Chapter 1 – The Package
It was an unusually cold April evening. G-LO decided to work a bit later than usual. The wife and kids were out of town. The office…a veritable ghost town thanks to Spring Break, Passover, and Easter falling on the same week. If ever there was a night to burn the midnight oil, this was it.
With most of his regular work out of the way, he decided to make some headway on his pet project: scouring the internet for the latest distillery releases. Adding the definitive whisky database to his blog with the hopes of developing an eventual mobile app is labor intensive, but also a labor of love. Luckily, the information super highway is chock full of resources: blogs, Reddit boards, Facebook groups, and most important of all, Twitter.
At 5PM, the office doorbell rang. A FedEx guy holding a mysterious box. Funny. He didn’t remember ordering anything online. He signed for the package, closed the door, and walked back to his desk. Not so random thoughts ran through his mind…
- Should he open it?
- Is someone pulling some kind of prank?
- He considered calling LimpD, but remembered that he was away.
He paused and reached for his cigarettes while he tried to figure out what to do. Then he remembered: he doesn’t smoke. Never did.
Feeling brave on this particular evening, he decided to open the box. Inside, there was a bottle with mysterious markings. Some sort of symbol. A star of sorts. His eyes were drawn to one word: UNDISCLOSED. What did that even mean?
He put the bottle down and went back to looking inside the box. He removed the remaining bubble wrap and noticed a business card at the bottom of the box. The color was 18% gray and there were just three words printed dead center on the front of the card: The Grist Mill. The name sounded familiar.
After a few more well placed keystrokes and a couple of clicks on the “next” button at the bottom of the search page, he found what he was looking for. The Grist Mill. Rumors about their “top secret”, rare whisky collection were all over the Reddit Scotch boards a few years back, but then things got quiet. And now, thanks to a not so random FedEx delivery and a designed-to-be-mysterious business card, his curiosity about this whisky lover’s paradise was reawakened. With nothing but time on his hands, he decided to pay The Grist Mill a visit to see what this UNDISCLOSED business was all about.
Chapter 2 – Take the N Train
Sunset Park in Brooklyn. That’s where it was. Google Maps said the ride from his Flat Iron Building office to a bar in Sunset Park would take 32 minutes on the N train. So, that’s what he did. Rode the N train. All the way to Brooklyn.
Cold and misty. The kind of conditions that chill you to the bone. That’s all you can say about the weather that night. There weren’t enough layers for that kind of cold. A glass of rare whisky in a remote Brooklyn watering hole was just what the doctor ordered. Or at least that’s what G-LO was thinking as he approached the bar. He walked down the steps to the ground level bar, pulled on the handle, and walked through the door.
The Grist Mill felt familiar even though he’d never been there before. It reminded him of Grassroots on St. Mark’s Place in the East Village. Old. Well worn. Yellow stained ceiling tiles from the days when they used to let you smoke in bars. The walnut paneling was faded and splintering where the seams met. There was a beaten up jukebox just past the front door, an Asteroids machine way in the back next to the bathroom door, and three regulars seated at the end of the bar in front of the window. Bob Seger’s “Night Moves” crackled through the jukebox’s well-worn speakers.
Chapter 3 – “What’s a guy gotta do to get a drink around here?”
G-LO walked to the middle of the bar and grabbed a seat in front of the Bruichladdich t-shirt and Warby Parker glasses wearing bartender (aka The Bartender) who was fastidiously drying a row of Glencairn and Old Fashioned glasses with a bar towel that had seen better days. Much better days. A few stools down, a woman (aka The Duchesse) with an Audrey Tatou haircut was filing her brightly painted fingernails and nursing a drink. With her high heeled leather boots, form fitting jeans, and leather jacket worn over a t-shirt, one would assume that she was either a regular or one of the bartenders, but a brief glimpse at her watch (a stainless steel Rolex Oyster Perpetual) and her subtle but expensive looking jewelry suggested that she might be something more. Much more. They both exchanged a look as G-LO sidled up to the bar. Then they ignored him completely.
An impatient G-LO said, “What’s a guy gotta do to get a drink around here?”
The Duchesse piped up, “Tawk to Daddy-O”. Her voice was equal parts Paz de la Huerta in Boardwalk Empire and Carmella Soprano. More Fatal Female than Femme Fatale. The Bartender was unfazed by all of this.
G-LO said, “Who’s Daddy-O?”
The Duchesse looked over, smiled, and then gave a chin nod in the direction of The Bartender. “That’s Daddy-O,” she said.
The Bartender finally looked up, “What can I get you, Buddy?”
G-LO replied, “My name’s not Buddy, it’s G-LO. And as far as what you can get me, I’ll have a whisky. Neat. What do you recommend?” G-LO knew what he wanted. He wanted to try that UNDISCLOSED whisky that he left in his office. He suspected that there was another bottle behind the bar.
Sinatra singing “Strangers in the Night” (the 1966 studio version on the Reprise label) started playing, and then a boatload of not-so-witty banter ensued…
The Bartender: Funny name, G-LO. Whisky is a good drink. If you got the stomach for it.
The Duchesse: Get him a Shirley Temple, Daddy-O, with a couple extra cherries! He doesn’t look like he could handle much more than that.
G-LO: You two are a couple of comedians. I’ve got the stomach for whisky, Ethel and Fred. Don’t worry about that. What do you recommend?
The Bartender: Got a nice blended Grouse.
G-LO: Grouse, huh? I hear it’s popular in Scotland. You know why?
The Bartender: Why’s that, Mister?
G-LO: ‘Cause Grouse is cheap and so are the Scots. Did you hear about the Scotsman who gave a present of fifty pounds each to an Englishman, an Irishman and a Welshman?…
Blank stares came from The Bartender and the Duchesse.
G-LO: Nor has anyone else.
More blank stares from The Bartender and the Duchesse.
The Bartender: Pretty wise mouth you got. Maybe you can handle a real whisky. Maybe.
The Duchesse: He can’t handle a real name let alone a real whisky!!!
G-LO: What’s up with the mouth on that broad?
The Bartender: She runs the joint. And she can run a long time with those legs. You looking for something special, big guy?
The Duchesse: Are you coming onto him, Daddy-O? You two would make a cute couple! HA HA HA!
G-LO: She’s real cute. Real cute. Cute as a button on an old shirt that my mom gave me. Let’s talk booze. I like my whisky strong and flavorful. Just like my over-priced cheese.
The Duchesse: Gee, and here I thought you were gonna say weak and flavorless.
The Bartender: Well, we got something new that just came in. But I dunno…
G-LO: What kind of a bar are you running? If it’s behind the bar, then I wanna try it.
The Duchesse smiled and moved closer to the action. “If you’re pouring THAT, I need to join you!”
The Bartender: We don’t keep stuff like this in plain sight. This one is under the bar.
G-LO: Are you some kind of whisky-teaser, or am I gonna get a drink?
The Duchesse: You sure you want to pour that, Daddy-O?
The Bartender: I need to shut this mug up.
The Bartender reached down, jimmied open a floorboard, pulled out a bottle, and then put it on the bar. “We got this.”
Hooch under the floor of a bar? This was something new. G-LO looked down at the label and arched an eyebrow. An eyebrow that had been arched many times before. He whispered the word, “UNDISCLOSED?” under his breath. Turns out that he said it loud enough to be heard.
The Bartender: Yeah, what of it? You ask a lot of questions.
G-LO: Questions are cheap. Where’d you get this?
The Bartender: That’s for me to know, and you not to. You want one, Dollface? I’m pouring myself one.
The Duchesse: You pour the good stuff, and you’re talking my language.
G-LO glared at the two of them. “Where’s my glass? Aren’t I the customer?”
The Bartender: More questions. Settle down, Mac. 54.7%. Think you can handle it?
The Duchesse: I thought it was 56.7%.
The Bartender: Whoops. These peepers are tired.
The Duchesse let out a big laugh and said, “54.7%? That’s sooo weak.”
G-LO looked closer at the label. “The Dame’s right. 56.7%. You better get those eyes checked, barkeep. And just so you know, I can handle it, so pour! Plenty of bars will take my dough.”
The Bartender: Pretty smart mouth on you, Bub. Maybe you should hit the pavement.
G-LO: You should be used to it given the company in this joint.
The Duchesse: Hey!! You’re right, Daddy-O! This guy sure does have a smart mouth on him.
The Bartender: Don’t sweat this mope, Dollface. This whisky will knock him down a few pegs. Take a whiff of that, J-LO, or whatever your name is.
G-LO picked up the glass and gave it a sniff. “You sure this is 56.7%?”
The Bartender: We don’t make the labels. It is what it is.
G-LO: I’ve had the Stagg, so strong hooch I know well. This one lacks the burn.
The Bartender: Smells smooth. Smooth as the gams on a broad.
G-LO: Depends on the gams. Depends on the broad.
The Bartender: Big talk, Anthony Bourbon.
G-LO: I don’t cut checks I can’t cash.
The Bartender: That smell don’t come cheap, I can tell you that.
G-LO: You just did.
The Bartender: And we don’t take checks.
G-LO: Diner’s Club? AMEX?
The Duchesse: Cash money.
G-LO: Bitcoin? Pesos?
The Bartender: No hablo espanol, Hombre. Some color on that whisky, huh?
The Duchesse: Looks like a flat PBR. I know from flat PBR’s.
G-LO: PBR? Who let the hipster in here? I bet Little Miss Hipster makes a mean Rice Krispy treat with homemade marshmallows.
The Bartender: The only marshmallow in here is the dope in front of me.
G-LO: Why you…I oughta…
The Duchesse: Simmer down, stranger. I’ll tell you what, this whisky has got beautiful legs.
The Bartender: And you know from legs, Boss.
G-LO’s ears perked up at that. “Boss?”
The Duchesse: It was my nickname when I was a Rockette. These gams didn’t fall off a tree! I told the other girls what to do in the line. Management 101. Real life business school.
G-LO swirled the glass and studied the contents. “Hmm. Go figure. Rockette usually means trouble, not Wharton. And I know trouble. This whisky is awfully pale. Almost as pale as you, Barkeep. Guessing you don’t get much time in the sun.
The Duchesse: Mr. Swarthyman is sure givin’ you some lip, Daddy-O.
The Bartender: I work for a living, Pinstripe. I ain’t at the pool all day.
G-LO: That’s Mr. Pinstripe to you, Whiter Shade of Pale. Or should I just call you Whitey?
Interestingly enough, Procol Harum’s “Whiter Shade of Pale” was the next song in the queue…
The Bartender: You gonna nurse that thing, or did the smell get you?
G-LO: If this stuff is as special as you say it is, then I’m in no rush to taste it. Thank goodness it doesn’t smell like that cheap perfume she’s wearing.
The Duchesse: This perfume is worth more than your car, if you have one, wise guy.
The Bartender: It’s whisky fit for a king. You should feel lucky that you’re wetting your beak.
The Duchesse: Smells like the grilled corn at Coney Island on a windy September day. Or that buttery popcorn popping.
The Bartender: That’s the smell of the sea, Ms. Rockette. And smoldering beach fires.
Chapter 4 – “I know a guy…”
The sound of a vibrating cellphone came from behind the bar. The Bartender reached down to grab it, and looked at the number. “I’ll be back in 5. Gotta take this call”. He walked to the end of the bar and ducked behind the door to the kitchen. The Duchesse turned slightly to face G-LO, curious to find out more about the guy with the funny name. Her tone shifted from full-on snarky to polite and inquisitive. The thick North Jersey accent by way of an HBO TV series melted away slightly. More reasons for G-LO to be suspicious of The Duchesse. Many more.
The Duchesse: So, where you from?
G-LO: South Jersey by way of South Philly. Been up here for the past six months. My company relocated me.
The Duchesse: What kind of company?
G-LO: I’m in market research.
The Duchesse: Market research? Sounds like a bunch of BS.
G-LO: It’s very scientific. You’d be surprised at the amount of information there is out there. The key is finding a way to make sense of it all.
The Duchesse: I’m not buying it. What do you think of the whisky? You were awfully anxious to try it when you got here.
G-LO: A hint of industrial lubricant on the nose. Like the stuff they use to keep The Cyclone running smoothly. Spent matches with a hint of residual sulphur. There’s some fruit in there too.
The Duchesse: Dried fruit. Apricot. If you ask a dame.
G-LO: I didn’t ask. But thanks anyway. Grilled pineapple. With a burnt brown sugar coating. What’s your story, doll? You work here or just drink your face off?
The Duchesse: I fill in here when they need me. And yeah, I don’t mind being a taste tester every now and again. I know my way around good scotch.
G-LO: Nice way to make a living. If you call that living. Is it always this dead in here?
The Duchesse: You call this dead?
G-LO: I do, indeed. Six people in a bar does not a sustainable business make.
The Duchesse: We don’t pay the staff much and our overhead is cheap. Guess Daddy-O didn’t tell you what that drink will cost you.
G-LO: Not yet.
The Duchesse: Do yourself a favor and don’t ask how we make money.
G-LO: Time to take a sip.
The Duchesse: It’s about time, kid. I’m halfway though mine.
G-LO: Lush. More like you’re half in the bag.
The Duchesse: Watch who you’re calling lush! Look at the heels on my stilettos. They’re considered weapons by most coppers.
G-LO laughed and took a sip. “Awfully full of yourself, aren’t ya?!” G-LO let out an “Mmmmm…you sure this is 56.7%? I get zero burn.”
The Duchesse: Don’t tell me. “So smooth even a dame like me can drink it”. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I can drink with the big boys, but, yeah, this one could have fooled me too.
G-LO: Awfully easy to drink, this is. I gotta ask, where’d you get it?
The Duchesse: Don’t worry where we got it. Just drink up, Mister.
The Bartender returned and the Tom Waits version of “Way Down in the Hole” started playing. He apologized for taking the call and took a sip of whisky.
G-LO: Do you always leave the bar unattended like that? This ain’t exactly a posh neighborhood. Is that a smart move?
The Bartender: We got a trustworthy clientele, Ace.
The Duchesse: And I’m tougher than I look.
G-LO: A sparse clientele is more like it.
The Duchesse and The Bartender tensed up a bit and exchanged a look.
The Bartender: Uh, yeah. We’re busier certain nights of the week. Whatcha think of that whisky, Mr. TKO? Definitely ain’t no rotgut.
G-LO: Damn good! Starts off slow, but then it builds. It’s got an oiliness to it.
The Bartender: I like the slow build, myself.
G-LO: And some saltiness. Especially in the aftertaste after the heat subsides.
The Bartender: Coats the mouth. Coats it like ketchup all over a greasy burger from Taylor’s Diner on 4th. Every had those salty fries of theirs?
The Duchesse: Balanced sweetness. Like ketchup on one of their pastrami burgers.
G-LO: Never been to Taylor’s. I’m kinda new here. Wow, it really is salty!
The Duchesse: When there is a burn, it’s a cool burn, if that’s even possible.
G-LO: Like a Wint-O-Green Lifesaver.
The Bartender innocently grabbed a cocktail napkin, wrote something on it, folded it over, and slid it towards to G-LO. The world weary voice of Tom Waits muffled the sounds of the regulars at the front of the bar.
G-LO unfolded the napkin and read what he wrote. Three letters – “SCN” – and an address. That’s all there was. G-LO said, “What’s this all about?”. He put the napkin in his pocket and finished his drink, not sure what to make of it. More mystery.
The Bartender: Address for Taylor’s Diner. Tell them I sent ya. Hey, can I top that off for you? I’m feeling generous to strangers tonight.
Puzzled and more curious, G-LO wasn’t bashful for seconds. “You sure can. This one’s on the house?”
The Duchesse glared at The Bartender, her mood changed once more. Nervously, The Bartender said, “Sure.”
The Duchesse: Fine! Give it ALL away!
G-LO: Someone’s a bit touchy. Can I see the bottle again?
The Bartender: What do you think about it? We may start carrying it full time.
The Duchesse: Yeah. Mr. Big Shot wants to know what YOU think about it, G-LO? Daddy-O must really like it cause he keeps giving away my profits.
The Bartender: I like the smoke. And this puppy has smoke. Maybe they should have called it Smoking Puppy.
“This whisky is intriguing. From the nose, to the texture, to the taste, this stuff is ridiculously drinkable.” G-LO looked over at The Duchesse, “You sound like you got skin in this game, Angel.
The Duchesse: Skin in this game? I don’t know what you’re talking about.
G-LO: For a dame that just “fills in”, you sure seem worried about the bottom-line.
The Duchesse: I worry about MY bottom!
G-LO: I like the smoke on this stuff.
The Bartender: I like smoke. Used to work in a coal mine in Western PA. Ash and smoke all day. It’s in my blood. And my mother said I came out with piss and vinegar.
G-LO: It shows. Lots of piss and vinegar on your side of the bar.
The Duchesse: He’s full of it.
G-LO: He’s full of something for sure.
The Bartender: It’s a keeper. A peaty bastard that you ain’t giving away or leaving on a doorstep.
G-LO reached into his pocket and looked at that bar napkin again. Then he looked at the label. SCN? Single Cask Nation? G-LO took another swig. “Damn, that’s good. What the hell does ‘UNDISCLOSED’ mean anyway?”
The Bartender: Uh, it’s just a name.
G-LO: G-LO is a name. Mine. UNDISCLOSED is NOT a name.
The Duchesse: Ever hear the saying, “It is what it is?”
G-LO: That doesn’t fly in my line of work.
The Bartender: Questions sometimes land people in hospital beds.
G-LO: Was that a threat?
The Bartender: Just commenting. Let’s just say this is a rough whisky.
G-LO: Pretty damn smooth to me. I know a good bit about whisky. Had hundreds of them. Where did you get this?
The Duchesse: Add a drop of water and maybe you’ll figure it out. Or are you too big of a man to add water?
G-LO: Water is for lily livered tea totalers.
The Bartender: Nice.
G-LO smirked and said to The Duchesse, “You never asked what markets I research.”
The Bartender: What are you talking about?
The Duchesse: When you took that call, G-LO said he was a “market researcher”. I’m not buying that hogwash.
G-LO: Intensive market research. That’s my business. I’m the guy that dots the i’s and crosses the t’s.
The Bartender: Only market I know is Stugats on Main.
The Duchesse let out an oddly expressive yawn. “My shift is over. I’m outta here, boys”. She reached down and grabbed her bag off the floor. It took a suspiciously long time to gather her things, but G-LO and The Bartender didn’t notice. As she walked out the door, she said, “Perhaps your conversation will be more interesting without a dame around. But I doubt it.”
G-LO: Where you going, lady?
The Duchesse: None of your B. I. business where I’m going, Mr. Buttinsky.
G-LO: Calling you a lady is an insult to all the real ladies I know.
The Duchesse: Comparing me to the “ladies” you know is an insult to me.
The Duchesse walked out the door and the conversation shifted to a more serious tone.
The Bartender: Is there any money in this market research business?
G-LO: There’s lots of money in it. If you know how to work the data.
The Bartender: Interesting. So you wanna do business? Uh, I mean, so you want another drink or what?
G-LO gave The Bartender a quizzical look. He reached into his pocket and put that 18% gray business card on the bar. The Bartender smiled knowingly.
G-LO: This card is how I found out about this joint. Found it inside a package that was delivered this afternoon. Not much to go on, but I still managed to find this place pretty quick.
The Bartender: Glad you like the whisky. Maybe someone will drop a bottle on your doorstep one day.
G-LO: Maybe they already did.
Now G-LO dropped the napkin back on the bar. “What’s all this SCN business about?”
The Bartender: It’s our connection. The Boss gets the hooch from them. I could connect you with them. You know. If you’re interested in that sort of thing.
G-LO: Are they all “UNDISCLOSED”? Cause there’s something to be said about name recognition.
The Bartender: Nah. Most aren’t. This ones a bit more under the radar, if you get my drift. The Boss lady is a little cheap with the salaries. I think I can do better on my own.
G-LO: I do get your drift. Like Vin Diesel in The Fast and The Furious. You sound a bit disgruntled and you ain’t being shy about it.
The Bartender: I don’t read books. I got bills and a bookie. I like the ponies. I need to find a way to earn more dough.
G-LO: What about this place? I was under the impression that you owned this gin joint.
The Bartender: The Boss lady makes all the dough. She’s got a “club”. UNDISCLOSED distilleries. Bookies. Private whisky club. Sounds like the makings of a pulp novel, don’t it? Just so you know, this club of hers is more or less off the grid.
G-LO cuts to the chase, “Did you send me that bottle?”
The Bartender: Maybe I did. Heard you might be looking for a side job. What’s your angle?
G-LO: I don’t have an angle. Market research is how I make money, and writing about booze is how I get to have a little fun.
The Bartender: Everyone’s got an angle.
G-LO: All I know is that when someone sends me a bottle of “UNDISCLOSED” whisky along with a mysterious business card, I get curious. Very, very curious. You sent it to me. What’s YOUR angle?
The Bartender: Be careful with that curiousity streak you got.
G-LO: Kills the cat. I get it.
The Bartender: I’m just looking to make a little scratch on the side. I can put you in touch with some folks who can get you some premium whisky. For a small fee.
G-LO: We could all use some scratch. Color me intrigued.
The Bartender: The boss lady isn’t good at sharing, especially when it comes to anything having to do with her “club”. I need my own action.
G-LO: I’d say you have an honest face, but I’d be lying. But I know what it’s like to have your earnings stifled. What exactly do you need from me? And no, I’m not usually this trusting. This hooch must have put me in a generous mood. Start talking, Pops.
The Bartender: Twenty points on whatever you buy. You’ll sell it. Premium hooch. You can tell from the UNDISCLOSED.
G-LO: I buy from you and then it’s on me to unload it? I’m not all that interested in doing hard time at my age. What about the dame?
The Bartender: What about her? She’s too busy with her “club”. When SCN delivers the bar’s whisky, yours will be in the same shipment.
G-LO: I don’t know you from the Duke of York. Why should I trust you? And more important, how’d you find me?
The Bartender: A little birdie told me you were interested in some whisky. You don’t have to trust me. You just have to pay me.
G-LO: The only talking bird I know is on Twitter. Tweet. Tweet. Tweet. You set up a sit-down with the SCN boys and then I might consider it. I just need your word that this stays on the DL.
The Bartender: I’m no stoolie.
G-LO: I don’t know those guys either, but if they’re as good as the whisky they distribute, we’ve got a deal. Let’s just say that I have some friends that would really enjoy this stuff.
The Bartender: Oh, they’ll enjoy this. Limited quantity stuff. Not much around.
G-LO: One last question. Who’s gonna keep that dame out of our business?
The Bartender: I got that covered. I know a guy.
G-LO: I’m sure you do.
G-LO reached across the bar for a handshake. The Bartender didn’t make a move. “I’m germ-phobic”. G-LO laughed, poured some whisky on his hand, and then rubbed his hands together.
G-LO: “Better? How’s that for antibacterial?”
The Bartender let out a less-than-enthusuastic “Whatever…” and begrudgingly shook hands with the stranger with the funny name.
Chapter 5 – The Business End
Before their hands could pull apart, the front door of the joint burst open loudly. An armed-to-the-teeth Duchesse stormed in flanked by two gun-wielding thugs. She lifted the barrel of her pump action Browning 12 gauge and shot G-LO and The Bartender square in the chest. They burst backwards – G-LO off his barstool and The Bartender plastered against the bar’s mirror. Blood as red as blood gets poured out of their chests like two broken water mains. Bottles of booze crashed to floor. A floored covered in blood. Red blood. The six regulars stormed out in horror, falling over each other in a drunken stupor. The Duchesse climbed up onto the bar and looked down at the two double crossing whisky thieves. She dropped the Browning on the bar and pulled out two Smith & Wesson 45s, pointing the business end of each gat at their heads. She looked down at them and said her final words before unloading on both of them, “Nobody messes with The Duchesse!”
Exactly five minutes later, the goons rolled out an empty Sherry hogshead from the back and stuffed the two very dead mopes inside. After capping the barrel, they laid it back on its side, popped the bung and filled the barrel with cheap neutral grain spirit from Indiana. Blood finished spirits. Out back, a very dusty 1953 Ford pick-up truck was waiting. A barely legible Stitzel-Weller bumper sticker barely clung near the broken right tail light. Once the thugs loaded the barrel into the trucks’s rusty bed, the driver, clad in black with a wide-brim Stetson Fedora obscuring his face, forced the truck into gear and slowly drove down the dark alley. The Coopered Tot laughed to himself as he turned left onto State Street…