GWW 2008 was a grand war for me. I was surrounded in camp by many of the best of the 3DC, my household just adjacent, and the Crimson Spade to another side. Aeten Royal was across the path and Fergus / Sean South some how managed to convince his Highness that having the tasting in his camp was a darned good idea. This worked out very well because we were a bit cramped for communal space in our camp. Unknown to me (because I didn’t ask more than anything), nearly everyone who camped 3DC brought period pavilions. While cool, they tend to take up more space than the alternative. We had 4 wedge tents (2 early and 2 late), 2 wall tents and a Viking a-frame. We ended up with 3 satellite tents, the Viking and 2 modern tents on the other side of White Star because the 3DC simply ran out of space. This was actually the only bitch I had (or heard of for that matter) about the camping situation. The 3 groups who planned on sharing land grab space got kind of muddled in the confusion of set up stranding the poor White Star with strangers in their midst and a lack of visible identity or notable presence. (Next time around, I don’t think the 3DC will go this route. We’ve enough people to get our own space and then we won’t have to rely on anyone else for set up direction.) The 3DC day shade has gone missing, though there would have been no room for it anyway as our allotment of land was a long thin rectangle with only space for a 9’ hallway between Donia Cat’s tent and mine. Just enough as it turns out to run the thin long day shade between them, giving a nice shaded entry to the camp just inside the camp doorway. The walls went up and we were complete and looked damn good too.
As to the tasting itself, let me preface this by saying I was sober throughout the entire event so my memories may be a bit hazy. That being said, this was one of the top tastings for me personally. Thanks to everyone who chipped in and to those who just came. Everyone added to my enjoyment and I relish the memories still. As to those that didn’t make it, we missed you, but you missed more as we had over 50 different drams on the table to share.
Fergus wanted to roam about giving out glasses as invitations on Thursday night, ala the first tasting, but this never seemed to come to fruition so the glasses were set out on the tables and people were invited to keep them if they wanted to.
The glasses are the same wee tulip shaped glasses I use for my personal tasting set and people seemed to appreciate the use of a proper shaped glass for the event. There were a sizable number left over so Fergus now has a tasting set of his own, likely larger than mine too.
I had every intention of working up a proper whisky talk to give to the assembled masses prior to the actual grand tasting, but even though I never even put on armor or even really left our camp for any extended period, the time to do the prep never materialized. The other issue with having a pre-event talk was that since we never really communicated a start time to our attendees, people didn’t show up at one time making a mass oration impractical. For future events like this I suggest setting a start time and perhaps handing out flyers for the event as well would be in order.
Instead, I set up on stage left of the pavilion by the cheese plate with my show and tell kit, figuring on some Q&A type encounters. My kit consists of a couple books, a head of a bourbon barrel, a bowl of malted barley and one of water, a lump of Irish peat and a candle representing fire, these along with air, being the primary materials that go into making whisky. I figured that I could take anyone interested aside and teach them about just about anything they wanted; how it’s made, regions, history or what ever. I think I gave about 10 in depth talks to 2 to 6 people on varying topics throughout the night, burning bits of the peat as needed with the candle. Eoin McKinney stepped in giving a few more when I was busy with other concerns (by the way, we did this long enough that the candle actually ran out and they usually outlast my drinking on a regular night.) My basic talk format was that I’d go over basics based upon what they wanted to know and then send them down the table to get a dram but not drink it. I’d then show them, if they came back, how to bloom the dram and unlock the flavors.
Each session was tailored by the questions and reactions of the participants. This format was ideal for me. Countess Albra even sat down at one point with Master Otuell (standing to the side) as I gave a talk and we went over the differences in modern whisky and that of the pre-Victorian world. I even confessed that (I also confessed at the same time that I don’t actually want a peerage in the society) if I ever got a peerage I would want it to be for whiskey knowledge and research. After this, to my surprise (read: horror), she got real serious and started watching my talks with some intensity and asking her own probing questions as they went along. I’m pretty sure I had the correct answer to every question that was posed to me that night. (Perhaps I made a mistake with my big mouth again about that peerage crack. Oh well, too late to worry about it now.) This was so much fun and to see so many people go away with a new or in some cases renewed appreciation for what whisky is and what goes into it was hugely gratifying to me. I had no end of fun doing it.
Sean South primarily ran the other end of the tables fielding questions like a pro and keeping the drams flowing even if it seemed like every time I turned around he was pouring from the fifth of Tully again. Seriously, that guy needs to be rewarded by Tully directly as I doubt that they could find a more ardent supporter of their product.
Quite a few other 3DC pitched in to pour and answer questions as the night went on. Fergus jumped into the role right at the beginning as the “host with the most”. Flitting about like a drunken social butterfly, keeping everyone interested and entertained and directing them to wherever they would best be served; the neophytes to the show and tell display and those who knew what they were doing or just didn’t care to Sean and the drams. Our security volunteer, unfortunately, came up ill at the last moment so we carried on without any. This did not seem to be a problem as everyone was reverent and well mannered. Perhaps this was because we were in a royal encampment, but either way, even those who were too drunk to stand without swaying were quite well behaved. I’m not aware of even one stubborn drunkard incident to comment on and that’s a first.
Some several hours later, His Highness Aetenvelt went to bed giving me charge of the camp (ah the power) as Fergus was nowhere to be found by this point. A half hour or so after this things were quieting down so I made last call and set about clean up. Eoin, Jerric, Dillan, a few others (who’s names escape me as I was completely sober by this point) and I did the clean up and carted the coffin of left over drams and glasses back to camp, turning off the Aeten lamp as we left.
Two highlights of the night that come to mind: The first was when the local Fire Chief and his family, checking out the general SCA on goings, wandered into our tasting, met up with Fergus and were blown away by our hospitality and the quality of what we had to offer. He was only able to sample a few, but he was truly intrigued and grateful for the experience. The other was a group of 4 guys who stumbled (literally) over to me and asked how much it costs to participate. (I thought for a moment of Rosencrans and Gyldenstern are Dead’s line about “costing little more to get caught up in the action… and making some reference to Alfred.” but then decided better of it.) They were set aghast that we did this gratis, and so I suggested that if they wanted to pay something that they should come down to the Q&A table and listen to me for a few minutes so they could better appreciate what was on offer, as by their own admission they were not really into whiskey. They did so. The head of this little band seemed so truly impressed (and really ate up the information) that he confessed to being a whisky guy now. I told him that if he liked what he had experienced, next year he should bring a bottle to contribute to the table. He said he would.
Thanks again to all those selfless individuals (and the rest of you too) who contributed time, efforts and drams to making this another glorious tasting for the 3DC.