Stuart Ramsay led us through a progression of three malts. The first, Kilbeggan, is a relatively inexpensive blended whiskey ($18). It expressed what I think of as a typically "Irish" quality--wet and smooth. The distillery has the distinction of being the oldest in the world (1757). Smokiness enhances the beer, and although it seems robust enough in the mouth, it goes down like sweet springwater--gentle and cool. You could do a lot worse than bringing a bottle of this to a party. The Islay-Talisker crowd might like a bit more oomph, but they'd still enjoy this. Others, scared of whiskey, might drawn in via this malt.
Next we tried Tyrconnell, named for a racehorse that came in at 100-1, and a malt sold in the US prior to Prohibition. Whereas the Kilbeggan was solidly Irish, Tyrconnell begins a journey north across the Irish Sea toward Speyside. Still a gentle malt, but one with a more Scotch-like character. It's still sweet, though, and I don't know that you would mistake it for a Scotch.
Finally, we come to Connemara Peated Single Malt, and our journey to Scotland--at least via the flavor routes--is complete. In fact, Connemara takes us past the tamer malts all the way to Islay. It's full of peat and smoke and that characteristic band-aid. In my notes I wrote a single word: Islay. That this malt is so close to a Scotch shouldn't be a surprise, apparently. Ramsay gave us a history of whiskey, describing how it traveled from Ireland to Scotland in the 11th Century. So perhaps we shouldn't jump to any conclusions about which malt is influencing which.
In addition to the cask Amber, brewer John Harris served two beers, one brand new, and one very old (older than the whiskies, as it happened). He led off with Keelhauler, the brewery's first Scottish ale. John's goal was to create a drier version of a Scottish, and not a huge bruiser. What he came up with is a teak-colored beer with a slightly smoky, malty aroma. It had more hops than most Scottish ales (later, John pointed out to me that the style guideline is pretty broad)--though it was by no means bitter. I found it lush, rich, a bit toasty and nutty. Very nice. It went well with the course.
The other beer to mention--and I almost hate to, since only three kegs existed before last night (one remains)--was an 11-year-old Imperial stout John brewed back during the Clinton administration. He introduced it by describing what the intention was:
"We really wanted to get it up there--1.090 or more. We ended up doing three mashes. So like seven hours later, we were ready to put it in the kettle. But we kept having to shoot water in to keep from boiling it over. Who knows how strong it would have been if we hadn't added water. It's 9% now."It was an extraordinary beer. The aroma was fairly neutral--a bit of papery oxidation and plums. (Sometimes I write "dark fruit" to suggest a generic fruity quality. Not here; it was straight plum.) The flavor had that wonderful stewed quality aged beers get. The plum note was less specific in the flavor--I also got raisins and other unnameable esters. It was meaty and smoky yet not burly. Rather it was creamy and smooth as silk. A beer like that is in a sense priceless--I mean, three kegs and it's gone forever, what's that worth?--so I felt quite privileged to get it for the low, low price of $25. That they threw in the whiskey and food to boot was just damned nice of them.