Have I mentioned that twice a year we have a high-end whisky tasting here? Each is hosted by, quite naturally, the Estate Librarian, Iain Nicholas Mackenzie, a Scot born and bred. It’s limited to a mere dozen participants, each of whom pay five thousand pounds for the privilege of tasting the whiskies, being fed rather nicely, and generally having a good time.
Iain and I meet every year to discuss which single drams are to be part of the next tasting (one is in the winter, one in the fall). Our decisions are based partly on word of mouth and partly on our personal experiences with the various whiskies we’ve had the privilege of tasting. Most of the distilleries send us invitations to visit them and sample their wares. That allows us to pick really great single malts.
So after selecting the single malts that’ll be part of the tasting, Iain decides which individuals will be sent invitation letters. All of them have attended a previous tasting, so it’s an easy sell. He sends just a dozen letters at first and that usually fills the tasting. Each invitee sends a full cheque when saying yes which goes into escrow ’til they show up. They can cancel up to thirty days out but no one has in the twenty years of doing these tastings. Well one unlucky chap died after sending in his cheque but he knew he was not long for this work so he requested that his monies be donated to the Estate and those present drink a dram in his honour which we did.
The tastings are one of the two times a year, the annual Robert Burns supper being the other one, when Iain dons his clan kilt with full regalia. It’s quite a sight. And the Neverending Session plays nothing but traditional Scottish tunes for them. There’s also a concert at each tasting featuring performers such as Dougie Maclean, the Old Blind Dogs or Shooglenifty.
The winter tastings themselves (including the dinners) are held in the small formal dining room that has a fireplace and a superb view of the woods beyond the greensward; the summer tastings are held in the Robert Graves Memorial Reading Room which is a perfect on a warm summer evening with the stars overhead. Those tastings are informal in nature with buffets instead of formal dinners — think Estate smoked salmon, local cheeses, fresh baked breads and smoked meats.
The tastings themselves feature whisky such as a 37 year old Glenglassaugh. Nothing tasted is less than twenty-five years old and it goes without saying that all are Scottish single malts from smaller distilleries.
(We’ll be adding a tasting devoted to Irish whiskeys soon. I’ll be searching for a host for that first, as no here is qualified to preside. And Gus, our Estate Head Gardener who’s Swedish, suggests a tasting of liqueurs from his country. I’m not sure how well it’d do but it’s worth considering.)
So there’s single malts, spectacular dinners, and lots of lively conversation. What’s not to like?