Bowmore Whisky/Oysters/Poetry — What A Night at Seven Grand

Ms. Go Go is usually a forward-fun-looking gal but last week’s Bowmore Whisky-Oyster Pairing with Poetry at DTLA’s Seven Grand deserves a recap.

The concept of the evening was intriguing; match briny oysters with Bowmore  whisky: one of the  peat-smoked single malts from Islay, an Inner Hebrides island west of Scotland.   As an added fillip to the evening, Pedro Shanahan, Seven Grand’s Spirit Guide and Whiskey Society co-curator, informed interested parties that the price of the evening was a poem.  And not just a poem on a piece of paper to add to a pile but a poem to be read to the assorted company; those too shy to read the poem themselves, said Pedro, could have their poem read.

You might think this would limit involvement.  Au contraire.  According to Pedro, the event, which was capped at 30, was full in six hours.

The  dark and intimate Jackalope Room at the back of Seven Grand’s 2nd story whiskey palace is  always cozy but the night of the Bowmore/oyster/poetry event, people were two and three deep.  David Wilson, Sales & Marketing Director for Morrison Bowmore Distilleries and Jamie MacKenzie, Regional Manager for North America, were squeezed into a corner.   Beer Chicks Christina Perozzi and Hallie Beaune barely managed to grab seats.  Seven Grand always gets an involved crowd but there was a palpable sense of anticipation in the room.

Johnnie “the Scot” Mundell, Bowmore’s West Coast Ambassador, was in charge of spirits: both the alcoholic and the “raising of….”  Master Ecailler Christophe Happillon of the Oyster Gourmet — you’ve seen him shucking oysters at Church & State as well as the Edison — took care of the bivalves.

Johnnie, many of whose 64 cousins transported whisky off the Isle of Islay via the Kennacraig Ferry,  explained that seafood and Islay whiskys are a natural pairing,  The Harbour Inn on the Isle of Islay is renowned for its seafood bought from local fishermen;  Johnnie introduced the assembled guests to the Harbour Inn’s method of serving oysters on the half shell.

First, little glasses of malted barley, both plain and peat-smoked over a mesh floor at the two century+ Bowmore Distillery, were passed around so guests could taste the difference.

Ms. Go Go would just like to say that as a bar nosh, peat-smoked barley beats beer nuts, pretzels, and peanuts by a mile.

Each guest then received an oyster on the half shell and a glass of  Bowmore 12 year old single malt.  Johnnie instructed everyone to sip a little of the oyster liquor, then a little of the whisky.  Next, guests held the shells horizontally to preserve the liquor and swallowed the oysters, which were meaty and not too salty.  Then, a little whisky was poured into the remaining oyster liquor and sipped from the shell.

Yum. Yum. Yum.

As Johnnie said, the whisky replaces anything else that you would put on an oyster: lemon, Tabasco, mignonette sauce.  The 12 year old was followed by Bowmore 15 – Darkest, with the sherry cask adding a hint of sweetness.  We finished with the Bowmore 18 year old, whose smokey, salty flavor really complemented the oyster’s brine.  Ms. Go Go is a fan of unadorned oysters but  the Islay whisky made the wild sea flavor of the oysters even more pronounced.

The most surprising thing about the evening, though?  The poems and those who read them.

Johnnie and Pedro set the mood of conviviality.  Pedro read some not-so-cheery gulag-themed poems that, no pun intended, broke the ice.

Johnnie had everyone who read a poem give their “star sign” first.  After admitting you were a triple Scorpio, reading a poem was nothing.

Ms. Go Go was sitting in a mini Poet’s Row.  On my left, were Steve Schechter and Marcia Schechter of Witch Creek Winery.  Steve read an original, convivial poem about whisky.  On my right were the Dell sisters Elizabeth and Emily:  partners (producer and writer/director respectively)  in Two Camels Films. (B-Girl, upcoming Battle.)

Johnnie called on Emily to read a poem she’d written to celebrate the birthday of Scottish poet Robbie Burns for the 2012 Burns Night Supper of the Los Angeles Scotch Club at Beckham Grille in Pasadena.  Everyone who performed was rewarded with, as Elizabeth described it, “a poet’s bottle whisky tasting.”  Johnnie, who dubbed Emily’s poem “Stolen Poem”, purchased the poem for Bowmore with the proviso that she’d read it if called upon.

She was and she did.  It was a stunning  poem. Wild applause ensued.

Ms. Go Go, the slacker, read Herman M. Ax’s poem Drunkenderatawhich encourages lushes to be competitive  with other drinkers and chat up everyone who might buy them a drink.   No surprise there.

Poems were read from books.  Translated poems were read.  Haunting, intimate original work was read.

And here’s what became apparent.  The poems were as much of a draw as the whisky and the oysters.  People weren’t getting up to read because of whisky courage — although the combination of whisky and poetry was pretty potent.  People couldn’t wait to get up and read — and those who didn’t read regretted “not having ownership of that night”, according to Johnnie who agreed, along with Pedro, that it was an exceptional night.

There was such generosity of spirit,” said Johnnie.  “Everyone belonged to the moment we were in.”

Monthly poetry and whisky salon, anyone?

(Check out Eat: Los Angeles for initial post about the event.)

3 Comments Add yours

  1. This just posted on EAT-LA- about our last Whiskey Society meeting. Check it out! Thanks to Johnnie Mundell from Bowmore and Christophe Happilon for bringing it! I read Anna Ahkmatova and Osip Mandelstam poetry. And it wasn’t all bleak, although Mandelstam did die in or on his way to a concentration camp:

    A flame is in my blood
    burning dry life, to the bone.
    I do not sing of stone,
    now, I sing of wood.

    It is light and coarse:
    made of a single spar,
    the oak’s deep heart,
    and the fisherman’s oar.

    Drive them deep, the piles:
    hammer them in tight,
    around wooden Paradise,
    where everything is light.

    “A flame is in my blood” by Osip Mandelstam

    He also had written a poem about Stalin’s moustache, which is why they threw him away. Stalin was very self-conscious about his facial hair, apparently. Despotic bastard!

    Don’t get me started. Okay, just a little. I imagine these poets like the rock stars of their day, their verses being memorized in the taverns and cafes, repeated and shared like hit songs. Maybe I’m dreaming.

    Becherovka party tonight at Seven Grand! Sunday, 3/25, 7pm-12am. I’ll be there, we have free signed screen prints to the first 50 people in after 7pm, and live music!

    Hope to see you.


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