I confess I know next to nothing about Scotch. I once admitted to a girlfriend, who happened to be a seasoned Scotch drinker, that I’d never tasted the stuff. She suggested in a wry sort of way that I best not as it would knock me on my butt. And so I didn’t. Recently, I repeated my admission to a second friend, who in turn gifted me with a top-of-the-line bottle. I not only finally got my first taste of Scotch, I learned something too — it’s definitely an acquired taste.
But recently, I got a bit more of an education about Scotch after a conversation with Chip MacGregor, who just opened MacGregor’s Whiskey Bar in Manzanita.
Chip wasn’t always a Scotch drinker. Wine was more his taste. But he is a Scotsman so it seems fated he’d eventually come around.
“I still have family in Scotland, and when I went back to see people, I found them drinking Scotch,” Chip said. “So it was really through visiting Scottish pubs that I learned about Scotch whisky.
Whisky from Scotland has no “e” near the end — a vestige left over from ages past. It gets its name from the Gaelic word for water: uisce, which was pronounced oosh-ka, later morphed into whish-kah, and eventually became “whiskey.”
“By hanging out with people who knew their whisky, I quickly got a lesson in the creation and enjoyment of brown liquor,” Chip said. “I also came to understand the Scottish tradition of always buying a drink for a stranger. It’s just the tradition… and you don’t have to worry about buying one back, because they take the long view. If you don’t have a chance to buy one this time, you’ll buy next time, and over the course of your life, it will all even out.
“Most Scots (like most Oregonians) grew up in small towns with rainy weather,” he added, “and they understand the value of making friends with those you’re comfortable sitting around with, since you’re probably going to have plenty of time to sit indoors while the rain is pelting outside.”
Last summer, Chip returned to Scotland for a wedding and visited a distillery with his son and daughter. Turns out, they were the only visitors that day.
“The young lass who took us on the tour snuck us into the back room, tapped out the bung on one of the big oak casks the Scotch whisky was aging in, and pulled out a bit for us a try. It was a 35-year-old single malt, and was the best whisky I’ve ever had in my life. That, to me, summed up the best of Scotland — friendly people, in small towns, generously sharing their best drink with strangers.”
Which is the spirit Chip hopes to create in his bar. And don’t worry, if you, like me, are still waiting to acquire a taste for Scotch, MacGregor’s offers a full bar, so it’s fine to belly up and order a glass of wine or a beer or whatever’s your pleasure. You can also get a bite to eat.
“I wanted our kitchen at the bar to reflect some of my heritage, so we do a couple of very Scottish items — a meat board and a cheese board, smoked salmon, a fish soup, as well as having some great shortbread. The goal was to have items to eat that were fresh and tasty, locally sourced as often as we can, and keep it simple. So our Northwest board, for example, has a fresh local cheese, some smoked salmon, local fruit or pickled veggies, and some fresh bread. It’s pretty close to what you’d have if you visited Pitlochry, where my family comes from. And the things we’re serving go great with a whisky, whether a peaty Scotch or a lighter, sweeter Irish whiskey.
“Of course, the proof is in the pudding, and so far the response from customers has been great. We’ve been open just a few weeks, and we’ve already had people asking if they can come back in order to try a whisky from each of the six Scotch regions, or to share a story about their family, or just to find a welcoming place that serves good food and brown liquor and is out of the rain.”
Lori Tobias is the author of the novel “Wander” and a journalist of many years. Follow her at loritobias.com.