Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Striding Man in San Francisco

Some people look forward to the Burning Man events; I just look forward to the Striding Man events. The Striding Man, for those who don't recognize him, is the logo for Johnnie Walker Scotch Whiskies and, if you join the "Striding Man Society" you will receive occasional invitations to go drink lots of Scotch for free.

Friday night was the third such Johnnie Walker event I've been to in the City, the theme of this one being "The Journey of Taste," and featuring tastes of all five currently available drinks: Red Label, Black Label, Gold Label, Green Label, and Blue Label.

When I buy Scotch to drink at home, I generally stick with single malts. Johnny Walker only makes blends, which single malt drinkers tend to look down on as inferior. All of which make me precisely the type of whisky snob that they want at these events. Growing up, my father was a Black Label man (although he's also gone over to single malts these days) so I've always been familiar with the Striding Man.

The events themselves are always classy affairs, in well-chosen locations. They begin with appetizers and cocktails before going in to the official presentation and tasting. Each event I've been to has also had a tasting theme. First, I went to a Black Label event, then a Blue, and now the "Journey of Taste" that features all five.

The Black Label event explained the concept and process behind blended Scotch. What we tasted first were five different single malts (yummy) to learn the different qualities of the different regions of Scotland (the smoke and peat from one area, the creamy vanilla and honey overtones from another). Then we moved on to the Black Label to see how the marriage of the different regional characteristics work together for full, smooth combination.

The Blue Label event focused only on that one product (no single malts), which is their current top of the line. Blue, however, is one of those blends that puts us single malt snobs to shame. In a blind taste test, any single malt drinker would claim the Blue as a work of art. It's complex, refined, and smooth as silk.

The Journey of Taste (the one we went to on Friday) compares the entire product line-up. From the Red (suitable for mixing only, this is not for real Scotch drinkers to have straight), to the Black (a good, drinkable blend - not up to the single malts, but a fine drink), to the premium flavors of the Gold (what they call "the Champaign of Scotch"), Blue (top of the line), and the Green (the newest addition).

The Green Label was the only Scotch that night that I hadn't had before, and has only been on the market for about 18 months. Green is what is technically called a "pure malt." Other blends use a neutral spirit (basically a grain whisky distilled so many times as to impart no additional flavor) to bring the various malts together. A "pure malt" has no such neutral spirit; it is all from single malts, each one at least 18 years old. I was quite pleased with the Green and at a price that's in line with a lot of the single malts I drink, I may end up keeping some Green in the house.

If you're a Scotch drinker (and if you've read this far, you probably are), I'd suggest heading over to the Johnnie Walker web site and joining the Striding Man Society (free) so you can get invited to these tastings when they come to your town.

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