Change of Address for my Blogs

Effective January 14, 2013 my blogs will appear on:

http://www.whiskytastings.com  (Go to Our Blog).

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Three of Scotland’s Crafts of the Past

Christmas is a time when fine Scotches are on the minds of aficionados, both for gifting and receiving. When an authentic Scottish whisky-related antique joins the bottle, an unforgettable gift for a whisky drinker is born.

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This Mauchlineware whisky glass holder shows a Welsh mountain scene, as viewed from the small Welsh town of Rhyd Dhu.

In 1820s Mauchline, Scotland, innovative snuff box craftsmen began making superior quality items of everyday use, decorated with scenes of local towns and scenery. In a process much like today’s decoupage, the simple pieces, made from a sycamore-like wood called plane, became wildly popular as souvenirs. Soon, images from all over the world adorned the Mauchlineware.

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Clan names were usually printed in gold, somewhere on the tartanware piece.

Within 20 years, brothers William and Andrew Smith were the largest Mauchlineware manufacturers and had developed a second product called tartanware. Using the same simple plane wood pieces, the Smiths covered the items with hand-applied colors that replicated Scottish tartans. This very laborious process was replaced in 1840 when the brothers invented an ingenious inking machine that created tartan patterns on thin paper.  Items including candle sticks, thimble cases, egg cups and timers, napkin rings, brooches and desk top accessories were all covered with the patterns. Most pieces of tartanware also bore the name of the Scottish tartan somewhere on the piece. Being Scotland, containers to protect whisky glasses during travel, were very popular.

Following Queen Victoria’s ascension to the throne, building her summer home in Scotland, and the subsequent popularizing of “all things Scottish”, tartanware became a world-wide sensation. Its production was tragically halted in 1933 when a fire destroyed the bespoke machinery used to create the tartan patterns. Tartanware instantly became a valuable collectible.

Mackinlay’s Rare Old Highland Malt Whisky is a Scotch that recently earned world-wide headlines. It was blended and bottled by Charles Mackinlay & Sons of Leith and Inverness, Scotland. In 1907, crates of it were shipped to Antarctica by the explorer Ernest Shackleton, for his “Nimrod” expedition, headed for the South Pole. The expedition was thwarted by weather and abandoned. Several wooden crates were discovered a century later, in Shackleton’s frozen hut. Through the diligent work of Richard Paterson, Whyte & Mackay’s Master Blender, a replica of the original 1907 whisky is now available.

Although implausible that the Shackleton expedition carried tartanware whisky glass holders, it is interesting to muse at the possibility.

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“The Shackleton” whisky – Rare Old Highland Malt Whisky, and a MacPherson tartanware whisky glass holder.

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18th Annual Christmas Whisky Tasting

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The selection has been finalized! Five superlative whiskies encompass a tremendous range of colors, aromas, and flavors. This year’s whiskies are:

The Macallan Gran Reserva, 18 years old

The Glenrothes 1975, 31 years old

Ardbeg Galileo, 13 years old

Mortloch, 16 years old

Glenturret 1998, 12 years old – a Gordon & Macphail bottling

Asian hors d’oeuvres, sea bass, shrimp, and filet of beef will be served; we will enjoy the whiskies from the revolutionary new NEAT glass; professional entertainment will add to the ambience.

December 13, 2012 – San Diego, CA

Seats are extremely limited. For more information and to order tickets, please call 714.204.7689.

 

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Lunch at the Casita

“Drop by the casita for lunch – I’ll put something together” is what my friend offered. Little did I know what was in store.

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The GPS successfully navigated serpentine roads through North San Diego County’s backcountry and delivered me to the massive iron gates of a hidden estate for this first-time visit. As the gates swung open, my friend’s voice came from a hidden speaker: “Drive up the hill and turn left at the totem pole.” I thought of Alice’s comment in Wonderland, about things getting “curiouser and curiouser”. As caretaker on the estate, and keeper of the koi ponds, my friend lives in a Spanish style casita with commanding views of the world. What he put together for lunch was a feast designed to be enjoyed with a variety of paired single malts for a leisurely afternoon “catch up”. Choosing among The Macallan, The Balvenie PortWood, Oban, and Glenlivet was a task, with Oban and Balvenie getting my nod. What a grand way to get ready for single malt Scotch presentations at this weekend’s San Diego Scottish Highland Games in Vista. Slainte!

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Celebrating the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in Santa Monica, CA

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Malts, mash, beer, and bangers helped celebrate The Queen’s Jubilee in Santa Monica, CA. Ye Olde (don’t you love it?) King’s Head British Pub was electric with Anglophiles for the kickoff of a great weekend for Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. At the bar, Pimm’s Gin Cocktails, Bass and Newcastle were most in demand, but many of us were enjoying single malts. Net result: occasional shout-outs of “Long Live the Queen”! Around our table we shared tastes of each other’s leek and potato soup, fish & chips, shepherd’s pie, and bangers & mash. Sticky toffee pudding, jam sponge pudding with strawberry jam, and rhubarb crumble with Birds Custard were all smashing for dessert. Our booth was watched over by Sir Winston himself, and our server explained, with a wink and nod, the photo showing the Queen Mum was not taken in the pub! “Long Live the Queen”, indeed.  Image

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Sir Winston, ever the epitome of decorum

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Scotfest 2012

A mighty impressive array of single malt Scotch whiskies awaited imbibers at the recently-held Scotfest at the Orange County Fairgrounds, Costa Mesa, CA. Mostly offerings from independent bottlers, the range covered a nice representation of the distilling regions of Scotland. Some of the labels included Arran, Blackadder, Hart Brothers, Chieftains, and Isle of Skye. 

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I was visiting Scotfest, however, to learn more about the lesser-known aspects of Celtic, Scottish, and Irish culture. The popular piping & drumming, Highland dance, heavy athletics, and clan participation were all there, of course, but I was interested in the more esoteric side of things.

 WOLVES OF ODIN was a fascinating display of Viking culture, which predated the Celts and added to the Celtic civilization. Information about weapons, food, symbols of wealth (or lack thereof), crafts, and reenactments were all expertly presented by Bruce Willis, Steve Mata and Disa Sicre.

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VILLAGE BLOCKSMITH, Peter Dzulak, was on hand with his building blocks, specifically designed to create castles. Gothic arches and balconies, crenulated towers, dormers and graceful Roman arches allowed dreamers, their parents and grandparents to put form to their imaginations.

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SLIGO RAGS refer to themselves as “A Celtic Bluegrass Fusion”. The music of Michael Kelly and David Burns was engaging, entertaining, and fun to watch. I had never heard the duo before, but will start to follow their Southern California performances.

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WHEAT WEAVING seems to be enjoying a revival of sorts, with an increasing number of well-qualified artisans furthering the art. Cora Hendershot and Don Redifer displayed beautiful examples of Scottish, Irish, and Eastern European creations. The Belorussian Wedding Crown was incredibly complex, made from rye straw, and took Cora over 80 hours to make. Kirn dollies and other display pieces gave a tangible glimpse into past customs fitting into the modern world.

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The STRIKING HAIR DO crowning Jeremy Gatewood led to a discussion of “The Bog Man”, discovered in 2003 in Ireland. Seems the gentleman, who lived between 362 and 175 B.C. was small in stature – about a few inches north of five feet. His well-preserved hair style, according to archaeologists, was an example of trying to look taller and fiercer – maybe emulating the horns of the devil. Thanks, Jeremy, for the insight.

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All in all, a great day in Costa Mesa.

 

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Semper Fi, Mario

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Hotel Menage, Anaheim, CA

“I’d like to take my girlfriend to a whisky tasting for her birthday, before I deploy for Afghanistan” is how the email stream started, more than a month ago. Last night, U.S. Marine Mario Herrera and Megan Schulz finished their personalized whisky tasting just before the magical fireworks display across the freeway at Disneyland illuminated the sky. Through the generosity of Steve, one of the Hotel Ménage managers, Mario and Megan enjoyed an upgraded view suite and a tray of goodies to go with the whiskies. Campari America’s World Class Whiskies provided single malts from various distilling regions of Scotland: Auchentoshan from the Lowlands, Bowmore from Islay, Glen Garioch and Glen Grant from the Highlands. Megan is sure she will win bar bets, challenging people to pronounce “Garioch” correctly (answer: “Geery”). Happy Birthday, Megan, and Safe Journey, Mario.

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