Julieann Fernandez Rotary Scotch tasting

Julieann Fernandez of Distell Distilleries in Scotland will host the Rotary’s Feb. 27 Zoom whisky-tasting of three Scotch whiskies.

When it comes straight from the still it’s moonshine, a clear liquid. But soon it acquires its distinctive flavor and caramel color from the barrels in which it’s stored and from the environment in which it’s kept — whether that’s humid and sunny, or cold, dark, and damp. If sea air is part of the mix, well, so much the better.

Although the above might describe several fermented beverages, Scotch whisky is what it’s all about for the Rotary Club of Inverness’ latest fundraiser.

And Mike Hall, chair of the committee planning a “Whiskey Tour of Scotland” Scotch tasting on the Zoom Internet platform at 3 p.m. Feb. 27, is excited that people in this area — or most anywhere on the planet — not only will be able to learn a bit more about Scotch, but also help the Rotary raise scholarship funds in a socially distanced, but fun, way.

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Those participating will receive three Scottish whiskies and bonus whiskey, which will be hand-delivered to homes and businesses in Citrus County and possibly other areas just over the county line. Those living at a distance will receive their whisky in the mail, along with a sampling snifter.

The registration deadline is Feb. 18 for those expecting to receive the whisky by mail and Feb. 24 for those receiving hand-delivered bottles.

Registration is at www.eventbrite.com. Search for “Rotary Inverness” and one of the first items that pops up should be the virtual Scotch tasting. Tickets are $49.

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Committee chairman Hall is a self-described Scotch collector. “Every one has its own flavor,” he said.

He said Scotch derives from single malted grains, dried over a peat fire and often aged in former bourbon barrels from the United States. But to get its name, Scotch whisky has to be brewed in Scotland, just as bourbon has to be brewed in the United States.

The Scots purchase American bourbon barrels, Hall said, because Scotland doesn’t have many trees for barrel-making.

Interestingly, American “whiskey” is spelled with an “e,” while Scotch “whisky” is “e-less.”

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The Rotary’s Whisky Tour will be hosted live from the Distell Distillery in Scotland by Julieann Fernandez, master blender at Distell. Her background includes doing analytic chemistry and new product development at Chivas Brothers’ Kilmalib lab in Scotland while a university student.

Upon graduation, she joined the Scotch Whisky Research Institution as an analytical research scientist. She later returned to Chivas, and then joined Distell in 2017 as a blender. At Distell, she has worked with senior blender Kirstie McCallum on the company’s single-malt, blend and limited-edition products. She also is involved with Distell’s Tobermory Gin project and has been promoted to master blender.

Fernandez is “one of the rare women in a male-dominated industry,” said Bonnie Rybak, who’s in charge of the Rotary Club’s publicity.

The Rotary decided to offer its Zoom Whisky Tour after the pandemic forced it to cancel its major fundraiser, the annual Highland Craft Brew Festival, usually held at Rock Crusher Canyon in February, Rybak said.

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That fundraiser, as well as other projects, help pay for the approximately $10,000 in scholarships the club gives to high school and Withlacoochee Technical College students.

Last year, over 800 patrons visited the Brew Festival. To make up for the lost revenue, the Rotary Club is planning a series of smaller fundraisers, including the Zoom Whisk1y Tour, Rybak said.

Upcoming are a Car Rally Scavenger Hunt on March 20, and four mini Brew Fests in April at area craft breweries.

Rybak said when COVID forced the Rotary Club to search for alternative ways to raise funds, Hall, who is past president of the club, suggested a Scotch tasting.

Rybak said that speaking “for those of us who don’t drink Scotch, I was a skeptic.”

Nevertheless, the club debuted a whiskey-tasting Zoom event in November, hosted by an American distributor.

The whiskey came from spots around the globe, including the Caribbean and Japan, “and I learned a lot,” Rybak said. “One has a smoky taste, one is better with ice, one is better at room temperature. And we could [sample these — from the comfort and safety of our own homes.”

Some of the leftover whiskey from that event will be included in the packets that those attending the Feb. 27 will receive. They also will get three Scotch whiskies from Distell.

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Hall said he understands that not everyone may be a Scotch fan.

“When you first drink it, it’s horrible. It burns. But the more you drink it, the more you appreciate the flavors in it,” he said.

He and his wife, Linda Liebert Hall, who is Rotary president, were married in England and honeymooned in Scotland. He said some of the Scots they met said, “You should have come here first. We would have put you up for the night.”

According to Hall, “It’s a beautiful country. The people are so nice. The distilleries are in the most beautiful, serene places.”

Rybak said the three Distell Scotch whiskies for the Feb. 27 event are hard to find in the United States.

Those whiskies are:

  • Deanston 12-year Highland Single Malt whisky, produced in a former Scottish Highlands cotton mill.
  • Bunnahabhain 12-Year-Old Islay Single Malt Scotch, produced at a distillery at the mouth of the Margadale Spring on the shores of the Sound of Islay, off the west coast of Scotland.
  • Ledaig 10-Year-Old Single Malt Scotch from Tobermory Distillery on the Isle of Mull. The Tobermory Distillery was established in 1798 and is one of the oldest in Scotland.

Distell purchased the above distilleries from Burn Stewart in 2013.

Rybak, the skeptic who attended the November online whiskey tasting, said she was pleasantly surprised by that one. She reported that Bob McLean, an Inverness resident and descendant of Scots, had to abandon plans to visit his ancestral home when the pandemic struck.

He told Rybak the Feb. 27 whisky tasting will be special to him because his ancestors are from the Isle of Mull, where Ledaig Scotch is produced.

McLean, who joined the Rotary’s November whiskey tasting, told Rybak that “Unlike most virtual meetings, this one involves whisky, and you know that it cannot be bad.”

Rybak said she discovered at the November tasting that “There was a nice camaraderie. It was a nice break from the usual (Zoom) meetings. I had fun. Some of the people got a little giggly, but no designated driver was needed.”

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