As I cruise through the middle of my 40th year, I find it hard to believe that at one point in my life, I was not only young but also very dumb. Especially when it came to whiskey. Since we’ve all become friends over the last few months, I thought I’d share a cautionary tale about the importance of learning to respect whiskey. I’m sure it’s an experience that many of you can relate to. I hope that you enjoy my tale and are willing to share your own story in the comments of this post.
It was the summer of 1990. A month after I graduated high school and a month before I was scheduled to leave for a year in Japan as an exchange student. A few friends and I were scheduled to hang out at a mutual friend's house on a Friday night before one of our groups had to head to basic training. It was to be an evening of hanging out with good friends playing cards, swimming and drinking.
An important detail to know at this point is that I didn’t drink in high school. In fact, most of my friends didn’t drink either. It may be hard to believe but it just wasn’t something we did. Of course, it didn’t help that my parents were pretty damn strict when it came to drinking underage. I suppose I got lucky with having friends that didn’t complicate the situation for me. That was, at least, until we graduated that summer.
The plan was to head into relatively uncharted drinking territory at our friend’s house since his parents were out of town and allowed him to drink as long as he wasn’t driving. I saw this as an opportunity to test out the drinking waters before heading to Japan and experiencing their legendary drinking culture firsthand. (That’s a topic for another blog post.)
A few of us had it all mapped out. We’d drink beers and maybe a few wine coolers but nothing too extreme on our first drink outing. (Yeah, I know…wine coolers. Just remember the year was 1990, and I was young..and dumb.) We thought it was a safe way to dip our toes into drinking and ensure that we would be able to get up the next morning and make it to work. But as you can probably guess, things didn’t quite go as planned.
Steve, my best friend and lone experienced drinker in the group showed up with a bottle of Jack Daniel’s. He insisted that we “man up” and drink “real booze.” So like a flock of lemmings leaping off a cliff, we veered from our well-orchestrated plan of beer and coolers and proceeded to drain the entire bottle of Jack—just the four of us.
So what happened next?
Let’s start by stating for the record, and for the benefit of any inexperienced young folks viewing these pages, that under no circumstance should you drink a bunch of Jack after drinking 6+ beers, a few wine coolers and horsing around in the pool for a few hours. Furthermore, when your friends suggest a good Italian meal before a night of introductory drinking “to provide a good base” for the booze, you should veto the idea immediately and stick to eating crackers.
Around 2 a.m., when Jack Daniels was gone, and inebriation was well underway, I decided I should hit the sack if I were going to get up at 7 am and make it to work. I remember my friend helping me navigate the stairs down to his basement since they seemed to be in a constant state of movement. As we reached the bottom of the stairs, I abruptly realized that what my mouth had consumed, my body was going to expel.
I made a beeline for the bathroom and barely crossed the threshold when the inevitable occurred. Oh boy…indeed! At that moment, the full wrath of Bud, Bartle, James and Jack was unleashed upon my friend’s parents’ very formal and very pristine bathroom.
My memory of what happened after that is a complete black hole. When I recovered, I learned that my friend had cleaned me up and put me to bed. He then cleaned up my mess without passing judgment or holding it against me. That’s what good friends do. And I suppose he knew that the shame of it, and the resulting hangover, would be more than adequate in teaching me a valuable lesson.
That lesson, of course, is to respect whiskey.
I was lucky to have learned that lesson early in my drinking years and a relatively safe environment. It helped me prepare for my years living abroad in Japan and helped me avoid making an ass of myself in college. I did more than my share of drinking while pursuing higher education, but I can honestly say that I never got sick again from drinking.
At 40 years old, I’m older and wiser. A few short years ago, I developed a taste for whiskey in the form of good bourbon. I’m fortunate enough to enjoy it when I want and to share those experiences with all of you. I wouldn’t change my “whiskey education” for anything, but I wish I hadn’t waited so long to revisit whiskey with the respect it deserves.
If you have a similar story about learning to respect whiskey, please share it in the comments. After all, it’s the kind of story we’d all be swapping if we were together sharing a bottle of bourbon.