One of the world’s 15 masters of whiskey, brand ambassador for Diageo, the world’s largest spirits company and judge of World Spirits Competitions, Steve Beal is a whiskey virtuoso. For anything and everything you need to know about whiskey, Beal is the go-to expert. Considering the vastness of the subject and its great history, Beal regards whiskey with almost supernatural awe.
“Whiskey is a religion all in its own,” Beal said, “it’s a religion of hospitality.”
Last Friday, the AAA Four Diamond, award-winning Chaminade Resort and Spa hosted a single malt scotch whiskey tasting with Beal as the speaker, with hopes to educate, inform and excite Santa Cruz citizens about the world of adult beverages. A small, private event, the tasting consisted of two rows of five neatly organized tables.
“We hosted this event to educate the people in Santa Cruz on whiskey,” said Casey Dakessian, the food and beverage supervisor at the Chaminade. “People have a lot of misconceptions about whiskey — they don’t really know the differences or the history of it.”
Attendees were intrigued by his storytelling. Wide-eyed and eager for information, they asked many questions while sharing laughs with Beal.
“Being a master of whiskey is mostly a bit technical — it’s about making it, but it’s also about enjoying it, understanding it, loving the taste of it and helping people get over their anxiety about it,” Beal said. “Scotch whiskey is something that people have a lot of trepidations about — they’ve heard it has an acquired taste”.
Mr. Beal’s presentation painted a vivid history of what the Gaelic monks who invented the drink after migrating to the islands of Ireland and Great Britain referred to as “the water of life.”
“The monks traveled to these islands with the intent of spreading their gospel, healing the sick and taking care of people’s needs,” Beal said. “To do that, they needed alcohol. The alcohol would be used to warm the soul, but also to make medicine.”
Medicine was in fact the origin of many modern day alcohols, Beal said.
“The early monks would sometimes take those alcohols and mix them with edible things, such as sugars, honeys and spices,” Beal said. “Monks didn’t really make whiskey for drinking intentionally — or so they like to tell us — they did it to take care of people.”
He described how in the Middle Ages, when there weren’t hospitals or hotels, people would stay in a specific portion of the monastery called the “public house.” When Henry VIII abolished English monasteries in the sixteenth-century, ordinary people opened their own public houses that served food, beer and provided a place to rest. These were soon referred to as “pubs,” a name that’s stuck ever since.
Beal said the history of whiskey is also the history of hospitality and togetherness.
Nancy Cortez Lippi, an attendee of the event last Friday, thought Beal’s seminar as informative as it was interesting.
“I never dreamed how much is involved in whiskey,” Lippi said. “Prior to the event I looked online to learn some more about it, but after tonight I learned so much more — Beal left me amazed.”
Alongside learning about its history, guests sampled six sophisticated whiskies and were served a variety of appetizers, ranging from grilled persimmons to lamb chops with mole sauce.
The event not only served to educate and inform people about whiskey, but also to remind them that the drink is only as good as the company in which it’s enjoyed.
“The thing I love about scotch isn’t so much drinking it,” Beal said. “I love the stories.”