How to drink scotch like a real badass Asian

betty ming liu Food 16 Comments

I’ve always enjoyed Johnnie Walker Red. As a kid in Chinatown, it was the liquor of choice served during most of the 10-course Chinese restaurant banquets that we attended. But now I’m approaching my snifter in a much classier way, thanks to a recent whisky-tasting party.

The venue was a Manhattan pop-up, a Johnnie Walker House created by the brand’s marketing folks. They turned an empty Soho building on West Broadway into a gorgeous, temporary lounge-y space — complete with black velvet rope at the front door. Once inside, we were each given a black card key to swipe at various sampling stations. (No second helpings, haha!)

The whole scene was luscious. Loved the pool table, the chandeliers, the pretty girls in stiletto high heels. Between the bars and liquor carts set up on two floors, I was in Scotch heaven.

The night was a personal journey that took this this iconic liquor bottle from my past and recast it as a multi-dimensional premium brand with a history of its own. For decades, I’ve reached for Johnnie Walker whenever I really miss my dad. He was an impossible tyrant who died when I was 19. Yet, I always think fondly of being with him at those Chinese banquets because he taught me to enjoy food, booze and community. Thanks to some newly-acquired whisky insights, I go forward with a deeper connection to him and, myself.

Here’s what I’ve learned…

Scotch is whisky made in Scotland. This amber-colored alcoholic drink begins with malting, the fermenting process of sprouting grain in water. Scotch comes in single malts or nuanced blends of various malted grains, hence the many JW labels. The age of a whisky refers to the age of the youngest blend in the mix.

Johnnie Walker Red is designed for cocktail mixing (at banquets, we had it on ice, with a generous splash of Coca-Cola or Ginger Ale). My cocktail that night was Red label combined with ginger beer — do try that at home! JW also comes as Black, the extra-smoky Double Black and the pricey, floral-noted Blue (about $200-$250 per bottle). I’d never heard of the Gold or earthy Green labels but no matter; they are being retired. The Platinum label, currently available only in airport duty-free shops, will be launched in  U.S. liquor stores during 2013.

The party was a true education. For starters, there’s a right and wrong way to hold a snifter. You don’t want your hand’s body heat to warm up the whisky in these globe-shaped, short stem glasses. Here’s what to do:

As for downing this stuff, there are three options. If you sip it straight up at room temperature, that’s called drinking it “neat” and gives you the nice, smoky sensation. Then, add water to crack open a sweet, smoother flavor. My preference is Option #3: Scotch over ice. Cool and spicy.

During the tasting, we were provided with water droppers and buckets of ice. We also practiced smelling whisky. To do it properly required us to inhale with open mouths. Sounds a little freaky but it created a totally different aromatic experience. Really.

Did I mention this was an Asian event? I was invited by entrepreneur-about-town Fred Teng, whose wife Sandra was my good friend from the 5th grade. It’s been nearly that long since I’ve seen her. Thankfully, she is as forgiving as ever because when she walked up to me, I boozily embraced her and exclaimed the wrong name: “Agnes!”

I also ran into the event’s host, Joe Lam, president of L3 Advertising, which handles the Asian market for Johnnie Walker. The party was a reminder to me that Asians really like their premium liquor brands.

He said Remy Martin (cognac) and JW were both advertising in the Asian market by 1985. That was the year I met him, when I interviewed him for a story on that very topic for Crain’s New York Business. At the time, Joe business was young and Crain’s was a start-up weekly magazine with me as one of its first staff reporters. And here in 2012, we had come full circle.  ^_^

Oh, we are old now baby, so old. And yet, we still look mighty good! But as Fred said that night, we spend way too much time in the millenium working and “busting our asses.”

“We should have fun,” he said.

I’ll drink to that.   :)


Comments 16

  1. Great post, and it brought back memories of Chinatown in the ’70’s, when Johnny Walker was the toast of Chinatown! I guess the more things change the more they stay the same.

  2. JW has been having these tasting events for a while now. My first day job in NYC was working for the promotion company that put them together. I got to go to every event.

    After a couple of months, my liver’s lawyer contacted me.

  3. Was this last Friday? I was walking to a restaurant a bit west of there for an office holiday dinner and I recall walking past a very fancy looking place around there. It struck me as weird because it was 6:30 and the ropes looked like people were waiting to get into a club!

  4. This looks like a great night. The ambiance and company all look cool, sleek, fun. I liked what you said about your dad’s introducing you to food, booze, and community. That can have a lot to do with you celebrating life with food and drink as your guest, or accessory.

    It also kind of shows me that even a ”tyrant” can let go every once in a while. Nice to have those memories to balance some of the others.

    And about holding the glasses (snifters?) There’s actually a right way to do it. Who knew?! Thanks for updating my sesnse of culture with reality as opposed to cheesy bar scenes in movies.

    Fun post!

    Very unrelated, Betty, but I was wondering, just what is the right way to use the words ”toward” and ”towards?” I’ve wondered that for sooo long. I don’t want to end up at a party, say the wrong thing, and hold the glass by the globe part. Help!

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    lee, agreed! Btw, last week I went to a party wearing a 15-year-old velvet shirt that got raves. Once again, it goes to your point of the more things change, the more they stay the same.

    Doug, that’s pretty funny — but what were you doing drinking on the job? Shhh.

    Jenna, yes, more fun and more often. Cheers to you for the holidays!

    Kristin, this was last Monday but I’ll bet there are a bunch of parties going on there. Yes, the event ran from about 6:30-9 pm or something like that. It did indeed feel like a club, which took about 30 years off my life — I miss clubbing! The Johnnie Walker House is at 372 West Broadway near the corner of Broome Street. I think it’s open until Dec. 22.

    Skye, you are always so insightful and intuitive. Once again, blogging has helped me figure out my life. That section about my tyrant dad and what he taught me about enjoying food, booze and community — it just suddenly popped into my head. And it gave me such peace. My daddy was so difficult that it’s comforting to finally figure out something truly good and wonderful that he gave me. Thanks for noticing. :)

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    Skye, just realized I didn’t answer your question about “toward” vs. “towards.” The truth is, I don’t know the answer! Never thought about it before! And does it really matter, especially if you’re in the middle of sipping a Scotch or some other fun? :)

  7. If I’m sipping a Scotch or something fun, it wouldn’t matter! If there’s nothing in my system, I might start wondering. It is something I’ve wondered about. I remember a post when you shared about who is first-generation and who is second-generation. I had never known the difference! I think I wanted to ask the ”toward” question then, too, but forgot. But letting something like that matter says something about me. That is my equivalent to your example of just enjoying a meal instead of taking the picture first. When I hear people talk, sometimes I am analyzing what they say or correcting them in my mind instead of hearing them really express themselves. I correct my child even when he’s in the middle of telling me a good story or sharing a writing assignment from school. “Just read it first, please,” he will say, rolling his eyes. This is why your journalism techniques always help me out…I use them to let an interviewee say what they want to say without my mental editing get in their way. And they help me become a better listener to my friends.

  8. Skye,
    In British Grammar it is more common to use Towards and it is more common to use toward in American. We are two countries seperated by a common language. (George Bernhard Shaw) There are a whole host of differences in grammer, spellings and meaninsg of word between Kings English and our own. a Cookie is called a Bickie. A Biscuit is called a Scone. A Scone is originally from Scotland. A diesel truck is a lorry. If it is a tractor trailer is is called an articulated lorry. The toilet ( a french word) is refered to the water closet. The term taking a crap comes from England where it is common to see manhole covers made by “Thomas Crappper and company”
    I could go on for hours. Then you have Scots Gaelic.Then there is Cockney which is spoken “with bow bells”. Cockney is interesting in that it is a Cryptic version of English. It is a rhymning is a common feature. For example if they say “me apples and pears” what they are talking about is “up the stairs”. It was designed to fool the prison guards.
    Another facinating subject is the history of nursery rhymes. “Ring around the roses” describes the symptoms of the Black Plauge. London Bridges describes the history of the Tower Bridge. The first bridge was pulled down by the Vikings so the English could not reinforce their troops on the other side of the Thames. Next verses talk about the queen (one of Henry the VIII’s six wives) imprisonment and beheading in the Tower. Great Stuff for kids, Huh!
    Oh, an “falling off the wagon” came from the practice of allowing condemed prisioners to stop at the pub for a drink before execution.
    “Minding your P’s and Q’s” is another drinking term where P&Q refers to Pints and Quarts, respectivly. With a little more work we may have you drinking like a Scottsman!

  9. Skye,
    Where is your name from? The reason I ask is The Isle of Skye (/skaɪ/; Scottish Gaelic) is the largest and most northerly large island in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland. Is it Scottish? I have always wondered.

  10. Hello MJ & TJ,
    Thanks for the info. Great little lesson. My name is Scottish; my last name as well. The interesting note on that is that the name traveled to America, was passed on to free blacks and then made its way to the Caribbean.

  11. Skye,
    I have seen your name on your postes and have wondered. The Isle of Skye is home to the Clan MacLeod (remember the movie Highlander) and Clan Donnald.
    Thank you for a journey which I would never have taken without you. Though my Grandparents Drank Scotch I do not. Therefore I have gained atleast an accademic interest of part of my Scottish history that I was always been courous. One search brought me to a story on the-10-best-scotch-whiskies ( The author lister Johnny Walker black lable as his number one. I also discovered what was the Oldest and most expensive Single Malt Scottich Whiskey. Gordon & MacPhail. “The 70-year-old Speyside single malt which will be selling for a mere snip at £10,000 per 70cl, and £2,500 for the 20cl.” That is over $16,000 a bottle. I’ll take several please!

  12. Thanks for the Scotch advice. I have just recently started to drink Scotch. It makes you warm, and who doesn’t want to be warm! I grew up near Chinatown in Boston. I wonder if Johnny Walker Red is there traditional drink?

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      Tara, thanks for dropping by! I like Scotch for the same reason. It’s really toasty. Too many calories and too potent for me to dirnk on a regular basis but I do enjoy it every once in a while. As for JW and Boston’s Chinatown, I don’t have any first-hand experience with that market. But since the domestic Chinese/Asian market is important to the Johnny Walker folks, you can bet that it must’ve been part of your childhood scene on some level. :)

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