When we arrived at Pier 3, we immediately knew we were in the right place. You see, the class of people which a Whiskey tasting event draws is undeniably different. The people are typically older, dressed nicer, and generally more well behaved and civil than the average person. This is not to inflate my own personal sense of superiority, as many of you may well think, but rather to note something which Raz Fergus and I have recently come to realize: Scotch and Whiskey tend to draw a higher class of person, while Rums and Beers and other liquors draw their own different classes of people.
As we walked up to the entrance to the pier, we were more pleased to see the Grand Tasting would indeed be held on the San Francisco Belle. The Belle is a 3 deck paddle boat set up for large group events in that each deck is a wide open space able to accommodate large numbers of tables. You could cut the anticipation with a knife. We were on the proverbial edge of our seats now.
We checked in and presented our tickets without issue, which was pleasant given our predisposition to an expectation of problems with anything nice. Upon our admission, we were also provided with some rather cheaply produced, but utilitarian bags to cary all the shwag and chotchkees we would be picking up from the different distilleries tables and marketing reps. A nice touch to be sure, as I would realize by the end of the night.
And so we entered the lower deck of the ship which was organized with tables and chairs one each side of a main aisle down the middle. At the head of the aisle was a small chamber orchestra serenading the early arrivals with renditions of traditional Irish and Scots folk tunes to set the mood.
Fergus, Raz, and I took seats at an open table to await the opening of the upper two decks where the tastings would be held. As we still had a while to wait, we sat back and began chatting about the previous days events and the style in which the current tasting was being held. Our old friend Doug found us and sat for a bit as well. And then came the glorious sound we had been waiting for…
A small drum and pipe tattoo, the Bushmills pipe and drum corps, fired up to signal the opening of the Grand Tasting to all guests. Words do little justice to the chill you feel when the pipes sound and the drums reverberate through the air, especially when it signifies the start of a long night of scotch, whisky, whiskey, rye, grain, and bourbon tasting.
With that signal, we processed up the stairs to enter the main hall of the tasting. All told, we believe there to be 60+ tables total with whiskies to taste and talk about. It was at this point we all pretty much went our separate ways and bee lined for the particular distilleries we wished to taste at. I myself walked around taking in the atmosphere of the place, and noting which distilleries were represented and which I would like to taste at. Truth be told I can’t remember a lot from the evening just due to the sheer overwhelming nature of the event and some sensory overload. I do recall tasting a Highland Park 15yr cask strength that I had not had previously, as well as a Laphroaig Quarter Cask. My favourite of the evening, however, is a close tie between the Compassbox Orangerie, and the Balvenie’s 17yr New Wood (for which I did indeed provide the password after Ian Millar gave me a bit of a hassle for not knowing it. The password being “I love you”).
For me to try and recap the evening with any sense of accuracy or ability to convey the air, ambience, grandeur, or chaos involved would be an exercise in failure. I can only say that in many ways it reminded me of the first year’s tasting the 3 Drunken Celts threw, yet I wasn’t a part of this one. I once again felt like a neophyte amongst true professionals. At one point we met up with Dave (a distributor) and one of the clerks from Hi-time Wines. The clerk, whose name escapes me currently, had made the off hand comment at one point about how some of the “Big Guns, the movers and shakers” were here. It was indeed an impressive array of the world’s finest whiskies. And I was a part of it.
Of course, being not so new to actually drinking whiskies, the three of us found that we had made the entire rounds of the exhibition’s two floors in about an hour, so we decided to relax for a bit on the bottom floor and grab some munchies and water, then do another round of the floors.
Once the Second round was complete, we sat again for a time, then made our final round to wish all of our new found friends a goodnight and best wishes for the travels home, etc.
Like any good event, our good-byes took nearly as long as the event up to that point had, so the rest of the night was spent meeting even more people and then wishing them a good bye. At one point Fergus called out to an older gentleman whom he had spoken with the day prior at one of the seminars. That single connection on the Grand Tasting floor was sublime. While the gent spoke with Raz and Fergus regaling them with tales of his best friend, I happened to be cornered with said best friend as he had made his way to me to explain why he had been staring. Apparently I was very familiar to him and we began discussing where we may have known each other from. The best we could come up with is that he is an art enthusiast whom I may have been introduced to by my father at the Laguna Festival of the Arts. As it turns out the gentleman is a retired Sergeant from the LA Sheriff’s department and still lives down in SoCal. I found myself enthralled in conversation with the man I would find out is named Joel, and later as they walked away, would realize that those two represented Raz and myself in a good 30-40 years.
We continued to make our way around the tasting’s two floors, and got pictures of the Jameson/Redbreast table for Eoin, and the Tully table for Sean of course. We schmoozed up the JMR boys once again, as well as John from Compassbox. sadly, we completely forgot to thank the Talisker people for treating us so well the day before and to set us back in their minds once more. But fear not, we do have contact information for all of our favourites so we WILL be in touch and working on some nice deals for future 3DC events. These are indeed exciting times ahead of us!
As we walked away form the tasting, and off the boat, I turned and snapped two pictures. They are both a bit blurry, much like the night its self, though as we left all three of us were stone cold sober. We ain’t no amateurs ya know.
I turned back around and we walked away from one of the best nights in 3DC history. The tasting was over, but my friends, the night’s amusements had just begun….
Next up…. violent Sommeliers, the shot heard round the world, and home sweet home….