Recently we attended the San Diego Scottish Highland Games & Festival held at Brengle Terrace Park in Vista on June 22 and 23. We felt like we were in the real highlands of Scotland where we had attended highland games years ago. As in days of yore in old Scotland, various clans (the Stewarts, MacDonalds, and Campbells, to name a few) tested their prowess through a variety of competitive games—such as stone throws, hammer throws, and caber tosses. It was a beautiful, warm summer day, but these hearty competitors, attired in the colorful tartans of their clans, could not be deterred by the heat and the games were exciting to watch and also unique. (Where else in Southern California are you going to see grown men and women in kilts throw hammers just for the fun of it?)
We also enjoyed sheep dog demonstrations and trials, bag piping and drumming demonstrations, and energetic, perfectly coordinated Scottish highland dancing. The opening ceremonies, held on both Saturday and Sunday, were impressive and totally authentic as the clans marched around to the tunes and beats of bagpipes and drums. We were thrilled on Saturday to witness an actual wedding taking place in the center tent, with a gorgeous bride and a handsome groom and his groomsmen all decked out in kilts (as was the minister), accompanied, of course, by bagpipers.
The Celtic Marketplace featured a wide array of clan-specific attire and jewelry along with enticing food items. I particularly enjoyed having tea and cookies in the comfy tea tent where donations were encouraged for scholarship funds. The food tent offered all kinds of Scottish delights (from haggis to meat pies) and live music from Scottish bands, including the Wicked Tinkers, Highland Way, Blackwaterside, and Men of Worth.
It was hard to believe we were in San Diego County and not up in the highlands of Scotland where these games originated. After this taste of Scottish bliss, I certainly found myself longing to go back to the lovely rolling hills of Scotland.
The highlight of the festival for us, however, was a whisky tasting which was as educational as it was tasty. Led by whisky connoisseur, Ray Pearson—also known as The Whiskymeister, we learned how whisky is made and how to tell the difference between scotch and various other kinds of whiskies. Ray spoke to sell-out crowds during several seminars on both Saturday and Sunday.
Ray Pearson is a nationally recognized single malt Scotch expert with 20 years of experience in the spirits industry so he was the perfect person to lead us through a whisky tasting. Ray educated us about whisky with lots of information, a wry sense of humor, entertaining anecdotes, and lively audience interaction. We learned that whisky spelled without an “e” is generally (but not always) scotch whisky while whiskey with an “e” usually refers to American whiskey or bourbon. We also gathered all kinds of other interesting information about whisky, including the following: that a single malt scotch is made with liquid from a single distillery, how whiskies are blended, the details of the malting process, the importance of water sources in making whiskies, and why ice may inhibit the full appreciation of a taste of whisky, although Ray emphasized that we all should drink whisky the way we like it.
We learned to taste whisky by looking at it, sniffing it, and then rolling it around on our tongues. During this whisky tasting, we tried to differentiate among three Glen Grant Major Reserve Single Malt Scotches—eight years old (fruity, hints of spice), ten years old (fruity and creamy), sixteen years old (clean and crisp). Then we compared these delightful, flavorful sips to a smooth, rich Maker’s Mark bourbon. There were definite differences in color, smell, and taste among our four tastings, particularly when the scotches were compared to the bourbon.
To find out more about Ray Pearson or to schedule a private tasting with him, go to his website, Whisky Tastings with Ray Pearson. You will also enjoy his informative blog about all things whisky-oriented.
By the way, every dollar paid (at $10 a person) for the whisky tasting went to support the San Diego Scottish Highland Games.
If you missed this year’s Highland Games, start planning for next year now. The San Diego Scottish Highland Games are held the fourth weekend of June every year. So there’s plenty of time to order your kilt, start practicing on your bagpipe, and brush up on your whisky tasting.