Last night's masterclass with Jim McEwan was educational and entertaining and ran far over time, as any really good masterclass should. There were fifty in attendance, a nice size for such an event. Only two women...Wendy, you and Sandra would have helped! Gentlemen, our recruiting efforts are falling far short of the targets. What are we to do?
McEwan, in full formal kilt, was piped in (by a Boston cop in an Irish tartan, but never mind), and told us that he is not a salesman or "brand ambassador", but a guy who makes whisky, who rose through the ranks from apprentice cooper at 15. He is wrong; he is as good a salesman as there is, in the best sense of the word. As he led us through a tasting of seven Bruichladdichs, he gave us various tasting tips (such as telling the age of a whisky by where it burns the tongue...sorry, still don't get it!) and gave us insights on what it means to make whisky in Islay. And of course, there were stories. Most were humorous, many involving culture clash with Japanese distillery workers sent by Suntory for training at Bowmore ("Jim-san, my people want to go to karaoke bar"), or such stories as Duncan MacGillivray's adventures in Chicago. Others were touching. He showed a slide of workers in the bottling hall, including a young woman with Down syndrome who puts all the pamphlets into the metal tubes. He told of his first mentor, a cooper who put off his retirement to give McEwan his apprenticeship, lying on his deathbed years later, whispering to McEwan that he'd left him a gift under the floorboards of his shed, something to ensure that McEwan "would never be poor". It was his cooper's tools. And he told of standing alone in the Bruichladdich warehouse, sampling the two remaining forty-year-old casks, realizing that they would have to be bottled soon as they had fallen almost to 40%, and knowing that everyone who'd had a hand in making that whisky was dead. Their legacy was there in the casks.
A quick rundown on the tastings:
-We were encouraged to drink the 10 as we came in, as a welcome dram. A nice aperitif, with honey, pear, and lemon notes.
-WMD II, "Yellow Submarine", with a nose of strawberries. Another hilarious story about a salvaged MOD drone sub.
-The most recent Links, Turnberry, 14yo, all bourbon with four weeks in Pedro Ximenez, just enough for a kiss of sweetness without being overpowering. This was the standout dram for me, and I will buy one as soon as I see it.
-The second 3D, Moine Mhor, comprised of '91 and '94 Bruichladdich and four-year-old Port Charlotte. As the one peated offering, this was very popular with the folks; I thought there was something odd about it--the peat seemed kind of green to me, like hop pellets.
-The second-edition 15yo, which spent 26 weeks in Yquem sauternes casks; viscous, honey/winey. McEwan says this will not be repeated, as the casks are not available. I wanted to ask him if the casks will have had a second fill, but I didn't get around to it.
-The second-edition 20yo, the infamous Flirtation, six weeks in Mouvedre syrah, tangy fruit on the palate and a long finish. McEwan said no water with this. He also told us that the third edition 20yo is now available, and the vatting for that was executed by Joe Howell, our host, when he was at the Academy last year. He said that Joe worked through lunch, even eschewing cigarette breaks, to get the vatting done by himself.
-The final dram was the 1973 vintage, distilled the year I first tasted alcohol. (So it was Schlitz...whaddya want?) I'd have sworn this was a fine old calvados, and would have thought that my overloaded palate was playing tricks, had I not nosed it earlier, before drinking anything, and thought the same thing then. The dram was but a tease; I think one would contemplate and puzzle over a bottle of this to the last drop, and would wish for another bottle to puzzle some more. A very deep and unusual dram.
The evening ended with us all standing left foot on our chairs and right foot on the table, delivering a lengthy and complicated Gaelic toast that I feel sure was obscene. It's a wonder no one got hurt. I left feeling so abuzz that I had to phone a friend immediately to babble about it. We'd started at 6:15 and finished at 9:40; the time flew.
It was a marvelous event, and effusive thanks are due to Joe Howell for his efforts to make it happen. And thanks also to the friend who encouraged me to go when I was sitting on the fence. Well worth it.