Scenes from a Scotch Extravaganza

Glenfifddich Scotch Whisky

I can’t claim to possess much knowledge of Scotch Whisky, other than an unshakable faith in the peaty smokiness of a dram of Lagavulin 16 year old. Bourbon and rye are more my thing – after all, this is “Thirsty South,” not “Thirsty Scotch” (note to self: register domain name for But our friends at Tower Beer, Wine & Spirits invited me to attend the Atlanta stop of the¬†Single Malt & Scotch Whisky Extravaganza¬ģ (notice the trademark, very important) put on by the the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. They hold these in about 13 cities across the country, and Atlanta is fortunate to be one of them. The event is basically an opportunity to taste a staggering array of both common and rare single malts, blended Scotch whisky, and some other fine whiskies from around the world (notably Japan).

For a bourbon drinker, what is most striking when tasting through these is the incredibly wide range of expressions – from light and floral, to deep smokey peat – as well as the creative variety in barrel aging approaches – from Spanish sherry to Caribbean rum to French sauternes, and, of course, the mainstay of Scotch: bourbon barrels (it’s true!). Scotch is kinda like an older brother to bourbon – more worldly, more experienced, a bit more confident in his roots, so to speak. And you know I’m not knockin bourbon, I’m just trying to provide some flavor for the distinctions between the two. I don’t think anything I tasted quite knocked me out like a whiff of Pappy Van Winkle 23 year old Kentucky straight bourbon, though several came close.

Given the depth of the subject, I won’t even try to give you an education on Scotch – you can start to get that here or here or (if you have a mustache) here – but I will leave you with photos of some of the more remarkable tastes of the evening, and hopefully provide a spark to get a few more bourbon drinkers to at least venture down one of the many mysterious alleys that Scotch inhabits. Enjoy…

A true highlight of the night was this spectacularly good Single Grain Whisky from Suntory of Japan, “Chita,” hard to find, but worth seeking out. There is no better student of the Scotch masters than Suntory. A closer up shot below, beautiful color…

Love Lagavulin. Another highlight of the night was a 12yo cask strength Lagavulin (not pictured), a serious symphony of peat. Interestingly, most of the tables waited until the event was half through to break out the REALLY good/rare stuff, that Lagavulin cask strength included.

Laphroaig 25 year old, cask strength, finished in Oloroso Sherry casks, killer stuff.

I have no recollection what this was, but the label and bottle were cool ; )

The Balvenie 14 year old Caribbean Cask brought the unmistakable sugary coconut notes of Caribbean rum, really nice.

Bowmore 18 year old is an excellent Scotch. Islay Single Malt.

Highland Park 18 year old may be an even more excellent Scotch…

One of the single cask bottlings from the Society, “Gradual Seduction,” one of 181 bottles.

The name alone made this Scotch worth tasting – “Master and Commander” – another small bottling from the the Scotch Malt Whisky Society.

An Irish whiskey cocktail seemed a bit out of place amongst the single malt beasts, but this cocktail by the ever-impressive Eric Simpkins was a highlight of the evening, with a strong whiff of fragrant thyme kicking things off.

Men in kilts acting randy, a 35 year old Scotch, and the venerable Kevin Mulcahy, a true ambassador of the world of Scotch. Good times.

Beware men in kilts, especially blurry ones…

Apparently there’s a law that says events like these should employ a bevy of beautiful ladies to pour the whisky…

… and another law that states that meat must be carved off the bone in the presence of such copious amounts of Scotch.

This may look like a pile of crap, but it’s actually Scotch’s very good friend, Peat.

This about sums it up for the whisk(e)y devotees out there… a T-shirt seen at the event.

For a more educational take on the evening, please check out Whisk(e)y Apostle’s well-written notes. Now back to my bourbon ; )

The Cultivated South!?

I don’t know what a cat like Hardy Wallace is doing on the docket at a high-falutin’ seminar called “The Cultivated South,” one of the “premier wine tasting seminars” for the upcoming High Museum Atlanta Wine Auction weekend. Actually, yes I do. Hardy will be representin’ one of the most talked about little winemakers on the West Coast – the NPA (not to be confused with the WPA or NPR or NWA). And this is a rare, against the law (well, NPA law – seriously, they usually keep their wine only for folks within a 100 mile radius of the winery) opportunity to taste their wines. Miss this at your own risk. Oh, and there will be some other cool people and phenomenal wine there too… here are the details:

The Cultivated South ‚ÄĒ A look at the good life as presented by Southern farmers, chefs and winemakers
Friday, March 25, 2:00 pm
The Cook’s Warehouse, Ansley Mall, 1544 Piedmont Road

Considering that Southern products and our traditional tastes are recognized as one of the globe‚Äôs great¬†cuisines, it goes without saying that those raised here who go forth to share their unique taste have very¬†special palates. Angie Mosier of Southern Foodways Alliance moderates a panel that seats Kristen¬†Hard, Atlanta native and chocolatier at Cacao Atlanta and Will Harris of White Oak Pastures, one of the¬†most prominent figures in the humane, organic, grass‚Äźfed beef industry today. Chef Shaun Doty will offer a taste of Will‚Äôs beef while chiming in on product and technique. Atlanta‚Äôs favorite wine blogger¬†and recent transplant to Napa, Hardy Wallace lends his voice too. Charleston native Jamey Whetstone¬†of Whetstone Wine Cellars along with Atlanta native Robbie Meyer, who makes wine for both the¬†Peirson Meyer and L‚ÄôAngevin labels, will address the influence the South has on their palates and their¬†craft. And yes, these two will be pouring wine!

* Each seminar is $100 per person. For more information or to reserve a spot for a Premier Tasting Seminar, please contact the Wine Auction Hotline at 404.733.5335 or email:

Ten Sinfully Southern Reasons to Consider the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival

Have you heard about the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival, coming this May? I had heard a little bit, but not enough to understand the full scope of what this represents for Southern food (and drink) culture, and not enough to be willing to fork over the $$$ necessary to attend the full slate of seminars, tastings, and shindigs, but now…. well, let’s say I’ve heard enough to seriously consider it. It is not inexpensive, but the quality and breadth of seminars, tastings, and Southern talent that will be on display is simply mind boggling. Enough so that I feel the need, the desire, to share my top ten reasons for the Southern spirits (and wine and beer) fan to check it out. So here goes…

  1. Classic Cocktails of New Orleans Seminar, with¬†Dale DeGroff, “King Cocktail” – Sazerac anyone? Vieux Carre?? Yes, please. Participants will learn to mix, shake and stir the classic drinks of the South’s cocktail capital.
  2. Reserve Tasting: Bourbon, with Julian Van Winkle, III, Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery¬†– Our love for all things Pappy has been well documented. Need we say more? (Please note, I’m pretty sure this reserve tasting is for high rollers only, unlike the rest of the seminars and tastings mentioned in this post)
  3. Coke-tails Seminar, with Greg Best, Holeman & Finch Public House – How can you go wrong with Atlanta’s hometown carbonated beverage of choice, in the hands of Greg Best? Participants in this interactive demonstration will explore the flavor profiles of the South’s favorite soft drink, while mixing unique drinks.
  4. Booze & Chocolate Seminar, with Scott Witherow of Olive & Sinclair Chocolate Co., and Corsair Artisan spirits – Oooh, this should be good.
  5. Build a Bar Double Demo, from the fine folks at H&F Bottle Shop – Participants will explore three perfectly-appointed bars – Whiskey Bar, Classic Cocktail bar and Southern Brunch Bar – and learn how to build their own.
  6. The Bizarre Story of Southern Blue Laws, with Dr. Chris Baker, Ph.D. and moonshine expert – What could be more topical in the midst of the Sunday sales debate??
  7. Noble Rums Seminar, with Ed Hamilton, “The Ministry of Rum” – Rum is experiencing somewhat of a renaissance right now, this should be enlightening.
  8. Tasting Tent & Street Cart Pavilion – this includes a bourbon tent curated by Julian Van Winkle, III (not to mention a whole pig tent curated by Chef Kevin Gillespie). Hallelujah.
  9. White Lightnin’ Seminar, with Junior Johnson – As a young man, Junior Johnson developed his driving skills while running moonshine on mountain roads in North Carolina, which led him to a hall-of-fame career as a NASCAR driver. He’s now doing the legal moonshine thing with similar success. Sure to be some good stories in this one. Junior was a key player in the book, Chasing the White Dog.
  10. A Southern Boy Goes to France, with Jon-David Headrick – learn the story of how a boy from Nashville was inspired to become one of America’s most promising specialty wine importers. Good guy, good stuff.

Seriously, check out their website for more info – this is just a very small sample of what the festival has to offer, and there is more news to come in the next few weeks (heck, it’s only February, the festival is still three months away). In fact, here are TEN MORE great seminars you might be interested in¬†that will be part of the festival:

  1. Breakfast Cocktails, with Neal Bodenheimer, Cure
  2. Wine Pairings Demystified, with Andy Chabot, Blackberry Farm
  3. Exploring Argentina Wine, with THE Susana Balbo, Mendoza, Argentina
  4. Southern Craft Brewers Spill It, with Bob Townsend, Atlanta Journal-Constitution
  5. How to Taste Blind, with Michael McNeill, Gina Hopkins, Ryan Mullins
  6. Escape to Greece (Wine), with Pano I. Karatassos, Buckhead Life
  7. Beer & Cheese, with Tim Gaddis, Star Provisions, and Terrapin Beer
  8. The Green Fairy (Absinthe) Resurrected, with Ted Breaux, Jade Liqueurs
  9. Vitis Vinifera Down South: The Final Frontier?, with Mary Ann Hardman, Persimmon Creek, and Bernard Delille, Biltmore Winery
  10. Sommelier Round Table, with Andy Chabot, Virginia Philip, Clint Sloan, and Stephen Satterfield

Full Disclosure: The folks behind the festival provided lunch to a bunch of bloggers and media, myself included, as they shared the details of the festival.

Beer or Wine? Four Excellent Events Battle It Out In October

Beer or wine?

Atlanta beer and wine lovers have much to rejoice over, as the first two weeks of October bring one whale of a wine celebration at the Georgia Aquarium, two hopped up beer celebrations in Decatur and Glenwood Park, AND one intimate event pitting wine vs. beer for pairing prowess. Yes, there are many other events happening in Atlanta in October, but these four will be shining a very bright spotlight on some stellar beers and wines.

Firmly on the wine side of things, AQUA VINO on October 14 is one of the city’s major wine events, benefitting the Georgia Aquarium’s Correll Center for Aquatic Animal Health. Your ticket will indeed save the whales. Guaranteed. Well, maybe we shouldn’t go that far, but this is a great cause, and a great excuse to sample hundreds of wines from around the world, with more than 30 of Atlanta’s best restaurants providing the food, in one of Atlanta’s most amazing settings – next to the swimming seas of the aquarium itself. More info and tickets here.

Moving over to the beer side of life, things are getting crazy, with HOTOBERFEST on October 2 (this weekend folks!) and the Decatur Craft Beer Festival just two weeks later on October 16. Both of these events are best described as “beyond awesome” – the quality and variety of beer available will be astounding, the music will be rockin, hopefully the weather will be as stunning as it has been the past few days as the cool, crisp air of Fall finally settles over Atlanta. HOTOBERFEST offers three ways of partaking in the fun, from free entry to the main festival area and a la carte beer purchases to the (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED) “Firkin VIP Ticket” that gets you tastes of an incredible lineup of crazy casks, seasonal beers, and more from the likes of Allagash, Sweetwater, Terrapin and Atlanta Brewing (with a special 15 year anniversary vintage brown ale aged in Pappy Van Winkle bourbon barrels!!). Meanwhile, the Decatur Craft Beer Festival again sold out in something like seventeen seconds or so, so you’ll have to pray for a ticket to fall from the heavens or peruse Craigslist for unsavory characters scalping their way to profit.

And, finally, a showdown between our two featured beverages, BEER vs. WINE at 5 Seasons Westside on October 6. The wine hails from heralded Lioco Winery of California, who is pairing two of their stellar chardonnays, two of their pinot noirs, and their truly unique “Indica” blend with five courses prepared by 5 Seasons Chef David Larkworthy. And the beer, of course, comes from 5 Seasons themselves, with a killer lineup of unique aged brews (the “Burgundian” for example is a saison aged in a pinot noir barrel). Does 5 Seasons have the home field advantage? Maybe so, but being able to taste this lineup of Lioco wines will surely have the crowd cheering for the visiting team as well. All this for $55 per person, reservations required – call 5 Seasons at 404-875-3232.

What are you waiting for? Get out there and support these great Atlanta events! No matter who the victor, beer or wine, it will surely be a good game.