The Gospels according to Seamus; Chapter the Fifth- Pilgrimage to the southern lands (Whiskies of the World, 2010)

As it were, Seamus and Siobhan (heretofore hence referred to as Jason and Jean) awoke at a decent hour and prepared for their journey south to the lands of sourdough and fog. Arriving at the port early enough to enjoy the first meal of the day, we sat ourselves at our favourite bar within the confines of the secured areas, and made our orders of 2 bloody marys, eggs hash and toast, and a hot pastrami on rye. Yes, dear readers, the trip did indeed start with just a hint of the hedonism to come.

A quick 3 hours later, and we were on the ground in San Francisco having met up with Kevin and Margaret, and rushing to join with Raz and Maggie whom had already boarded BART due to some mild confusion. As it is with all 3DC, luck prevailed and we met up just in time for the ride into the city from SFO. We made it to our hotel and checked in with relative ease, and then began our yearly tradition of making the Irish Bank our home for the weekend; first and foremost Irish coffees, then onto ordering lunch!

Friday saw the arrival of most of our group in various waves, each resulting in loud exclamations and toasts to friends. Suffice to say, we never really made it out of the Bank Friday night; as far as we got was the sushi restaurant at the end of the alley where the Bank is located, where we ate, and drank, and then headed back to the Bank for more drinks. Yes, this is indeed typical of every Friday night the 3DC have enjoyed during the Whiskies of the World trips in years past. Be careful, though, if any of you ever dare to join us, as Saturday mornings come very quickly and can be quite painful if you are ill prepared.

This particular Saturday morn, I opted to sleep in a bit whilst my lovely wife ran around the Ferry Building with the small group of 3DC that were able to make it out for a late breakfast. I later caught up with part of the group at Pier 39, as they had wanted to do some of the touristy bits of the City. A quick jaunt to Fisherman’s wharf later, and we met up with the rest of the earlier morning crew and headed up to Ghiradelli Square, and then over to Tiernan’s pub since the Buena Vista opted to ignore Raz’ attempts to get us a table.

In no time at all, we noted that the day had gotten away from us and so we taxied our way back to the hotels to dress for dinner and the Whiskies of the World Grand Tasting…  As we accumulated in the lobby bar of the Hotel King George, I couldn’t help but notice our entire group was simply stunning in their evening attire. I must say, we all do clean up quite nicely indeed! In such an amazing group of people, I truly count myself lucky to call each and every person who came out for this trip a friend.

Yes, I AM rushing in order to get to the meat of this post, which is what I know you all care about; my notes on the Whiskies of the World 2010 expo…

Overall, the tasting was enjoyable for me as I found a large number of new drams which I’d not had opportunity to taste previously. That said, there were a number of issues right from the start that tempered any glowing review of the night:

First and foremost was the inefficiency of how the entrance to the tasting hall was run. As VIP ticket holders Jean and I were slotted in the second wave of entrances, the first being for Dram Club members at 5pm. Our tickets indicated entrance at 5:15pm, which in reality was 5:45 due to the serialized nature of the check-in desk and how ticket holders who had not signed their ticket were dealt with (the entire queue waiting as they addressed and signed their tickets). While an annoyance, this alone is nothing I’d be overly irritated with had the rest of the night gone without issue. Sadly, I must tack the inefficiencies of the beginning to the rest of the evening in order to properly impart the impact of the evening.

The other main issue was inside the main hall its self. In years past, the event has been held on a docked paddle boat moored to one of the piers in the bay. This location, while admittedly a tad odd, has always been excellent as the boat provided for 2 full floors of tasting space, a full floor of tables and chairs for the dining buffet, and a top deck for cigars and views over the bay. This year, the tasting was moved to the Hotel Nikko and hosted in a 3rd floor gala/event room. Unfortunately, the change in location also seemed to bring with it a shift in the available space for the event, as it was now pared down to a single room where the aisles between tables were more compact and difficult to navigate with the number of attendees present. While prior years have always allowed for decent conversation between the reps and participants, this year the conversations were much more difficult do to the volume in the room and the difficulties in getting up to the tables for a pour in the first place.

For many of you who know me in person, you are all likely cringing at the thought of seeing me in such an environment, as I am typically not comfortable in situations with substantial crowds. Oddly enough, after the first five minutes and down my first taste, I found a rhythm to the madness and went with it. I had my focus, and was able to adjust my expectations and work differently to obtain my desired results; which is to say I put on my big boy underpants and sucked it up. Of our entire group, I can assure you I was the last person you heard complain about the crowds… a very rare occasion indeed! I have each and every one of you to thank for that, as it was my mission to sample and note each dram I tasted in order to come back to you with my thoughts on the night; that gave me the mission I needed to get me through the evening unscathed.

With that, I present to you my admittedly sparse and simple tasting notes from the evening. While I say that the crowds didn’t bother me much, that is obvious from the notes I took, that I was simply kidding myself. As you will see below, my ability to accurately and clearly define the various whiskies I tasted suffered badly Saturday evening, and not from an abundance of alcohol. Rather my ability to pause and really focus on the whiskies was substantially reduced by the noise and crowded pathways. (Ok ok, that was a long and verbose caveat to basically say “I know my notes here suck, but they are all I have, so deal with it… it wasn’t MY fault I swear!”)

Each table below reflects a single bottle from the night. The numbered ratings are on a 1-5 scale, 1 being less, 5 being more, and the letter grade is on a typical A-F scale with A being the top mark (all of which is explained in the foreword of the 3 Drunken Celts (blank forms to fill out) tasting notebooks available here):

.

Bottle: Tomintoul 27yr
Nose: Iodine, complete lack of oak.
Flavour: Soft, mild oak with a slight charred note followed by subtle spice
Finish: Clean, vanishes, then returns with spice again, finishes with a bite reminiscent of a cask strength bottling.
Viscosity: 2
Boldness: 2
Length of Story: 2
Personal Taste: B

.

Bottle: Tomintoul 31yr
Nose: Spice and caramel sweetness
Flavour: Soft and chewy, with mild oak moving into caramel
Finish: Starts the finish harshly, but evens out into caramel
Viscosity: 3
Boldness: 3
Length of Story: 2
Personal Taste: B-

.

Bottle: Suntory Hibiki 12yr
Nose: SPICE!
Flavour: More spice and moving into heavy caramel sweetness
Finish: Short finish that ceases nearly abruptly. Simple, lacks complexity
Viscosity: 3
Boldness: 4
Length of Story: 3
Personal Taste: C

.

Bottle: Eades Double Malt, Speyside
Nose: Apricot and slight iodine
Flavour: Fruity moving into hard oak
Finish: Alcohol finish, not too complex but yet still has some interesting notes
Viscosity: 4
Boldness: 4
Length of Story: 3
Personal Taste: B-

.

Bottle: Benromach “Organic”
Nose: Stringent with mild iodine hints
Flavour: Earthy peatiness, a bit challenging for my palette
Finish: Peat moving into a long oaky finish.
Viscosity: 5
Boldness: 4
Length of Story: 4.5
Personal Taste: C+

.

Bottle: Glenmorangie “Nectar D’Or”
Nose: Orange, but not citrusy, caramel sweetness
Flavour: Fruitiness followed by medium oak. Good, but pedestrian.
Finish: Same as the nose, but followed by more oak.
Viscosity: 3
Boldness: 3
Length of Story: 4
Personal Taste: B

.

Bottle: Sheep Dip 1990
Nose: Smoke and iodine
Flavour: Caramel with iodine and smoke
Finish: Reminiscent of an Ardbeg smokey finish.
Viscosity: 5
Boldness: 3
Length of Story: 3
Personal Taste: C+

.

Bottle: Wild Geese Irish Soldiers and Heroes, “Limited Edition”
Nose: Sweet with a mild spice
Flavour: -Very- cloyingly sweet, nearly like a brandy, nearly tastes/feels like there is added sugar
Finish: Soft with lingering brown sugar
Viscosity: 2.5
Boldness: 2
Length of Story: 2
Personal Taste: B

.

Bottle: Compass Box Oak Cross
Nose: Iodine into oak, of course
Flavour: Caramel into oak as expected
Finish: Mild and soft oakyness that vanishes
Viscosity: 3
Boldness: 3
Length of Story: 3
Personal Taste: B+

.

Bottle: Compass Box Spice Tree (2010 formulation)
Nose: Ethereal mild notes of oak covered in hints of spce
Flavour: Iodine and peat with a mild hint of smokiness
Finish: Peat into smoke reminiscent of a Caol Ila and then back into a slight iodine on the end
Viscosity: 3
Boldness: 3
Length of Story: 4
Personal Taste: B+/A-

.

Bottle: Compass Box Hedonism
Nose: Spice and ginger love
Flavour: Caramel chewy but with a spicy cardamom note
Finish: Sweetness and love all over.
Viscosity: 4
Boldness: 3
Length of Story: 3
Personal Taste: A

.

Bottle: Bruichladdich 1998
Nose: Iodine and sherry?
Flavour: Oak sherry cask or port cask finish? Holds a speyside sweetness
Finish: Sweet sweet love, not what I expect from an islay!
Viscosity: 4
Boldness: 4
Length of Story: 4
Personal Taste: A+ (top of the night)

.

Bottle: Edradour 12yr Caledonia
Nose: Smoke and peatiness
Flavour: Caramel into a soft peat, drop of water blooms into much more oak
Finish: Peat followed into smoke and then complex oak.
Viscosity: 4
Boldness: 4
Length of Story: 3.25
Personal Taste: B

.

Bottle: Bushmill’s 21yr
Nose: Smooth sweet Irish
Flavour: Small peatiness then into the expected sweet
Finish: Simple but tasty oak
Viscosity: 3
Boldness: 3.5
Length of Story: 3
Personal Taste: B-

.

Bottle: Dry Fly “Washington Wheat Whiskey”
Nose: Oddly sweet, tough to place
Flavour: Vanilla oak and grass, distinct wheat note
Finish: Mild caramel and more grass
Viscosity: 2
Boldness: 3
Length of Story: 2.75
Personal Taste: B-

.

Bottle: Dry Fly Gin
Nose: Citrus and juniper
Flavour: Complex botanicals with a hint of apple
Finish: Clean and spicy, complex for a gin
Viscosity: x none noted x
Boldness: x none noted x
Length of Story: x none noted x
Personal Taste: x none noted x

.

Bottle: Bruichladdich 12yr
Nose: Iodine and brine, expected of a typical islay
Flavour: Smoke and brine
Finish: More brine, but a surprise finish into sweetness
Viscosity: 3.5
Boldness: 4
Length of Story: 3
Personal Taste: C+/B-

.

Yes, my total count of drams between 5:30pm and 9pm when Jean and I left  is indeed 17. Though not quite sober when I left, I can also assure you I was in no way drunk, and in fact moseyed back to our room, showered, and returned to the Irish Bank for more drinks to finish out the night as we always do.

Back at the Bank, we finished out the evening with Robin Robinson, the US Brand Ambassador for Compass Box Whiskies, and new friend of the 3DC, since John was unable to make the expo this year. Regrettably, I was sat in the corner and didn’t have as much opportunity to chat up Robin as Raz did, though I am sure quite the impression was made. I can only hope John had warned Robin of what he may be in store for if he befriended us… otherwise i think we may have scared him 😉

As one round of our group finished off and started heading back to the hotels, another round of the group arrived and the night continued on with the singing of Irish drinking tunes, as we are so often wont to do. By the end of the night, I am happy to say that the negative comments about the tasting had begun to dwindle and shift into an overall enjoyment once again (albeit still tempered by the logistic issues of the actual tasting) and the night ended on a higher note than when it had begun. All in all, ti was yet another successful year for the 3DC at Whiskies of the World!

Sunday morning, as you’d expect, came far too early again, though this time I was at least awake enough to head out to a late breakfast, and weaseled my way into a table next to Raz, Maggie, Cat, and Dave who were just finishing up. It has GOT to be 3DC luck, because there is no way I could have charmed the hostess enough to convince her to let Kevin, Margaret, Jena and I have the newly emptied table next to our friends at 10am on a Sunday morning in the middle of the City! The luck, we have it!

Newly sated, the two groups made our way over to China town for more touristy things, and ended up at a tea shop, as we did last year. Seems the whole group really enjoyed it and the tea perked us all up after breakfast and the activities from the night before. Of course it didn’t take long for us to completely undo the good from the tea, as we found ourselves in another bar whiling away the time until more friends could meet up with us; and well, we just HAD to have some drinks! By the time everyone met up with us, we were nicely inebriated and headed back outside to brave the hills of China town on our way to the Irish Bank once again…

Since Kevin and Margaret, Jean and I had dinner reservations at 6:15pm Sunday night, we bailed out from the Bank a bit early, went back to our hotels t change into nicer clothes once again, and then hitched a cab down to The Boulevard. I’ve been there before, and expected it to be great, but I had no idea what we were all in store for that evening.

We started off with a round of cocktails as we perused the menu… then onto a bottle of Champagne which we had intended as our dinner drinks; that is until Kevin asked the waitress if there was a tasting menu available, and if not, would the chefs be up to making one for us. (As an aside here, Jean and I adore tasting menus and order whenever it is an option, but sadly I have never thought to ask when it wasn’t already presented as an option… I have learned my lesson!) Our waitress left to ask, and returned from the kitchen with a very affirmative answer, so we were well on our way to an outstanding night. She then returned again, having realized that we may want wine pairings with the tasting menu, to which we heartily replied nearly in unison with a resounding yes!

Over the next 4 hours we were treated to 6 courses (and paired wines) loosely built around their current menu offerings. From my recollection this included lamb, duck, scallops, foie gras, various cheeses, and a multitude of other items that have been lost in the annals of time and inebriation; as it was an off- menu tasting, I have no printed menu to assist my memory of the dinner here. What I CAN tell you all, is that each course was amazingly crafted and presented, and the sommelier paired the wines with a level of deft skill and thought that we found ourselves commenting on each presentation as to how we’d never have chosen those particular wines but that they worked so very well when paired with the various courses, the mark of a truly great sommelier! Finishing off dinner with some coffee and a single scotch between us, you couldn’t wipe the gluttonous and hedonistic smiles from our faces. Sitting back at the table, it occurred to me that this dinner had skyrocketed its way up into the top 5 dinners I have ever had… and believe you me, that top 5 spot is quite crowded nowadays!

After dinner we dropped Jean off at the hotel where we met up with Raz and Maggie, and headed over to Foley’s to finish out the night with a few more drinks, as none of us seemed in the mood to turn in yet; a classic example of pushing out the enjoyment of the weekend as long as possible before returning back to real life the next day.

Monday morning came without much issue, though we were running a bit behind… The hangovers really didn’t hit us until we were sitting in the terminal at SFO where it was unreasonably warm for both Jean and me. Mid-flight, we hit a big pocket of turbulence which really put those hangovers to the test, but luckily it was short lived, and by the time we were on the ground in PDX and more importantly in the cool air, all was right with the world again.

Looking back on the trip with just over a week in between now, I once again am finding myself with fond memories of the tasting, and the surrounding weekend as a whole. While this recent trip had a decidedly different feel to it than years past, it still retained the overall impression that i have come to love and crave year after year: true friends, joining together from far and wide, with one goal… to enjoy themselves to the fullest. To that end, we succeeded my friends, and each and every one of you is responsible for that. As we say when we are inducting new members: “there are no benefits, only consequences…”, but I am here to tell you, there really ARE benefits; I am far richer for being able to call you all my friends! THAT is exactly why Raz started this odd little grouping of people,  regardless of what he may tell you 😉 It isn’t the whiskies that keep us going, it is indeed the friendships we’ve built because of them! Thank you one and all!

-Seamus/Jason
p.s. Photos soon to be uploaded to the Photo page here once I have an opportunity to collate and organize, etc.


One Response to The Gospels according to Seamus; Chapter the Fifth- Pilgrimage to the southern lands (Whiskies of the World, 2010)

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