Portland exhibited how important it has become on the spirits scene with the current visit of Scotch Whisky Ambassador Martin Daraz. The dynamic and knowledgeable Daraz is spending three days in the market during an intense globe-trotting tour of events, seminars and tasting sessions.
Daraz, a total antithesis to the idea of a "dour Scotsman", dazzled everyone with his deep, profound knowledge of all things Scotch and his unbridled passion for the subject during his first two events, and will be taking it to the consumer tonight at McMenamin's Scotch Whisky Dinner at the Kennedy School.
Daraz dazzles with a constant patter of commentary in a rolling Scottish burr, relating the history of Celtic whisky with relish and affection, and smoothly and clearly delineating the intricacies of Scotch during a guided tasting format.
On the first day of his visit, Daraz managed to keep a roomful of bartenders and restaurateurs from the Oregon Bartenders Guild spellbound and speechless---not always an easy task, especially when there's a plentiful supply of excellent Scotch on hand---during two tasting courses.
The first tasting included Famous Grouse, the perennial best selling blended Scotch in Scotland (and who should know Scotch better than a Scotsman, eh?), and particularly appropriate as it is a blend of The Macallan and Highland Park whiskies that followed.
Famous Grouse is not a faint and misty blend of Scotch; it is on the high end of a powerful and tasty full-bodied style, with plenty of malt characteristics in a superbly balanced framework. It combines the mellow sweetness of Macallan with the more lusty and peaty Highland Park.
Daraz treated the attendees to a special treat with the next scotch, the rare Macallan Cask Strength, a deep, full-flavored--and full alcohol---Speyside with the concentrated essence of the dry oloroso sherry casks from Jerez used in the maturation cycle. The sherry casks give a soft, smooth mouthfeel and an intense sweetness of fruit and citrus to enhance the rich malt character.
The Macallan 15 year old Fine Oak was a convincing testament to the blending skills of the Master Distller, with a softer, sleeker profile, herbal and fruity tones, and a toffee and vanilla oak finish.
The Highland Park 18 year old, on the other hand, is a more robust single malt from Orkney, with that distinctive smokey character from peat smoking the barley malt, and the essence of a salty seaside breeze from the Orcadian climate. The Highland Park has been referred to, quite correctly, as the perfect entry-level Scotch to introduce people to the peat-smoked style, since it is only lightly peat-smoked and allows all the other elements of the scotch to emerge as well. All in all, the Highland Park is the best 'all purpose' Single Malt available in the market.
For the second portion of the tasting seminar, Daraz challenged the attendees to expand their appreciation of Scotch through a blind tasting, putting six unknown scotches in front of everyone and having the group describe them and guess the producer before unveiling the bottles.
It was instruction of the best sort for these professionals, as it removed all brand prejudices and relied on the inherent style and quality of what was in the glass.
The results were rather surprising (blind tastings can be that way):
1. Glenlivet 12--'salty caramel', 'not too focused'
2. Auchentoshan--'cedar, citrus and sawdust', 'nutty', 'brewed tea'; not a crowd favorite
3. Glenfarclas 12--'dense, caramel, hard finish, noticeable burn'
4. Johnny Walker Red Blend---'wood smoke, vanilla, sweet fruit, heather'; surprisingly popular and stood against the competitive single malts very well
5. Talisker 10---'peaty, smoky, chewy', 'definitely Islay', several suggested this was Lagavulin; popular with the crowd
6. Cao Ila 12---'complex, chewy, apple fruit, smoke, iodine, sea salt'; the biggest surprise of the group, and the one most people knew the least about. Another crowd favorite.
On the following day, Daraz was invited by Lance Mayhew to conduct a tasting seminar for the students at the Oregon Culinary Institute, which has one of the best beverage component programs of any culinary school in the country, and Daraz led the students through an exciting and educational appreciation of Scotch whisky.
Tonight, Daraz will appear at McMenamin's Kennedy School to lend his knowledge and passion to consumers. It's an event Scotch aficionados won't want to miss...or will be sorry they did.
Daraz has been hugely impressed by the dynamic spirits and cocktail scene in Portland (of course, he may be homesick for the dank, cold, clammy Scotland weather, but that's another topic), and he has already promised he'll be back.
For another take on Martin Daraz, and a video interview that occurred on his first day in Portland, go to DrinkSpirits.