The Tasting Panel magazine

November 2014

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Page 79 of 136

november 2014  /  the tasting panel  /  79 As we headed down Melrose Avenue towards Hatfield's restaurant to meet up with Varga, we spoke about trends in Scotch. "Fifteen years ago, I was asked about the future of Scotch. Even then I knew it would trend towards younger and younger whiskies," explained Edwards. "Sure enough, here we are, years later, and we are seeing an influx in these 'new make spirits' that are the truest reflection of distillery charac- ter, spirits without the excess influence of wood." As Edwards regaled me with the history of The Glenlivet—including the addition of the Nàdurra line ("natural" in Gaelic), the brand's range of whiskies intended as the most natural expression of The Glenlivet—we walked into Hatfield's. (Looking back, I caught a glimpse of the valets scratching their heads at what to do with '54 sitting in front of them.) Richard Varga is sitting at the bar chatting with the bartender about Chivas as we walk up, and with the way Edwards and Varga greet each other—hearty "hellos" and back-slapping hugs—you would think this was a long-awaited reunion, rather than drinks after work. Unable to be deviated from their favorite subject, talk turns to Scotch. Established in 1996, there are currently 19 Masters of Whisky and six Masters of Scotch, and I had the absurd good fortune to share a dram with two of them. Edwards explained the process as something that is bestowed, not tested. Varga picked up where Edwards left off: "You can't apply for this; it is a title given to ambassadors who display an exemplary understanding in both the trade and consumer aspects of Scotch and whisky." Both Edwards and Varga receive extensive training in Scotland at the Royal Lochnagar Academy of Malt, and continue to push forward their own education even as they go out into the market to teach. "It's a constant cycle of learning," explains Varga. "What I enjoy most about being an educator is giving people a forum to ask questions they felt they couldn't before. The best things happen when you bring someone into the fold." Sitting between these two at Hatfield's was certainly an eye-opening and edifying experience. On one side, I had the unchained energy of Edwards, who brings to The Glenlivet brand his tremendous amount of geeky and esoteric knowledge. On the other side, I had Varga, who manages to be at once urbane and engaging, adopting a populist approach in his role with Chivas, breaking down the fences that have been built around the Scotch category, and bringing the spirit back to the younger generations. Both are totally in step with their obvious passion for Scotch enjoyment and education. For an evening that was supposed to be about what these two do "off the clock," I realized that the reason these two are Masters of Scotch is because they live and breathe the spirit. As Edwards launches into a rollicking Scottish drinking song that starts with "It was a cold, dark, moonlit night. . . ," Varga raises a glass and we all say a grateful toast to doing what we love for work. PHOTO: ADAM JAMES Edwards and Varga, partners in Scotch (and in crime.)

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