Let’s imagine you’re at a party, like the one your spouse drags you to when she has to impress her boss with the fact that she can balance her job, a husband, a household, maybe some children and car payments so that he won’t consign her to the crappy assignments (let’s be honest, being a woman is not for me). Before leaving for the event, considerable time is spent discussing the “interaction” strategy: who to talk to, what to talk about, subjects to avoid and how not to dominate the conversation when it comes to things I feel strongly about (like the pay inequity she’s dealing with).
So your Uncle Knucklehead is being a good boy, hanging around the edges of the host’s house wearing one of those innocuously pleasant smiles that says one of 2 things: this man is perhaps challenged in some way that’s not wise to probe in depth; or “who’s he with and will he hurt me”? Either way, the strategy is working and I’m spending the time I’m not at her elbow graciously checking out the drapes, the objets d’art and gorging on boiled shrimp.
I just about had that last shrimp chewed up, the tail wiggling around the corner of my mouth when I heard behind me, “there he is! He drinks whiskey and smokes cigars”. I turned to see Claire, my wife’s office mate pointing to me and giggling that kind of “we’re connected” type of laugh that parties seem to bring out in all of us. “This is my husband Charlie and I’ve been telling him about you”, which tells me this poor slob and I are about to be paired in that sad, lost child kind of way that happens to the other halves in these situations.
Claire is definitely into “spouse dumping” at this point and is running through Charlie’s attributes that she feels will align us: last week he power washed the garage, he likes pro football and just had his first prostate exam administered by his new, woman doctor. On this she laughs merrily, turns and heads back into the fray, on her way to seeking the raise she thinks she deserves more than my wife.
Charlie and I look over the remains of the shrimp and suddenly he blurts out, “I don’t like cigars or whisky” and in my mind I see a picture of me pushing he and Claire off the edge of a parking garage late at night. “What don’t you like?” I reply, silently keeping my pledge to my wife who I love more than their deaths. “They’re just, I don’t know, harsh and bitter”. I don’t what snapped in me, but maybe the sad, whiny way he confessed this to a total stranger suddenly convinced me this was one of those teachable moments. “Meet me on the back patio in 5 minutes” is what I left him with as I headed out to my car to retrieve some “educational materials”.
Back on the patio, the first thing I took out were 2 Camacho Connecticut Robustos, and just like with a scared child, I slowly explained that not all cigars were made the same, that each has a personality and they have to be approached singularly and at first, gingerly. I showed him the color of the Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper, explaining how this silky and oily leaf would deliver a lovely smoothness with a touch of sweetness. The filler and leaf were Honduran and in combination with the wrapper ensured that the bold richness of the smoke would lack harshness and still not be wimpy.
Charlie liked that. We talked about how to sniff the foot to reveal the tartness of the tobacco, how to make the cut and to toast before lighting to ensure a clean, even burn that delivers flavor. I let him play around with the cutter and lighter when I pulled out the piece de resistance of the evening.
Holding the bottle of Penderyn Madeira Finish, I explained “this is a single malt whisky, but it’s not from Scotland. It’s from Wales, where Richard Burton was from and where they like to use the letter “y” a lot”. Charlie warmed up to this. “Like in the name Gwyneth” he said, delighted with discovery. Its made in a specially constructed still that cleans the whisky as its being made to deliver more of the fruitier elements in the distillate. The water they use is from the Brecon Beacons, as pure a source of water as there ever was. It’s aged first in first fill ex-bourbon barrels (this took a while to explain why that was ideal) and its then matured a second time, or “finished” in ex-Madiera barrels.
Charlie for some reason was an expert on Madeira wine and rattled off all the elegant flavors that can be found in it. I walked him through the appreciation of the yellow gold hue and then through the nosing to how to hold the luscious liquid long in his mouth before swallowing to allow it to reveal all its complexity. Then follow it with a rich puff of the Camacho and take in their combined richness and elegance as one.
Inside, I found out later, Claire, after a few vodka and sodas, pulled the ultimate faux pas by joking about the boss’s hairpiece and was pulled from her prized account. My wife got the raise. And me and Charlie get together once a week in his newly washed garage and drink whisky and smoke cigars.
And shrimp, we eat lot’s of shrimp.