Hop Scotch In Review
May 14, 2009 by Doug Haugen
Walking through the doors into Hop Scotch gives a wino the same sense of magic and wonder that Charlie must have felt when he waltzed into the chocolate factory clutching a golden ticket in his sticky little mitts. After making your way trough the entry line, showing your identification and tickets ($20 advance), you are given a 5-oz commemorative tasting cup that will be your best friend for the rest of the evening, the Willy Wonka that will bring you taste after taste of the sweet nectar within. If the tasting cup is Wonka, the fistful of tasting tokens you receive are the Oompa Loompas, the aids that make everything happen. Now you’re set.
Created a few years ago under a different name, the has event evolved into what it is today, a premium booze-and-brew extravaganza. Walking into the large space of Fremont Studios, you’re met with loud beats and crowds of people with Utopian expressions on their shiny faces. They’re sipping from their cups like critics who can’t believe they scored the best job in the world. They’re standing in clusters, discussing their beverages as if they were newly discovered novels by Albert Camus. They’re plotting their tasting strategy like kids in the heart of Disneyland.
As they say, “When in Rome…” We first approached the bunker of breweries, about 35 of them in all, clustered together behind counters the size of a cruise ship. Handing over a token and our cups, we were poured five ounces of beers we had never tasted before. Of course, there are some there that are ubiquitous around the local bar scene, so we made it a point to try the ones we didn’t recognize. Some were great, some were average, but all of them satiated both our thirst and our curiosity.
Next, we attended a scotch seminar presented by Ari Shapiro, who is one of only fifteen pros in the United States to earn the designation of “Master of Whisky.” And, a pro he was. The seminar included tastes of eight scotches from different regions of Scotland, education about how to taste and evaluate the whisky, information about how scotch whisky is made and regionally stylized, label-specific background and methods, and cultural traditions like kilts and other garb. Shapiro was not only knowledgeable and professional, but entertaining and articulate in his well-crafted seminar. The seminar is not included in the cost of admission; it’s $30, but if you’re a newbie looking for a quick launch on the Scotch rocket, this is for you. If you wanted a self-guided tour of the isles, you could buy flights of five kinds of scotch for $10 in the main space.
After dousing the campfire in our mouths with more beer, we moved on to wine. Darin and Seth from Small-Lot Co-Op were pouring selections from three wineries: Heaven’s Cave, Des Voigne Cellars and Sapolil Cellars. Already a fan of the first two, we stuck to the game-plan, and tried the one we’d never had. We started with the Papa Loves Mambo proprietary red blend made of 70% Syrah, 20% Sangiovese and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. The Willy Wonka metaphor could be applied once again here, because the PLM is like a glassful of so much candy. Fruit-driven from the attack to the finish, you could find yourself blowing through a bottle of this with breakfast without batting a guilty eye. While not overly complex, the cab in the blend does give it a nice mouthfeel. We also tried the Chardonnay, which never sees oak or malolactic fermentation. It tastes like nothing you’ve ever come to expect from a Chard; tart and juicy, you might take a bottle and a bucket of ice poolside on a hot day.
We never even made it to the Tequila. For $15, you could try flights of five super-premium 100% agave tequilas in the “Tequila Tasting Cantina.” Next year, definitely next year.
Last but not least was the swank Heineken lounge. In the next room, plush couches were strewn about, the lighting dimmed, tinted with a glow the color of a Heineken bottle. Here you could give your tasting cup a rest, and lounge about bottle-in-hand.
The six tasting tokens that came with admission lasted longer than I expected them to, since they were traded in for full pours. But, if you’re curious to try even more things, or just seriously want to get your drink on, more tokens could be purchased for just $1.75 each.
Considering the abundance of booze, I have to applaud the organizers of Hop Scotch (Bold Hat Productions), for encouraging and enabling guests to drink responsibly. Several times, we were admonished to be safe in getting home. Taxi cabs are encouraged, and they will help you contact one if you need. Designated drivers can attend the event for just $15, and are given water tickets in lieu of drink tokens. Hop Scotch attendees could even get room discounts at the nearby Marriott hotel to sleep off the fun before heading home.
I’m looking forward to attending Hop Scotch again next year, and also the other Bold Hat events coming up, which include Kirkland Uncorked (July wine event) and the Fremont Oktoberfest (October beer event).