I had a feeling I’d like this one. Only a few hours earlier I’d known nothing about Scotch. I hadn’t even known if I liked it. I didn’t even know how to figure out if I liked it, unsure of how to even order it. Now I knew when Bob Townsend told me it was “big smoke,” I’d probably like it. It turns out I like Scotch, especially the smoky ones.
In Atlantic City, a small town outside Lander, nearly forgotten after the mining days, there is a bar inside the Miner’s Delight bed and breakfast called the Two-Bit Cowboy Saloon.
The barkeep, and one of the owners, is Bob Townsend and behind the bar are 86 bottles of Scotch, most of them rare. Twice a month- on the first Friday and the second Saturday- Miner’s Delight hosts Scotch tastings.
People make the trip from nearby Lander, but also from all over Wyoming, Montana and Utah.
Townsend’s Scotch collection became legendary in Atlantic City after he and his wife, Barbara, bought the Miner’s Delight Inn and the small cabins on the property in 2006. Bob Townsend always loved single malt whisky and kept the bar stocked with his favorites and rare finds. In 2008 the couple started offering tastings once a month. They sold tickets in advance, but soon the events were too crowded and they were turning people away.
He added a day of tasting- the second Saturday of each month, and decided to feature rare, more high-end Scotches for a higher ticket price. This summer they hosted their 60th consecutive “Second Saturday” event. There have only been four where no one showed up. Last winter during a snowstorm, 15 people still arrived.
The Friday and Saturday events differ slightly, but both provide an opportunity to try several kinds of Scotch and learn as much as you want about the liquor. Some of the people who come are novices, like me, but others are Scotch connoisseurs in their own right, eager to try something exotic before committing to buying a full bottle.
If you are drinking a beer and order an IPA, you have an idea of what it will taste like. You can select wine based on the type- a merlot, or a cabernet and have a sense of what food it will best compliment.
With Scotch there is no way to know what it will taste like until you actually taste it, Townsend said.
That’s why Townsend started the tastings. He built an unusual collection and lets people try something they might otherwise have to pay $40 or $100 or more for a bottle before knowing if they even liked it.
The bar always has something new. When one bottle is finished Townsend usually replaces it with a different rare Scotch. He tastes each bottle he buys so he’s able to make recommendations based on what people like.
Some are smoky, or ashy or peaty or medicinal. As we taste I can begin to discern the various elements- the vanilla, the oak, the fruit. My palate isn’t quite as sophisticated yet to compete with some of the descriptions in the tasting book at the bar:
“Sweet treacle, creamy caramel sauce and highland toffee. It is incredibly oily, yet spicy, similar to freshly ground mixed peppercorns, the smoke subtly evident throughout. Finish: Like a cloud of sweet smoke lingering for a while.”
Or “Very easy, fruity and vanillaed with good body despite the low strength. Notes of herbal tea (chamomile) caramelized peanuts, dried coconut and malt. Hints of orange blossom, water, baklavas, crème Brule. Finish: Medium, long, more honeyed.”
Or “Well, it’s more of a palate whisky because the attack is quite fantastic, very lightly salty, but with a lot of vanilla fudge, barley sugar, icing sugar and orange drops. Lollipops? Excellent fruitiness, perfect body and a lot of pleasure. Finish: Long- still vibrantly lemony with a little more oak, pepper and ginger in the after taste.”
Looks like I have some more tasting to do.
Kelsey Dayton is, a Lander freelance writer who used to live and play in Jackson Hole.