Three whisk(e)y events in four nights. Pasadena, Costa Mesa, Santa Monica. What a man won't do for a dram. I'm sure my innards are positively pickled, so I will attempt a three part recap as I recover...
FRIDAY NIGHT -- ROBBIE BURNS NIGHT (w/ HIGHLAND PARK)!
I had an awesome Robert Burns Night. I hope you did too!
Though among the thirsty crowd at Beckham Grill in Pasadena, I had to reign in my whisky sampling due to a long drive home at the end of the night. But there was great food, including haggis:
It looked like a cross between a scarab, a turd, and a baby's head. Naturally, it was delicious. A little lamb, a spot of liver, and a few shakes of black pepper. And there was great company including Martin Daraz, the Highland Park rep responsible for structuring the evening's whisky appreciation.
I had heard so much about Martin and I really enjoyed meeting the man. He was very honest and candid about the HP malts. And he IMPRESSIVELY handled a crowd that was sprinkled with non-member hecklers. Let me emphasize that the interrupters were still relatively sober and though they may have fancied themselves comedians, they just embarrassed themselves in front of Il Maestro Daraz. Don't heckle a heckler.
Okay enough with the crabbing, onto the booze lineup. We started with Famous Grouse as an aperitif. Then we moved to the HP 18 for the toast. During dinner, I helped pour the 12 and 15.
For dessert there was this:
I sampled some HP Thor. But the fun surprise bottle was the Highland Park Bicentenary. While the whisky wasn't 200 years old, its lifespan was actually 1977-1998.
The Bicentenary was GREAT, though I only had a whisper of it since I had to head out into the rain to drive home carefully. The Thor was decent, probably could have used some water. The HP 25 and 30 were magnificent; if you can afford whisky at that price......you lucky ducks.
Full disclosure: this was my first HP18 experience. While it didn't blow my tastebuds out of my head, I did enjoy its finish better than that of the fancier bottles. The hubbub and noise and smells prevented me from really digging in. So I have a full-on HP18 report scheduled for this year and I look forward to a controlled setting.
I'd read some grumbles about the 15-year, but I liked the slightly different character brought about by sherried American oak. And as usual, the 12 was reliably excellent.
I can confirm to you all that all HP is now using all ex-sherry barrels, each bottling has a mix of first and second-fills. The distillery grassy-fruited-light-peat character was remarkably consistent from bottle to bottle. Probably even more consistent than Laphroaig had been during December's once-in-a-lifetime verticale.
Ultimately, this was a lot of sherried whisky in one night for me. The sherry and the HP spirit merge much better than most (or all?) sherry "finishes" I've tried. But I'd love to find an indie bottling that was aged in refill ex-bourbon.
This Burns Night made for an excellent whisky social experience. Thank you Martin for the whisky and the education. Y'all need to meet this gentleman when he comes to town.
In Part Two, I'll travel South (in both California and Scotland)...