Learn to Sip a Scotch

February 12, 2010

<Note: An edited version first appeared as a guest post on Alicia Kan’s blog “Things They Don’t Teach You in Business School on 2/8/10>

Learn To Sip a Scotch

Now before you reprimand me for endorsing the last legal drug, indulge me.

I was asked to write down an anecdote that was shared over a friendly Pimm’s during a most enjoyable cocktail hour with my new friend, Alicia Kan.  As women in the business world, we were comparing stories about valuable lessons we’ve learned from the women we’ve worked for, and with.  Here’s how mine went:

My first boss was a woman and thank the business gods for her.  Andrea G. probably doesn’t even realize what she did for me.  As a young woman in business, you want to be taken seriously.  (If you don’t, then you won’t be.  Mission accomplished)

Andrea gently taught me lessons, which was a lesson in itself.  We worked for a small online information provider in Texas and I was dealing with the public for the first time.  I made mistakes and I had much to learn.  Andrea never humiliated me when I was wrong.  She always reminded me that she had my back even while letting me know that I had, in fact, made a wrong decision.  She taught me to troubleshoot patiently, identify solutions, soothe ruffled feathers, and to close a deal.  And she taught me something else.

21 years old.  Mixing and mingling with professionals for the first time.  Power suits and poppycock in rich oak-lined drawing rooms.  And cocktails.  I remember heading out to happy hour with Andrea once.  I’m sure I ordered something silly and frilly and delicious.  Andrea ordered a scotch.  I can picture nothing about the place, or the other people, or the music, or the conversation but I can see her with pitch-perfect clarity sitting back with a scotch.  She owned the place as she owns that memory.  I asked something typical like, “Wow, you drink that by itself????” She just smiled patiently and said, “Learn to sip a scotch.”  In that moment, she made a lasting impression.

How dare I suggest that one drink defines you?  You’re right, of course you are.  One drink doesn’t define you but let’s put it into context.  In business:  every moment, every second – you are making a first impression.  Our choices define us; what we say and what we don’t say, how we act and how we react, even down to what we choose to drink.  One poor choice can negate a hundred outstanding ones.  Well known example:  If you are dancing on the bar, doesn’t matter how much you’ve done for your company, you’re still the chick that danced on the bar.  Less well known example: If you order a pina colada served in a pineapple, you will never be considered savvy and sophisticated.  Never. Those fruity, sassy, suggestively-monikered, discount cocktails for a discount crowd (White Chocolate Martini, the Lemon Meringue, or the Sweet Release) originated during Prohibition to mask the flavor of low quality bootleg alcohol.  Low quality being the operative phrase here.

It’s not about alcohol.  It’s about awareness.  Drink what you want; wine, beer, the pineapple foo-foo concoction, or nothing at all. But be aware of what it says about you.  Distinguish yourself.  Educate yourself.  Scotch is an informed choice.  An apple martini is not.  Speak to your choices and let them speak for you.


I was overwhelmed by the comments this post generated, mostly agreeing with the subject’s significance.  One voice offered another perspective that I agree with as well.  His voice made me realize that I had left out a very important detail.

Back in 1994 with Andrea, I didn’t head to the bar, order a scotch, and throw it back to be just like her.  I hadn’t thought much about it at all until many years later.  I went through my drinking rite of passage just like everyone else: lite beer to soda with a splash of jack.  As I got older, the scales tipped.  Too-sweet soda mixers became a thing of the past, and my interest in scotch sharpened.

I took a long time learning about what taste I preferred (clean, not smoky) but it interested me and I wanted to learn.  I also like a nice bottle of pinot noir but I have no interest in learning about it.  That’s just me.

That moment with Andrea didn’t cause me to drink scotch. But it resonates.  Correlation does not imply causation.  <science nerds just got hard>

So many people have read this post and said to me, “I could never drink scotch.”  Then don’t.  That’s not my point at all.  And that’s why I agree with the Anonymous commenter.  Affectation is easy, just as drinking crap liquor when it’s masked by assorted sugar syrups is easy.  But then you seem…kinda easy.  If you know quality liquor, wine, or beer, you probably did some studying.  And it shows.

7 Responses to “Learn to Sip a Scotch”

  1. Alicia Kan Says:

    Excellent as always Felicia. Distinctive taste in a drink; distinctive writing voice. I’m drinking a scotch with ginger ale as I write this — and raise it to you and your continued success. Cheers.

  2. Fernando Says:

    I prefer smoky. Laguvulin 16 year. But I learned the hard way that the right way is to sip, so thanks for the reminder. I could polish of a quarter bottle without thinking.

  3. feliciacago Says:

    Fernando: Yes, I remember. Or rather, David’s bathroom floor remembers. Haha.

  4. […] mentoring bosses when I first started working.  I’ve written about great lessons from Andrea and will write about Sam (a he-mentor. Gasp.) very soon.  As a result of these positive […]

  5. The Duke of Perth at 2913 North Clark Street, Chicago, has an excellent selection of scotches and very knowledgeable bartenders. If you want an education in scotch, go there and let them know you want to learn refinement. They’ll be patient and hold your hand as much as you need.

  6. Tony Says:

    Thanks for pointing to this post! You make a great, great point. Make educated choices!

  7. […] provided tremendous encouragement when I first started blogging. She requested and published my rumination on booze and what our choices might say about […]

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