Photo by Jon McAllister

Old Man Liver

big band in the background plays through a haze of cigar smoke. Suits and receding slicked-back hairlines populate the lane I sway through toward the bar. Smoothly, I order a fiery Scotch as I give the eyes to lone girl in a glamorous red dress across the bar. She nods back, smiling as I receive my drink and send her the same libation. I pull out a Benjamin and tell the bartenders they’re the cat’s pajamas.

Just kidding.

I actually ordered a Dewar’s and Sprite from a disapproving bartender.

I paid five sweaty ones and hurriedly puffed a cigarette on a frigid patio. Suits gave way to thrift-leather and hoods, every path lined with plastic cups and cans dotting the floor. The place is abrasive. Fancy ain’t sought after here.

Yes, sir. I am a 22-year-old Scotch drinker. I’m not anybody’s dad or grandpa, and I definitely don’t have the class or cash to do something so ridiculous consistently—but I desire that complex power of Scotch night-in, night-out.

My realm consists of dive bars, one or two campus spots, and some in-between establishments. There, the consensus response to my peaty lust is, “Deewaaars?! Really?” or a confused head tilt. The shit rules so whatever, gimme my drink. It’s an immediate judgment I get from the places I can afford. But that’s almost part of the experience. Maybe it’s my version of the feeling businessmen and politicians get as they order 10 tulip glasses of an incredible, $32-a-pop Scotch for their table.

Well, I’ve got the cheaper pairing to match the timeless single malt and a fine cigar: young  Scotch and a f*ckin’ Marlboro Gold. 

Perhaps it’s that I’m a fledgling, dumb drinker but I’ve fallen in love with the Scotch and Sprite. I doubt I made it up, but I call it a Smokey Sprite. Such a college kid thing to toss pop into your liquor, but screw your rum and Coke; we all have to grow up sometime.

Now, I know the Scotch world might come down on anyone for adding anything to the Scottish export, as if it was a horrendous blasphemy. And give me shit if you want, it totally makes sense. Fruit, smoke, nutty-vanilla. Also see: gimme my drink.

But they know as well as I do,  the drinker is meant to enjoy Scotch to the greatest extent, in the precise way required. Ask any liquor rep.

The point of my perspective on the issue is to discontinue the misconceptions of who drinks Scotch whisky and how expensive it is. I’m satisfied however I can obtain the complexity. Maybe we’ll see each other in 20 years and laugh over something fancier.

Until then, remove everything you know about Scotch and give cheap a chance:

Dewars White Label 750 ml – $19.95

Probably one of the few Scotch names people know without knowing it was even a Scotch. And you know by now I splash around with the Sprite. The flavor is broad—less focused—and therein easier for those who hate it to realize they could’ve been wrong.

Mcclelland Scotch Islay/Highland 750 ml – $21.95 – $25.97

Being smoky as hell, you can throw in something real sweet to cuddle with the Highland region peatiness. I personally like having a lemon and ginger syrup thing going on with this, but a true idiot-genius might try a slice of lemon and ginger ale.

Bowmore Legend 750 ml – $25.99

You’ve got sweet, rich honey tastes with this one. It’s nice to try other fruit flavors to complement it. Ever try to make a Scotch-based mule? Me neither but that’s the point of this: bad, amateur bartender ideas are funny and more often than not, you end up drunk either way.

Auchentoshan Classic 750 ml – $33.95

I used to work at a bar where we put this whisky with Amaretto—the richest, bonfire dessert ever. It’s one of the more expensive options unless you ration the ingredients for breakfasts where you really could start with a drink you were gonna have later in the day anyway.

Glenmorangie The Original (10 Year) 750 ml – $38.97

This is the place where my cheap quest meets the beginning of a true Scotch journey. Glenmorangie hits on the flavor-map between rich and fruity, between delicate and super smoky. Perhaps this is where you’ll go after you become interested in the routes I’ve offered thus far.