Hey there and welcome back! I hope all’s well and everyone has enjoyed a wee dram, on their own or with friends, since we last got together. If you don’t drink spirits, I hope you enjoyed whatever you like on your own or with your friends.
This post will explore this thing often called a master class… so what is a master class? I really don’t know if I can define it or not. But I can tell you that it is something where a guy or gal (lad or lass?) talks about whisky and pours out several different whiskies for you to try and taste. I don’t know if the person taking the class is the master or not, but I’ve been to one where there were many people in the audience that knew more about whisky than the guy talking! Anyway, it’s a fun event where you can often learn about whisky and try out whiskies that you probably wouldn’t try on your own.
My first master class was held at one of the main locations of the biggest liquor store chain where I live. It was many years ago, but I remember it very well. This is because the gentleman taking the class was the distiller himself! This was for Bunnahabhain Distilleries and the gentleman’s name was Ian MacMilllan. Now I think, he’s moved onto another distillery since then, but it was a lot of fun. I remember meeting him afterwards and discussing haggis with him. But enough of that… I’m sure you don’t want to hear me discuss haggis, especially the curry flavored kind that I saw in Scotland… that’s for another day and another dram… Now thinking about this… was this truly my first master class? Or was it the tasting that I had at my first distillery tour… hmm… that may become a new post…
Anyway, back to business… so, I remember walking into this event. I was really nervous, and I don’t know why! It was not like I was going to be quizzed or something. I walked in and saw a number of bottles lined up. My mouth was watering seeing all those bottles… Were they really going to let us try those out? I was led to my seat and there was a mat, a place mat of sorts, on the table. The mat had several circles, which I assumed were meant for the whisky samples to be placed.
I introduced myself to my neighbors and waited in anticipation for the event to start. The event was introduced by the folks from the liquor store and show (class) began. I call it a show because it was a production in my eyes, never having attended such an event before.
The importer of the whisky was introduced and he introduced the star of the show, the distiller, Ian MacMillan. Ian then began to explain the process of distillation used at Bunnahabhain and the various standards that were maintained. I was fascinated by this magic. As Ian explained the various processes, we were introduced to different expressions of Bunnahabhain. Of course, these were just a dram each, ie just a sip or two, but towards the end, the spirits of all of the attendees were a wee bit on the higher side. Most of us sat there afterwards sipping water and chatting with each other; knowing better than to get behind the wheel immediately after that!
One of the interesting things, to me at least, that Ian discussed was the process of non-chill filtration. I found this very interesting, if not fascinating. It somehow opened up a new side of whisky to me… pointing me in a new direction to better understand the difference between chill filtration and non-chill filtration. Ok, not really, I didn’t go on a quest to find the difference between the two, but I still found it interesting. I figured the distillers of the various distilleries have taken that journey and we can taste their findings! Anyway, non-chill filtration helped me better understand the direction that Ian wanted to take Bunnahabhain. I found, probably the most interesting, was a single malt that was almost clear to look at. I apologize, but I don’t remember the name. It was almost clear and had a strong phenolic note. Ian said that this was his vision of how the ORIGINAL version of this whisky was distilled. It was really strong to nose and taste!
I also remember them pouring a 25(?) year whisky for everyone. The importer requested that no one add water to the dram. He said that it was very delicate and didn’t really need water. He also wanted everyone to try, undiluted, something that took 25 years to make.
After the event, I spent a little time with Ian. We discussed Scotland, scotch of course, and haggis. He was a very charming gentleman and a lot of fun to talk to. I purchased a bottle of Deanston Virgin Oak which he signed. I still have the bottle (albeit empty) with me today. I had a great time that evening and it made me look forward to more events like this in the future.
So why did I write about a master class? Well, if you get an opportunity to attend one, I think it is a great experience for us all. A master class allows you to try multiple whiskies that you may not consider ordering at a bar. You can save money by not purchasing an entire bottle of something that you may not finish. A master class also allows you to interact with others interested in whisky- some very knowledgeable and experienced, and some not so much. A master class gives you an experience on many levels.
The best part about a master class is you don’t need to go somewhere to have a master class! You can have one in your own home with a friend or two or with family. I’ve held one, once before, in my house with a family member. I look forward to another post in the future where we will discuss master classes and hosting one in your own home.
So once again I raise a glass of whisky to all of you and say ‘Slànte!’ and I wish all of you all the best ‘til next time.
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With this I will close this post of the dMann’s Whisky Notebook. I would like this to develop into something that will allow you to get ‘in the know’ regarding whisky. I hope to come up with some sort of cool tagline that I can close with. But until then, I would like to remind everyone that, those who are in the know, enjoy their whisky responsibly.