Skirls of the pipes, rainbows of tartan, über-eager sheepdogs, nimble dancers negotiating swords, heavy objects flying through the air, and kilts galore – in short, a Scottish Highland games. Other mainstays include clan tents, Scottish food, drink, and merchandise vendors, regal Clan Chieftains wearing identifying feathers in their jaunty Glengarrys, and entertainment heavy on Celtic beat, brogue, and banter. Games are an ideal and conducive platform in which to present single malt Scotch to a wide range of audiences, from interested novices to serious fans.
I’ve been privileged to present educational whisky tastings to thousands of guests at games throughout the United States for over 20 years, as an independent contractor and as a brand ambassador for specific brands. Most U.S. games are presented over one or two weekend days, with many games hosting a special social event on Friday evening. These functions may take the form of fancy dress or casual affairs, and are held in elegant ballrooms, historic hotels, on the field, or, in the case of the Long Beach, CA games, in the 1930s-era art deco splendor of the Verandah Grill, aboard the Queen Mary. Three or four seminars, with about 40 guests per session are held each day of the event, either in on-field tents, or inside permanent buildings on the games’ grounds. A nominal attendance fee is usually charged, with all proceeds going to the games.
Ironically, many people in the Scotch business are unacquainted with Scottish Highland games, and many folks who attend these Scottish-centric events profess a lack of knowledge about Scotch whisky, but are interested in learning.
Many guests return to the seminars year after year, often bringing friends, to ask more questions, learn about specific brands, and enjoy whisky with like-minded people. Note taking and referral to whisky books brought into the seminar are both common occurrences, along with collecting collateral material.
After a general introduction to the basics of what single malt Scotch is all about, the heart of seminars comes with sharing questions and answers from the audience. These fall into several predictable categories, ranging from the basics to the more studious. At nearly every seminar guests want to know the difference between“whiskey”, “whisky”, “Scotch”, and “Bourbon”, as well as why it’s called single malt. Asking for a description of peat and its role in Scotch, and whether or not to add ice are also very popular areas of interest. More sophisticated concerns include the role of wood in aging, what was used before wooden casks, what creates the differences between various brands of Scotch, and recommendations for resource materials to learn more. Oftentimes, authentic and antique implements used in whisky’s production are used to illustrate key points. After the hour-long seminar, and sampling various single malts, guests are inspired to seek out and purchase brands they have just experienced, and talk with their friends about Scotch, with a bit of knowledge and newly-gained confidence.