Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Led Another Single Malts Masterclass for 40 Folks in DC

OK, so I actually did this last week, but I then flew out of town for for a few days and have only just gotten back...sorry for the delay.

Last Thursday I led another single malts masterclass for tastedc.com. This one was held at the Embassy Row Hilton in the Dupont Circle area of Washington, DC. I don't recall how many of these I've done to date, but Charlie, the tastedc promoter/organizer, keeps asking me back, so I must be doing something right. ;-)

This particular tasting featured 8 single malt Scotch whiskies as part of the formal tasting and then another 20+ single malts for folks to sample while schmoozing. We had about 40 folks at this (at about $65 a head) -- not a bad turnout given the ongoing recession.

The 8 single malts I chose were:

1. Littlemill 16 (Gordon & MacPhail bottling)
2. Glenfarclas 10
3. Glenmorangie 10
4. Springbank 10
5. Arran Cognac Cask Finish
6. Talisker 10
7. Highland Park 12
8. Ardbeg 10

We covered all the basics of what is Single Malt Scotch Whisky? I ran through the usual terms: Whisky, Scotch Whisky, Single Malt or “Malt Whisky”, Single Cask, Cask Strength, Blended Scotch, Scotch Whisky, Blended Malt/Pure Malt/Vatted Malt, etc. We also covered the whisky "regions" of Scotland: Lowlands, Highlands, Speyside, Islay, Campbeltown, and the “Islands” like the Isle of Skye, Orkney, Jura, and Arran. I also ran through some of the various sub-divisions, and explained the marketing strategies of all of this and the centrality of marketing and branding to one's sense of and knowledge about the Scotch whiskies we drink.

Now all through this, I punctuate the "geeky" info with the formal tasting -- focusing on how to "taste," "nose," evaluate, drink, and enjoy single malt Scotch whisky. I also run through some of the general history of the distilleries for each of the eight whiskies being sampled (in real time).

On this night, as at every of these tastings, I was asked about adding water, using soda, ice, other mixers, etc. As always, I try to persuade folks that whisky is meant to be consumed for personal pleasure. So their ought not to be undue concern with rigid rules; drink it in whatever way you wish. IF you wish to maximize your sensory interaction with a dram so as to evaluate it connoisseur-like, then, YES, there is a very specific way to do this. Accordingly, I always run the tasting along these slightly more rigorous lines. But if folks prefer their whisky in their breakfast cereal, than so be it. THOUGH I DO ALWAYS ENCOURAGE RESPONSIBLE CONSUMPTION ;-)

The next big chunk of info I distill for the group are the various steps for making single malt Scotch whisky. Doubtless I went overboard on the sometimes technical info here, I'm sure I always do. Though as the questions usually come fast and furious throughout, who knows...maybe I could do even more. Charlie usually signals me to keep moving. We covered Malting, Mashing, Fermentation, Distillation, and Maturation.

I always discuss maturation in great detail, given how substantial the cask influence is on the final taste profile and quality of the whisky. We discussed why oak casks are used, and what different properties the different types of oak offer, and then discussed, at some length, the whole sherry cask or wine cask versus Bourbon cask distinction, as well as the preponderance for cask "finishing" or additional maturation in casks other than the sort the whisky was primarily matured in.

Along the way, I generally cover all sorts of trivia, history and miscellanea.

By this point we've gone through all 8 whiskies and covered about 90 to 110 minutes of material (though I generally keep everything fun and lively). After all, enjoyment is the ENTIRE purpose of these evenings and I firmly believe in going with the mood of the crowd (that is, if the crowd clearly isn't interested in too much detail I simplify and encourage folks to ask me more questions during the break or at the end).

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