It’s our first National Scotch Day since the end of COVID-19 lockdowns, and, honestly, it’s been a bit of a bumpy road back to human interaction. Therefore, we turned to the wise minds at Ardbeg for a little direction. The Islay distillery known for the peatiest of whiskies was kind enough to guide us through the best way to celebrate this historic day and give us some insight into how to enjoy some of their finest drams.
We sat down with Cameron George, Ardbeg’s US Brand Ambassador, and he took us through everything one could possibly need to enjoy National Scotch Day. From the perfect food pairing for every Ardbeg out there to how to enjoy your favorite glass of Scotch, Cam gave us insights into his favorite ways to celebrate, while also touching on his own experience with Scotch throughout the years.
Spirited Zine: Just to start, can you tell us about your first experience with Scotch, and how that interaction impacted the way you view Ardbeg?
Cameron George: The first time I had Single Malt Scotch Whisky was on a classic Seattle September night, I was a young bartender, familiar with the tastes and aromatic profile of America’s Bourbon whiskies. I remember the dram was Ardbeg’s sister brand Glenmorangie Original, to this day the profile has stuck with me, the complexities were enrapturing and enchanting and thus began my love of the category.
As my palate grew, I found myself seeking drams that both captured my thirst for new tastes/senses as well as remind me of home.
In Ardbeg I see a world of unique notes that may seem hard to place a finger on in addition to ones that remind me of that first warm & rainy night in September.
SZ: Now that you’re a bit more experienced. Is there anything you would tell that younger version of yourself to do differently when it comes to enjoying that first Scotch?
Cam: The link between your specific upbringing, memory, senses of smell and taste will mean more to how you see Single Malt Whisky than anything else. Allow yourself to be transported via this liquid teleportation device directly into memories of your own making… that’s the magic of Scotch whisky.
SZ: Everyone thinks about peat when they think of Islay, and even more so when it comes to Ardbeg. But, in your eyes, what makes Ardbeg stand out from Islay’s other whisky distilleries?
Cam: On the farm of Airigh Nam Beist sits a distillery that is magic encapsulated, Ardbeg.
At first glance it may seem like just another Hebridean (Island distillery), but when you take a closer second look oddities begin to present themselves, variances in the production that may appear small but make a massive impact creating a peaty Paradox.
The most heavily peated malted barley used in regular production, a fairly acidic water source (Loch Uigeadail), one of the last hand adjusted roller mills (Robert Bobby mill), wooden fermentation vessels, a purifier on the spirits still that no one knows the exact history of. Individually these may seem immaterial but put the pieces together and you have the world’s greatest distillery, you have Ardbeg.
SZ: What is the peaty paradox?
Cam: The peaty paradox is the profile or spirit of Ardbeg, presenting you complexities that appear paradoxical but work flawlessly, a heavily (& Heavenly) peated whisky that extends much more than just smoke to its receiver, there’s nuance and levity to any Ardbeg that is far from commonplace in the category. The peaty paradox is the very Ardbeggian attitude of flipping your preconceived notions on their head in all of the best (beist) ways.
SZ: July 27 is National Scotch Day. We know people have been getting carried away with these types of holidays over the last several years, but if we’re gonna celebrate something, it might as well be Scotch. How will you be celebrating National Scotch Day?
Cam: People have been getting carried away, but 2021’s National Scotch Day is a special one, we’ve been isolated for over 16 months, that idea is the exact opposite of everything Whisky stands for. Whisky, especially Islay whiskies, are about human hands, provenance, and comradery, so that’s what I’ll be celebrating on July 27th, the fact that we together have made it through truly challenging times and are now able to return to the more personal ways of engaging each other. On National Scotch Day 2021 you’ll find me at some of the best bars in Seattle raising a glass to friends and family I haven’t seen in far too long.
SZ: What will National Scotch Day look like around the Ardbeg distillery?
Cam: All I can tell you is that they have the best way of celebrating… making scotch whisky for the next 10-15-20-30 National Scotch days… As we say Ardbeg Perpetuum… Ardbeg Forever.
SZ: Can you guide us through what you find to be the perfect food pairings for Ardbeg’s Wee Beastie, Uigeadail, Corryvreckan, Ten Years Old, and the newest release, Scorch?
Wee Beastie: pairs best with anything that highlights it’s herbaceous notes. I made a beautiful herb roasted chicken served with a shallot & butter sauce that I may or may not have snuck some wee beastie into (spoiler: I 100% did).
Uigeadail: I’ve always said this dram is basically a walking charcuterie board, the oxidative notes of the sherry casks jump to life when paired to Asiago, Gruyere, & Manchego. Don’t forget to include copious amounts of smoke & or cured meats as the lipid mouthfeel of this dram Is a delight, I opt for Jamon, Chorizo, Pancetta & Coppa. Dried stone fruits will be a welcome addition to your charcuterie board and a delight when you pair them to your Dram.
Corryvreckan: This one is easy! Sea Salt Chocolate, Semi sweet, bitter, cacao, white chocolate, whatever your flavor make sure there’s a wee bit of Maldon sea salt sprinkled atop and watch the fireworks of the pairing light up your papilla (fancy way of saying tastebuds).
10 years old: This dram is Ardbeg’s most versatile and can be paired to a whole host of options. As I believe great whiskies should present you with flavors and senses that are both new and familiar, I often want my pairings of 10 years to reflect where I was raised… and in the PNW oysters are a way of life, leave me a bottle of Ardbeg 10 and a plate of Kushi’s, Kumamoto’s, or Virginica’s and a side of mignonette and I’m happy as a clam errrr oyster.
Scorch: Char baby Char, the heavily charred American oak in this dram evokes the sense of sitting Infront of the BBQ on a mildly warm summer eave, so do just that! This dram is about more that food pairing this is about pairing an experience! Take your favorite cuts, meats, or vegetables for that matter and head to your grill, thank me later.
SZ: What’s your favorite way to enjoy whisky? Out with friends, after a meal, camping by a fire?
Cam: I always believe whisky is best with friends, we don’t have to be in a bar or out in the wild, both are great experiences, and both made better when you share them with friends.
Gone are the days when the scotch drinker was perceived as someone who sips alone in a high-backed leather chair amidst a dark and dreary library. To love is to share experiences… and a glass of Ardbeg is most definitely an experience.
SZ: When it comes to your perfect glass of Scotch, do you like neat, on the rocks, or with a dab of water?
Cam: Each dram is different, I can’t treat Ardbeg 10 the same way I do say Corryvreckan, as a result what adds to the experience of one (adding ice, water, chilling the bottle) may detract from the other.
Enjoying whisky is best in a communal sense but as an act is an individual ritual our taste buds and olfactory systems have fingerprints that are unique to the owner so never and I mean never let anyone tell you a particular whisky is BEST SERVED ______. That is their individual experience and may not be yours, for the sake of exploration try your dram neat, then add water after you’ve engaged it. Find what works best for you personally, then test that theory again and again.
SZ: Lastly, do you have any recommendations for people looking to enjoy National Scotch Day at home or out at a bar this year?
Cam: First off, Happy National Scotch Day! Now, if you’re at home, open that bottle you said you never would… whisky is for drinking not investing, and if you’re out at a bar try something you’ve never had, push the bounds of your taste buds… get creative, have a cocktail you think wouldn’t work with scotch whisky, make this a habit and National Scotch Day will be your favorite day of the year! Cheers & Slainte Mhaith (To your Health).