I remember the very first time I tried Scotch. A decade ago, as part of an after-party related to my old newspaper’s annual staff banquet, our new boss — my friend Alaric — brandished a bottle of Laphroig. He generously offered to add a few ounces to my red Solo cup.
I remember sipping it and thinking to myself, “Holy [expletive deleted], this tastes like gasoline.”
I drank it, gingerly, over an hour or so. As an introduction to Scotch, starting with Laphroig is like learning to drive by getting behind the wheel of a Freightliner, or maybe a Lamborghini. Regardless of your metaphor, the result is the same: You. Are. Not. Prepared.
For a long time after that, I was scared of Scotch. It wasn’t until years later, when I decided to order a Johnnie Walker Black at a hotel bar, that I realized that not all Scotches are the same.
Same melody, different lyrics, for my first cigar experience. In the early 2000s, on a blustery November night, Tony invited me to his apartment in downtown Lansing to watch election returns. I had never smoked anything before. No cigarettes, no wacky weed, no pipes, nothing. He brandished a pair of cigars — I forget the label and vitola — and we enjoyed them as we watched Fox News. Because Tony was something of a noob too, our experience was akin to the nearsighted leading the blind, but we made it through. I remember being unimpressed but not repulsed. I didn’t try another cigar until several years later, though.
All of which leads to an interesting point: If we accept that the judicious enjoyment of premium cigars and fine whiskeys is an intrinsic cultural good, then those of us with some experience under our belts should take care to help new recruits to the Brotherhood of Vice to get their bearings appropriately. Share history. Start them on the gentle stuff. Explain and celebrate ritual.
You only lose your virginity once, hymen-reconstruction surgery notwithstanding. Take care that when a friend loses one of his vice flowers, that your contribution to his experience makes him want to come back for more like a nymphomaniac nibbling on Spanish Fly.