Peaty. Smooth. Complex. Warming. Nice legs and a long finish. As long as ‘peaty’ is a cultured way for saying down to earth, one might think that I am trying to describe Rachel. Alas, my beautiful bride is not at all what I am referring to in this little preamble. Rather, I am trying to paint a rough portrait of the generous dram of single malt (Laphroaig Quarter Cask) that I have sitting by my side. Although it is a little less intoxicating than my gorgeous wife, it never gives me shit for acting like a fool when I am under its influence.
My love for whisky was cultivated in university. Nevertheless, I can honestly say that my single malt education didn’t begin until about a decade ago when a good friend of mine said to me, “I was thinking…”
Many conversations with this friend began that way. He has a contemplative soul which is blessed with the depth of a bearded philosopher and the imagination of a six year old boy. His creativity has led to possibly one of the greatest movies filmed on Taiwanese soil, Christmas in Formosa, (A must see if ever you get the chance.) and hands down the best menu item that has ever been created, The Ray (A bacon cheeseburger with a side of poutine.).
Despite the brilliance of these two creations, neither one has shared the longevity nor the lasting impact as that of his conception of The S.E.A. I remember the night that he first voiced his idea of The Society of Esteemed Aficionados with some clarity. A couple pints of San Miguel might have blurred the lines a little so bear with me.
He and I were sitting at the bar of Savannah chatting away as he finished off his namesake. He took a quick swig of beer, gulped down the last bite of his burger and introduced the idea of starting a whisky/cigar club at Savannah. I figured that he wanted to emulate An Quaich, a whisky club that I had talked about before. I was wrong. His dream was to take whatever An Quaich was and bring it to the next level.
He envisioned a small group of individuals interested in broadening their understanding and appreciation of single malt whisky. Membership would be limited to ten individuals in order to better facilitate discussion. Each month, a different member would take on the role as teacher and guide the rest of The S.E.A. through an in depth description of the history, distillation and tasting notes of the particular whisky that she or he had brought to our table that night. My friend’s dream was that as a group we would eventually be able to decipher the subtle nuances and differences behind different labels and distilleries. He wanted the members of The S.E.A. to become active participants in a quest to truly understand what whisky was and is all about. In short his hope was that we could evolve from a group of whisky enthusiasts to a group of whisky connoisseurs.
My friend, however, did not stop there. According to him, in order to truly enjoy a bottle of whisky, The S.E.A. must also embrace the deep, philosophical understanding of love, life and the universe that seems to come naturally to anyone who has enjoyed a dram or two of whisky. So, after an hour of tasting, the group would be led by a different member into a discussion/debate on a topic of their choosing. The idea was to bring opposing thoughts, beliefs and opinions to the table in order to broaden our minds. Also it would be fun to watch drunk people argue. To my friend, the pleasure of a good dram was the heat that it brought to any conversation.
It is now more than a decade later and The S.E.A. is still growing strong. Although we no longer sip our whisky huddled under a cloud of cigar smoke, we continue to enjoy at least one new bottle of single malt a month. Since The S.E.A.’s inception, we have tasted and rated over three hundred different single malts from around the world. Our table still fits only ten however our membership has grown to almost triple that and we have become a global phenomenon…in my mind anyways.
I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles), by the Proclaimers, is a song that spans over half of my life. It is a tune that I sing along to no matter where I am. I have been known to belt it out at parties, floor crawls, road trips, bars, in the shower, and at KTVs. Throughout the years it has helped me to perfect my Scottish accent to the point that I might have Robbie Burns convinced that I hail from Scotland. I am sure that if he were alive today, he would stand tall and proud as we chanted a few words from his poem Scotch Drink in dedication to each bottle of whisky we crack.
Oh thou my muse! Guid auld scotch drink,
Whether thro’ wimplin’ worms thou jink,
Or richly brown, ream ower the brink,
In glorious faem,
Inspire me, til I lisp an’ wink,
To sing thy name.
Together we stand with Scotch as our link,
Here’s to The S.E.A. and here’s to our drink!
To the men and women of The S.E.A. and to anyone else who enjoys a tipple now and again, “Uisge beatha!”
(As a tribute to Mr. Burns, we have had a few Robbie Burns whisky nights where we wrote poetry to honor our drink. This was my offering in 2007.
The end I fear is near indeed,
My winter years seem bleak,
Waters rise, and islands fall,
Our outer layer’s growing weak.
We fight for fossil fuels unneeded,
Forests now enrich our homes,
We’ve made the need for bottled water,
Goodbye to pastures, hello Superdomes,
The truth is brilliant. It’s glaring real,
We’re helpful pawns, who take no stand.
We whisper words of discontentment,
All the while hold out our hands.
And those in power hold up their arms,
“We’ll stop the terror, lose no more sleep,
Just give us four more years to help,
Make sure we line our pocket’s deep.”
Is there no help to save our souls?
Redeem us from our greed and lust,
Surely there’s some sort of savior,
Better than “In god we Trust”
This cynic has a dr’am
To make his finish long and neat,
Just bring the leaders to our table,
Let them taste some malt and peat.
For if some reason were to grace,
The minds of those who bring us hell,
I’m sure it comes from just one source,
It rises from a Scottish well.
The spicy isle, the creamy Spey,
Any Glen to let their pallet tingle,
It matters not which scotch they sample,
The answer though is clear and single.
Though stubborn minded fools they are,
Retarded by power, greed and birth,
One thing they’ll toast, they can’t deny,
Vitae requires water, air and earth.
First they’ll talk, they’ll all agree,
The need for marshes, springs and malts,
We need a salty, sea fresh breeze,
Free from all chemicals and Exxon’s faults.
And too will follow a drive for peace,
Who cares of lines or wealth within?
What matters is the peaceful passage,
Of life’s sweet nectar to make us kin.
The common good, it will prevail,
It must; else all be lost,
Alas my dr’am is empty, outlandish,
Bartender, another. At least I’ll go out sauced.
(I’m Gonna Be) 500 Miles youtube link