Johnnie Walker – Journey of Taste – Raz

Well, again we’ve proven that is good to be 3DC. Dirt gave Seamus a ring. (If you don’t know who Dirt is, please read up on our Whiskies of the World trip 2006. Long story short, he’s our local Talisker rep here is SoCal.) Dirt offers us comp tickets to the Johnnie Walker Journey of Taste 2007 event. (We may still be able to get you a seat, it runs through next Friday if you’re in LA but please let Seamus know ASAP.) Seamus and I do some quick negotiating with the wives and decide on Thursday night at the second showing so we can see Dirt and thank him in personally. This, as our luck seem to always have it was a good choice indeed. As it turned out we picked the one VIP special presentation for a local Latino rag. It was “tu Ciudad” if memory serves and it does cause I got really drunk so my memory is of course right on target. This was yet another great night to be a mile marker.We start off by making uncommonly good time on the notoriously congested LA freeways, arriving a full hour ahead of time. We found the place and were directed to the parking lot. We walked around the building back to the front gate only to be told that we still had an hour and that the doorman was surprised that we just wanted to go in and wait around. This was after all Hollywood, a place where very few people seem to slow down and appreciate the ambiance of a place. We’re from behind the Orange curtain and so have different tendencies than true Los Angelinos. I mention ambiance because the venue for this event was Jim Henson Studios in West Hollywood and as if the home of Kermit, Fozzy and Beaker wasn’t enough for me at this roughly hundred year old studio lot, before Henson and another production house owned it, this was once Charlie Chaplin Studios. We don’t have much history here in So Cal that doesn’t involve either Conquistadores or Indians, but movie history we got. I’m not much for Hollywood history personally. I grew up here and have seen enough “famous” people to not really give a crap, but seriously, Kermit and Charlie Chaplin. WOW! That set me back a little bit. We went into the courtyard we were supposed to wait in, flashed a quick grin at the bouncer/doorman and hopped the velvet ropes to get to the restrooms (the one with Kermit on it just in case you were wandering. Miss Piggy is on the one for the Ladies.) and proceeded to snoop around. The doormen were all great guys by the way. Of course it didn’t hurt that Seamus and I had our best black suits on with ties to boot. We really looked respectable I guess that was so because we even got bouncers to snap a couple pictures for us around the place. After this we found some comfortable chairs on a mock stoop and waited for the unwashed masses to show up and show up they did.

After the first 20 or so people got in line we slinked up to the queue. Another couple hundred people ended up in that line before they let us all in. We waited our turn at the Walker Girls who each had a nifty little wireless computer, driver’s license scanning, survey giving, cigarette trey looking box hung at their wastes from a leather belt from their necks. At other clubs in Hollywood there’d be a little more strapping on an outfit like that, but that is another story for another time. Our favorite bouncer, whose name I never got much to my disgrace, flags us over to another area so we could pay the mandatory $5 charity donation and then were directed to one of the Walker Girls at the front of the Walker Girl line who was waiting, seemingly specifically, for us to finish with the donation part. This, as it turned out kind of forced us to be put in front of nearly (see below) everyone else who’d lined up ahead of us and making us first in line to get in. See; it pays to be nice to the bouncers, more on that later. We made some whiskey small talk with the Walker Girl checking us in and she confidently told us that “they show us how to drink whisky when we get inside”. (I momentarily didn’t have any words at that one.) At around this point in the evening we see Dirt and flag him over to exchange pleasantries which we do briefly. He shortly sees a, “long on leg – short on skirt”, young lady who seems to know him and so he dumped us like a hot potato and buzzed back further into the masses to see her. Good man Dirt and I won’t tell your wife a thing… OK I need to say that Dirt did nothing unseemly with the Leggy Dame and she left well before we did and Dirt left at the same time we did, so he’s in the clear. I don’t know if Dirt’s wife is the jealous type but I’m not taking any chances here. We like Dirt, he seems to like us and I aim to keep it that way. (As a side note; he did take the Leggy Dame and her entourage right out of line and directly into the bar leaving us back with the unwashed masses waiting in line. I should note that we did get treated very well, but I guess not as good as some. Of course as I pointed out to Seamus at the time, neither of us would have looked nearly half as good as she did in that little dress.) While signing in and making fun of Seamus for being Seamus and Dirt for being Dirt, I caught the approving chuckle of a man named Leroy just behind us in line. There will be more on Leroy later as well. From the people in line, it was fairly apparent that we were not exactly the target audience for the event as a whole. To their credit there was a great mix of people and most seemed rather relaxed. In short a younger and perhaps less sophisticated (read: not so whisky snobbish) crowd than Seamus and I would normally provide. That being said there were a few, grey hairs, in the audience with which we seemed to have shared a few similar reactions with when it came to all the little things going on that most in attendance seemed oblivious of. Things like nearly everyone drinking whisky on the rocks and other misdemeanor drinking infractions. Dirt if you read this, and I hope you do, we gotta talk man. I’m all for “to each his own” and “all is well if you are enjoying your whiskey”, but Dirt you can’t really be one of those “on the rocks” heathens are you? The rat pack died out a long time ago and with it should have died the whisky on the rocks craze, but that might just me being Seamusily judgmental.

The velvet rope was then taken down and we were let loose on the hors d’oeuvres and open cocktail bar with, Black and Red Labels in the well that served as the introduction to the event. We walked right up to the last table on the left right next to the bar set out the virtual flag on it claiming that bit of land in the name of the 3DC and Seamus sauntered on up and ordered our drinks as the less fortunate masses formed the queue behind him. He and I both had our first Johnnie Walker Scotch, in this case the Black Label. Yes, neither of us had actually every had any Johnnie Walker Scotch… ever… of any kind. I’m not sure how this happened. I’ve had well over 130 different whiskies at this point and I’m sure Seamus isn’t much below that number if not even and few above it. Well there it is. The finger foods on the food tables were healthy and tasty, but the ones carried about by the Walker Girls were to die for. I never saw the same gourmet tidbit go by twice and was impress by each one I had. We met up again with Dirt who seemed to have misplaced the leggy dame and he introduced us to a Scot named Ian, whose father is retired from the industry and they’re from Cardhu. (Another side note; Ian went to school with Robbo of JM&R. Small world isn’t it.) Ian is looking at leaving his Engineering job and getting into the Scotch industry like his old man. That’s pretty sweet if you ask me. He wouldn’t fess up to what company he was looking at, but he said he’d let us know if he gets the job. I hope he does, he is a deserving fellow and I’m glad to have met him.

We were then called into the grand room. The opening into the main part of the sound stage (cause it was a sound stage) was back by the door where we came in so we had to shuffle in behind the rest, which was another good thing. See, with the exception of the VIPs from tu Ciudad, every one was filled in “Forced Public School Bussing” style at the far end of the room back towards the door. We were put 2 rows back of the VIPs right in the center of the row. I should set the stage a little bit here. The room was large; I’d say at least 100’ X 100’ and at least 2 stories high. All the walls were curtained out black up to the last 10’ or so. The seating layout was square with 4 banks of around 6 widening rows like little ziggurats pointing together, with 4 isles each from a different corner to the center of the room. The benches we sat on were off white (leather / pleather?) with a lower table built into the back of each so the person sitting behind you had a knee high table with their drams on it. There was a card with five tumbler sized dots on it, splayed artistically off at a rising arc. The first dot had on it a tumbler with Black Label in it, the second was Red Label, the Third empty dot was for Gold Label, the forth had Green Label and the last dot for Blue Label was empty. Yes I said Blue Label. I told you this was a special night to choose. Apparently they don’t normally give out the Blue Label at these things but we are just lucky that way. Also on the wee table was ginger ail, some Pepsi, some ice and some iced water. (This wasn’t going to be like any tasting I’d been to yet.) In the center of the room was the square open area our Walker Ambassador gave his presentation from. A kind of theater in the round but more square. On the walls of the room were 12 large projection screens in banks of 3 well above our heads. They projected video on these as the show went on in between the individual tastings to introduce each label.

Ian sat with us and he and I snipped and snickered during the video presentations and had our own slightly modified tasting from the one that was going on all around us. (Sorry we left you out of all that Seamus but someone had to pay attention to the actual presentation and you were way over there on the right and the Scot was on my left. Plus you got to make fun of me for missing the Jim Murray reference as well.) I could not have wished for better seats.

I’m not going to bore you with all the details of the tasting itself. (And I was drunk so you know I actually remember the details.) Heck it’s a touring show so if you want to go, just sign up on their web site and you’ll likely get invited when they come around. I’ll just go over my impression of the spirits.

1. Black Label; Probably the best of the lot dollar for dollar. Reminded me of a Speyside, but then again, JW uses allot of Cardhu Whiskey so that is no surprise. More smokey than the others with some brine in the finish. Good medium length story. A good everyday drinker. Ian’s dad’s favorite as well with a splash of water and who am I to argue with a pedigree like Ian or his Dad has.

2. Red Label; Now they want you to mix this and to be sure as it was designed to do so it is a really good in that role. I found it good in its own right. Very strong but with good apricoty finish, just like I like. Probably the highest viscosity of the five on offer. On a cold night like we had I’d almost choose it over the Black given the option.

3. Gold. This they committed what to me is a travesty. They served it ice cold. Vodka in the freezer ice cold! This killed the nose and the taste and so really didn’t make much of an impression on me. I ordered some up later and let it warm up to room temp. It nosed pretty good, but was not a particularly memorable dram otherwise with a real short story to tell and thin. (All of which can be hidden by freezing it.)

4. Green Label; now this little dram had a nose on it. Wow, so much fun to smell. G-R-E-E-N! Not just a label color in this case. Kind of smells like cut grass, the legal kind. Rub a little on your hands and it’d be superior to any aftershave out there. That being said, it drinks pretty poorly. Chemical and or iodine on the tongue. I didn’t enjoy the drinking of it, but hey, if you ever order some when I’m around, I’d love to get a good whiff off of yours and maybe steal a drop for behind my ear.

5. Blue Label; By far the best overall of the night and at the price point it should be. A true Speyside nose with pleasant honey and fruit notes. Drinks smooth as silk if a bit thin for a cold night such as it was. Mind you after the 5 drams I’d already had I’m not entirely too sure on the above for accuracy, but I did like this dram. Seamus thought for the $140.00 price point it didn’t compare well to the Middleton Very Rare, but I’m not too sure about that for me. I was really quite impressed with this one and come Summer I may just need a wee dram of it, just to firm up my opinion of it you see? I was also nice that this particular dram was served in a snifter rather than in tumblers as was used on the other four drams. Tumblers = Bad. Don’t forget it.

After the presentation, the next not typical event occurred. Thanks to ‘tu Ciudad’ we were treated to the open bar again, this time with all five labels on the shelf. We of course went right back to the blue. Shortly after this they ran out of the Blue label so next trip I ordered Red Label in a cocktail. I asked the bar tender if they were getting any tips and he said, not really, so I gave him a couple fins. Seamus went back to the Black Label and we went out for some fresh air. Which brings me back to Leroy, he is a great guy and so is his Lady. We met up with them also getting out of the press of people inside. As it turned out while talking to his Lady it was revealed that Leroy and I share the same middle name. Well he’s never liked it and neither have I but I’ve pretty much gotten over it. See his mum named him after a famous actor and my brothers gave me the name so I’d get my ass kicked at school. His mom is also a very nice Lady and felt somehow that I’d vindicated her in her choice of middle name for her son so I, very very drunk at this point, was good with that. I stinks that I forgot her name as she was really grand to talk to. We made sure they knew about the World of Whiskies event in April and we hope they can make it. I’d love to see them again as Leroy and his mom both love a good dram and I love people like that. Well that and they laugh at my jokes and that’s all I really need from friends to feel good about myself. After that Seamus and I were dry again and so we headed back into the bar. By some miracle, the bar tender I’d tipped just a few minutes ago found some more Blue Label and cracked the bottle for us. (Note: Always tip the bar tender especially when the booze is free.) We settled into a table back by the door and watched the girls dance, (especially the facially expressive cute one Fergus should have been there to meet.) Ian found us again at this point and he was a tanked as I was, no small feat, and was trying to tell us stories about his father that we couldn’t really make heads or tails of, not because he had a Scots accent, but because he had a whisky accent at the point and I don’t think his own dad would have recognized the stories. Dirt found us just as the bouncers were herding everyone out because the party was over. They came up to us and started to move Ian out and before Dirt could say a word we looked up at our favorite doorman and said “Was’ up!” He smiled passed our table and pushed everyone else out of the room. It was just us, the DJ and the Walker Girls tearing the table cloths off the tables and cleaning up. We looked around and decided we should really go. Just like the 3DC to close a private party even after the hosts had been kicked out. It’s always good to be 3DC. Being a bit thirsty still before we left I let myself back behind the deserted bar for a couple bottles of water and came back over to the table. (You know in hind site, there were still a couple bottles of blue in a box back there, but I was too drunk to think of it at the time. Damn this drunken memory of mine!) This was when I realize exactly how entirely snorked I still was and how glad I was that Seamus had pretty much stopped drinking some time back so he could drive us home. He seemed no end of amused by me being more drunk that he was, as apparently that is not typical. I’m not sure whether to debate that one with him or not. I’ll let you guys decide. We stumbled out passed the giant Kermit the Frog statue hung on one of the buildings to Seamus’ waiting car and wound our way home through the nearly deserted LA freeways early Friday morning.

A good night we wanted and a good night we had.

Thanks Dirt and thanks Seamus,

-Raz


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