On Friday, November 4, around midnight, a food truck will transport some 150 pounds of Shetland fish to Monaco, pulling up to serve authentic fish and chips to a hungry crowd, which in the past has included HSH Prince Albert, as part of the Monte-Carlo Whisky Festival.
The 5th edition of the event, which runs Wednesday, November 2 to Sunday, November 6, gathers collectors, investors and connoisseurs from around the world and is put on by La Maison d’Ecosse, incorporated in Monaco in 2012. Its mission is to showcase the luxuries of Scotland in the Principality through “Scotland’s true Ambassador”, whisky.
La Maison d’Ecosse is run by Darlo and Anita Di Sotto, who are also President and Secretary-General of the non-profit Monte-Carlo Whisky Society, for which HSH Prince Albert II is the Honorary President and, as of April 2015, Keeper of the Quaich at Blair Castle. Mike Powers serves as Vice-President.
La Maison d’Ecosse holds monthly whisky tastings around Monaco open to the public and also hold four members-only Masters Classes across the year. Earlier this month, “fellows” gathered onboard “Ellen” in Cap d’Ail for a Glenrothes Master Class Tasting with Ronnie Cox, a Global Ambassador for the distillery through England’s oldest wine company, Berry Bros & Rudd (whose current chairman is advisor to the Queen).
Mr Cox is a seventh generation whisky man. Although, as he told Monaco Life, “Two of the generations, however were illegally producing whisky in Scotland and one of my relatives was fined £200 and £300 in 1816.”
Explaining the history of the spirit, Mr Cox said, “Whisky was a practical thing in Scotland in the 1850s because it was so cold and if they had barley surplus, they’d make whisky, although it was so expensive it was rare. But a shot of whisky in the winter was a Godsend.”
When the railroads arrived, it became easy to export the drink around the commonwealth and by the 1920s, while the US had prohibition, it became de rigueur to drink blended whiskys everywhere else.
There are a few reasons for this. Pioneering salespeople dressed the part and convinced people it was a superior drink and, according to Mr Cox, the Prime Minister during World War One wanted to keep munitions workers from drinking too much, so he half-banned the spirit by saying you had to drink whisky at least two years old, then it was three years old … so they took whisky off the markets. It became more expensive and harder to find.
Over the last decades worldwide people have been personifying brands, so you have to look the type to drink a certain label. “My grandfather would never believe you’d spend €1,000 on a bottle of whisky,” commented Mr Cox. “It was three days’ pay for an agricultural worker in 1970. You could buy that same bottle today with three hours of wages.”
Is it a bottle worth €1,000? “This year’s conference theme is Collect, Invest or Drink?” said Mrs Di Sotto. “There are two distinct whisky clients. One is knowledgeable and looking for a unique tasting product that he can understand, and the other is an aspirational buyer who wants a bottle that costs a lot of money. More and more of the latter are getting hooked onto learning. This would never have happened in Monaco five years ago.”
“Monaco is new territory for customers in terms of export for whisky,” Mr Cox said before adding “the French drink more whisky in a month than cognac in a year”.
La Maison d’Ecosse produces a special Monaco Blend whisky (€120), on sale directly from their website. But more remarkable, it’s bottling the Grimaldi Collection. Prince Albert, who has Scottish roots going back to his great-great grandmother, travels annually to Scotland with the Di Sottos to tastes various casks, and chooses one to bare his family’s name. From 2015 to 2021, there will be ten unique bottles from ten different casks that will make up the Grimaldi collection, which will be auctioned off in 2021 in support of the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation and the Oceanographic Museum.
Last year the Prince picked Glenmorangie, and this year, he had the choice of ten Glenrothes casks. To make it even more exclusive, Glenrothes has taken the end product and put it in another cask, a world first.
Whisky enthusiasts can find our more about the Grimaldi Collection at the Monte-Carlo Whisky Festival, which this year has added “Whisky from the Attic” in the tasting room. Anyone can bring in a bottle of whisky for experts, either to authenticate or sell at auction by phone on the spot.
Tastings, whisky and popcorn evenings, and workshops across the week (tickets from €10, book online) can be found at the Metropole Hotel. The St Andrew’s Gala Banquet takes place Friday while the Monaco Blend Party is on Saturday. For a full program and to order tickets, visit the website.
Article first published October 20, 2016.