Scotch whisky

I WENT TO A MARVELLOUS PARTY*

A single malted Scot on stage at the Jane Mallett Theatre

A single malted Scot on stage at the Jane Mallett Theatre

On stage at the Jane Mallett Theatre, actors playing a series of Scottish characters introduce us to five rare single malts. We stand and sit around on upended whisky barrels as their stories engage us. It was a marvellous party. 

SCOTCH HFor all the prosy words, stage effects and fog machines that strove to create the atmosphere to take us back to that foggy land where whisky is distilled and matured, it was the spirits themselves that really told the story.

Our genial host introduced the five actors (or perhaps there were less, but in different costumes) who told us about the five selected malts, and then the North American brand ambassador for John Dewar and Sons. As Dewar’s is a division of Bacardi, we might not have been surprised by the fact that the ambassador was an American of Italian descent, from Ohio no less. He was young and bearded with his shirt hanging out and I suppose he appealed to the crowd of young men and women on the stage (men: many with beards, a few with their shirts hanging out, but more in tight Tom Ford suits; women: many with pierced bits, some with their tummies hanging out, some with very high heels).

SCOTCH CFor company, I gravitated towards a lady of a certain age, with Celtic red hair, fair skin and a dash of freckles. Surely, here was an authentic Scot. Yes, and the accent to prove it even after four decades or more in Canada. Her absent husband, she said, was something in the single malt whisky appreciation business, a member of The Companions of The Quaich, and she knew a thing or two about whisky.  I found myself on a couch on the stage with her and the wife of another expert in the whisky business. Stuart, it turns out runs The Scotch Experience and was trained by the master distillers and master blenders at the Cardhu Distillery, in Speyside, for Johnnie Walker. Between us, I imagine, we knew more about single malts than all the smart, young millennials around us.

SCOTCH DTonight’s party was to introduce various groups to five single malts we’d “never heard of.” It was more about quantity than finesse and thank goodness I’d come downtown by Uber. In the lobby, pre-show, we were offered a glass or two or three of a nice Dewar’s 12 year old, perhaps the equivalent blend to Johnny Walker Black, but much less smoky. Fortunately, the canapes came around fast and furious to act as blotting paper in our tummies.

The Dewar’s blends are where most of these whiskies end up, which is why they are relatively unknown, at least to the general public. Now they are being released as a collection of the Last Great Malts of Scotland. Tonight’s event will tell whether the audience finds them great.

SCOTCH EAfter the initial libation, we were summoned into the theatre, where we were scattered around the stage and the show began. Within minutes, serving staff came out with Glencairn whisky glasses with a wee dram of single malt hiding somewhere at the bottom. There was none of the usual instruction on how to appreciate a fine single malts. We chucked it back quickly because more was on the way. Another actor came out with some outrageous Scots story, another round of servers arrived with laden trays, and more single malt was chugged back. After repeating this four more times, I’m sorry to say I had no notion of what subtleties I was looking for in the whiskies. Nor could I have repeated them to anyone else. Thank goodness for Stuart, who was standing at the back of our couch and suggesting what we might be looking for in each serving. And thank goodness when we left, we were handed a little booklet with details of all five malts.

SCOTCH BI’ve given the background to each whisky in my Whisky Yearnings story, so I won’t repeat myself, but here are my brief tasting notes, augmented by the expert’s help.

Aberfeldy 12 years old: I’m told to look for fruit and honey and I find it smooth, medium bodied and a little sweet.

Craigellachie 13 years old: They call the taste stubborn, with a touch of sulphur. I’m not sure this one’s for me.

Aultmore 12 years old: I can almost taste the foggy dew in this spicy single malt with floral notes. A touch of peat.

Deveron 12 years old: I’m suspicious that the bottle boasts a sea-glass finish, hiding what’s inside. I can find hints of toffee and apples, but it’s not as smooth as some of the other offerings.

Royal Brackla 12 years old: Another spicy offering, I find notes of pears and sherry. Delicious.

SCOTCH AAfter the show, we were invited back to the green room, where more serious single malts were on offer. My absolute favourite was the Aultmore 18, sweet and spicy, with some fruity hints to tantalize. Runner up would have to be the Royal Brackla 21, subtle tastes of chocolate and sherry make it a star. If it hadn’t been the last glass of the evening, I might have made it top of my list.

Meanwhile, another audience was being let onto the stage and a third was in the wings waiting their turn. A busy evening for the staff.

I couldn’t have liked it more.

ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHS: Photographed on stage at the Jane Mallett Theatre by Nigel Napier-Andrews on a Blackberry Priv smartphone.

* NÖEL COWARD’S SONG — Here are the lyrics to Nöel Coward’s famous song, published in 1938, and originally performed as part of the review ‘Set to Music.’ It is sometimes called ‘I’ve been to a marvellous party,’ and in some versions, including those performed by Coward himself, the lyrics change minimally. All references to ‘gay’ and ‘queer’ and so on should be taken in context, of course.

Quite for no reason
I’m here for the Season
And high as a kite,
Living in error
With Maud at Cap Ferrat
Which couldn’t be right.
Everyone’s here and frightfully gay,
Nobody cares what people say,
Though the Riviera
Seems really much queerer
Than Rome at it’s height,
Yesterday night —

I went to a marvelous party
With Nounou and Nada and Nell,
It was in the fresh air
And we went as we were
And we stayed as we were
Which was Hell.
Poor Grace started singing at midnight
And didn’t stop singing till four;
We knew the excitement was bound to begin
When Laura got blind on Dubonnet and gin
And scratched her veneer with a Cartier pin,
I couldn’t have liked it more.

I went to a marvelous party.
We played the most wonderful game,
Maureen disappeared
And came back in a beard
And we all had to guess at her name!
Dear Cecil arrived wearing armour,
Some shells and a black feather boa,
Poor Millicent wore a surrealist comb
Made of bits of mosaic from St. Peter’s in Rome,
But the weight was so great that she had to go home,
I couldn’t have liked it more.

People’s behaviour
Away from Belgravia
Would make you aghast,
So much variety
Watching society
Scampering past,
If you have any mind at all
Gibbon’s divine Decline and Fall
Seems pretty flimsy,
No more than a whimsy,
By way of contrast
On Saturday last —

I went to a marvelous party,
We didn’t start dinner till ten
And young Bobbie Carr
Did a stunt at the bar
With a lot of extraordinary men;
Dear Baba arrived with a turtle
Which shattered us all to the core,
The Grand Duke was dancing a foxtrot with me
When suddenly Cyril screamed ‘Fiddledidee’
And ripped off his trousers and jumped in the sea,
I couldn’t have liked it more.

I went to a marvelous party,
Elise made an entrance with May
You’d never have guessed
From her fisherman’s vest
That her bust had been whittled away.
Poor Lulu got fried on Chianti
And talked about esprit de corps.
Maurice made a couple of passes at Gus
And Freddie, who hates any kind of a fuss,
Did half the Big Apple and twisted his truss,
I couldn’t have liked it more.

I went to a marvelous party,
I must say the fun was intense,
We all had to do
What the people we knew
Would be doing a hundred years hence.
We talked about growing old gracefully
And Elsie, who’s seventy-four
Said, A, it’s a question of being sincere,
And B, if you’re supple you’ve nothing to fear?
Then she swung upside down from a glass chandelier,
I couldn’t have liked it more.

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