How I Learned to Love Scotch Whisky

There’s a lot to learn in college. One of the things I learned about was Whisky.

Maybe this was a typical college freshman experience? Maybe not? I had some alcohol in high school, not as much as some, and maybe more than some. It wasn’t until moving to the dorm that drinking became a destination. There were a couple of upperclassmen (sophomores, actually) in the room next door, engineering students like me. We started running around together, and they introduced me to the wonders of partying at college. One of the first parties was at an apartment in South Fargo. Here’s a fact … I don’t know exactly where the apartment complex is in Fargo, but we do drive by it when we’re in town visiting relatives. Every time we do the thought comes to mind: “That’s where someone stole my bottle of vodka.”

1971 Bachelor Party

About the same time I learned to love beer, but that’s another story.

There was a noticeable problem with underage drinking. How to procure the goods. Being in the top three-quarters of my class, I was good with ideas. “How about I go to a liquor store and buy something?” The other guys thought that was an excellent idea. I was none the wiser.

We piled into Doug’s car and headed downtown. There’s a bottle shop on North Broadway called Empire Liquor. It’s easy to find, as Broadway is the main drag in downtown Fargo. The store is just south of the Cathedral of St. Mary and the First Lutheran Church. Perhaps more important, the Great Northern Railway station was just across the street. The premier passenger train for the Great Northern Railway was the Empire Builder. The Empire was our destination, and I was in charge.

The other guys stayed in the car around the corner on sixth avenue while I went shopping. There was nothing to it! It was a small store, still is actually. I went in the front door and strode confidently down the aisle until I was about two-thirds of the way in. There were bottles to the left of me, and the cashier was just ahead on the right. That seemed like the right place to stop.

I looked at the bottles on the shelf, compared the prices, and picked out a good-looking bottle at a reasonable price. The name on the bottle was interesting, so I grabbed it off the shelf and put it on the cashier’s counter. He rang it up, I gave him cash and confidently walked back to the car. Done. Success. We had a great party. That may have been the start of the long night when Cliff and I watched squirrels playing in the trees as the sun came up. We debated how long there would be squirrels in the city. Not the most intellectual conversation I’ve ever had.

The next weekend I repeated the process. And again the next. I don’t know how many times in all, but I believe it continued even after we got married. (I wasn’t legal drinking age even then.)

Years later we realized what the whisky was. It’s still available, and relatively cheap. A quick Internet search yielded a bottle for under $20. We liked the taste and I still savor a glass of single malt regularly. Enough with the suspense already, it was Vat 69 Gold, a blended Scotch Whisky. Cheap then, cheap now, and I don’t remember what it tasted like. My tastes have changed anyway.

Whisky tasting.

Whisky tasting.

The other night I went to a whisky tasting sponsored by Laphroaig. It’s my favorite, and about as far from Vat 69 as you can get. In this picture, the center spot was reserved for the 25 year old bottling. It was divine.

For those of you who think it’s necessary to develop a taste for Scotch, I submit this story as proof that all it takes is a strong desire for strong drink.Grandpa Guy Havelick


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