On 1st October, The Scotch Malt Whisky Society (Australia) held a very special SMWS / Bruichladdich / Jim McEwan masterclass.
It’s hard to write an objective, even a subjective review of a tasting event when you were one of the co-hosts and facilitators of the event. However, this was a fantastic evening, with so much whisky love in the air, and so one can’t help but give some account of the evening. So forgive me if it comes across as a little biased…..
Jim McEwan, industry legend, is currently on a promotional tour across Australia to share the Bruichladdich story with whisky drinkers. Trade and open-to-the-public tastings have been organised in most of the capital cities, and the Australian distributor, South Trade, has got Jim on an incredibly busy schedule, with up to three or four events each day for the next two weeks. And Jim wouldn’t have it any other way.
The Scotch Malt Whisky Society in Australia LOVES to team up with distributors, distilleries, and “the big brands” where and when possible, and the planning was set in motion early to ensure we could deliver a corker of a night.
90-odd people squeezed into the Royal Automobile Club in Sydney, and were handed a gin & tonic on arrival. Not your typical way to start a whisky tasting, but with the gin being The Botanist, distilled at Bruichladdich, it set the tone of the evening nicely. Yours truly took care of the welcomes and introduction, before handing the reins over to Jim. And from that point, the earth stood still for a few hours.
One of the things I love about Jim (having met with him and seen him in action many times over the last 10 years) is that he tells not just the story of the whisky, but of the people and the community who make it. And so our audience this evening got not just a glimpse of Jim and his curriculum vitae, but also the people behind the scenes who live and breathe Bruichladdich each day: The farmers, the Visitor Centre staff, the mashmen, the brewers, the distillers, the warehousemen, the people in the bottling hall, and even the young lady who inserts the promo brochure into the bottle tins.
The man has an incredible sense of humour and entertains his audiences with every word. So much so, that it was almost possible to overlook the amazing whiskies that were poured before us. Until you nosed and tasted them. All the whiskies on the table were fantastic: No caramel, no chillfiltration, this was REAL whisky and each one of them pushed my buttons. If I’d been handing out scores on the night, they would all have been high – there were no duds in this line up.
It wouldn’t be an SMWS event without an SMWS whisky, and so we squeezed one into the line up. The whisky menu on the night was as follows:
- The Classic Laddie Scottish Barley
- Islay Barley 2006
- Black Art
- Port Charlotte Scottish Barley
- Port Charlotte 10yo
- SMWS 127.39 11yo PC single cask from a Refill Sherry Butt at 66.7% ABV
- Octomore 6.1
And it didn’t stop there. Jim said some very kind words about the Society and what we’ve done locally in Australia to promote both Bruichladdich and the single malt category in general. In recognition of this, he elected to unveil – for the first time anywhere – a new expression of Octomore.
And so, with much fanfare, an eighth whisky was brought out for the night. Roughly 5.5 years old, and matured in virgin French oak, this was a sublime whisky moment both in its sentiment and on the palate, and – I won’t lie – it brought a tear to my eye. Jim pressed home the point that we were the first people in the world to taste this, and we were humbled and honoured. And, all sentiment aside, I have to say it was an incredibly tasty, flavoursome, and beautifully balanced whisky. Was it my top scoring dram of the night?
Thank you, Jim.
The evening concluded with Jim’s legendary traditional Highland toast, and those who were brave enough stood up on the chairs and placed one foot on the table for the delivery. I’d done this toast with Jim several times before, but on this particular evening, I couldn’t help but give it considerably more gusto!
Jim retreated to one side of the room and made himself available to sign bottles (everything that was up for tasting could be purchased there and then on the night) and to answer questions and pose for photographs.I’ve deliberately not gone into long-winded tasting notes for the whiskies. Other well-known and well-subscribed whisky bloggers were present on the night, and they’ll no doubt do the whiskies justice in their respective write-ups. (That’s a hint Matt, Jonathan, & Hendy). For me, the night was simply about spending time with a good friend, a whisky comrade, and to marvel at the passion, charisma, and skill he brings to the game.
The Society is doing two other similar events with Jim on this visit in Brisbane & Melbourne respectively.
Thanks go to Gee, Eddie, & Tony at South Trade for teaming up with us and for collaborating to put on such a good show. Feedback from SMWS members on the night and in many, many emails we received the following morning testify as to just how good a night this was.