Britain’s Winston Churchill was known for his quick wit. The story is told that he was once confronted about his heavy drinking:
“Prime Minister, people say that you’ve drunk enough alcohol to fill a room.”
“Ah,” Churchill replied gazing up towards the ceiling, “So much to do, and so little time.”
Churchill himself might have been impressed this past Saturday night if he had been lucky enough to score an invitation to a gourmet Scotch tasting at Michael Schwartz’ Cypress Tavern.
Organized by Gilt City, an affiliate of the online retailer, Schwartz teamed up with famed Scotch distiller, The Macallan to pair five of their distinct single malts with a number of his signature dishes.
The whiskies ranged from a 12 year old, aged in sherry barrels, that can be found in liquor stores for about $50 per fifth to a Rare Cask that will set you back $250 or more per bottle. They were served neat, usually in cut crystal cocktail glasses although the two premium bottles, the Edition No. 2 and Rare Cask, arrived in brandy snifters well suited to their complex bouquets.
The gathering had been offered online by Gilt City as the last of five Macallan tastings around the world. Similar parties took place last year in Scotland, New York, Chicago and LA. A lucky group of 16 were lured to Miami – one couple flew in from California -- for a package that consisted of dinner and two nights at the 1 Hotel on Miami Beach.
Cypress Tavern closed its doors for the event, which began with a special cocktail prepared from Macallan’s standard 10-year old with honey and lemon zest. Guests were treated to passed hors d’oeurvres including ahi tuna, diced beet salad, and duck confit.
The formal dinner consisted of three appetizers paired with the younger Scotches. A delicate steak tartare topped with a dollop of egg yolk and smothered in a generous blanket of black truffles was accompanied by Macallan’s 12-year old sherry cask. The young single malt offset the slight acidity of the marinated meat and the small charred toast it was served on and allowed the bouquet of the French truffles to come through.
The tartare was followed by a pumpkin agnolotti which Schwartz paired with another 12-year old Scotch, the Double Cask. This whisky, which drew the strongest raves of the evening, was far more mellow than the sherry cask and tasted almost sweet alongside the small cream-filled raviolis which floated in savory brown butter and were topped with pine nuts and a sprig of thyme.
For his third appetizer, Schwartz chose a plate of chargrilled octopus accompanied by a crispy potato fritter and some tomato confit and chile. This he matched with a 15-year old Macallan.
Scotch connoisseurs generally expect their Scotches to mellow with age. The tasting party was surprised, therefore, that the Macallan 15 year old turned out to be sharper than the Double Cask, finishing with a peaty aftertaste in the back of the throat. Nevertheless, it was well-suited to the grilled octopus. Some in our party found the octopus a bit tough compared to others. But to this observer the texture was less important than the charcoal flavor that went well with 15-year single malt.
Cypress Tavern’s main course – a tender, fall-off-the-bone short rib served with horseradish and almonds – was paired with one of Macallan’s most prized offerings, Edition No. 2. No doubt Edition No. 2 merits the attention it gets for its $100 per bottle price tag. But truth be told, our tasting group voted the Double Cask a better value.
The Macallan’s highest price offering, the Rare Cask priced at $250 per bottle, rounded out the evening. We drank it from a brandy snifter alongside a pecan tart topped with vanilla ice cream. Schwartz’ tart was glazed with bourbon caramel that had a praline quality but was not too sweet in its phyllo crust. What made this dessert particularly notable was its pairing with a Scotch that seemed more like an after dinner drink. For one who enjoys whiskies over ice, I learned to appreciate why Scotch is often served neat in brandy snifters like a fine VSO Cognac.
The Macallan is known as a Speyside for the River Spey that runs through the central part of Scotland where the distillery is located. Speyside Scotches are mild when compared to smokier, more peaty brews from Islay or the Isle of Skye. Nevertheless, the dinner was a chance to experience how even among the products of a single Speyside distillery there can be a wide range of flavor and bouquet.
It was also reassuring to learn that the Double Cask, which can be found for around $60 a bottle, won the greatest praise of the evening despite being three years younger than the 15-year old which retails for almost twice the price,
Meantime, Chef Schwartz spent an hour with Gilt City’s Macallan tasting crew, indulging in the Rare Cask while meeting his guests. For somebody who is busy at work with the hotel chain SLS on new restaurants throughout the country, Schwartz was remarkably relaxed and cordial.
His staff was extremely professional and attentive. Sadly nobody from The Macallan – surely there must be a distributor in South Florida somewhere – joined us to teach us more about the distillery and the Scotches we sampled.
Still it was a memorable evening and a good excuse to get started on Churchill’s challenge to consume a room full of quality whiskies.
Editor’s Note: Thank you to Jeff Mayer for his reflections on The Macallan Experience presented by Gilt City. He is a decades old Scotch lover who spent his honeymoon in Scotland sampling single malts with his bride and now tries to relive his youth as an Expert Level 6 reviewer on TripAdvisor.