Stuart McLean Ramsay puts the Scotland into scotch this weekend

Single-malt scotch whisky is a soulful drink, redolent of soil, greenery, water, sky and hype. It’s also something of an affront to all we hold dear: you can’t guzzle it like light beer, and to bland, uninitiated American palates, its flavor can be intimidating.

That’s where scotch expert Stuart McClean Ramsay comes in. Ramsay will be hosting the “Winter Scotch Dinner” at McMenamins Grand Lodge Saturday, Jan. 4, where guests will be treated to a tasting of five different kinds of single-malt scotch, paired with specially prepared foods.

Stuart comes from the village of Contin in the Scottish highlands. It was here that he first tasted a single-malt scotch at the tender age of 19. He has since “been in search of the perfect whisky,” he said. Perfection being hard to define, his search has taken him high and low. Along the way, “I’ve made friends, been to beautiful places,” he COURTESY PHOTO - Stuart McLean Ramsay is one of the Keepers of the Quaich, a society that promotes the heritage of scotch whisky. The Quaich is a special glass to drink scotch from.

The Portland resident knows a lot about scotch whisky, which started as an ingenious way to keep grain profitable in the cold, wet climate of the Scottish highlands, where it is prone to rot. Converting grain to alcohol provided a marketable product.

Scotch whisky owes its popularity to Phylloxera, a grape-vine malady, which slipped into Europe from North America around 1824 and wiped out all the French vineyards. With no brandy or wine available from France, Britain scrambled to meet the alcohol needs of its citizens, lifting the taxes on scotch in 1824 and allowing Scotland to produce the whisky legally.

Single malts are recognized by the regions where they are produced, Ramsay said: Highland, Lowland, Islay and Campbeltown. Each region is noted for the distinct characteristics of taste, said Ramsay, who noted that with less isolation, new techniques, shared communications and other factors, it has become more difficult to tell the brands apart.

For scotch lovers, America experienced a blight even more severe than Phylloxera from 1920 to 1933, with the onset of Prohibition. Only recently have laws encouraged a renaissance in distilling spirits. Oregon now has 12 distilleries, including two — Indio and Big Bottom — in Washington County, with another one expected to open in Forest Grove next year.

The city just gave Portland-based Flooded Fox Den Distillery fee breaks to take over one of Forest Grove’s largest vacant buildings, the former Gray & Company maraschino cherry processing plant on 23rd Avenue.

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