Scotland, my auld, respected mither!
Tho’ whiles ye moistify your leather,
Till, whare ye sit on craps o’ heather,
Ye tine your dam;
Freedom an’ whisky gang thegither!
Take aff your dram!
— Robbie Burns
Down through the centuries, across Scotland’s varied landscape, malt whisky was known in Gaelic as uisce beath — the Water of Life.
And with very good reason.
I have spent roughly 45 years of my life searching for a single malt I didn’t like. Alas, it has been in vain; I’ve failed miserably. But I’m determined to keep looking.
I have tasted a whisky that reminded others who sipped a wee dram of cattle urine siphoned off the floor of a barn. But, sod that I am, I was able to find redeeming qualities that enabled me to savour even this testy spirit.
My partner, Lois, has suffered the same misfortune. She too has searched valiantly for that elusive malt whisky she doesn’t like.
So we were undoubtedly destined to meet at the local chapter of Companions of the Quaich, an international organization devoted to an understanding and appreciation of single malt whisky.
Four years ago, I was invited by convenor Trish MacNeil to introduce Whisky Galore, a screen adaptation of Compton Mackenzie’s comic novel, published in 1947 and filmed in the Outer Hebrides a year later. It’s a book, and a film, all whisky lovers would enjoy.
I accepted the invitation without hesitation, harbouring a premonition that something fortuitous would arise out of the occasion at the Princess Twin. Turns out, that fortuitous occasion was meeting sweet Lois.
Lois had joined Companions of the Quaich to share some social time with a dear friend. I joined the group soon after Lois and I became partners. We are two of about 40 members who meet about six times annually, between September and June.
Usually we gather at different restaurants, mostly but not exclusively across Waterloo Region, where we enjoy a meal with a selection of three scotches. Other times, Trish plans special events related to the world’s great whiskies.
We have paired scotch with fine Cuban cigars, learned about boutique Canadian rye at Themuseum and enjoyed a scenic cruise on the Grand River. Every January we celebrate Scotland’s Ploughman Poet with a Burn’s Supper.
I trust that a recent evening at Waterloo’s Mediterraneo Family Restaurant will serve as a representative sampling of a Quaich event for those interested in marrying fine food with fine whisky — some of which is secured solely through the organization and is unavailable at the LCBO.
The evening was a delightful blend of Classical and Celtic, of sultry Mediterranean cuisine with clean Scottish spirit.
The menu included a variety of traditional Greek starters, hot and cold appetizers, main courses served à la carte, baklava (a sweet Mediterranean dessert made from phyllo dough stacked with honey and nuts) and Greek coffee, augmented with Greek wine and beer. The mouth-watering dishes included:
• Saganaki (Kefalatiri cheese flambéed at your table) Opa!
• Kefthedis (traditional charboiled meatballs)
• Three-dip platter of Homous (pureed chickpeas whipped with olive oil & lemon juice), Tzatziki (pressed yogurt blended with fresh garlic & cucumber) and, best of all, Taramosalata (red caviar blended with olive oil and lemon juice) — all served with grilled pita wedges.
• Dolmadakia (grape leaves stuffed with lean ground beef, rice, avgolemono — egg lemon — sauce and herbs)
• Haloumi (Cypriot grilled cheese)
• Roasted red bell peppers with feta
• Loukaniko (spicy sausage)
• Mussels in thick mariana sauce
• Skewers of shrimp grilled in garlic sauce, Souvlaki pork and chicken, in addition to Paidakis (fresh spring lamb chops grilled to perfection)
There were other dishes that presently escape my memory.
We had our customary trio of single malt scotches to enjoy during the meal. As it turned out, all happened to be available in limited quantities at the LCBO.
We started with Aultmore of the Foggy Moss, a light, delicate 12-year-old from Speyside. Our middle selection was a tasty 15-year-old Glengoyne from Blairgar Burn in the Highlands. We ended with a deliciously peaty Bunnahabhain Ceobanach from Islay, which left the raw North sea biting at our tongues and warming our innards.
A good time was had by all. And, with that, I depart with the Gaelic word for good health, which happens to be our favourite toast when Companions gather to share a wee dram.
Information on the Kitchener-Waterloo/Cambridge chapter of Companions of the Quaich is available at http://www.thequaich.com