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Jack Rose's Harvey Fry: A Fine Madness
Comments () | Published June 3, 2011
Before I met Fry, collecting seemed to me to be an outlet for people who, lacking a passion for ideas, people, or art, express themselves through objects. I saw it mostly as a matter of acquisition. Fry made me see that his brand of it requires a mind that conceives of the world as something to be decoded and, ultimately, mastered.

In the world of single-malt Scotch, Fry is known not only as a man with encyclopedic knowledge and a superlative palate but also as someone inclined to do whatever it takes to acquire a bottle. Getting the goods requires navigating a sprawling network of wholesalers, private dealers, and distributors. He negotiates relentlessly, trying to drive prices down.

Fry spent a week chasing down two bottles of a new release, going through multiple sources and negotiating a price he was prepared, after considerable research, to pay.

We tend to think of an obsession as an expression of the irrational. But couldn’t collecting, at Fry’s level, also be seen as the opposite of irrational? Couldn’t it be a means of shrinking the world in order to make sense of it, gain mastery of it, possess it?

But why then was Fry choosing to part with his prized possessions? Having defined himself for the past 12 to 15 years as a collector of single-malt Scotch, why would he begin to divest himself of his bottles?

A Scotch tasting at Fry’s house: four bottles. He brings in one of his own concoctions, made, he estimates, from 70 to 80 different Scotches.

It’s fantastic. But as I take my first sip, I notice that Fry isn’t drinking.

He swirls, puts his nose deep into a snifter filled with a Bruichladdich, inhales, sips—then spits the contents into a glass.

“You’re not drinking?”

“I don’t drink. Not anymore. I can’t. My liver’s shot.”

Fry and I are in my car, en route from Mount Pleasant to Brentwood, for a sandwich at MGM Roast Beef. Telling me to ignore my GPS (“I’ll get us there—I’m a cabbie, remember?”), he directs me through side streets.

I ask him what it takes to be a good cab driver. His answer: A good cabbie must possess intimate knowledge of a city’s sociology, an understanding of the cultural moment, and an appreciation for playing angles. The explanation takes more than 30 minutes.

About his own life, Fry is less inclined to speak. “Haven’t we talked about this already?” he asks. Eventually, he delivers an abbreviated account of himself.

Son of a broker father he loves and a society mother he despises—her greatest wish is for her son to mind his manners—he acts out all his inner dramas in 1940s Corpus Christi. Drag racing, drinking too much, chasing girls. The bad-boy rich boy.

A friend tells him, “You keep this up, you’re not gonna live to see 20.”

He lives to see 20, comes east to study, enrolls at George Washington University, and takes a job working for the National Republican Congressional Committee on Capitol Hill. For a college student who loves to devour old dictionaries and prefers to work alone, no job could be better. Every day he peruses 50 newspapers from around the country and reports on what’s pertinent.

Even so, it’s the last time he’ll work for anyone else.

Next: Fry plunges in to bourbon, Scotch, and cognac


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Posted at 10:05 AM/ET, 06/03/2011 RSS | Print | Permalink | Articles