Jackson Biko would infinitely rather be sitting at a table sipping tumblers of single malt than ever, ever, having to stand awkwardly at a cocktail party trying to make polite conversation while holding a fish finger in one hand.
It’s December, which means I have to send my one blue bespoke blazer to the drycleaners in readiness for a string of dreary cocktail shindigs. I hate cocktail functions because someone in a silk cravat is always trying to make the world’s socioeconomic politics sound sexy. I suffer the humiliation of having to eat a samosa while holding it with a serviette, or having to spear a fish finger with a toothpick. I also never seem to be able to catch the waiter’s eye, so end up standing with an empty whisky glass and feeling stupid, because the bloody guy in a cravat is not yet done talking. I especially hate the mornings after, when I stare at about 2,000 strange business cards I somehow picked throughout the night, most of them dreadful, printed on cheap paper, often with names of people who see it fit to suffix MBA or PHD. And don’t even get me started on the headache, because the open bars at such dos never want to serve single malt whiskies, so it’s always some entry level blended whiskies that go down like burning fire. And so I try to avoid as many as I can, before I’m forced to attend one because of a client who paid for my children’s school fees or something.
What I prefer, though, are small intimate does like the one I recently attended for Glenmorangie. Ten people, sat around a circular table in a cigar lounge, no ongoing game of musical chairs. Nobody played footsie with anyone else because, well, there were more men than women. The host, Alex, did not sit there acting like a sensei. He never stood up to give a boring rehashed speech about whisky and why theirs is the best and how you should always drink theirs because it was founded by some guys in baggy woolen pants in Scotland some 100 years ago and they know what they are doing. He did not bore us with marketing videos on the television screen of people from 1907 standing before a horse drawn carriage carrying the founder of their whisky. Neither did he make us guess why Americans spell whisky with an “e”. Actually he never stood up the whole time. Nobody did.
Bottles of whisky were cracked: Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban, La Santa, Original and Nectar Dor. Unveiled like brides. A waiter poured a finger in the first glass. We tasted like gentlemen, and ladies. Someone – a Nigerian guy – asked, “Is the 12 year old better than the 10-year old?” and Alex answered him and only then did he gloat about their whisky making tradition and talk about stills and the weather and the barrels used and a schooling on whiskies. He wasn’t pompous about it. He didn’t make us feel like we were in a classroom. We all nodded and sipped. Nodded and sipped again. “It’s amazing you should say that,” the Nigerian said, “because there is a misconception out there that the older the whisky is matured and more expensive it is and the better it tastes!”
There were games. A lady won a set of golf balls to which someone across the table joked good naturedly, “So now you have a set of balls.” Ho-ho- ho. Food came and went; cheese, assorted pastries, ham, cake. The crowd got more relaxed and everybody called each other by their first name and Alex asked another question which the answer was the giraffe and someone won a pair of cufflinks and a set of whisky tasters and other bits and bobs. I didn’t win anything because I never win anything, but I didn’t mind because it could have been worse. I could be seated next to a man in a cravat telling me about Arafat.
By 10pm we took pictures and laughed; okay they took pictures and laughed while from across the table I ignored a Nigerien (from Niger) who kept saying, “We should all go to Kiza, the first bottle of Glenmorangie on me!” Like I said, it could have been worse. Nobody fell off their chair.