“This whisky will set you back $700.”
The words still the chatter, the breath, of thirty strangers into submission. The wizened man with the strange accent standing in the middle of the room eases a glass of bronze liquid to his lips. He beckons the mesmerized menagerie to do the same…
Years ago, Hollywood story analyst Christopher Vogler set the screenwriting world afire with his book, “The Writer’s Journey” which meticulously detailed mythic structure in storytelling. The book deconstructed storytelling to its age-old essentials of archetypes found along the stages of a journey. The book was practically required reading for those trying to break into screenwriting at the time. The “secrets” that Vogler shared were essentially the same things Joseph Campbell had taught decades before, which were what Jung had exposed an earlier generation to, and which were embedded in tales from the dawn of civilization.
Mythic structure exists in stories. The elements serve as shorthand for the human psyche, allowing us to bring our anticipations and expectations to a tale, which frees the storyteller from meandering details that detract from the essence of a story. Mythic parallels are found in stories ranging from, “The Hobbit” to the Academy Award winning movie, “The Artist” to the independently-published phenomenon, “Fifty Shades of Grey.” Admittedly, some mythic stories are better than others.
Archetypical elements can also be applied to non-fiction storytelling. To do so doesn’t mean a writer rewrites the truth. Rather, a writer shapes the perspective of a particular realistic situation to capture the flow of a mythical journey and peppers the telling with the archetypes familiar to us all. One sees this done in everything from war stories to celebrity biographies. With the right touch, it can even be applied to a whisky-tasting luncheon.
Every story needs a hero, a person whose journey leaves the reader or audience more knowledgeable or fulfilled than at the beginning of the story. He’s the sometimes rash, sometimes reluctant, soul who leaves his fellow villagers on a quest to return with the secret potion that will save them all. Along the way, the hero encounters a cast of archetypes that challenge or expand elements of his psyche while reflecting elements of the human condition. The basic counterparts to the hero are the mentor (wise man who teaches the hero and gives gifts like a magical elixir); Threshold guardian (the wary watcher who stops the unworthy from entering); Shapeshifter (often the opposite sex who changes her appearance or mood); Shadow (whose opposite-shade qualities are the unrepressed, unrealized side of the hero); and the Trickster (the cause of mischief and catalyst for change who cuts big egos down to size).
While I’d hardly classify myself as a hero, my stories tell of journeys through a particular event, moment or thought process. I take readers on a ride that hopefully has some kind of arc for me and for them. Such is my hope with the tale of the Grand Adventure of the Whisky Luncheon. Join me on a mythic journey as I seek to bring to you knowledge of the secret elixir known as The Glenrothes:
August. Los Angeles. A Monday afternoon that puts the H-E-double-hockey sticks into hot. I have left behind the cool confines of my home for a maze-like trek to downtown Los Angeles – Wilshire to La Brea to the 10 to Grand to 8th to Spring. Straight out of The Californians.
With me is Caroline Macey, a bourbon-loving beguiling blonde who likes complex cocktails and simple songs. She’s an actress who is affiliated with some of the best mixology bars in SoCal. This is the first whisky tasting event she’s ever attended. She’s excited. Nervous. Eager. Unsure of how to present herself in a room full of writers and whisky wolves.
Four text messages rock my phone during the dodgy drive downtown. Each gets progressively cheekier. They’re from James Armstrong, owner of Showgun Studio – a powerhouse event production company. My old Aussie pal is already at the luncheon, sampling the pre-presentation cocktails and chastising me for being late. It’s not me James. It’s the traffic. Always the traffic.
Caroline and I arrive 15 minutes late for normal time, or 15 minutes early for LA time. In either case, the first person we encounter as we walk up the stairs of downtown LA’s newest gastropub, The Parish, is James. He smiles at Caroline and smirks at me.
“You can’t possibly be on the guest list for this fine event,” James mellifluously mocks me, as a good Trickster does.
The words, but not the tone, snake their way into the ears of a brunette a few feet away. She holds the trademark tool of a 21st Century Threshold Guardian – a clipboard. She hurries to investigate my interloping, but I preempt her wariness when I say her name before she speaks.
“I’m Rob Gard. Whisky Guy Rob.”
The clipboard sinks to her side and her opposite arm rises in a hug. Danielle and I have been exchanging emails about the luncheon for weeks. This is our first meeting. After brief introductions all the way around, Danielle departs to check on the validity of new arrivals. Caroline, James and I finish a round of cocktails before weaving our way to a table to ready ourselves for the luncheon presentation.
I sit across from a pretty woman who has kind eyes and a warm voice. In other circumstances I’d be more flirtatious with her. But, this is a professional lunch, I tell myself. And, I cannot possibly breach protocol. Even if it is my own self-imposed protocol. So, we talk casually, politely, about different alcohols. Travel. The kind of general things that serve as a fire blanket to flirtation.
As we wrap up our chat, a guy rumbles up to our table. His gel-dappled hair, Vans, jeans and a slightly wrinkled short sleeved shirt say the right amount of care went into looking like he doesn’t care. It’s an LA-look through and through, pulled off well by someone who has the air of knowing nighttime drink hot spots the way Dracula knows blood banks. The woman I’d been talking with turns to him.
“You look familiar,” she says inquisitively.
“Do I? Did I sleep with you? You’re the kind of girl I’d sleep with. But I don’t know if you’d sleep with me. I hope I was good.”
His rapid-fire response and irascible irreverence draws a genuine laugh from the woman. The man is a well-known drinks writer, radio host and all-around drinker. In his world, he talks about whisky while drinking it, bar-hopping from live location to live location, surrounded by enthusiastic crowds. In mine, I write about whisky in lonely rooms, out of sight and out of mind from the rest of the world. I’m not sure if he’s my Shadow or I am his. In either case, he has her rapt attention, in fact, the attention of the whole table, and I don’t. And, I’ve no idea how to get it back.
The train of thought is disrupted by a hush incited by a handsome middle-aged man walking into the middle of the room. Even before a single word escapes his mouth we all know this is Scotch whisky expert and ambassador Ronnie Cox. We eagerly lean forward to hear him reveal the mysteries behind the latest Glenrothes releases. I try to catch his eye to see if he recognizes me. I’d met Ronnie years earlier in San Francisco at a Whiskies of the World expo. He was one of my first whisky Mentors.
Ronnie insists we go around the room for individual introductions, and the crowd obliges. Magazine editors, bloggers, drinks industry representatives. Caroline’s turn is next. Timidity is thrust aside as she confidently describes her work with craft cocktail lounges, proving she belongs here as much as anyone. This is not the uncertain person I arrived with earlier. She has shown true Shapeshifter form.
Introductions finish and Ronnie begins to speak about alcohol. However, the name Glenrothes does not reach our ears. Ronnie has decided to describe a gin that sits in the portfolio of Berry Brothers & Rudd, who also own Glenrothes. This is a gin that isn’t even in the building today, let alone at our tables. The brief segue turns into a long gin soliloquy. People’s attention drifts and backsides do the seat shuffle. Just as he is about to lose the audience to a sea of squirming, he breaks into story about gin that is so fascinating, it draws us back to him and makes us think we’d have died the worse for not knowing that particular gin fact.
Wise man that he is, Ronnie’s stories about other drinks in the portfolio have stretched into the first hour of our luncheon. The result of his oratory obstacles is that everyone is drooling for a single drop of Glenrothes. We want it desperately, ache for it, need it more than life itself.
The anticipation has made the first sip of Glenrothes 1995 all the sweeter. Ronnie deftly leads us through the flavor notes he picks up in the whisky and, to my surprise, refers to me to support a point he makes about water and whisky. He does indeed remember me.
We continue with the Glenrothes 1988 as a glow begins to take shape in the room. It’s not the alcohol that causes this effect; rather, it’s the alcohol experience that Ronnie is leading us through. Again, attention drifts from the presentation as people get lost in the enjoyment of the whisky and the delicious dishes paired with the dram. Ronnie immediately snaps us back as glasses of Glenrothes 1978 are delivered to the tables.
“This whisky will set you back $700.”
The words still the chatter, the breath, of thirty strangers into submission. The wizened man with the strange accent standing in the middle of the room eases a glass of bronze liquid to his lips. He beckons the mesmerized menagerie to do the same.
The whisky is sublime. An array of flavors hug and tap the tongue. As Ronnie describes what he tastes in the dram, I realize that I may not have a radio show or be instantly recognizable when I walk into a room, but I do know whisky. Without hesitation, I share my thoughts about the expensive dram with the others at my table. People’s ears perk up as they hear me verbalize what they’re tasting. My observations overlap with Ronnie’s as our words weave past each other until finally, they meet.
“Christmas cake,” he and I say simultaneously. The woman across from me laughs with amazement, and I nod with appreciation. I raise a toast in Ronnie’s direction. I have absorbed his lessons well.
What began as an ordinary journey from my home hours earlier evolved into an adventure of new experiences, new faces and new knowledge. I could have chosen to write about the experience from a “history of Glenrothes” and “tasting notes” (which will come soon) point of view. Instead, I looked through the lens of mythic structure to bring the reader into that world in a way that straight reporting doesn’t. That’s the beauty of writing versus blogging.
It’s also why this thing is so damn long and took a week to put together halfway decently. I think I’ve earned myself a dram of Glenrothes. Maybe even the Christmas cake kind.