I’m a big fan of the Scotch tasting events that have cropped up in the past 5 or so years. I don’t know how I got invited to my first one years back – I probably was on an email list that had been re-sold among marketing groups, and now I just keep cycling through as the Scotch brands come to town, but oh well. These events are fun and they’re free, and they just might open your eyes and tastebuds to a drink you previously turned your nose up to. Recently we attended the “Raise the Macallan” Scotch tasting event at Siren Studios and it was as enjoyable as ever.
These Scotch tastings are fully produced and the entire experience creates a setting related to the brand. Typically you walk in to a reception area in a small event venue suitable for about 150 people. The featured brand is all over the place – from the lighting/projections on the walls, to the educational displays, to the photobooth station, to the glass display cases showing off the rare older bottles. At this Macallan event, they had some 1949 and 1954 Macallan bottles that were worth over $30K each.
In the reception area, you’ll be treated to passed hors d’ouevres and a starter drink. While you sample the small bites and enjoy your first cocktail, check out the displays and interactive stations that educate you on the history of the brand. At the Macallan tasting, they had a fun “nosing station” where you blind-sniffed each of the 4 Scotches being sampled later that night, and you could try to identify the tasting notes then pick which one you liked the best.
Once it’s time to proceed to the presentation, you’ll be herded into a large room where you’ll grab a seat and be guided through tasting up to 5 Scotches with a bubbly, very Scottish “Brand Ambassador” named something like Loch or Colwyn. In our case, Kieron hosted our tasting.
One sample at a time, Kieron guided us through a history of The Macallan and then the Macallan Scotch tastings we enjoyed that night, and shared tasting notes. This Scotch tasting had an interactive bent – after each sample, we used the iPad on the table to vote on which was the main tasting note, then saw real-time results on what the entire room thought. On each table, ice and water was available so that you could try the scotch tastings neat, or add ice or a few drops of water as you wanted. At other Scotch tastings they actually told us which sample to add the ice or water to, so that we could see how it affected the flavors and the tasting experience. But Kieron just let us do what we wanted.
By the end of the night, we had sampled 4 different Macallan Scotches and got to learn a bit more about The Macallan, while enjoying a very fun Scottish accent for an hour. We even had the option to buy Macallan on-site, or to use a coupon for free shipping for a future online order. If you have the chance to attend one of these Scotch tastings, take advantage of it – the experience will open your mind to enjoying fine Scotch!
- GET THERE: These free Scotch tastings are held in various cities at various times of the year. They’re not publicized in advance but rather you hear about them via email. In the past I have attended tastings for Johnnie Walker, The Balvenie, The Glenlivet, and (obviously) The Macallan. Visit each of these brands’ sites to register your email address and hopefully be notified of future events.
- WHAT TO WEAR: The invite said “business casual” and that’s pretty much what everyone wore. Don’t be sloppy! As our presenter, Kieron wore a natty plaid suit.
- HOW TO PREPARE: I recommend you get to the event early. They usually overbook these free tastings to ensure a full house, and some people may not get in. In our case, the event started at 9 but the queue was already to the end of the block by 845! Also, eat first – the appetizers they serve will not substitute for a meal.
- LOCAL FLAIR: In the reception area, mingle with the fellow event invitees, and look for your Brand Ambassador before the presentation. Oh, and make sure that you Instagram or Tweet your experience from the beginning, and use the correct hashtag – as we filed in to the presentation about halfway through the evening, we were told that the most active social media users would be invited to a special VIP area after the tasting. So, get active on your social channels! I needed a late pass on this one; sadly, I could not catch up on social media activity by the time Kieron told us about the VIP benefit.
- FAIR & SQUARE? It’s free, so enjoy!