Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Shirt Bar It Is – Scotch Club At The Shirt Bar

This dude was setting the scene heading on into the Shirt Bar
These days I have been getting around to a few whisky events on invite which is a really neat thing but I have found I am running out of time to actually go and enjoy a whisky experience that is not somehow PR related. I have been meaning to attend a Shirt Bar Scotch Club at $55 a session, for probably a good 6 months but either funds, timing, or whiskies on show have stifled my enthusiasm. This time around, Wednesday 16th October 2013, The shirt Bar hosted a Talisker tasting with 2 of the 4 whiskies on show I had never had before and one seeing it's premier public tasting in Australia. It seemed like all the planets were aligning this time round so off I trotted for 2hrs of whisky nerdism.

Shirt Bar in all its glory
But wait, what's in the name Shirt Bar. Now don't jump to the point too quickly, when the word Bar is used this does not necessarily mean beverages. Think Bar, think Shirts, think entering a store and ordering an off the rack shirt or bespoke tailored man drapes, then maybe relaxing with a coffee or whisky before heading back out into the mean streets of Sydney. This is what Shirt Bar is all about. Yes have a shirt fitted in the casual but stylish tailors that seamlessly mergers into cafe style come whisky emporium. Quoting from Shirt Bar's website:
Shirt Bar is all about the things we love – beautifully tailored shirts, freshly roasted coffee and great whisky.
Scotch Club, like sister event Shirt Club, is an character extension of Shirt Bar being held around the middle of each month on a Wednesday evening. Seating 40 people in a very comfortable environment the store is closed off to all but the Scotch Club attendees. What makes it so much more special is it is not one of those formally set rooms lacking character and life. On entering your greeted by sweet tunes, high ceilings, and active coffee bar, couches, chairs and stools with a backdrop of cloth colours, pressed shirts, nick nacks and other paraphernalia. The joint feels lived in and that makes it a real treat to chillax in.

The character and life of Shirt Bar
Scotch Club is open to anyone who chooses to attend though it is recommended to sign up to the email notifications as seats book up very quickly indeed. Cost is generally $55 and included in that is a comfy seat, a professional presenter/brand ambassador, around 30ml drams of the whisky on show, ample food either during or after the presentation, plus the opportunity sit back after and buy a few extra drams from the bars top shelves. It is always announced what whiskies will be on show prior to bookings there is no worry about a bottle of Vat 69 being slipped in to soil your sole.

On speaking and conversing with Adam Hofbauer, Shirt Bar Director, and over email I hit him up with a few questions and he had this to say about Shirt Bar and Scotch Club:

Q. What inspired the creation of Scotch Club?

Scotch Club was inspired by a time when I lived in Melbourne and every Friday night after work a bunch of guys would come round to our place and each week someone would bring a nice bottle of Whisky and we would drink it, recap the week and pretend we knew about Scotch. Was a fantastic wind down after the week and we wanted to bring that to Shirt Bar in a slightly more formal setting.

Q. How long has it been running?

Scotch Club has been running for nearly 3 years (since we opened) and from memory we have only missed 2-3 due to being closed.

Q. How do you decide what whiskies should be on show?

We try to work through whiskies that we range on the back bar. If any of the distilleries we support are bringing out a new expression it's a great forum to show off these new drams. Occasionally if the opportunity arises, we run a night with whiskies that we do not range as we did with Bruichladdich.

Q. Do you have a set price for each event or does the cost vary depending on the circumstances from one event to another?

Sometimes we source our own whiskies as we did with a couple of Japanese tastings that we did and we may look at doing this more in the future. This format does bump up the price though as there is no support from the distilleries, our preference is to work with the brands and the brand ambassadors. 

Q. Is there always food pairing with the whiskies at each event?

There is always food however Talisker was the first time we actually ran a pairing with the tasting.

Q. Where do you source you food from?

Our food comes from several of Sydney's Providores, Luxe Bakery, Micks Bakehouse. Last time we had Sydney Rock Oysters, Messina Gelato and an Italian Gorgonzola Dulce.

Q. As The Shirt Bar has its own wall of whisky what kinds of whiskies do you like to keep in stock?

We like to range whiskies that we love. Tats basically the only criteria. To keep the punters happy, we try to range an eclectic mix of top shelf spirits from all regions where finery can be sourced, that may be different regions of Scotland, India, Japan, USA, Venezuala, Guatemala and of course Australia amongst others.

Q. Can people be fitted/tailored for on the nights of the Scotch Club?

If Shirt Bar is open we can fit you for a Shirt.

The Talisker family on show
So for now enough about the Shirt Bar itself and what about the night. Talisker was the whisky of choice for the night with a line of: Talisker 10yo, Talisker Storm, Talisker Port Ruighe (pronounced Portree) and Talisker Distillers Edition 2001. This was also the evening Talisker Port Ruighe had its first public tasting in Aus so this made things just that little bit extra special.

A real quick review of the Port Ruighe is a fresh nose with toffee smokes, medicinal but lacking the Talisker salts. To taste smooth on the pallet with fruits, ginger root, oaks and pepper spices in the back of the pallet. Virtually no salts of note. It was great and I would love to try it again.

Simon McGorman doing his thang.
Simon McGorman presented the evening and for any that have meet him before he is very knowledgeable in all things whisky and booze in general. Simon took on the approach of the evening as an educational process helping those along that were new comers to the world of whisky but mixing it up enough for those seasoned pros wanting something more. Certainly I have always found Simon to be one of the best presenters here in Sydney over recent years. The presenter really is an imperative part of any tasting and can make or fail any event regardless of how outstanding a whisky may be. This event of course was an overall success.

A fine selection of foods through the night leaving a contented tummy.
All of this evenings whiskies were paired with a fine selection foods ranging from Sydney Rock Oysters, cured meats, cheese, breads, olives and gelato followed by a close off, what I understand to be a bit of a legend, the Shirt Bar pies. Having a food pairing is not part of every event but you will be sure to have something to eat once the whisky is over with so be sure to hang around.

The crowd was a strong mix of young professionals with but a few senior folks scattered into the mix. Yeah there was those youngsters new to the game, feeling like a duck out of water, and poking fun at the use of the descriptors but hey we all have to start somewhere.

For me what made the night a winner is:

1. A quality presenter that is professional, knowledgable, educational.

2. Comfortable location.

3. Continuous supply of water all night long.

4. Ample food to level the pallet and fill the belly.

Overall if I was to give a dram a fine 6.5 out of 7 for the event. Really spot on and I would honestly prefer spending $55 on an event like this than the $60 to $100 on a whisky forum like Whisky Show or Whisky Live. You can only ever enjoy 4 to 6 drams at most in a sitting and still appreciate it so why not relax and kick back at the Shirt Bar and do it in style. Shirt Bar it is for me and I would hope to return again at some stage in the future.

Shirt Bar is located at 7 Sussex lane, Sydney, NSW 2000 Australia. They are open Monday to Friday and available for functions on Saturdays.

The Baron