LAURINBURG — In a small room filled with maps of Scotland, tartan plaid and the sound of hearty laughter, the aroma of whiskey tinged with flavors of the earth from where it was distilled circulated among the about 50 tasters who swished the liquid around the bottoms of squat glasses.
For some, the event provided a taste of the motherland.
“Scotch whiskey is not American whiskey,” said Bill Caudill, chair of the Highland Games who also worked to organize Friday’s tasting. “It has distinct qualities, and within that, individual qualities depending on where it was distilled.”
Caudell shared a story about ancestors who settled near Scotland County after traveling from the Kilchoman parish in Scotland, where bits of peat float through tap water as if they simply refuse to be filtered out — lending a unique flavor to the whiskey that takes its name.
For others, the event was a sampling of tradition.
“Whiskey is a special, special drink for the Scotsman,” said Bill McIlwain, vice-chair of the games, adding that a cup was created thousands of years ago with handles on both sides to make passing the drink easier. “… When someone invites you to have a drink of whiskey, that’s different from a beer after a round of golf. It’s a special kind of thing.”
For all in the dimly-lit room at the Hampton Inn, the mood was anything but somber.
“What brought me here? It was mostly the whiskey — also the food, but mostly the whiskey,” laughed Robeson County attorney Carlton Mansfield, who heard of the tasting from a friend.
Jokes about the sold-out six-course taste test abounded from presenter Ray Bowen, who admitted he wasn’t a whiskey expert but has taken enough sips — “every day, every week, every now and then” — to describe for tasters the amount of smoky, bitter or sweet they should expect from each single malt and its food pairing selected to further bring out the flavor.
Served at the event was a 12-year-old Balvenie Double-Wood; a Kilchoman Machair Bay; a 16-year-old Scapa; an Ardbeg “Ardbog;” a Talisker “Port Righ” and a Laphroaig 10-year-old Cask Strength. The names were meant to sound exotic; some could only arrive on US soil if transferred there by hand, or by the hands of an embassy staff member, and others were from remote farms with practices that Bowen said would make an FDA inspector shudder.
Co-host Noran Sanford also kept the quips rolling, saying that in a room filled with judges, commissioners, clergy and attorneys — and whiskey — everything attendees could ever need was in one room.
But the biggest joke of the night came when it was time for the last name to be pulled from the bowl that held names of potential raffle winners, for the nights largest prize, a 53-percent single malt.
The name Sanford drew was that of the Rev. Neal Carter, pastor at Laurinburg Presbyterian Church.
Carter was quick to point out, following multiple inquiries, that the bottle would not be making an appearance at World Communion Sunday.