Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Florida, Day 2

Day 2 started off with some fishing from the beach, between passing rainstorms. Aside from that, the day primarily revolved around preparing my presentation for the evening’s scotch dinner.

Over the summer my father and I put together a scotch tasting (8 single malts, each from a different distillery we had visited) and a show of photos from our trip, for a small group of friends and family. I spent quite a bit of time editing nearly 1500 pictures down to 500, but beyond that and arranging the scotches in a logical order, there really was no advanced preparation for the presentation; it was just a casual narrative of the images, with my father and I recounting tales of our grand whisky adventure.

While that evening served as a model for the task at hand, this event had to be taken much more seriously; I couldn’t just “wing it”. I was the invited guest of the resort’s management, and had been brought there with the expectation of putting together a very special event for their members, an audience that would not easily be impressed.

Preparations had actually begun a month or two in advance, with the work of selecting the four scotches for the evening. I was given lists from a few wholesalers and a budget to stay within. The first hurdle came when I was told that there would be one drink during a reception with cigars, followed by the other three selections with dinner. Heavily peated single malts and cigars go hand in hand, but the proper way to taste through a series of whiskies is to start soft and light, then work up to the most pungent heavy hitters. I voiced my concerns, but had to forge ahead while waiting to see if the order of the evening could be amended.

I put together three groupings, two for cigars at the start and one if they could be moved to the end. The first option was a gustatory tour through the less well known of the most heavily peated single malts (in no particular order):

Ledaig 10 yr
Longrow 10 yr or CV
Caol Ila 12 yr
Kilchoman (specific selection dependent on availability)

The second option started with a more mature offering from the smoky end of the spectrum, then backed off the peat but maintained robust flavor profiles:

Talisker 18
Oban Distiller's Edition
Glen Grant 10 yr
Cragganmore Distiler's Edition

And, if the cigars were moved to the end of the evening:

Auchentoshan 12 yr
Aberlour 16 yr
Dalmore 12 yr
Talisker Distiller's Edition

A few days after submitting my proposed options, I learned that the cigars would indeed go with the last whisky. But a few more adjustments were necessary when I learned that the first three whiskies would be served during the reception, with the appetizer and with the entre, rather than being paired with the appetizer, entre and dessert, as I had originally thought. With that in mind, I decided to change the Dalmore 12 yr to Cragganmore Distiller’s Edition. That put me over budget, so I changed the Aberlour from 16 yr to 12 yr. Then I found out that the Cragganmore DE was unavailable. After pondering the options, I decided that Oban DE would be a suitable substitution, making the final lineup:

Auchentoshan 12 yr
Aberlour 12 yr
Oban Distiller's Edition
Talisker Distiller's Edition

As much time and effort as it took to come up with the final selection, that was actually the easy part. Now I had to figure out what to say; and just a critical was how much to say. It would seem logical to base my talk on subjects I had covered here in the blog, but my audience was comprised of a group of people who had been receiving my posts as part of a weekly email newsletter – a regurgitation of my recent writings just wasn’t going to cut it.

I needed something original, and that came to me in the form of a book that I had just finished reading. I was inspired by a passage from this whisky based novel (a review is in the works) and that would be my opening toast.

Perhaps I’m a master of procrastination, or a man cursed with poor time management skills, or I subconsciously know that I do my best work under pressure and purposely put myself in these situations; however you look at it, I had little more than an opening quote with a few scant hours left before the big event. I was even still vacillating on whether or not to incorporate a slide show into my presentation.

I would have to talk about each whisky briefly (flavor profile, region / distillery location, production methods). I decided to leave the talks for the second and third selections at that, and not disrupt my audience’s dinner.

With the first course, I could continue on with tales of some of the wonderful people I met in Scotland and the conversations I had with them. This would allow me to segue into the story of my discovery of the novel I had just finished, which would lead to the quote / toast to open the evening.

I made a last minute decision to go with the slideshow, and running perilously low on prep time, I rapidly edited 500 images (from the above-mentioned family event) down to 120. My last page of notes was barely legible, but it was time to go.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say I was nervous, but I was certainly feeling a tremendous amount of pressure to put on a good performance and impress my guests. I opened well. What was essentially a keynote speech was engaging and drew people in, not to mention being of an appropriate duration. The second and third talks were informative but concise. However, I do have to admit that between a slightly longer talk about the fourth whisky and getting drawn off on a few tangents by my own slide show, I did get a little long winded at the end. But I could see that I was starting to lose my audience, and I really cranked up the pace for the last 30 or so images.

The whiskies were also well received, with the Aberlour garnering the most positive feedback. The Auchentoshan may have even converted a few vodka drinkers that were in the crowd.

Overall, the evening was a complete success, and there was even some talk among the members of turning it into an annual event!

It was nice to always have a glass of single malt close at hand during my presentation, but I did far more talking than drinking. However, at the end of the evening I was able to sit down by myself and unwind with a whisky. I decided to try something I’d never had before and put together proper tasting notes.

Glenkinchie is one of the three Lowland single malts that is currently in production and commercially available. The distillery dates to 1825, and lies in the countryside just east of Edinburgh.

Glenkinchie 12 year, 43% abv. The nose is elevated, malt, floral, grassy. It reminds me of bees and pollen. The palate is on the light side of medium, fresh cut grass with a little malt. Picks up intensity as it moves into the finish, unfortunately that intensity comes as heat rather than flavor. It goes out of balance toward the end, turning hot. Lonely grassy notes are the last man standing after everything else fades away. Not bad, but not great.

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