The Ultimate in Neat

The Ultimate in Neat

The flask was a graduation gift, two years after my first taste of Scotch—a 30-yearold Macallan. Perhaps the spell this flask cast on me was due to the reverence of my friend’s father as he revealed the label, or the sweet finish of the Sherry casking. Maybe it was the thrill of consuming something older than me. Whatever the cause, there was no going back to rum and Coke.

“You should cultivate a taste for Black Label,” Christopher Hitchens would tell me, years later, when I queried the contents of his tumbler at a party. “Wherever you go,” he advised, “you can always find Johnny Walker.”

But flasks rise above such compromises. The design’s curve reigns supreme over the squat of a beer bottle, or a wineglass’s neurotic determination to distance your hand from its bounty. In contrast, a flask welcomes the body. Others may garnish Laphroaig’s peat with the chill of an ice cube. I prefer an oaky Dalmore, the smooth flavor opening up from being flasked at my side, just as tulips open in a warm room. No water, no glass; a drink doesn’t get more neat.

People seem surprised by my flask, as if flasks are exclusive to manly men. They’ve seen too many Westerns. (Cue Michele Lupo’s The Man from Nowhere, in which a man carries an explosive disguised as a flask, while sipping from a flask disguised as a revolver.) In the 1700s, it was women who snuck pig bladders of gin, concealed in their petticoats, onto British warships. Or consider French tennis star Suzanne Lenglen, born in 1899. She’s remembered not only for saucy midcalf uniforms and smashing forehands, but for swigging brandy from a courtside flask between sets. During Prohibition, a lady’s garter belt always did double duty—lifting stockings and securing liquor, a revelation that led the scandalized state of Indiana to outlaw flasks entirely.

I confess to the smuggler’s impulse. At the end of each trip, I can’t bear to drain my leftover Scotch. I pack my flask for the plane, knowing a TSA agent will do the dirty deed for me. “You sure you don’t want to step over there and drink this?” asked one. “This is a shame.” One day I found a conspirator. An airport guard took one sniff and raised his eyebrows.

“Dalwhinnie, sir,” I said. “Highland single malt. Fifteen year.”

He smiled. Lo and behold, my Scotch made it onto the long flight back to Washington. Thousands of feet in the air I toasted the guard, finished the contents of the flask, then screwed it shut. Unfortunately, I hadn’t accounted for the change in air pressure upon landing. When I retrieved my flask from my purse, its pewter walls were crumpled inward. My noble companion, as if seeking the very last drop, had swallowed itself.

Everyone should have a first flask. (Not everyone will have to buy another.) My first flask wears the Virginia state seal— Virtus, Roman goddess of bravery, standing over her defeated opponent with spear in hand. The second bears my initials. Sometimes I eye them, side by side on the shelf, and wonder at this lineage I’ve claimed. Granted, I don’t carry a spear. But if you ever send a bullet my way, I’ve got a pocketful of steel waiting for you.

Published on October 12, 2010