Dram Initiative #014 – Bruichladdich with Jim McEwan
September 10, 2014
A little late, but…here goes…
The best laid plans of mice and men, and all that. The logistics of organizing events for 80 members/attendees can be rather daunting sometimes. What happens when you take all of the already multitudinous amount of tasks we have to cover each month, then dump a couple feet of heavy, wet slushy snow all over everything is a situation I wouldn’t wish on anyone but the Irish.
The reality is that Calgary got lambasted with an early dump of snow the likes of which I don’t think I can recall. I mean this stuff was so wet and heavy it took weeks to clear away the fallen tree limbs that had cracked under its monumental weight. Power went down in quadrants all over the city, and much of our lives went into forced temporary hibernation.
One of the areas of the city that lost electricity was, of course, the very same in which the community hall we had booked for this event resides. With just a couple of hours to go ’til showtime when we were informed that the hall was inaccessible , The Dram Initiative committee was forced to get creative with our venue. And by that I mean we made a last minute appeal to our good mate (and staunch supporter of the club) David Michiels of Willow Park Wines & Spirits. David is the resident whisky guy at Willow Park, but that title doesn’t really do him justice. Go in and visit him if you don’t already know what I’m talking about.
Long and short of it is though, that Dave came to our rescue and allowed us to host our event in the store’s spacious and welcoming lower hall. And it worked out to be not only a life saver, but an absolutely stellar evening.
There are two guest speakers that I’d been hoping to lock down for the club since its inception. Both just so happen to be named Jim. One is a gentleman, a rawk star, a whisky authority and all ’round good guy. The other is Murray. We’ve yet to have the latter even reply to an email (so be it), but the former came through in spades for the club.
I’ve known Bruichladdich’s Jim McEwan for a few years now, via trips to Islay, email exchanges, attending his events, interviews, etc. It was through one of our email exchanges that I asked if there was a chance of having him through anytime soon. He got in touch with ‘his people’ and within an hour forwarded on to me an email exchange from their side confirming all was a ‘go’ for September. Having now organized eighteen of these club sessions, all I can say is that I wish each event came to fruition as painlessly as this one did. Little did we know that we’d pay for that ease tenfold later on with the ‘storm of the century’ that was due to roll in on the day of the event itself.
Having a venue and a knockout speaker is only half the battle though. Being a whisky club and all, it seemed pertinent to maybe have a malt or two to offer the collective. When it came to pulling together our line-up for this tasting, we ended up meeting in the middle with the Select Wine & Spirits team. Select is our local Bruichladdich representative. They wanted a few of the newer core expressions in the line-up in order to help garner some more exposure, and were more than willing to help out with the budget side of things. It just so happens that the new range tied in nicely with a few of the special treat malts we’d managed to track down for this one. Pulling out a few gems is sort of what the club is all about. One of the main reasons we exist is to let members gain access to whiskies that most would simply not be able to source otherwise.
This blend of ‘just new to the market’ drams and ‘long discontinued treats’ was a perfect mix to suit all.
This evening’s malts were (in order):
1. Bruichladdich Classic Laddie Scottish Barley
2. Bruichladdich Laddie 10
3. Bruichladdich 18 y.o.
4. Bruichladdich The Laddie 22
5. Bruichladdich Legacy 3rd Release 35 y.o.
6. Bruichladdich 12 y.o. Manzanilla Cask Willow Park Exclusive
7. Bruichladdich Black Art 4.1
8. Port Charlotte Scottish Barley
9. Octomore 6.1 Scottish Barley
Members and guests (and bears, oh my!) were greeted at the door with a gin and tonic welcome drink, made from Bruichladdich’s ‘The Botanist’ gin. At one point in my life I was a dry gin martini kinda guy on occasion, but I’ve sort of moved away from that. I can say however, that The Botanist is a top shelf gin. The botanicals bringing life to this crystalline spirit are all sourced on Islay, where the distillate rolls off an old school steampunk looking contraption of a still lovingly named ‘Ugly Betty’. Trust me…she’s anything but.
Additionally, as we wanted to be careful with how much we were offering up here, yet still wanted to explore as much of the Laddie range as possible, everyone in attendance took home a wee sample of Bruichladdich’s beastly (in all the right ways!) X4+3, the quadruple distilled release from a few years back. To my knowledge, no other distillery has ever done quadruple distillation.
With the juices flowing and the conversation lively, the troops began taking seats for the show. This was the biggest crowd we’d assembled to date, ironically on one of the worst travel days possible. Looking out at a sea of faces and the glare off nearly 800 Glencairn whisky glasses was quite a moment. I tend to share a few words at the start of each of our events, and tonight was no exception. I couldn’t help be taken aback though, as I introduced Jim and Bruichladdich, by the magnitude of this ‘little club we’d managed to build. We’ve sort of turned a corner into the realms of respectable. Well…most of us anyway. There are some Irish and Gingers in the mix. 😉
(Easy now…don’t worry. We’re equal opportunity offenders here in the DI.)
After a brief intro, we turned the evening over to Mr. McEwan. And the rest is now Dram Initiative history.
Jim is a showman of the first degree. In fact, I don’t there’s anyone better at what he does. Some people simply have an inherent gift for working with an audience. For finding that perfect balance between show and tell. Jim shares tales that are almost heartbreakingly pastoral, nostalgic and emotional, then adeptly throws out one humorous tale after another, delivered with the poise and timing of a long time stage performer. Sitting in the audience is a real treat. Whether or not you know and love your malts or are new to it, there will be something in Jim’s presentations for you.
I should also add that while I’ve seen Jim do his thing several times now, he always has new stories to share and new tales to spice up the evening.
He started us going, even before our first dram, with a rousing call to arms. We were mere days from the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum, and the fire was obviously burning strong. His impassioned speech for an ‘aye’ vote made it hard to argue that there was more at stake than simple economics. Identity. A true Scottish identity. (Hmmm…resonates especially true considering the manner in which Bruichladdich have carved out their own enduring visage).
At the end of an evening full of laughs, mockery and damn fine whisky (especially that 35 y.o. Legacy!), Jim asked the gathered masses to take to their feet. Not on the floor, but atop their chairs, with a foot thrown up on the table. He asked us to be warriors for the night. He asked us to raise a glass to the future of Scotland. Then – just for shits and giggles – suggested that as marauding warriors, after we’d downed our glasses, we should ransack the store, steal all the whisky, spill out onto the streets and continue our fearsome escapades all ’round town.
With that being said, Mr. Ewan raised his glass and led our 80+ strong audience through an adrenaline-boosting and raucous Highland toast, finishing with a flourish and letting the crowd cheer him off in style. Tough act to follow, this one.
Afterwards, members hung around to meet the man of the hour, buy some whisky, take some photos and get a few bottles signed. All in all…a brilliant occasion.
Big thanks to Jim McEwan himself, who took matters into his own hands to ensure we were able to make this event happen. The good people at Select Wine & Spirits were responsible for providing the Octomore and Black Art. Tony…Em…you two were great to work with. Thanks for everything. Look forward to making it happen again at some point.
Finally…once again we have to say thank you to Dave, Wayne and the team at Willow Park for not only coming through for us in a lurch, but for doing so with style and class. All of your help with set-up, storage, sales, etc was appreciated more than you know. You definitely won over some of the club who may not have attended WP events before. Let’s do it again soon. Maybe without all of the panic next time though.
Jim…anytime you want to come back, we’ll make sure to set ’em up for you to knock ’em down again.
Cheers to the committee and all the Dram Initiative members. Y’all rawk. But you already knew that.
Until next…sláinte mhaith!
– Words: Curt
– Photos: Curt