

Let me hunter-gather info

Let me learn your palate. Let me figure out the way you like to drink. Let me guess and check.

If you already like whiskies, I’ll ask which ones. If you don’t, I’ll ask what you normally drink. Either way, I’m dying to know what foods — especially bread and condiments — you most like.

Let me learn what you are (and are not) into, and let me add it to my working knowledge — of whiskey and of you.

Let me have you in this way.

Let me have this sip of intimacy.

Let me in your mouth and throat. Let me watch your eyes and lips as you taste what I’ve done for you. Let me live vicariously for a moment, and recall the way that one was for me. Let’s compare notes. Let’s have this side by side.

Let me touch you tender roughly gently.

What I think of your drink order, as a bartender

Scotch drinkers, neat, are straight-up my peeps

Angels Trumpet Ale House, artists Lalo Cota and Thomas “Breeze” Marcus

Beer

In general: you chill AF.

Draft craft beer

My dude. You’re gonna be cool and we’re pretty much already friends. Totally makes up for the $1 I make pouring these for you.

There’s probably some further breakdown since we’ve got 20 on tap, but whatever — you’re all equally sane.

4+ tastes of draft craft beer

Baby, I don’t care. Just so long as you don’t care that I float back and forth to help others while you deliberate over The Last Beer You’ll Ever Have. lol

Bottled craft beer

You know what you like and you have discerning tastes, but you’re pretty chill and more or less keep to yourself. (Like: you had no idea that shit was $22, but you also won’t throw a fit over it.)

Bottled domestic macro beer

You’re here by yourself and you’re going to hit on me. I guarantee it.

That, or you’re here with a massive group 30 minutes before closing and I’ll literally never see you, because one of your buddies will always order yours with theirs.

But more than likely, you are the former.

Draft domestic macro beer

You have not yet learned about craft beer or truly don’t give a fuck what you drink. You’ll also go years without fixing that rattling sound in your car, because you either sincerely don’t hear it or you’re just like “whatever.”

Cocktails and mixed drinks

Disclaimer: I’m a beer and scotch drinker. I like things simple, straight up, and unadulterated, so this shit just ain’t my bag, baby. But for as much as I don’t like drinking them, I like making them just fine — just don’t ask me what one tastes like, because I’ll bullshit to avoid answering: “like fuckery — it’s a cocktail.”

In general: you guys want a distraction from your everyday life (just like all drinkers do), but you like distractions within your distractions. (Yo dawg.) You never look at anything straight-on; life’s easier that way. Just make it palatable and easy to swallow.

The most popular cocktail on our signature list

It’s popular for a reason. Just like “pop” music. And you.

The most tedious cocktail(s) on our signature list

Of. Course. Of course you ordered this.

I can see it’s going to happen before it even does, because of the specific way you sweep your manicured fingertip over the menu and then beam brightly just before saying those words. (That, and that barely-discernible glint of feminine sadness behind those slightly-too-eager eyes that you give me for a little too long.)

Once I get past hand-pruning the herbs and stirring the gin so as not to bruise it and rolling the sugar rim just so with the lime, I’ll be fine. I’m just not sure I can say the same about you.

Pretty much every other cocktail on our “signature” list

Yeah yeah — fine. There they are. Here you are. You can have one.

Dirty martini with blue cheese olives

You’re going to ask me for extra olives, I already know.

What is it with the fucking blue cheese olives? People don’t get weirdly grabby with the easy shit; it’s only BC olives that makes people see “salad bar.” (Do you realize we have to make these by hand??)

You’ll also tell me there was some specific ratio that “that one bartender did once,” but you won’t actually know what it was.

Grey Goose anything

Overcompensating. Always.

You’re going to talk on your phone at the bar and mention your “lake house” a little too loudly and multiple times, even though this is a small town and we all know where you live. Then you’ll pay with singles (“ugh, I just need to get rid of these!”) and/or not leave a tip.

Some of you are parading as Tito’s drinkers, but we all see you for what you are.

Tito’s

Duh. It’s like 90% of the vodka we pour.

Vodka soda

You’re watching your weight. Good on you.

Vodka Red Bull

You’re at least one drink past when you should be done.

Vodka cranberry (or “a splash of grenadine”)

You think it’s white girls, don’t you? It’s not. They know better than to fuck with this.

The only people who drink red dye 40 are dudes, and they’re always weird AF. Like, tiny Unabomber notebook weird. Einstein hair weird. Orders a salad but only eats the croutons weird. Wearing a freshly-pressed button-down shirt at a dive bar at 10 am weird. Professional race car driver weird (and reminder: I bartend in the south.)

Tequila

You’re fighting time and refuse to grow old.

G&T

Oh you fancy, huh? (But like, in a delicate way.) Real talk, we’ve got some pretty cool botanical gins and bitters you might like.

Rum and Coke

This is sugar on sugar, yo. I mean, alcohol is already sugar anyway, but rum is like sugary sugar, and then you added more fucking sugar to the mix. omg

Jack and Coke

If General Motors was a drink. You guys are salt of the earth sort and mostly chill AF.

Long Island Iced Tea

Here to get fucked up? Nah, usually just a big dude who can’t otherwise catch a buzz.

Or, yeah, crazy chick.

Mohito

lol, okay sweetie. okay.

I always thought this would be the nightmare drink to have to make, especially when it’s busy, but so far I’ve only had one dude order it, and he was so chill I would’ve made more if he wanted

Margarita

I think of my dad every time I make this, because it’s the only thing he really drinks (like twice a year.) And even though none of you are even remotely like him, this connotation works in your favor. It also helps that we literally don’t have a blender (for real), so your only option is to be the cooler of the two and get it on the rocks. You’re welcome.

Bloody Mary

I think you panicked and forgot where you were.

Cosmo

You are either actually pushing middle-aged or you’re the sort of girl who was always middle-aged at heart.

Strawberry daiquiri or some other fruity, sweet drink

You also still shop at the mall, eat at Olive Garden, and own at least a few things that have rhinestones.

Old Fashioned

I am truly amazed at how popular this drink is — I’d never heard anyone order it until I started this job, but everyone who does is pretty easy to please (and surprisingly young.) Half of them have blazers draped over the backs of their chairs — or act like they wish they did. Daddy’s clothes, drinking daddy’s drink, with daddy’s money. Make him proud.

Old Fashioned with rye

Uh… k.

French 75, Tom Collins, Negroni or some other old-school drink

You are the most adorable 75-year old man in here — or you’re adorably 75 at heart — and even when you’re a lil tipsy you can do no wrong.

Any mixed drink with top-shelf liquor

Oh no baby, what is you doing?

Baileys, Kahlua and cream, Rumchata, chocolate martini, or anything else with cream

You totally still sleep with stuffed animals. Or real ones. Or you’re remarkably infantile in some other way. You never drink and you probably won’t even finish that one — the exception being chocolate martini, because you all but lick the glass.

Amaretto Sour

Barely above the “cream” crowd — you’ve upgraded your stuffed animals to throw pillows with cutesy phrases. You order this all the time because someone recommended it once and apparently that was good enough to last you forever, because it’s still the only drink you know.

Whiskey Sour

Barely above the “Amaretto Sour” girl. If you aren’t already, you two should totes get married at 24, deck out your cookie cutter apartment with her cutesy pillows and your posters, get a goldendoodle, name it “Casey” regardless of gender, and call it a day.

A drink or a shot with a stupid name

You just like saying “sex on the beach” or it was the only one you could remember, and the best you could do on such short notice.

A round of mixed shots where every shot is different

Clearly, you have never been a bartender. But you almost always tip well.

Some overly-meticulous drink order with half a dozen specific-yet-ambiguous directions

Do you wanna just come back here and make it? Damn.

“Surprise me”

I hate you — as a patron and a person. I wish you’d pick your own drink instead of making me guessing-game and live your life for you. How’s that for a surprise?

“I don’t know — something juicy!”

Why. Why are you the way you are?

“What do you recommend?”

Absolutely nothing.

…yet. If you aren’t gonna look at the wall or read the menu, at least put in some kind of effort. You gotta give me something to work with here, son.

So I’ll ask, “what are you into?” And from here, I get two types of people: those who want to play the game and are actually interested in having a dialogue about tastes… and those who fold because they literally wanted me to just pick something. I dig the former and despise the latter. As human beings.

“What’s your favorite cocktail to drink?”

I’m going to tell you my favorite one to make, and I’m going to emphasize “make” just so it’s clear I don’t drink them.

When you push the issue and ask me the same thing again (“no, to drink!”) I’m going to flatly answer: “scotch.” Because I don’t do cocktails. (And this is right about the time I see you realize I also wouldn’t do you.)

Whisk(e)y

This is my jam. Too often bartenders just throw all of the whiskies in a bag together, but the brown-liquor drinkers are not all created equal.

They either a little badass and down with what they like, or they’re overcompensating (you may not know which you are, but I do.) But either way they are unafraid of taking shit head on.

Macallan 12 or 15

Hey, who are you to fuck with “perfection?” Especially when it goes so well with your lifestyle.

Macallan 18

This is your first scotch in public, you’re impressing someone (or me), and you haven’t yet realized people don’t casually order this pour.

Balvenie

You’re equally as into nice shit and just as slightly-pretentious, but with darker secrets, more skeletons in your closet, and less mental stability than the Macallan drinker.

Any other Speyside

We get it, you like nice things. You’ve got this whole blind spot to the rest of the scotches (just like you do with cars and restaurants and everything else) because its important that you have “the best” (defined in part as “polite” and “unproblematic”) and not anything beneath it. Nobody’s gonna fight you on it — not because you’re right, but because that’s not how we live our lives.

Johnny Walker Blue

You’re not actually ordering it; you’re just going to tell me a story about that one time you did. Or you’re ordering it just to make a show of ordering it. Either way, you’ll watch for my reaction, and make double sure I know it’s an expensive pour. Home skillet, I know. There are plenty of other expensive scotches and I’ve drank some of those, too, but you don’t see me telling the world, now do you? Calm down and get out more.

Laphroaig, neat

Ah, son. This is my favorite whisky and odds are good it’s your favorite too (nobody orders it otherwise.) I already know you’re one chill-ass MF, and we’re about to fangirl the shit out of each other’s face over this.

And yes, when I’m like “that campfire tho!”, I am totally saying: “I’d like to campfire you.” And I know you know what I mean.

Lagavulin

Some dude within hearshot’s always like “but what about Lagavulin??” and it’s like “what about Lagavulin?! Does the homecoming prince need a pat on the head from me too?”

Like, alright, damn. Laga-fuckin-vulin. Take your gold star and leave me be.

Any other Islay scotch

Heck yes — still solidly my peeps. You like a little complexity and you’re not afraid of marring the veneer in your life to get it.

If it’s not busy, you and I are about to talk some serious shop up in here, and odds are good you won’t even mansplain — one of us will walk away with something new.

Any other scotch

Still awesome in my book. High five.


Angel’s Envy, Eagle Rare, or pretty much 90% of all other bourbons

You also love soda. (Tell me I’m wrong.) I know this because both have primary flavor notes of “straight up syrup.” But you don’t realize this and you call it “A Man’s Drink,” which on so many levels makes Laphroaig Guy and I giggle over our glasses.

Bulleit or F.E.W.

You’re a youngish professional and either from the midwest or with distinctly midwestern values. Very low odds of douchery.

Blanton’s

You are the American Macallan. You can appreciate (and afford) a nice steak — done medium. You’re most comfortable in a button-down, and you’re a giver.

Buffalo Trace

You decide where to eat based on Yelp ratings.

Crown or Makers

You may drink other shit too, but you like to have your fall-back. The night’s just getting started, or winding down, or you just didn’t feel like fucking with anything new.

Jameson

I’ve learned there’s a whole other world of Jamo drinkers after we all shot it in college. Some people never leave it — now they sip it on the rocks — and they’re night and day more laid back than you would think.

Pappy V

Sigh. If I set this down in a three-whiskey line-up, could you actually pick it out?

(Stop it. No you could not.)

Rye

I mean. Alright. Be that guy.

Hibiki or some other Japanese whisky

You like trying new things. I can dig it.

Wine

Literally whatever. Here.

We only have one of each type by the glass. You wanna ask me how it is? They’re all fine.

Wild card

Jäger

oh yeah? lol, aiight.

The only two people who drink this, drink this and only this (okay, and sometimes Bud Light) — both of them dudes, both pretty nice on the surface, both of them probably a little wiry IRL.