Michael Jackson, a legend and hero for beer lovers across the globe, once famously said his true love was not beer, rather Whisky. (and yes, without the “e”) This should not be too much of a surprise. He has authored a number of books on the spirit. I too must admit I love the water of life, though I’m not sure I would place it above beer. Regardless of the rank, I strongly believe beer and Whisky go hand in hand. Whisky is basically distilled beer, right?
I started drinking Single Malts about 10 years ago as a way to lighten my load while backpacking high up in the Colorado mountains and still have something enjoyable to consume around the campfire. (Laphroaig 10 goes nice with a fire by the way.) The more I read and learned about Whisky the more interested I became.
And then one day at work a friend tipped me off to a gathering he and his friends had called Red Meat & Scotch. The concept of this event is that each person brings a bottle of Whisky and a steak, and everyone has a great time while learning about different malts
without having to spend a fortune in the process. Since that day in 2005, I started a tradition with my friends and we have taken turns hosting Red Meat & Scotch events twice per year. Each party comes complete with distillery maps of Scotland, flags, tasting notes (Jackson and others), Whisky poetry, Single Malt coffee table books, and pictures of Highland Cows. They are always enjoyable, and always require a designated driver – usually a very forgiving spouse.
The most recent gathering we had was quite special and unique. One of our friends is on the board of a kidney foundation, and they happened to be holding a silent auction. Twenty of us decided to go in and bid on a private tasting offered by Diageo. (A major beverage concern that owns, among other brands, Johnnie Walker, Guinness, and a number of distilleries.) Well, we won the auction, and last Friday night my wife and I hosted the lucky 20 in our basement for an evening with Diageo Master of Whisky Robert Stickler. By this time we were all pretty knowledgeable about the spirit and made sure he knew that so he could tailor his presentation accordingly. Robert did an excellent job. Wearing traditional attire and packing along bricks of peat, staves of oak, and a freshly distilled 160 proof spirit for us to sample, he did not disappoint. As much as we though we already knew, we all learned something from the event. And we all loved his enlightening toasts. Here is a list of what Robert brought with him:
Dalwhinnie 15 (Highland) – very drinkable
Singleton 12 (Speyside) – surprisingly complex
Carhhu 12 (Speyside) – the base for all Johnnie Walkers
Cragganmore 12 (Speyside) – floral, fruity and rich
Talisker 10 (Isle of Skye) – peat smoke, salt and sweetness
Coal Ila 12 (Isla) – a good example of an Isla
And after we all thought Robert was done, he surprised us all by pulling out his private stash of Bushmills. That’s right, Irish Whiskey to follow up all of the Scotch. I thought there might be a bit of a let down, but Robert did not disappoint. We started with the Bushmills Malt 10, then moved to the 16 Malt, 21 Malt and finished with the brilliant Bushmills 1608 (to honor the year the distillery was founded).
My favorite of the first batch was the Singleton 12. Maybe because this malt was new to me. But I was pleasantly surprised by the complex nose with hints of fruit and nuts, medium body, and wonderful flavor of sweet fruit, brown sugar and a touch of coffee, topped off by a long elegant finish.
If you are a beer lover thinking about branching out, get some friends together for your own Red Meat & Scotch party. Don’t be afraid to allow Irish whiskey, American Whiskeys, and especially micro distilled Whiskies. Also, if you are interested in having a private tasting by a “Master of Whisky”, shoot me a note and I’ll provide you with Robert’s contact information. He will not disappoint.