Ian Millar of Glenfiddich and Giovanni Giardino of Campagnolo certainly don't look like mad men.

Ian Millar of Glenfiddich and Giovanni Giardino of Campagnolo certainly don't look like mad men.

As Glenfiddich’s Global Ambassador, Ian Millar’s credentials are as genuine as the sporren about his waist.  For those wondering what a sporren might be, perhaps we might first begin with a toast.

Slainte!

To Uisce Beatha, the water of life and those sustained by her malted grace.  Needless to say, we’ll be drinking scotch and on this night in particular, Glenfiddich.

Within the warm wood and stone of Campagnolo’s back room, now fully equipped with a liquor primary license, we gather for both a tasting of bar manager Giovanni Giardino’s trio of inspired Glenfiddich cocktails, and a good proper scotch ‘nosing’. In honour of Millar’s visit, the rooms renowned wine list and spirited selection of cocktails, given a Mad Men makeover.  A nice bit of ad savvy promotion for the show, but perhaps an unnecessary bit of gloss since Mad Men’s not Scottish.

And if it’s not Scottish….

it just needs a wee dram, approached with due ritual to set it right.  After all, there is a ritual and etiquette to single malt that elevates it in the pantheon of spirit.

The first place Mad Men goes wrong is with the glass.  Single malts are made for shortened bulbs with a tapered neck and fluted rim.  The Glencairn Glass holds top status; sherry glasses, Riedel O bowls and tasting glasses have all served well in the moment.  The point is not aesthetic, but to allow the scotch to warm against the palm of your hand.  Millar cradles, rolls and turns his glass into the lights.  Readying for the flight to follow, he reflects on the relative youth of the evening’s first of six Glenfiddich single malts.

After 12 years in the cask, it needs a good palming to waken the wood and release the gentler undertones in the whiskey.  Though matured nine years longer than the requisite three, the Glenfiddich 12 Year Old is infant of the evening. We will round out the event – but not by far the night’s nosings – with the opening of a bottle casked in 1977 two decades earlier.  ‘Young’ scotch as such, though rarified by their single malt status and the balanced they bring to the palate, need a drop or two of the undistilled water of life.  In ritual, these are the Angel’s Tears.  In practice, these are the H2Os that still some of the youthful burn of the alcohol.  In Mad Men, these are ice cubes and that just numbs the tongue and dumb’s down the distiller’s art.

Up ‘Yer Kilt, Not ‘Yer Nose

The heavy swirl of the wine tasting is subdued and the glass is brought ‘to’ the nose and slowly passed to and fro.  The nose does not go ‘in’ the glass.  The same subtly applies to the tasting wherein the mouthful is best appreciated in small measure and long counts.  There are even those who claim a second in the mouth for each year in the cask offers the fullest experience.  Gulps are not so much prohibited as prohibitive with alcohol percentages in many single malts climbs well past the 50/50 line. Gulps are for Mad Men and Ian Millar is anything but.

The Life of Millar: A Tale of Taste

Ian Millar has the measure of the good life.

Ian Millar has the measure of the good life.

Born to Pitlochry, Scotland, he was not born to wealth, but keen to learn, resulting in an enrollment in the army colleges where he acquired his engineering finesse and public education background.  The experience in the army also distilled in Millar a desire to be elsewhere once his services were no longer required.  At 18, he left the army and turned his skillset to source – the world of Scotch whiskey.  Since, he has had a hand in crafting both some of the world’s finest single malt scotch and traveled said world both sampling its charms and singing its praises.

His visit to Vancouver’s Campagnolo on October 29th is the end of two weeks of cross-Canada nosings, interviews and companionable conversation.  It is the last which fuels Millar’s journey.

“The further you invest yourself in something, the more likely it is to grow you, further your education,” says Millar later that evening.  We have relocated to Yaletown to take stock of Blue Water Cafe and Raw Bar’s water of life.  Millar has been tipped as to the extent of their selection of single malts and he is anything but disappointed.

“I don’t want to drink my own.  I know it well enough.  It’s more enjoyable and makes better sense to explore,” he explains. “We’re the top brand in the world, but somebody is always happy to knock the number one off the pedestal.  Exploring is learning.”

“Case in point,” he says gesturing to Keith behind the bar and the Brora 30 currently in our glasses.  “You should be charging a lot more for some of these bottles to lengthen their life because when they are gone, there is no more.”

Millar has both built and dismantled the great copper stills in all their Jules Vernesque glory and holds no small respect for the tradition and heritage involved.  The four tiers of single malt that  line Blue Water’s mirrored mantle are as familiar as a family bookshelf to Millar – as are the larger corporate entities that own many of the actual distilleries.

He shrugs. “It’s still the Scottish who make it.”

Blue Water's wall of single malt wisdom.

Blue Water's wall of single malt wisdom.

Nonetheless, Glenfiddich does takes pride in not only having three our their single malts in the top ten list, but being the only family-owned Scottish distillery in the bunch.

The complex conglomerates and global purchasing patterns are dry facts to Millar though, in comparison to the characters who people the world he has helped shape.

He speaks of Martine Nouat, madame du whisky, now living on the island of Islay off Scotland’s West Coast and a driving force in the global promotion of scotch.  Glenfiddich lays claim to being a key innovator in both single malt scotch production and its popularization in the 1960s.  Mad Men get the screen time.  Martine Nouat gets men like Millar weak at the knee.

“What she does know about whisky is not worth knowing.  She uses her sense of smell everywhere, collecting scents, building more knowledge, crushing a dried leaf or soil to inhale their aromas.  She is a marvel.”

Passion is something that speaks to his heart, but the respect he holds for meeting the people nightly is something that speaks to his own experience – both in terms of the business won and the friendships begun.

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