It should come as no surprise to anyone who knows a 3 Drunken Celt, that John Glaser is considered a friend of the group. Raz, Fergus, and Seamus all met John for the first time at the Whiskies of the World in 2006, where he had presented a tasting class surrounding his blends. The next year, we enjoyed his Whisky Pairing dinner the night before the Whiskies of the World expo where he masterfully paired a different dram for each of the 5 courses served including both his newly released “Oak Cross” and “Flaming Heart” blends.
For this coming year’s WoW expo, Seamus has already purchased his ticket for John’s class on blending your own whiskies and highly recommends you do the same since it is sure to sell out quickly.
As you will read in the Wired Magazine article referenced below, John has a distinct knack for blending, and has shaken up the world of whiskies a bit with his revolutionary take on some long standing whisky traditions, sometimes coming face to face with legal ramifications resulting in a discontinued product. Ah, Spice Tree, we barely knew ye (this was actually the first taste the 3DC had of John’s work, which had been surreptitiously hand-carried across the pond in a blue water jug having been filled directly from the cask only a day prior).
If you haven’t yet decided whether or not to attend the Whiskies of the World expo in San Francisco on March 28th, 2008, use this Wired Magazine article to help convince you, if only to meet John in person. You will immediately find John to be both personable and approachable, but more importantly knowledgeable about whiskies to a degree that outshines most other whisky connoisseurs around the globe.
Well I know it’s many months away, but Jason, Adrian, and I would like to extend an early invitation to you all. We would like to have some of your company for our now yearly San Francisco trip to Whiskies of the World Expo (http://www.celticmalts.com/events.asp?page=2) this upcoming year. It will be held March 28th -29th with the grand tasting again being held Saturday on the San Francisco Belle docked at pier 3. There will be seminars and “Whisky University” on Friday. We’ll be painting the town all shades of Plaid when ever we get the chance to do so, so make sure you sleep well before you come. We will, I’m sure, also make our yearly pilgrimage down to the wharf to visit Lark In the Morning (http://larkinthemorning.com/) for all our period music needs and to get our annual early morning Irish Coffee at The Mermaid pub near by. You’ll likely also get the chance to make fun of Seamus as that seems to happen a lot in SF, just ask any cabby or bar tender in the town.
Now it is too early to book rooms (wait till November) but so you can plan well in advance, our hotel of choice once again is going to be the Hotel Des Arts (http://www.sfhoteldesarts.com/index.php). This is an awesome little boutique hotel right at the intersection of China Town (weird shopping), the Mission District (Shopping) and the financial district (ATMs). Most of the rooms have been done up by local pop artists (Not Lichtenstein though) and each is very different. The rooms are a steal for the area as well with suites currently only going for around $160, Queen rooms for around $90 and for the more economically minded they even have European style wee rooms with out en-suite facilities that go for around $50 at night if memory serves. The shared bathrooms were actually pretty nice (I checked them out last year just out of curiosity.) The prices for next year have not been set yet so there will likely be some increase but you should be able to get the idea from current pricing. The three of us, depending on whether or not Jean and or Maggs come along, were anticipating sharing a suite this time around. The Hotel itself is great, but the most important part is this it is literally across the alley from the Irish Bank, our favorite and official pub while we are in SF. They love us there and we them (It’s kind of scary to think that I’m considered a regular in a pub hundreds of miles from my home.) There is a trade off for the real cheap prices and that is that the rooms tend to be a bit wee, but that is well offset by the Irish Bank so no worries there. The hotel is also only 1.1 miles from Pier 3 so that’ll be well withing stumbling distance if need be, and times being what they are.
Well that’s about it for now. I’ll be prompting you all again in November when the room bookings are available and the like but if you can, please plan ahead. This is bound to be a great trip and not one to miss if you at all like Whiskies.
Well, another fine 3DC trip. It’s a shame no other 3DC could join us but I under stand. Here is my hazy recollection as since I was burdened with an abundance of sobriety (for one of our trips anyway) thus my memory is a bit suspect this time around.Day one;
Seamus and I wake at the virtual butt crack of dawn to get to the airport for the cheapest flight out of John Wayne Airport. We get there around the recommended 2 hours before our flight so that’d be… 5:15am or so. Again, I was sober at this point so I’m not entirely sure on this detail. A nice, though full, fight on Alaska dropped us in Oakland ahead of schedule around 8:05am. A short jaunt via BART into SF downtown on a standing room only train put us at the hotel around 10:00am. We dumped the luggage and proceeded to try to find an open bar despite a sinus headache worthy of note for yours truly. We walked China Town, the Guido District and back over to the museum complex. NO BARS OPEN! What kind of third rate town is San Francisco anyway? We ended up settling on “walk up” sushi and iced tea from in a can at some semi subterranean lunch spot just outside the BART station we started at. During this time Fergie called saying he’d had enough of work and that he’d be at the station in 40 minutes. 40 minutes later he called to say he’d not left work yet and that he’d see us in 40 minutes. We told him to take a hike and we’d be drinking at the Irish Bank by the time he got his sorry ass in to town, and so we were.
We started the trip on a whiskey liqueur from Macallan, Amber I think it was called with a Smithwick’s chaser. When we thought it to be about time for Fergie to show up we ordered him a “Hot Toddy” or as he likes to call it, a “Hot Irish Whiskey”. Potato – Potauto. After a Guinnie we headed back into China Town ending up having an especially strong Kamikaze or some other concoction with some Chinese distilled shot added for the extra kick. We never did find out what was in it. Long story short, we got our room at the Hotel Des Arts, and went back to drinking. The Hotel Des arts by the way is indeed every bit as eccentric and cool as I thought it would be. The rooms are small and the plumbing occasionally questionable but clean and it’s defiantly awesome to be around all the art. Kind of like sleeping in the SFMONA without all the Picasso crap. Oh, and less child ass crack in your face. I’m sure Seamus will go into that one deeper in his write up… (Did I just write that?) We changed and headed to the Pared Tasting event John Glassier was putting on and we’d managed to get last minute tickets for.
This was a dignified event. John gave direction as we made our way through each of the many courses. I’m sure Seamus will do a better job than I at this bit so I’ll leave him to it, but I did have a grand time. Some how we managed to get seated with the only other people from Orange County. I never quite got the details of what business they were in, but the eldest seemed to be treating the other two who were clients of his. The youngest I heard was in law. They were each good company though a little more conservative that we are used to and the conversations were quite enjoyable. The Palace hotel is an architectural beauty. The main dining room, not where we were having our event mind you, was a glorious multi story ordeal with vaulted glass ceilings like you’d find at a fine European arboretum with huge crystal chandeliers and the like hanging from it. I was quite impressed. We had a little conference room up stairs that was nicely appointed and just the right sort of intimate size for an event such as this. Fergus grabbed a full bottle of wine from the table (we asked, honest,) and we stumbled our way back up to the Bank. We met up with our favorite bar tender and ended up giving him the unused portions for the wine. (It should be noted that this was a wine not yet on the market and was quite a privilege for us to have gotten to try. Not that I like wine mind you. Grapes bad, Barley good!) I crashed about 10:30 or so.
Some time later that night Seamus and Fergie made it back to the room with a serious case of the giggles. Kind of like sleeping in the same room 12 year olds girls holding a pajama party, you know you’re not getting any, it’s not funny to you, and you just wish you could club them in the head just to make them shut up, especially when your sinuses still hurt. I decided to make it up to them in the morning.
Day 2, woke up bright and early (approx 8:00am) with no head ache and a mind to get going. I went down to Starbucks and brought back Americanos for all of us and proceeded to wake them up, much as I’d been awakened the night prior. “Boy are they grumpy when you wake them up after a late night of drinking.” Hell, I brought them coffee. It’s not like I wasn’t considerate. I gave up after about an hour and went for a walk to see what else was alive early in the morning in SF. I came back about a half hour later due. I guess I did a better job than I thought. We committed to our yearly tradition of Irish Coffees down at the Blue Mermaid Bar down on the Warf and had the desk call us a cab. We three argued over the artistic completion of the room for a bit and decided that Seamus didn’t have an artistic bone in his body and that we should disregard his opinion all together, thus ending the debate. Good call on Fergus’s part that last bit. (You should remember this bit later in the story.) By the time my compatriots caught up with me and we made it down to the curb, the cab bolted just as I grabbed for the handle. This, as it turns, out would be a good thing for the funny. Another cab was not too hard to find. I jumped in the back seat followed by Fergus. When Seamus tried to get in Fergus said “Where do you think you’re going Bitch?” while motioning to the front seat. Seamus hopped in the front and soon made a call to James just in case he was awake and wanted to meet up with us down on the Warf. An odd thing happened at the end of the call as the cabby said to Seamus; “You a liar.” “Your name not “Jason”, your name “Bitch.”” This must have been about the funniest thing a cabby has said to anyone ever. Hired help 1, Seamus 0.
First stop was Lark in the Morning. Not to be missed if you like bizarre musical instruments from other places and times. I gots me a Honer in the key of A just for kicks. By around 10:30am we made it to the Mermaid to find out they didn’t serve food till 11:00am so we had Irish Coffees at the bar and waited. Discussions once again turned to things artistic (and I don’t remember specifically what about but…) Fergus and I pretty much shut Seamus down as he was still really from the cabby. Now this is when you really get and idea for how this trip was going to go for Seamus. The bar tender who’d been listening with passing interest leans into our conversation and says (indicating Seamus) “He’s not particularly artistic is he?” Fergus and I about fell off our stools laughing at this. Hired help 2, Seamus 0. Seamus was feeling pretty poorly, and probably picked on as well, and so he hopped a cab back to the hotel. Fergus and I did the touristy area of the wharf just for kicks. About the fourth discount camera shop from the Mermaid, I got the bright idea that we should get Seamus a shirt that says “Bitch” on it to commemorate the day. This just as we were passing a t-shirt place that by pure chance had a pair of pink short shorts with “bitch” across the butt. We were kind of afraid he might model them for us so we went back to the t-shirt idea. Just then, as it always does with 3dc luck, the crack head working there says; “All our stuff is blank and you can pick what ever you want on it.” So we asked “Can we get a t-shirt that says “Bitch” on it?” After perusing the not inconsiderable selection of men’s t-shirts and considering a baby-doll T, we spotted an Alcatraz type with white and black stripes and had a bright read “Bitch” put on square in the chest of it. Hey, what are friends for? We then got rained on and checked out Pier 33 and caught a cab back to the hotel for naps. By the way, just because it’s $6.50 to get from your hotel doesn’t mean it won’t be $9.85 to get back. Not quite sure how the math works there, but both we two and Seamus ended up with the same return rate. Go figure. We of course woke Seamus up to give him his present and proceeded to try to take a nap around the three of us getting a case of the giggles.
We awoke with just enough time to get a quick dinner at the Bank and head over to the Speak Easy party Fergus wanted us to crash. We walked up a large hill and down the side of the same hill to the crank hoe section of town. (It must have been because I swear I’ve never seen so many cheap drugged out looking ladies of the late afternoon anywhere.) The Speak Easy was conspicuously inconspicuous. Seriously… It was a windowless plain gray short building trimmed in black, with a sign on the corner declaring it to be the San Francisco Sobriety Society or some such nonsense and a plain black door with a push button intercom next to it. You push the button and say the password; “rain-pitchforks” I think it was. Well, it wasn’t quite ready for us so we were determined to get a drink someplace and so we kept walking down the hill. We ended up at a “dive” bar, in the most cliché’ sense of the term, down the hill another block. Mind you this was after deftly avoiding the comedy performance put on by the Crack Worlds version of Laurel and Hardy. These poor fellows were fumbling with and then trying to recover something they dropped out of a plastic bag and were very concerned about getting every last little bit back into said bag as well as politely telling the aged prostitute in the shockingly short mini-skirt and fake fur bolero coat to piss off. This was not a “good” part of town to be sure. We considered leaving the area all together and just meeting up with James rather than rerunning the crack hoe gauntlet again, but Fergus would have none of it and so after a drink or three, we walked back up the hill to the party. On the way up the hill we ran into another strung out woman. This one in her best Chiquita Banana outfit who said to us, and I quote; “Farmers don’t play.” and staggered further down the hill. “Farmers don’t play.” There is something existentially metaphysical about that sentence. We could hardly stop laughing about it as we gave up the password and were shuttled into the bar, passed the main dining area and then through a secret bookcase into the back room. It was neat enough, a bit crowded and also I finally got to try a “Blood and Sand”. Search SingleMalt.TV for the recipe if you’d like. It was pretty good as cocktails go. We finished our drinks and got the hell out of Dodge heading the rest of the way down the hill out of the crank section of town to the Palace Hotel so we could meet up with James who knew a good bar just across the street as the hotel bar was packed. The bar across the street was packed, as was the “House of Shields” and every other bar we walked to. We ended up in a really neat bar with vintage motorcycles hanging all over the ceiling and western guns in cases along the back wall. What six shooters and 1940s Triumphs have in common, other than being in this one bar, I don’t think I’ll ever know. More drinks were had, good conversation as well, and time passed all too quickly as we then needed to get back to the Palace for the Grand Tasting.
This event was the usual chaos getting in with Fergus being a dram club member getting in about ½ an hour before we did. Fist dram of the night was the Tomintoul 16, followed by the dram of the event, for me anyway, the 27. All the apricoty goodness you’d expect from a Speyside and with a long story to boot. A little on the thin side, but it had the best taste of the night. We were a little short on time, given the block long line to get in, so we headed right up to the classes to find Ian Millar’s class. (http://www.blog.glenfiddich.com/ian-millar.html)
The concept of this class was to let us sample all the single barrel drams that were blended together to make the single malt Solera 15. Also we had the unusual opportunity in this class to sample pure spirit or “new mix spirit” straight from Glenfidich’s copper still. Not something I’d drink regularly though it was much smoother than I’d expected at 63.5% alcohol by volume. Kind of spicy (nutmeg, vanilla and the like) mostly with a curt finish and simple story. Next came the 15 year American oak with lots of sweet vanilla tastes but smelling a little heavy on the iodine. Our third course was another 15 American oak, this time finished for 4 months in new American oak for that extra honey and vanilla with a bit of a burn to it. Forth was a 15 in Sherry oak which was dry and full of strong sherry. Lastly we had the fully blended product of the last three, the Solara. Mind you, after being forced to sing the Solara song, which if you know me wasn’t much of a chore. Seamus whimped out claiming he didn’t know the tune. Must have been an artistic ditty or something. The Solara 15 was sweet on the nose with notes of sherry and vanilla, very oakey on the tongue with a leisurely finish again with the Sherry. It’s amazing how potent the sherry is in overwhelming the other two casks to become the dominant theme of the finished malt.
I hit most of the rest of the grand tasting. Highlights being the Glenfidich 21, which Ian seemed more proud of than the Balvenie 21. Kind of figures if you think on it rationally. Seamus would be too prejudiced to make the true artistic call here so you’ll just have to take my word for it. Another highlight was the Bulleit Bourbon – Frontier Whiskey which really drank more like a rye than traditional Bourbon. Even Seamus and Fergus had to admit they liked it. Yea you heard it, these two “No, never a Bourbon” Neanderthals finally found an American whiskey they liked. It didn’t hurt that Dirt had us try it and that the creator, Tom I think was his name, was right there and just our kind of people. Despite Tom and Dirt insisting on us trying ice in the dram, we decided to like them anyway. By the way, like it or not, the whiskey was better and more refined without the ice. Tom may have made the dram, but that doesn’t mean he gets to dictate how I enjoy it. He was definitely in concurrence with that sentiment. We had a few last drams including some Apple based distillation that you could tell came from Washington State buy the taste of it and stumbled, drunk, back up the hill to the Bank. (Noticing a theme here regarding the Irish Bank?) The best of the night still ended up being the second dram I had.
Arriving at the Bank we laid out for our favorite bar staff in the world, 6 of the best the show had to offer in 6 wee little 1.5 oz flasks Fergus and I had the foresight to bring along to sneak tastes out in. Needless to say, this went over well at the bank. For the first time this trip, I was well and truly lit. So much so that at one point I was taking confessions in the little confessional booth at the side of the bar. Hell, I’m not even Catholic but I’ve seen Boondock Saints enough times to know the routine. I gave up the ghost before the boys, and promising not to wake them up in the morning this time, stumbled across the alley and up the steep ass stairs to our artsy, if unfinished, room to slumber away on my surprisingly comfy roll-a-way bed. Seamus and Fergus followed shortly after.
Our last day was not particularly whiskey related. We woke late, had breakfast at Lori’s Diner, met up with James at SFMOMA and saw some art. Had another spectacular Indian meal at Kennedy’s Irish Pub (No kidding, you got to try this place out.) We ended out the trip by taking the 5:00pm Dublin BART back to the Airport with Fergus and flew on home. Seamus and I had a few drinks while we waited for our flight and reminisced on the trip. A good, solid, way to end a the weekend I’d say.
Thanks guys for doing the trip with me again this year. I hope it’s not our last.
The alarm buzzed at 4:15 am on Friday, April 13th, 2007. I hadn’t much sleep from the night before, but I knew that wouldn’t matter much; I was going to be high on excitement and anticipation the rest of the day. Today was the day I joined my compatriots in whiskies and flew up to San Francisco for the annual Whiskies of the World exposition. We had attended last year, and had decided before that event was even over that we would be returning this year for more!And return we did. The flight up was uneventful. Raz and I got in to Oakland around 8.30am and found ourselves on the B.A.R.T light rail heading into the city soon after we touched down (Fergus was to meet up with us later once we was able to leave work). We emerged form the subway somewhere around the Montgomery exit, and began to get our bearings in the City. While it was still very early, and we knew we wouldn’t be able to check-in quite yet, we still made our way to our hotel to drop off our luggage.
With no responsibilities for the day, Raz and I decide it is time for a drink, and begin walking around the city. We found ourselves in Chinatown quite quickly, as the gates to Chinatown were less that a block from our hotel, and continued on that path, as it was interesting and we had no cares in the world. To our surprise, as we are entering the tip of North Beach, I get a call from Fergus who indicates that he is on his way into the city, much earlier than Raz and I had anticipated. With Fergus’ imminent arrival, Raz and I make our way down to the Montgomery B.A.R.T. station to meet up with our friend, only to find a nice small sushi place which had just opened for the day.
Taking a break from walking, we sit down to a nice sushi lunch and some Oolong tea…. apparently we were thirsty. Four cans of Oolong later, and we were finally beginning to feel human. Of course this is just about the time I get another call from Fergus telling me he just left work, and would be in the city within an hour, so Raz and I opt to head back to the Irish Bank pub for drinks, which just so happened to be next door to our hotel! Soon after, Fergus showed up and the fun really began. And this is where our photos begin… (click on the image to get to the full album from the trip):
We grabbed a bite of lunch, and headed into the hotel to try our hand at checkin once more… but of course we were still a bit too early, which left us back wandering the streets of Chinatown. In typical 3 Drunken Celts fashion, we find ourselves admiring some architectural facades, only to realize it is the entrance to a local bar. Of course we have to stop in for a drink now. I’ll tell you, that bartender saw us coming a mile away. She made her “special Chinese Mai Tai” and charged us out the ass for them. Oh well, it was worth the fun, and after all this WAS intended to be a drunken debauchery kind of weekend. Not wanting to spend too much time there, we opted to finish our drinks and leave so we could go checkin, get unpacked, and moving on to the next bar.
We made our way back to the hotel and finally were able to checkin and get our room assignment. Due to a small mixup, we got a room that was a bit cramped for 3 guys, but we made it work none-the-less (and were taken care of on checkout as an apology). The room was pretty darn cool:
Even better was the work being done on the outside “courtyard” area:
One of the artists had been given free range on the walls in the courtyard. What you see above is probably on 1/3 complete. I think we’ll need to return to see the completed project!
The three of us got settled in an unpacked just in time to get back out to the city and start walking again. This time, however, we were walking on a mission: we needed to get to Bourbon & Branch for cocktail hour before the big whisky pairing dinner later in the evening. We seemed to have misjudged our timing a bit, so we ended up at a bar just down the street for a bout half an hour. On our way back up to B&B, Raz encountered one of his funniest moments for the weekend.. a passerby stopped, looked Raz in the eye as he was walking and exclaimed “FARMERS DON’T PLAY!”, then continued on down the street. Really, what more could be said?
Bourbon & Branch is setup, mildly speaking, like a Speak Easy. I say mildly since there is a huge ANTI-Spirits league sign at the door. Not exactly subtle in my opinion. Upon speaking the appropriate password at the front door (“rain-pitchforks”, seriously, wtf???) we were escorted into the library at the rear of the main bar. I have to say, the mixed drinks on the special menu (using many Compass Box whiskies) were good, but nothing to write home about. So I’ll stop here and continue on with the rest of the weekend…
We ejected ourselves from the library, by way of the door to the street, since the door we came in from had no handle on the inside to return to the main bar. This was all fine and good since we were heading down towards the Palace Hotel anyways to meet up with my friend James for more drinks. Unfortunately, we only had about an hour with James once we found a bar with enough room for the 4 of us. Two drinks down, and we said our goodbyes as the 3DC headed back to the Palace for the night’s Whisky Pairing dinner as put on by John Glaser of Compass Box Whisky.
Because Fergus is a member of Rhiannon’s “Dram Club” on www.celticmalts.com, he was privy to an invitation to the dinner. Naturally, he asked if Raz and I could join in (not being dram Club members), and luckily we were allowed to tag along. Mind you this wasn’t a free dinner, but rather a 5 course whisky pairing to challenge any great restaurant’s vintner’s dinners, which came with an appropriate price tag of $115 per person. So, as long as we paid, we were welcome to obtain a reservation. Thank the stars we did. This dinner rivaled some of the best I have had. I happened to squirrel away the menu, as I knew I would need it for reference later, and I was sorely right.
The menu for the evening was as follows:
Starter, paired with Compass Box “Oak Cross” Arugula and French breakfast radish with malt vinaigrette & Seared scallop served over Marscapone polenta, pomegranite sticky, melon
Entree’ Selection paired with Compass Box “Peat Monster”, as well as 2004 SageCliffe Merlot, Columbia Valley, Washington Sous Vide Venison with water chestnut puree and brussel sprouts with cherry bacon vinaigrette & Roasted breast of Duck with an orange mapel glaze, pancetta mashed potatoes and sauteed beet greens
Dessert paired with Compass Box “Hedonism” and Compass Box “Flaming Heart” Cowgirl Creamery ricotta cheese cake with quince jam, Korean basil seeds and pear crisp
Yes, you can be envious now… I’ll wait…… There, all better now? good. Let us continue….
All in all, a wonderful dinner. My personal favourite of the evening was the Compass Box “Flaming Heart”, which has not been released as yet. This was an astounding dram which I will need to obtain at least one bottle of for personal enjoyment. Complex, but refined. “Oak Cross” was an amazing dram as well, which contrary to the name was not overly saturated with Oak, but rather held a pleasant balance of oak making it a very drinkable whisky.
At the end of dinner, there happened to be a full bottle of the SageCliffe Merlot on the table. You see we had all been poured a glass during dinner, and then a new bottle had been placed on the table for anyone desiring more. Well, after 4 glasses of whisky and a glass of wine during dinner, not many people were clamoring for more wine. Somehow, the bottle made it into Fergus’ jacket…. mind you we asked John Glaser at the end of the evening if it was okay, and he replied, “I think Rusty would be offended if you DIDN’T steal this bottle!”. So like good little drunks, we walked out with an unreleased merlot provided by the winemaker, Rusty Figgins. (It should be noted that we got to enjoy Rusty’s company the day after, and while initially concerned, he soon came to understand and was okay with our bit of shenanigans that evening.)
So here is a great photo of Fergus pouring a glass of wine while we walk the streets of San Francisco back to the Irish Bank:
Back at the Irish Bank, we greet the bartenders working, and pour a glass of the merlot for them. That started the decline for me… my last memory is drinking an irish coffee, then moving back onto whiskies. At some point Raz excused himself since he had a fairly bad migraine, and Fergus and I continued into the night drinking away. We finally hot the wall and returned to our room around 1:30am in a giddily drunk state, much to Raz’ chagrin. It seems we kept him up for another hour with giggle fits and a light-show at one point, though I am a bit hazy on the actual duration and sequence of events at that point. Suffice to say, Raz got us back in the morning….
Next Up… Retaliation, Seamus is an artless lying bitch, someone drops an “h”, and the main event of the weekend.