Attended A Scotch Tasting (12/366)

"Set up another case bartender! The best thing for a case of nerves is a case of Scotch."
W. C. Fields

The United States Bartender’s Guild is offering a free, RSVP-only Dewar’s Scotch Tasting from January 11th till January 14th, 2012 at the Festival Pavilion in Fort Mason. The tastings are 1 1/2 hours long, and there are several time slots in the evenings on each day. If you'd like to attend a tasting, you can RSVP here.

I'm not a "scotch drinker" per se - I've had it, and my home collection of spirits does include several whiskeys, but scotch is not my go-to drink (I like my bubbles). But I'm always intrigued as to what qualities other people like in their drink of choice, and how different styles or ages or components of spirits affect the flavors. Just as a side note, Whiskey or Whisky (depending on where it's from) is found all over the world, but "Scotch" is generally whisky distilled in Scotland and matured for a minimum of three years in oak casks, among other, more specific criteria. The two types of Scotch are malt and grain, and many varieties of these are mixed together to produce "blends" with varying flavor notes and differences in palatability.

A is our culinary compadre - we're always excited to try new places together and learn more about food and drink, so I invited him and we all RSVPed for tonight. After dinner, we headed over to Fort Mason. Although Nick was on the guest list, there's a lot going on at work and since he doesn't drink, he figured he'd be bored, so he went to the office for a bit and picked us up after.

When we first arrived, after signing in, we got a token for a complimentary drink - either their Dewar's 12 scotch (aged 12 years), a Dewar's & Ginger (with Ginger Ale), or a Dewar's Smash (like a Mojito, but with scotch instead of rum). Light appetizers were passed, and we just hung out for a bit.

After about half an hour, we were shown into the tasting area, where we each had a setup with three whisky glasses in front, a set of 10 vials in the middle, and two more whisky glasses behind that. Very cool. *Please forgive the strong hue - our table had crazy orange lights on it.*

Our presenter started with a bit of history on Dewar's. One of the reasons they became popular in the United States was because President Benjamin Harrison liked it so much, he was given a gift of a small barrel of Dewar's by Andrew Carnegie in 1891. The press criticized President Harrison for drinking anything other than an American bourbon, but the uproar was fantastic publicity for Dewar's and orders started pouring in from all over the country. *Pun not intended, but totally appreciated.*

Next, we learned about the different regions of Scotland where the various kinds of scotch were made, and the qualities of each region that would show in their perspective scotch offerings. He even taught us a little Scottish Gaelic. "Cheers" is "Slàinte mhath!" which is pronounced "slawn-je vah". The word for whisky is "uisge beatha" (oosh-ka bay-ah), which literally translated means "water of life". He said that the term was shortened to just the "uisge" and that presumably, the name "whisky" had its origins in Scotland. Really interesting stuff. During all this, we also got to taste their Dewar's White Label, and we learned about the qualities and characteristics in it.

Then came the fun part. We got to make our very own blend of scotch! The 10 vials were five scent/flavor components (in front) and five whiskies that had the corresponding scent/flavor notes (in back). The notes were: Honey, Fruity, Floral, Vanilla, and Smokey.

Our presenter lead us through each component and their corresponding whisky, giving each "a nose". Then he asked us to choose our favorite of the 5 to be our base. We poured that base into our mixing glass, and then added small amounts of other notes to make a whisky that was uniquely our own. I used Vanilla as my base, and added some smoke, and liked it a lot. After a few more "nosings" and tastings of the other elements and my blend, I added a little more smoke and just a little fruit. Yum, yum yum. I wish I could have bottled more of that to take home.

After making our own blends, our presenter had us try a few more things - I don't want to give everything away for those who might attend - but overall the tasting was very informative and fun. We learned more about the history of scotch, the qualities, and the presentation of it. And if all that weren't enough, at the end of the evening they sent us home with flasks. Slàinte mhath!

Related Links:
Dewar's Discovery Tasting (1/11-1/14 at Fort Mason)
The Enduring Legacy of Dewar's (Paperback)
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