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Jack Rose’s Harvey Fry: A Fine Madness
Comments () | Published June 3, 2011
It was while driving his cab eight years ago that Fry met Bill Thomas. Ferrying his shaggy-haired passenger to Bourbon on Wisconsin Avenue, Fry discovered that the young man shared his interest in bourbon. He also owned the popular bar.

When the two met again years later, Thomas had no memory of that earlier drive. But Fry did. The cabbie remembered everything.

Thomas came to learn that the wizard-bearded cabbie was a force in the field. The mixologists knew and respected him, and all the good liquor stores, it seemed, had a Harvey Fry story.

A couple of years ago, about the time Thomas began thinking about Jack Rose, he joined a drinking group with Fry and Cofino. “I was a novice before then,” Thomas says. “Now I can identify distinct profiles of brands. I’ve learned the difference between a sherry cask and a bourbon cask. It’s been an education.”

Fry began selling off his stash of bourbon to Thomas and using the money to expand his collection of Scotch. Thomas wasn’t merely a buyer—Fry respected his desire to learn. Thomas didn’t blow money on parties or cars or clothes. He was a good businessman, always thinking ahead. Whatever money he made he pumped back into the operations. Fry saw him as a dreamer, but a dreamer with common sense and street smarts. He liked that.

Thomas was also a collector. Bourbon was his drink, and he was nearly as obsessive about it—he’d already amassed more than a thousand bottles—as Fry was about single-malt Scotch. Fry liked that, too.

Bill Thomas was also a collector. Bourbon was his drink, and he was nearly as obsessive as Fry. He'd amassed more than a thousand bottles.

Fry invites me to sit in one night with his Scotch-tasting group, which includes Thomas and Cofino and meets at Fry’s house.

For nearly three hours, we sample a dozen or so single-malt Scotches, a few of which will end up on the shelves at Jack Rose, and the men record their impressions in their notebooks. Fry’s is a worn copy of Michael Jackson’s Complete Guide to Single Malt Scotch, a bible to enthusiasts. The copy is held together by eight large rubber bands and pieces of tape.

Joking and joshing alternate with thoughtful appraisals of what Fry sometimes refers to as “the sauce,” and the dining room has the air of poker night with the boys, right down to the boxes of Ledo pizza.

Their appraisal of a Bruichladdich is typical.

Thomas: “The initial impact is very watery, then it kicks in.”

Cofino: “It’s nicely flowery.”

Fry: “This is finer and more complex than the one we just tasted. It’s like a beautiful woman—like an 8.5 that walks down the street, compared to a 4.7. The peat’s there, but it’s in the background. This is a Scotch you wanna spend time with.”

Fry once wrote on the Malt Advocate blog: “Especially as i grow older, i find that without the sharing/comparing social aspects of this thing, it’s a whole lot LESS FUN. tasting/drinking by yourself may have its charms, but the best way to nail down a huge part of what this stuff has to offer is to get together with a few practiced practitioners who are also under the spell . . . .”

Thomas leaves after the last of the glasses is drained, but Cofino and I are still nursing sips of a Port Charlotte, so Fry pulls out a translation of his favorite poem to read: André Breton’s surrealist masterpiece, “Go for Broke.”

Fry wrote poetry for many years, and his delivery reflects his love of the written word spoken aloud. He captures the wild, ragged intonations of Breton’s stanzas.

He’s out of breath by the time he reaches the final stanza:

He is called
He carries
The flamboyant name of Go-for-Broke
In life and death go running
Run the two rabbits together
Run your luck that is a volley of bells of celebration and alarm
Run the creatures of your dreams till they collapse spewing on their white collars
Run the ring without the finger
Run the head of the avalanche


Neither Cofino nor I say anything. Fry’s reading is an incantation—intimate, intense, vaguely unsettling. It lingers in silence.

Next: The J. C. Penny salesman's hustler son

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