Born in the highlands of Scotland, two top distilleries, Glenfiddich and The Balvenie, bring their best scotch for tastings in Los Angeles.
Scotland has produced many interesting exports — tartan plaids, haggis (a dish made with sheep organs) and 007 hunk Sean Connery. However, one singular favorite from the land of endless moors and highland vistas is exceptional Scotch whisky. And lately, the national drink of Scotland has been making quite a splash on this side of the pond.
I had the rare pleasure of attending two Los Angeles events hosted by highly regarded Scottish distilleries Glenfiddich and The Balvenie. Both were kind enough to share some of their finest single malts with an appreciative assemblage of discerning Angelenos. Even better, the Glenfiddich Cask of Dreams and The Balvenie Rare Craft Roadshow were haggis-free events!
A Taste for Craftsmanship
The Balvenie ambassadors Andrew Weir and Nicholas Pollacchi say they’re on the road in search of rare craftsmanship in America: handcrafted hollow wood surfboards made from Maine-grown cedar; micro-batches of handcrafted artisanal chocolate; custom handmade acoustic guitars and ukuleles. I’m sure they’d tell me there’s a similar craftsmanship in every sip of their single malt scotch.
“Cup your hand tightly over the glass,” Nicholas instructed as we held a sample Balvenie Portwood 21, eager for a taste. “Now shake it until the liquid splashes your palm.”
Well, that’s new. I thought we’d be drinking single malts tonight. I was curious to see what our gracious hosts would have us do next.
“Rub your hands together quickly until you feel a warming sensation. Now, bring your palms under your nose and inhale,” said Nicholas. “What do you smell?”
Was this when I was supposed to answer, “craftsmanship”?
No, I smelled a delightful perfume of fruity and ripe raisin notes, backed by a delicate nuttiness. When we were told to go ahead and try it, I tasted a creamy, silky malt with fruit, honey and spice notes.
The purpose of the evening’s tasting was to introduce an exclusive, limited edition batch of 40-year-old single malt created by The Balvenie, a scotch that was born the same year The New York Times began to publish sections of the Pentagon Papers. There are just 50 bottles of this special scotch, and they go for $4,000 a pop. I was tasting from the third bottle ever to be opened in the United States.
As I nosed and tasted in a private parlor at Bar Marmont in West Hollywood, Andrew and Nicholas described their cross-country adventures honoring talented people with a likeminded passion for craftsmanship. It was refreshing to witness a celebration of skilled artisans, be they furniture designers, cheese makers, or glass blowers.
As The Balvenie attempts to build a relationship with the American palate, the famed distillery thoughtfully recognizes the wonderful artisanal connection between a beautifully shaped custom longboard and finely crafted single malt, each made from the heart with precision, passion and the utmost care.
My favorite aspects of The Balvenie Rare Craft Roadshow are on their website, where you can peruse a catalog of talented artisans from every part of this country, and even nominate a local craftsman to the celebrated list.
Well, these Scots are on to something — craftsmanship is alive and well in America. Slàinte Mhath (Cheers!), indeed.
There’s More Than One Great Scotch
Have you seen a bright-eyed, cheerful Scotsman rolling a wooden cask around the streets of Los Angeles? That is no hallucination; it’s a dream — the Glenfiddich Cask of Dreams, bringing another brand of Scotch whiskey to Los Angeles with a unique approach all its own.
Mitch Bechard, a Glenfiddich ambassador, is touring the country inviting people to write their dreams and aspirations on this hand-coopered oak cask. “It’s about pioneering spirit. We’re encouraging consumers to embrace their inner explorer and express their ambitions,” he explained.
The inscribed casks will be sent to the Glenfiddich distillery in Scotland to finish a special, limited edition expression of Glenfiddich to be sold in the U.S. in early 2012. Meanwhile, Mitch and his fellow Glenfiddich ambassadors are visiting major cities and hosting celebratory events, such as the kick-off party I attended at the Viceroy Santa Monica.
Before inscribing the cask, I decided to test my pioneering spirit on some handcrafted cocktails featuring the storied liquid. I looked twice when it arrived in a martini glass garnished with a lemon wheel. I gave the “Scottish Pair” cocktail a hesitant sip. I was pleasantly surprised by the pairing of single malt Scotch whisky with gin, a splash of pear juice and agave nectar.
Feeling adventurous, I sampled the “Ruby Bean” next. This cocktail featured Glenfiddich 12 Year Old, Lillet Rouge, Licor 43 and orange juice. While intrigued by each ingredient, my pioneering spirit retreated after a couple swallows. The ruby color conjured up visions of a brilliant California sunset, but the flavors didn’t come together as I had hoped.
Not one to be undone by a cocktail, I pressed on in an attempt to explore the variations in flavor profiles between the Glenfiddich 15 Year Old and the 21 Year Old. For those of you who prefer your Scotch whisky “neat,” allow me to share some tasting notes.
Nose: A full and complex nose, lots of dark fruits (raisin/sultana) along with delicate honey and warm spice.
Taste: Complex, rich, sweetness, fruit-cake/Christmas pudding, cinnamon/ginger spice, marzipan.
Key notes: Dried fruit and honey, some warm spice.
Glenfiddich 21 Year Old
Color: Warm gold/amber
Nose: Earthy/leather note dominates at first but quickly reveals a deep brown-sugar/toffee sweetness, vanilla, ripe banana, figs, oak and sometimes mint!
Taste: Initially soft, then brisk, vibrant and drying, peppery, a touch of earthiness (but not quite peat/smoke), oak, lime, ginger and spices.
Finish: Very long, warming, dry and spicy.
Key notes: Toffee, leather and vanilla.
Can one taste the innovative spirit of a pioneer in a singular sip of Glenfiddich single malt Scotch whisky? I’ll leave that up to you to explore. Whether you appreciate the honeyed character of the liquid inside the cask, or are inspired to write a “Someday I will …” inscription outside the cask, the Glenfiddich Cask of Dreams is a distinctive means to discover your inner adventurer.
I wondered what Mitch’s visit to Los Angeles had prompted him to inscribe on the cask. “My dream?” he smiled. “To snowboard and surf in the same day.”
Sounds like a California dream to me.
Copyright © Michelle Gigon/2011 Singular Communications, LLC.