It’s no secret to our close followers and friends that Scotchology has long been a fan of Ace Spirits, a small liquor store on the west side of the Twin Cities. We won’t take the space here to gush about them, suffice it to say they are more than worth a visit if you ever find yourself within the metro area. Not only do they carry the largest whisky selection we’ve seen here in Minnesota, they also use their connections in the industry to have tastings on a fairly regular basis (don’t worry, they also have other spirits, a few wines, and a respectable craft beer pantheon). We had the good fortune to attend two tastings within the same fortnight there, both different and unique.
October 6: The first was a rare peated malt tasting run by the inimitable Simon Brooking, a Whisky Ambassador for Beam Suntory with a focus on Laphroaig. It was a cool autumn evening in Minnesota and Ace Spirits had a tent with an array of food trays along with a private cigar seller (Maria) situated nearby for anyone who wanted smoke from more than their Scotch. This invite only event was attended by around 60 people, with a wide variety of ages, genders and experience levels represented. The staff, pictured above with representatives from Beam Suntory distributors (Brant Foehl and Angela Mackenthun) and Simon in a kilt, circulated among the crowd, answering questions and pouring our samples. Led by the store’s owner, Louis, the staff is knowledgeable and enthusiastic about their products. They also have the added advantage of being pretty awesome people in general.
This is a good point to mention that the tasting was held outside and was excellently paced, especially given the sheer number of spirits being tasted. Simon gave an introduction to each Scotch followed by a brief explanation or history and answered any questions, then left us a good amount of time to taste the Scotch and talk among ourselves to share impressions. We can’t stress how great this is, as nothing can dampen a tasting like moving too fast and not allowing time to absorb the impression of what you’re drinking. Simon and the staff moved us along over the next two hours, but it never felt like we were being rushed. Drawing on Beam Suntory’s breadth, Simon was able to feature not only the impressive offerings of Laphroaig, but also a few others from the company’s portfolio. A really excellent evening and our favorite tasting in a long, long time. An added bonus – Simon is now following us on Twitter!
October 15: A little more than a week later, we found ourselves again at Ace’s for another tasting, this time with Ed Kohl. Ed works for ImpEx Beverages, an importer of whiskies and other spirits. He’s the kind of guy you wish you had for a cool uncle. You wouldn’t necessarily see him that often, but when you did it was sure to be a great time with tons of stories. And Scotch. Moreover, ImpEx prefers to partner with smaller, independent distilleries. Ed has been around for a good while and knows his stuff. This was a slightly leaner gathering because it took place in the store and space was more limited. Still, there were around 40 people, a few of whom like us had been at the previous weeks’ tasting. Ed was a showman in a previous incarnation, we think, because he had knowledge at his fingertips, a love of the industry and the indelible spirit. Whereas the previous tasting focused primarily on Islay and Laphroaig, this tasting gave us a tour across Scotland, both geographically and historically. Ed spent some time deep-diving into the processes of making Scotch, the equipment used, the different distilleries and the changing tides of taste within the industry, often with digital slides. Somehow, we also had time to taste the Scotches, absorbing delights for both the ear and the tongue throughout the evening. We could have listened to him talk about his various experiences all evening.
Both these events are good illustration on how there are multiple ways to have a successful whisky tasting. With some forethought and planning, as well as being aware of your strengths and playing to them, each of these Scotch masters was able to educate and entertain. Moreover, it was wonderful being able to share the experience with fellow enthusiasts. The staff of Ace Spirits was in the background of each and it was easy to see that they put a lot of effort into making sure each event went smoothly. Holding events like these can be a powerful draw, so it’s even better when we can patronize a local business run by people who are invested in the industry and who respect the people who participate in these events. A highlight of the second event was being recognized by Louis, the owner, while signing in. It’s yet another one of those little touches that keeps us coming back. So, what about the important stuff, namely the drinks we tried? The first six are from October 6, the second six are from October 15.
Bowmore Cask Strength
Impressions: Smooth, smoke, a little brine. Brawny. Pleasant but not super memorable. A nice aperitif to start off the tasting.
Laphroaig 15 Year
Impressions: Brine, light smoke, smooth, no sour finish(!), light peat, sweet, fruit. Lovely all around, really. We brought both the 15 and 18 home later.
Laphroaig 18 Year
Impressions: Richer, oak, deeper, stronger, clean peat in finish. A highlight of the tasting. Even still, very nuanced in way not all Islays are.
Impressions: Mossy, thick, chewy, swampy, tasty. Bold and unapologetic. This definitely made up for the Port Wood Finish from a few years ago. We couldn’t help but buy a bottle. Review is here.
Ardmore 25 Year
Impressions: Sharp smoke, citrus. Pleasing. Dangerously smooth. Delightful Highland break from the Islay lineup. Flavorful and light. More, please!
Laphroaig 32 Year
Impressions: Sherry, grassy, smooth, light, almost floral. Looks blood-red. Stunning, really. Not sure the price is worth it yet, but an exceptionally fine whisky nevertheless.
Tamdu 10 Year
Impressions: Cereal, lean, spice, floral, nutty, a little Sherry, drinkable for a Speyside.
Tamdhu Batch Strength
Impressions: Butterscotch, sweet, oil, rich, full, heather.
Isle of Skye 8 Year
Impressions: Blended, raw, molasses, tobacco, oil, cream.
Arran 10 Year
Impressions: Perfume, sweet, friendly, salt, candy. A great spring or summer Scotch.
Arran 14 Year
Impressions: Really sweet, with a lot of cereal freshness. Finished in sherry hogsheads but not overpowering. Almost a delightful accent.
Arran Amarone Cask
Impressions: Fruit, cotton candy, brine, raisin, heather, cereal with water, hella tasty. This one came home with us. The review is here.
Kilcohoman Machir Bay
Impressions: Peat, fruit, light, smoke, tasty. Wrote “goddamn” as a legitimate tasting note. Been a couple years since our last taste. This keeps getting better. Please let there be a Kilchoman vertical tasting in our future!
Kilchoman Loch Gorman
Impressions: Bubblegum, oil, floral, peat. An interesting attempt but it needs the kinks worked out. We prefer the Machir Bay.