Neat, Please

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Greta Garbo

Over the past couple of years, I’ve noticed articles here and there that talk about women who drink single malt Scotch whisky as if this were some sort of elusive species, sighted only rarely at random watering holes, but suspected to be a much larger population than previously acknowledged.

Up until the 1960s, the drinks we associate with the preferred female bar beverages weren’t the the ‘girlie’ cocktails and white wine spritzers – beverages were unisex. It’s interesting to me that over the course of the decades in which women made progress in equal rights, certain alcoholic drinks were marketed as distinctly masculine to set them apart from the ‘feminine’ beverage (white wine or Bailey’s, anyone?). Single malt Scotch was one of the manly drinks that somehow lost its female base.

I remember when I first tried Scotch. Sure, I’d had plenty of whiskeys (bourbon) in mixed drinks, but the first time I tried a proper Scotch, I was on a hiking trip through the Scottish highlands with my husband. We had stopped off in Fort Williams, and escaped the drizzle in a local and very quiet bar. They had all manner of whiskies stocked on the shelf, and we asked to barkeep to pick out a couple for us, serve them neat, and off we went. Until then, my choice of booze drunk straight had been vodka or tequila, with the occasional brandy. But honestly from those first two glasses of Scotch, I was sold. I wish I could remember what we had. I just remember really liking it.

When we got back home, we were talking with a good friend who had spent a lot of time in Scotland – she recommended her house Scotch, the smoky Lagavulin 16-year-old. She brought over a bottle and from that point on, we’ve always had some in the house. That was almost twenty years ago.

It used to be that when I walked into a bar in New York City, where I often visit, and ordered a Scotch neat, the conversation around us at the bar would actually stop. I’d see several men’s heads crane around when they saw a female hand holding a glass of Scotch. People used to come over and ask what I was drinking, and then, ‘why’? Silly question. There’s a nice interview here with Heather Greene, Glenfiddich whisky expert, on why women and Scotch can be very good friends. Women have finer aroma sensibilities, etc. For me, the explanation is simple: it’s a good drink and a fun hobby.

And now? Ordering a neat Scotch might draw the attention of a fellow Scotch drinker, but that’s all. No craning of necks, no surprise. It’s become fashionable, although not ladylike, to drink straight Scotch.

And so, in honor of women who like a good whisky, one of my favorite strange singers singing Alabama Song, a great whisky song.

And in honor of the passing (on 23 May) of a great keyboardist, Ray Manzarek of The Doors, a different version of the same Brecht/Weill song:

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