I was a single 39-year-old whiskey virgin when I enrolled in "Whiskey: A World Tour," a two-week Friday night adult education class, to familiarize myself with the beverage for social situations and meet eligible bachelors.
For the past decade, I'd tried online dating, speed dating, singles cocktail hours, religious groups, hiking groups, writing groups, a variety of "MeetUp" groups, volunteer work, coed exercise classes, and adult education courses on such topics as cooking, French wine, violin duets, and even "Attracting Your Soul Mate." But I still hadn't met Mr. Right.
I told my therapist I thought I ought to try something different, something outside my comfort zone.
"But whiskey?" he said.
My married friends said that whiskey was the new favorite among 30- and 40-something males. I thought they ought to know.
I purchased the two required glen cairn glasses -- keeping the price tags attached in case I'd want to return them -- and put them in my purse. I dressed in a skirt and top and my sexy black suede boots, careful to avoid my two rescue cats who wanted to rub up against my legs, so that I wouldn't show to class with fur clinging to me.
A big-bellied security guard let me into the locked building. "Go show them how it's done," he said, pointing to a classroom with a long rectangular table dotted with paper plates that were piled with pretzels.
The attendees were: six burly male senior citizens who laughed with wheezy smokers' coughs; one dark-haired 20-something woman who busied herself texting; two late 50-something women with what appeared to be hangovers; four 30-something athletic men sporting Polo shirts and egos the size of a football field; and a woman my age, with an auburn-dyed bob and large breasts that she let dangle onto her copy of a typewritten list of 27 whiskeys to be tasted in the 90-minutes of our first class meeting.
The instructor was a high school English teacher, a tall muscular man close to fifty with a chiseled, unshaven face. Wearing jeans, a black t-shirt and baseball cap, he stood confidently behind several rows of whiskey bottles, which were lined up like a set of bowling pins at the head of the table.
"My friend calls whiskey 'liquid asshole,'" he began, then explained that one ounce of whiskey is equivalent to one glass of wine. He recommended we consume no more than one-quarter ounce, "about the size of a pinky."
I wondered, "whose pinky?" but I didn't voice my question because I wanted to fit in. I didn't want to let on that I dislike drinking. I never hang out at bars. In fact, I'm almost entirely intolerant to alcohol.
In the center of the table were two ice buckets, which I imagined were for either keeping the whiskey cool (I'd later learn people don't drink whiskey "cool") or vomiting. In truth, they were "dump buckets" for pouring out one's excess liquor. Beside the buckets sat a red Target tote fashioning the motto, "Each bit counts."
The instructor passed around the first whiskey bottle, the Buffalo Trace "White Dog," which he explained was made of 51 percent corn. I took a whiff: it smelled like a bottle of nail polish remover. I didn't find that appealing. Was there something wrong with me? I didn't taste it.
Next was the Wild Turkey Russell's Reserve. "Notice," the instructor said, "how it smells of Old Spice, or mace."
I poured a splash in my glass and lifted it to my mouth, letting the whiskey wet my lips, which instantly began to burn. I decided it was best not to drink it. I put my glass down.
Two bottles later, I swallowed a tiny sip of the Four Roses Single Barrel, because the instructor called it "a beautiful, light, easy-drink." When it flowed down my throat it made me cough, hard. I felt like a teenager who'd just tried her first cigarette.
One of the senior men laughed at me: "You haven't been a Scotch drinker for 40 years?" He guffawed wheezily.
"We're gonna need more pretzels down here," called one of the thirty-something Polo shirt guys, pointing to the auburn-bob woman who'd been throwing back glasses one at a time. Now she was holding two at once. She squeezed her eyes shut, held her breath, and downed them. "We're gonna need more pretzels."
"Would anyone like the rest of my Pappy?" I asked, referring to the Pappy Van Winkle Buffalo Trace, which had been passed alongside the George Stagg Bourbon.
A Polo shirt guy turned to me, his eyes wide and hungry as if he were a boy in a candy store: "Me, me," he nodded.
The auburn-bob woman furrowed her brow. "You don't like it?"
"I'm just pacing myself," I said. "I have low tolerance."
"I have tolerance," she said. "And I'm pacing myself." She threw back two more glasses, which I noticed contained more whiskey than the size of her pinky. She shook her head as if to recalibrate her mind. Then she leaned her head back over her chair with her mouth wide open, and stayed that way.
The texting woman stopped texting and turned towards me. "My tongue feels funny," she whispered, chomping on it with her front teeth in a swift repetitive motion.
"Maybe you shouldn't drink anymore?" I suggested.
"Everybody have a pretzel," the instructor said. "Let's keep going."
I remained the only sober one, dumping my whiskey "tastes" into the nearest dump bucket, which, halfway through the night, I imagined could be lethal.
It's probably no surprise that I didn't return for the second meeting of "Whiskey: A World Tour." I'd learned well enough that I didn't like the beverage. I'd felt lonely there. I knew I wasn't going to find a life partner by forcing myself to enjoy something I didn't.
Perhaps, I told myself, I should just stop looking. They say that's when it happens.