The January pick for Whiskey In a Jar was by Oban, an award-winning, 18-year-old, limited edition single malt from a small Scottish distillery founded in 1794 — a place older than its namesake town.
After a cheer of “Slainte!,” Margie Nelson, sharing a Zoom square with Steve Wick and a screen with seven other friends and aficionados on a Friday evening, noticed that it was slightly floral.
“On the nose or tongue?” Wick asked her.
“Tongue,” she confirmed.
Other observations on flavor and feel during the group’s third high-end whisky tasting in as many months: It was thick, with delayed flavor, a bit of coffee, salt.
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Each month, group members decide on a whiskey to try — something they wouldn’t likely splurge on themselves, but is more palatable at, in the case of the Oban, $16 per mason jar. After dividing the drink, they connect via Zoom to talk about its specific origin and style, likes and dislikes, the smell and the story of the brand.
For extra credit, some taste-testers will have individually purchased a less expensive bottle for comparisons, or they will test how the drink plays with a touch of water.
This past month, Whiskey in a Jar’s members were looking for something from Scotland. During a non-pandemic year, at least a few of them would have been at the Duluth Scottish Heritage Association’s annual Burns Night event held at the Gitchi Gammi Club. The event offered takeout for its 46th year. Wick had snagged a Robert Burns poem for the occasion, and Jason Reid wore a kilt — though, given the limitations of a Zoom window, he had to stand to show it off.
“What are your thoughts on the peaty side of this,” asked Karen Sunderman, her background an image of Glensheen’s breakfast room.
“It’s very subtle,” responded Brittany Lind.
There is a range of whiskey backgrounds for the nine members of the group, some who built their knowledge during the half-price whiskey nights, pre-pandemic, at Zeitgeist Arts Cafe.
Lind had long been interested in at least attending a whiskey club and finally got around to starting one this past year. She took the name, Whiskey in a Jar, while listening to local musicians Teague Alexy and Erik Berry’s cover of the traditional Irish tune.
Then she bought the titular jars.
The group uses Facebook to toss out ideas and price points and to arrange meetings.
The group is leaning toward something Japanese in February, then back to Irish whiskey, of course, in March.
Banding together for tastings has become a cost-effective way to experiment. In the days before the meeting, Lind posted to Twitter a video of dividing the bottle into nine jars.
“Here’s a bottle that’s $150,” Wick said. “I’m not going to buy that for myself. But if eight, nine, ten of us split that, it’s a much more affordable purchase, and we can enjoy it together.”
With the growth of local craft breweries and distilleries, Reid said, there has been an interest in learning about different products. He recalled a whiskey tasting he helped with a few years ago at Dubh Linn Irish Brew Pub. With sampling and information about food pairings, a few vodka drinkers and people who favored whiskey with coke were converted, he said.
“It’s unique, and there are so many different flavors,” Nelson said.
Zack Filipovich said he likes learning the history of the spirits they are sampling.
“It’s interesting and fun to talk about and, if you enjoy it, it’s fun to taste,” he said. “It’s an interesting excuse to get together with people — like we are, virtually, right now.”