“I love scotch. Scotchy scotch scotch. Here it goes down — down into my belly. Mmmm mmm mmm.” – Ron Burgundy
“Champagne’s funny stuff. I’m used to whiskey. Whiskey is a slap on the back, and champagne’s heavy mist before my eyes.” – Macaulay Connor
Scotch tasting events have been popping up with increasing frequency. One day it’s The Glenlivet, the next day Glenfiddich, then an invitation from Dewars . . . all for free. You’ve gotta love it. I certainly do, considering my scotch collection is second only to my wine collection in volume (admittedly though, a VERY distant second).
A couple of weeks ago I got the opportunity to visit “The House of Walker Experience” at the Cooper Design Space in Downtown Los Angeles put on by Johnnie Walker. JW, along with Chivas, was/is my father’s scotch of choice, and I’ve always had a bit of a nostalgic connection to that label even though I drink more single malt than blended. And I am no single malt snob — as long as it’s good and tasty, I’ll drink blended scotch without any problem.
The event itself was more theatrical, fashionable, and self-consciously hip than any other scotch-tasting event that I’d been to previously:
- The reception area took up a good portion of the loft-space floor, with club-style music and lighting throbbing at a high but tasteful level
- Very attractive hostesses wearing tiny black dresses were around every corner to help you register, serve a canapé, or point you to the bar, all with a casual friendliness that was a touch surprising and seemed genuine
- A big screen showing twitter feeds of tweets featuring #Johnnie hashtags dominated a wall on one end of the room, a bar and a photo station with a background featuring faux Andy Warhol-styled JW bottles took up the other end. A smattering of couches were placed in front of a long picture window which offered a view to the East of Downtown LA, with the old Bendix neon sign standing out among the vintage industrial buildings, and in a small case were a few bottles of the really exclusive stuff: George V, Blue Label 200th Anniversary, among others
At some point, the curtains opened to the tasting room, where benches and tasting tables were arranged in rows along three sides of the room, all facing inwards. Pre-positioned on the tables were a three shot glasses (two filled with Johnnie Walker Black and one with Red), a glass of water, a bucket of ice, and carafes filled with water, ginger ale, and Orangina. The room held somewhere around 120-150 people.
A “Master of Whiskey” (whose name unfortunately escapes me) led the festivities, starting with a truly entertaining and informative video featuring Robert Carlyle — as the whiskey master astutely pondered to the crowd, it’s amazing he got through it on one take and without any cussing.
We started with Black neat, then with a little water care of the provided eye-dropper, then Red with our choice of Orangina or Ginger Ale to mix in, then Black again to sample with ice. The ladies in the black dresses then appeared to dramatically present chilled shots of Gold, and later to present snifters of Blue. In between, there were superfluous videos to accompany the announcement of each upcoming whiskey “expression” (as the different labels are called). There was the educational bit given as most of these things do — look, then smell, then taste . . . explanations of ice vs. water . . . Q & A . . . and then that was it.
The crowd probably made the foks at Johnnie Walker and parent company Diageo pretty happy: the room was mostly full, and on a Thursday night in one of the funkier parts of Downtown, that is worth something by itself. More importantly for them, it was mostly the right kind of crowd — 20 & 30 somethings, dressed stylishly, many clearly knowledgeable about the brands. In short, this was no frat party.
If there was any small disappointment, it was that they weren’t offering any Green or Swing to taste. It would have been nice to compare it to the other offerings.
Overall, a very good event and well worth my time. If you are a fan of scotch, try to wrangle an invitation the next time it comes to your town. And if you’re in LA, you still have tonight or tomorrow to try to squeeze your way in. Otherwise, I’ll see you there next year.