Awards & Events

The ultimate dinner

Andrew Derbidge pulls up a seat at a very prestigious Ardbeg meal
By Rob Allanson
Imagine you’re an Ardbeg fan. Imagine you’d spent years wanting to taste all the rare, highly collectible vintage bottlings but their scarcity and cost put them beyond your reach. Now imagine there was an event where all these ultra-rare bottlings would be set out on the table for you to taste and compare in one sitting. For 23 lucky people in Sydney, this utopian thought became reality at the recent Ultimate Ardbeg Dinner.The event was organised by Ardbeg enthusiasts Franz Scheurer, Shane Kalloglian, and Graham Wright, with Moet Hennessy also chipping in with admirable zeal and generosity. Scheurer is well known in Australia (and increasingly around the globe) as an expert at matching food to whisky, while Kalloglian, who also recently became the Australian importer for Springbank.It was a cold and wet Thursday night in Sydney, but once inside Claude’s warm and friendly doors, the conditions were quickly forgotten.After a brief and typically casual welcoming speech by Scheurer, the small crowd chatted happily upstairs whilst circulating around the room to visit four stations where the current Ardbeg range was on offer: The standard 10yo, the Uigedail, and the “Beast”. Courtesy of Moet Hennessy, a plain bottle containing the 1981 “Kildalton” expression was also available, sourced by breaking open 12 Ardbeg “Peat Packs” and raiding the 50ml miniatures inside.It was a terrific curtain raiser and set the scene nicely for what was to follow: The Ultimate Ardbeg Dinner. While there’s little doubt the guests had come primarily for the whisky, the food could not be ignored. The result was an astounding success, with the dishes and drams combining perfectly to prove what Scheurer has long been preaching: that one plus one can equal three.You could be forgiven for thinking that the food might distract or interfere with the whiskies, but the format of the night was well planned and executed.Before each course, Scheurer gave some brief background on the bottling in question and the drams arrived at the table with a generous gap before the accompanying dish, allowing guests to explore each whisky in detail and unadulterated.It was an appreciative and reverent audience, and all present knew they were enjoying a once in a lifetime opportunity. Even the good folk at Ardbeg were envious – Michael Heads and Dr Bill Lumsden both agreeing that such a tasting line up was unlikely to be repeated.And so it does beg the question: How and why was such a huge whisky event held so far from Scotland – in Australia, of all places?Graham Wright, director of The Odd Whisky Co, a specialist whisky importer and retailer in Australia, isn’t too surprised.“Australians are pretty knowledgeable when it comes to single malt and whisky appreciation clubs have sprung up all over the country.“As a distillery, Ardbeg seems to invoke tremendous passion amongst its fans and – despite the tyranny of distance – plenty of Aussies make the pilgrimage to Islay and want to recreate the excitement and re-live the flavours back here.” Both Scheurer and Kalloglian appreciate that whiskies are for drinking, rather than collecting dust, and also that old bottlings provide a wonderful time capsule revealing what distilleries were creating in years gone by.But the event was about more than just savouring good whisky. Asked what he enjoyed most about the night, Scheurer had a more universal view: “For me, it was the look on people’s faces as they tried the whisky with the food.” An experience, it certainly was.