Scotch Tasting with Michael Jackson

[17K sign]

The setting was attractive enough to entice even non-aficionados of Scotch whiskey. Sherlock's Home brewpub in the Minneapolis suburb of Minnetonka set up a large tent to hold the sizable crowd that prepaid for the privilege of following along with writer Michael Jackson has he wandered through the distilleries of Scotland with only a map, a few ounces of authentic samples and whatever memories are possible when tasting your way across a country. The weather was dry and offered a perfect temperature for relaxed sampling. Inside the 60 by 120 foot tent were six long rows of tables covered with white linen. Seating consisted of plastic folding chairs on the grass underneath. The crowd remained attentive and restrained. Self control was evident as the audience refrained for touching any of the eight shot glasses at each place setting. Activities began with a piper marching through the packed tent. Our guide Michael began with a history of distilling and Single Malt Scotches (SMS) in Scotland and proceeded to move geographically across the country referencing the travels on a large map near the podium. By strict definition, single Malts are completely made at a single (Scottish) distillery, in a pot still, and with only one malt. The brands chosen were selected for their uniqueness, even at the risk of their not being available on many store shelves in the U.S. After a description of the unique characteristics of Scotches from a particular area the audience was instructed to sample the appropriate glass and note all of the taste sensations present. The pace was leisurely and the method informative. More cultural awareness classes should be so enjoyable.

The tasting guide reminded everyone to observe the following six steps when assessing their SMS: Colour, Bouquet, Mouthfeel (body), Palate (taste), Off-notes, and Aftertaste (finish). The Glenfarclas, a "glen" being a mountain valley, was a 17 year-old. Made using sherry casks, it offered a bold malt flavor with a slight oakiness. Other brands choose to use bourbon casks and strive for the flavor characteristics unique to that approach. The 12 year-old Tamdhu, with "dhu" meaning black, used its own malt, along with wooden fermenters of Oregon pine. The flavor started smooth and light but finished spicy. The Glenrotnes was aged 16 years and had licorice notes. The 16 year-old Glen Moray had a sharp, peaty aroma with an assertive flavor and an alcoholic punch before its long finish. Their operation was actually a brewery until 1897. The Glenmorangie 12 also originated from an ex-brewery. Converted in 1843, it now features the tallest style of still, a reflux. The Scotch is aged for 10 years in Bourbon casks, then another two in Madiera casks. The Highland Park was an 18 year-old vintage from Orkney. Beginning with floor-dried malt and local peat, the local ocean breezes transfer a saltiness to the finished liquid. The malty, rich, salty, flavors are a result of both the Sherry casks and the shortest style of stills used. The Ledaig 15 had an iodine character with a perfumy aroma and peppery flavor along with a more expected peaty finish. The 17 year-old Ardbeg could best be described as mellow and easy going.

The event was topped off with a very nice buffet of prime rib, stuffed mushrooms and various delicatessen items. Overall, the hosts and the speaker did a great job covering the contents in an informative and humorous way at a perfect pace. Just about everyone had enough common sense not to smoke inside the tent, which was filled with incredible aromas from the hundreds of filled sample glasses. The brewpub next door made for a perfect place to finish the day and many visitors took advantage of the opportunity to buy Michael Jackson's latest book and get it immediately autographed. This was the ninth year for this annual event so expect this type of forum to be used by others who strive to introduce consumers' tastebuds to new and pleasurable experiences. In closing, a quote from the day's well regarded speaker: "Some people say you'll live longer if you don't drink. They're wrong. It only seems longer."

NOTE: Although organizers of this multi-day event use the phrase "Minnesota Brew Fest", this is misleading. There is a homebrew competition, then some brewpub hoping scheduled concurrently with the Scotch tasting, and then, finally, some beer tasting late Sunday afternoon. Too late for out of town visitors to take advantage of.

Sherlock's Home
11000 Red Circle Dr.
Minnetonka, MN

Reviewed by Tom Ciccateri - October, 1998

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