When I was in high school I did a lot of recreational drinking. That was different.
Last night I went to a scotch tasting event at Liberty Wine Merchants in Point Grey. Now, I like these guys already because they have a great selection of rare scotches and I’ve brought home more than one bottle from there that made me extremely happy. So when I read that Bob Kyle from Rare Drams (and I apologize for that link — the web site is awful) was going to be there to show off some Speyside selections they made, I signed up.
I wouldn’t sign up for something like that alone, of course — I sent the alarm out to Toph (aka C.W. Marshall, the guy on the cover of your copy of Diaspora) and he sent the call out even further. Well, at least far enough to drag a friend of his in, and right there was a major social victory for me. I got to meet a friend of a friend that I hadn’t yet met and that usually goes well. It certainly did this time. So anyway there were three of us, which is a good number for breaking ice because there’s a kind of defensive minimum achieved. That lets me relax pretty well and then of course there was a bunch of scotch as well.
When we arrived there was a substantial cheese platter on the table from the unmatched Pane E Formaggio (whose web site also kind of sucks — what is it with Flash and web sites that don’t do anything, anyway?). That was very good. Then there were a couple of beers on the table as well — I can’t recall the brand but there was a pumpkin ale I refused to risk and a bitter that was superb. So that’s a pretty swell warm up to a room filling with strangers. Food, some beer, and impending scotch.
Bob Kyle is a likable white-haired individual in a kilt and he seems to know his topic. Speyside scotches are not my cup of tea, generally, maybe partly because my sense of smell and taste are not all that great. So, if I were in a charitable mood, I’d say the Speysides are too subtle for my palate. Normally I say they are boring. Of the six that Bob brought, however, I’d have happily walked away with three.
These are not the usual distillery products, but rather cask selections made by the folks at Rare Drams. They have the difficult and undesirable job of going from distillery to distillery and tasting specific casks until they find one that they like, and then bringing it home to put in bottles. See, normally a distillery that produces single malts blends a number of casks together to produce the signature product that they have been selling for however many years that’s been going on. We’re not talking about vatted or blended booze here — it’s all from the same distillery, it’s just balanced from various batches to reach a recognizably similar taste. So when Bob and the gang go and find that one cask they love, it is usually because it has something distinct from the usual bottling, and so that in itself is reason to taste.
These are not cask-strength, mind you, like an Aberlour A’bunadh, say. They dilute these down to 50% or so (it varies by the age of the scotch), which they feel is an optimal drinking strength. I’m okay with that — some of the pleasure in a cask strength is related to the pleasure in eating spicy food or deliberately using too much wasabi. That is, it’s about machismo. Not in the case of that Aberlour up there, mind you. So these are strong, but deliberately so. You may have guessed from other things I write about here that the fact of that deliberation is already pretty appealing to me. I like it when smart people do things on purpose.
Of the three scotches that struck my palate the right way, two were big surprises.
The first was a young Speyside who’s name I can’t recall because it had far too many letters. Anyway, it was a pale thing with the usual mild citrus and florals going on in the nose. Boring. But when it got in my mouth it was something else entirely — not the taste, specifically, though that was stronger and more interested than the smell promised, but the feel. This scotch had a substantial oil content that really filled the mouth with a big round taste. This is sufficiently unlike most Speysides that I was sold — it managed to deliver the taste sufficiently, which suggests to me that a lot of what I dislike in Speysides is the feeble delivery and not the taste itself.
The second was from the Macallan distillery. I’m not a huge fan of Macallan but I’ll certainly drink someone elses bottle of it. This cask they drew from, however, was basically all the good things in a Macallan dialed up to 11. Again, a big mouth-feel as well, distinct from the shelf product and lots of savoury-sweet notes like chocolate or something.
The one that stole the show, though, was naturally the most expensive one on the menu. I’m saving up to get a bottle. Apparently it’s from a private distillery that lacks even a name, and when the folks from Rare Drams tried to help the owner come up with a name, he proved resistant to the idea. He sounds like a stubborn old goat, which is probably ideal for scotch construction. So they bottled it under the name “Possibly the Finest Distillery in Scotland”. This was a wicked construction with a sweet-bitterness to it like burned caramel or those Callard and Bowser treacle candies I used to eat in the back seat of the Honda Civic CVCC (the one my father had cannibalized letters from another Honda so that the back logo read “DOODAH” instead of “HONDA”) on road trips to Whistler with my family. Extra credit for invoking pleasant memories of my childhood.
So I’m saving up.
Addendum: Just remembered that as we were wrapping up, I won one of the door prizes. It’s a distressed khaki cap with the logo for “Big Peat” whiskey on it and a tasting glass with the same logo. I’m not a big cap wearer, but my wife is thrilled because it’s soft and fits tight and looks swell on her and when she trims down her Mohawk it gets chilly on her skull.