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® (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 ; )

There’s A New Bar In Town…

The latest arrival to Atlanta’s cocktail and spirits scene sits in an old train station in a rather derelict part of town, but the cocktails and whiskey selection will have people lining up to get on board (OK, no more bad train puns, I promise). H. Harper Station is the name, and they call themselves “a modern watering stop.” The conductors (really?? another one?) are chefs Duane Nutter, Reginald Washington and mixologist Jerry Slater, and if you’ve ever had an hour to spare in Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson international terminal, you may recognize a few things from their well-regarded One Flew South bar and restaurant there. A first look at H. Harper Station will be forthcoming, but it’s worth pointing out now that the cocktail list instantly vaults them into consideration among Atlanta’s most ambitious cocktail bars. One particularly good and creative drink on the list is the “Bufala Negra,” with Buffalo Trace Bourbon, basil, brown sugar, a touch of balsamic vinegar, and some ginger beer – it all melds together wonderfully. The spirits selection is one of the best you will find in town, with over 40 whiskeys (including Pappy Van Winkle 20 year old and Caol Ila 18 year old). Beer and wine lists are fairly short, but interesting (Brewer-Clifton pinot noir, La Spinetta barbaresco, Domaine Weinbach riesling on the wine lists; Allagash Four and Hitachino White on the very nice draft beer list). Let us know what you think if you make it over to H. Harper Station, we’re looking forward to good things…