She encouraged me to drink so much. So much. So much whisky.
After countless forays to strip clubs, strip-club steakhouses and biker clubs, my girlfriend finally voiced an objection to my adventures in New York’s inebriated underbelly.
“You’re not going out with Glenfiddich’s female whisky ambassador,” she commanded. I swear steam issued from her ears, like a real-life cartoon. “I don’t want you hanging out with women wearing bikinis, dumping whisky down your throat.”
Though that mental image pleased me, I tossed water on that wet dream.This whisky emissary, Heather Greene, would wear pants. She held a respectable, enviable position: traveling the East Coast, guiding Glenfiddich tastings and proselytizing about the woodsy spirit. Plus, she’s an accomplished musician, with international tours under her belt.
“That doesn’t make me feel better,” my girlfriend said, reluctantly acquiescing to my plan: date night with a woman I wasn’t dating.
“Ready for some WHISKY?” Heather texts.
“Sweet heavens, I hope so,” I reply, arranging to meet at Tribeca’s temple of dark spirits, the Brandy Library.The Library is all leather and wood, liquor bottles glowing like amber jewels. Since the fairer sex is in short supply, I instantly ID one thirty-something Heather. She’s wearing a leather jacket and long tresses, and a warm, lip-glossed smile from which issues a good-natured ribbing. “You must be the writer,” she says, examining my gray grandpa cardigan.
“Indeed,” I reply, brandishing a pen and grabbing a bar stool. Heather orders dual drams of Glenfiddich 18.
“This is a clean, beautiful single-malt Scotch,” Heather rhapsodizes, swirling the snifter.We toast and sip the whisky, by turns rich and mellow, oaky and a smidgen sweet—a smooth lubricant for a conversation about her unlikely career. Back when the millennium was brand-new, Heather bartended at bygone music venue Tonic. Watching eclectic acts inspired her to pen tunes.The songs became her 2006 debut, the country-flavored Five Dollar Dress. Reviews were righteous. “I was written up in New York and Rolling Stone, and I performed on the BBC. Everything seemed poised for success,” Heather says.
After her European tour ended, Heather returned to town and rocked a Joe’s Pub gig. Then she went to an ATM to withdraw cab fare. Her bank account was bled out. “I’d been around the world, but I didn’t have money to get home. At that moment I had to redefine my idea of success,” she explains. “I was heartbroken by the music industry.”
The cure for heartbreak, as it has been for centuries, was found inside a liquor bottle. Heather moved to Edinburgh, Scotland, and began working at the venerable Scotch Malt Whisky Society. “I think they were excited to have a Manhattan bartender,” Heather says, laughing. At the Society, Heather discovered her knack for identifying scents. She took a test. “My percentile for nosing was crazy—like the 90th percentile,” she says. While Heather honed her whisky expertise, she began penning her follow-up, Sweet Otherwise, a delightful blend of pop and country, electronica and folk. Meanwhile, her whisky nose attracted the eye of Glenfiddich’s parent firm, William Grant & Sons.The company asked her to become its ambassador.
“Whisky was a hobby that got out of control and became my job,” Heather explains. And though there are far worse jobs, the spirits world is taxing on both mind and liver. “Last week was six days of whisky— morning, noon and night,” Heather says. She balances booze with band practice and musical side projects, like her electronica offshoot, Argon 40, featuring Powerman 5000 guitarist Adam Williams (and a killer “Free Fallin’” cover). “When the weekend comes, all I want to do is order in Chinese food.” But tonight’s Thursday, and there’s more drinking to be done.
We cab it to Flatiron Lounge, where seats are as rare as they are on rush-hour trains. “Forget this. Let’s go to Mansfield Hotel,” she says, as a taxi takes us to the Midtown inn’s M Bar (12 W. 44th St., betw. 5th & 6th Aves., 212-277-8888). It’s a cozy looker, styled with a domed skylight, mahogany bookshelves and jazz musicians.We circle the horseshoe bar. Heather orders polenta fries and whisky sours. My face wrinkles like a dirty dress shirt.
“Too sweet?” she asks. I nod. “Two Glenfiddich 12s on ice,” she orders. I assumed ice was a heresy, like ketchup on a kosher hot dog. “Not true. Ice condenses the flavor,” Heather explains. “It’s like a simple cocktail.”
We toast again, to this week’s release of Sweet Otherwise. Cool whisky warms our insides and creates a conversational intimacy. I tell Heather my girlfriend thought she’d be wearing a bikini. She laughs.
“I could still make that happen,” she kids, giving me every reason to end this story right now.