“I want to see how you are going to make this work”, TW stated as he viewed the line-up of whisky perched in the doorway of the guillotine bar of Dill’s Tavern. He was referring to the eclectic collection of Highland, Lowland, Island and American whiskies lined up in a formation like Scottish Highlanders preparing to discharge a volley from their muskets. Each whiskey was selected for a specific role as the evening unfolded. It was time for another Zulu Whiskey Club meeting. This one was a Robert Burns Dinner hosted by Murman in the tap room of an 18th century tavern in Dillsburg, PA. A quarterly event is held by the club. There are no rules except that one member is responsible for the concept and conduct of the meeting. Regimental Sergeant Major Malcom MacWilliams and his assistants prepared the traditional Scottish fare of haggis, neeps and tatties, cockaleekie soup and shortbread that is served at events which commemorate the life and rhymes of Scotland’s most famous poet Robert Burns.
The first whisky was Glenkinchie. The role of this whiskey was to represent the Scottish lowland area of Burn’s birth. There are distilleries closer to his birthplace of Alloway, but they make grain whiskey that is generally not used for single malts but as an ingredient in several blends. In 1786, Burns borrowed a pony and rode to Edinburgh to try to sell his poetry. Founded in 1837, the Glenkinchie distillery was not around when Burns made his ride, however the style of the whiskey that is produced in this region became known as the lowland style of whiskey. The distillery is only a few miles from Edinburgh. This whiskey is light and floral like cut flowers. It was a great place to start an evening of exploring whiskey. We charged our glasses and awaited the arrival of all of the guests.
The Selkirk Grace signaled the beginning of the meal. The first course was cockaleekie soup. The chicken based soup with leeks and vegetables was light and paired well with the Glenkinchie. After the salad course we switched to Talisker and prepared for the haggis. The Great Chieftain o’ the Puddin-race was delivered to the room with solemn drama. To say the poem “To A Haggis” was recited would be an understatement. Sergeant Major MacWilliams performed the poem in theatric fashion, plunging his sword into the “meaty buttocks” and drawing his knife to carve huge chunks of the warm-reekin rich. Following toasts and a standing ovation to the recitation of Burns’ Ode to the Offal, huge plates of steaming haggis, neeps and tatties were passed around the table. Talisker was a great compliment to the main course. Several whiskey writers recommended it. The peppery flavor went well with the rather plain haggis. The balanced smoke and peat served to pull all the flavors of the plate together.
Lagavulin was meant to serve as an alternative to Talisker. The pros recommended Talisker. My amateur choice was the rich nectar from the salty, iodiny shores of Islay. I was not disappointed. The blast of flavor from the heavily peated Lagavulin was a perfect complement to the haggis. A sip after a mouthful of the bland haggis revealed the sweet sherry flavors of this whiskey. Reasonable men can disagree on which whiskey was the perfect shepherd for the sheep innards. For me it was Lagavulin.
As we finished the haggis, bubbles and squeak was served, second helpings were had and we prepared for the final course. Several members of the club rubbed their hands together in anticipation of the next whisky. The Glenmorangie 18 year was opened. The sweet smell of this highland whiskey was evident even through the smoke of the fireplace and pre-dinner cigars. The golden color shimmered in the candlelight as I poured into each Glencairn glass. The nose of this whiskey was exquisite. The Glenmorangie was selected because it is Sergeant Major MacWilliams favorite. TW described it as a most complete whiskey. Some whisky has an awesome nose or a great attack on the palate. Others have a wonderful blend of malt and smoke and a long luxurious finish. But Glenmorangie 18 Year has it all. The original spirit is finessed for eighteen years in oak casks with a finish in oloroso sherry barrels gilding the fruity, floral delicacy. It is a completely sensational whisky. It was combined with a homemade shortbread. I hate the phrase “to die for”, but if you like that phrase, it is an appropriate description of the combination. The buttery sweetness of shortbread with the silky, sweet, luscious, honey of the whiskey was well….you know!
The first after dinner spirit was Smooth Ambler’s Old Scout. This whiskey also had a special role. The ruffians and scoundrels of the Zulu Whiskey Club do not like to reveal their soft sensitive side. But several members wanted to know if they needed to prepare some verse or poetry for the event. When challenged about getting in touch with his feminine side C2 retorted that he was just an “Old Scout” and wanted to be prepared for the event. (thus the whiskey). TW visited the distillery and is a huge fan. This is a high rye bourbon whiskey (36% rye). It was a great segway from the old world of scotches to the new world of American whiskey. This whiskey gives you a little pepper with the sweet. It led the transition from the sweet of the shortbread and Glenmorangie to what was in store for the balance of the evening: stogies! It was perfect to light up a cigar. The cigars were hand rolled from the tobacco roller at the Dill Tavern. The sticks were moist, burned evenly and produced a good volume of smoke. Many complementary comments were heard about the Dill Tavern stogies.
As we settled into the evening of storytelling, and the badinage that always accompanies these events, we opened the final bottle: Dad’s Hat Rye. This is a perfect whiskey to sip about halfway through a good cigar. As the taste of the tobacco reaches its fullest, it needs a crisp full flavored whiskey to bring out the best of the cigar. Dad’s Hat was chosen for two reasons. It is a rye crafted in the Monongahela Rye tradition. It is very similar to the whiskey produced at Dill‘s Tavern during the heyday of whiskey-making. Second, it is a young, bold whiskey that could stand out from the plethora of flavors from foods, spirits, and cigars of the evening. It got noticed. CRS, our resident gourmand, who has arguably the most trained palate said, “I love this whiskey”. He was seen in the corner, guarding the bottle and rationing the spirit to others in measured pours.
The evening went on into the wee hours of the night. As the fires died down, we retired to the upstairs sleeping quarters of the tavern with bellies filled with haggis and spirits. Our prayers, according to Robbie Burns were answered that night, even before they were offered…….
Ye Pow’rs, wha mak mankind your care, (those that make mankind their care)
And dish them out their bill o fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware (old Scotland wants no watery ware)
That jaups in luggies: (that slops in bowls)
But, if Ye wish her gratefu prayer, (but if you wish her grateful prayer)
Gie her a Haggis!
Cheers and sweet dreams, boys!