We recently had the opportunity to take part in a lively whiskey tasting at Old Chatham Golf Club, where the informative and humorous insights, answers and anecdotes from expert bartender/restaurateur, Gary Crunkleton, owner of Chapel Hill’s famed Crunkleton, made for great fun for 35 lucky Old Chatham members and their guests.
Settled in the comfortable seats in the handsome grill room, fireplace going, silver spittoons centered on each table, each of us was immersed in the famed Old Chatham Experience, enjoying first hand the camaraderie and comfortable elegance that makes this Club so special.
Gary’s conversation was fascinating, both whiskey talk and tidbits about his life, travels, and work. Apparently, he’s an avid golfer and guest of Old Chatham and this was a return visit to share 13 whiskeys from around the globe. Starting with local North Carolina and Virginia distilleries, moving west to Washington, and then around the world to the United Kingdom, Tasmania, Taiwan, and Japan.
Gary talked about tastes but also a bit of nifty education about whiskey (read: you’ll be the hit of the party with some of these sparkling tidbits).
Aging statements – Distilleries provide this information (to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau—TTB). The age of a whiskey is the amount of time in the cask before being bottled; thus, the longer time in the cask, the more flavor it offers and the less spirit will remain.
Once bottled, the aging process stops. A whiskey bottled at seven years old will always be a seven-year old whiskey, even in a hundred years (insert the obvious joke here about age, freezing time, and bottling youthful spirits). Anyone making a parallel to high fashion, a fine and rare whiskey’s vintage is the year it was distilled. Keep in mind, when purchasing blends and single malts, some of the whiskies may be older than the stated age.
Scotch Whiskey Regions – Highlands, Speyside, Islands, Islay, Lowlands, and Campbeltown
Malt whiskey – made primarily from malted barley.
Grain whiskey – made from any type of grains.
Single malt whiskey – from a single distillery that has used one malted grain. If it is not specified as single-cask, it contains whiskey from many casks, and different years.
Blended malt whiskey – a combination of single malt whiskies from various distilleries.
Blended whiskey – a combination of different types of whiskies from multiple distilleries.
Another domestic choice was from Westland Distillery, an American single malt whiskey, with several awards and multiple malts. Some tasting notes: caramel, chocolate, almonds, hint of smokiness.
Sullivans Cove, a Tasmanian whiskey, was one of the several international brands we tasted. Old Chatham generously gave members in attendance their pick to take home a whiskey bottle from the selection tasted. Whoever took first dibs on this one was lucky as it is a World’s Best Single Malt winner (2014) at the World’s Whiskies Awards.
Another wonderful choice was White Oak Distillery’s Akashi Blended whiskey, a Japanese pick. Interestingly, the distillery is under 20 miles from Kobe (perhaps a steak pairing) and as Gary shared with us, many factors influence the whiskies, well beyond the cask. Soil, climate (in this case, the sea), and the distiller. White Oak is a family founded distillery, the first in Japan to obtain a distillation license in 1888.
The descriptors ran the range from sweet to strong—honey, hay, peppery, smoky, and more. Food pairings were not part of the evening, but the Old Chatham chefs certainly kept everyone balanced with a mix of sweet and savory, including fruits, homemade cheese straws, a wonderful tray of chocolate, plus salmon, roast beef, and steak appetizers.
Whiskey aficionados enjoyed a conversation with Gary as he poured and shared good information throughout the evening. Newbies determined that they either appreciated wine more or that small tastes were perfect, after dinner rather than a drink to sip accompanying a meal.
Gary has a busy schedule, but he will be busier in 2016.
*Whiskey is the American spelling. You’ll find whisky used more commonly throughout Europe, Asia, United Kingdom, and other regions.