The WhiskyBack Journey
Stuart MacLean Ramsay was born and raised in Easter Ross, Scotland, and weaned on the real Scottish ales of Belhaven and Maclay’s. At the age of 19, Ramsay headed up the Aberdeen chapter of CAMRA, the consumer movement dedicated to real ale and traditional British pubs. He discovered single malt Scotch the same year at Glenmorangie, his neighborhood distillery on the shores of the Dornoch Firth. On a wintry summer’s day, a distillery manager thrust his valanche into the bunghole of a 17-year-old Spanish butt, dispensing a dram to him in a dank and heady dunnage warehouse. After this moment of bliss, Ramsay decided to dedicate his life to the pursuit of the perfect dram and the perfect pint of beer.
He learned the art of serious drinking, (the ‘hauf ‘n hauf’), in the spartan pubs of Glasgow, and poured the perfect pint of Guinness in James Wilson’s on the Byres Road. (If the pint wasn't perfect, the bartender was given a "Glasgow kiss" by the manager, a Rangers supporter.) He was awestruck and smitten by the big-boned, alabaster-skinned and black-haired women from the island of Skye who frequented his local pub before their shift at the Nurse's College. They sipped double shots of Talisker and pints of Guinness, interrupted only by nervous bartenders who periodically threw a mutton pie on the bar for the nurses' sustenance and the long and arduous shift ahead...an insight to the British health care system. On a trip to the Hebridean island of Islay he finally talked with God, in the form of a dram of Lagavulin and a half pint of stout, at the Port Charlotte pub in a reeking atmosphere of shepherds, lambs, sheepdogs, wellie boots, mutton pies and cigarette smoke. (It was lambing season.)
After emigrating to America at the age of 21, Ramsay settled in Seattle, sipping Yuengling Porter and Ballantine's IPA at the Virginia Inn down on 1st Avenue. On a writing assignment in the early 1980’s, he discovered Grant’s Scottish ale in Yakima, WA. Grant’s was the first brewpub in North America and Ramsay managed the pub and marketed the ales back in Seattle. In 1986, he moved to Portland to create and manage the BridgePort Brewpub, Oregon’s first craft brewery. Ramsay learned the craft of brewing at BridgePort and handled the marketing of the beers. He conceived BridgePort Blue Heron over a pint with the local Audubon Society director, Mr. Mike Houck, declaring it to be the "Classic Northwest Ale." (The original recipe was just that before the Texans took over and fucked that iconic symbol of Portland.) Ramsay was one of the four person team, alongside founder Art Larrance, Kurt Widmer and Nancy Ponzi, that coordinated the first Oregon Brewers’ Festival.
After a stint as craft beer columnist for the Portland Oregonian, Ramsay published Uisge Beatha, the first newsletter devoted to exploring the single malts of Scotland. United Distillers (now Diageo) were about to launch their Classic Malts (Lagavulin, Oban et al.) and asked him to create a newsletter for this venture. Sláinte was written and edited by Ramsay (his partner, Susan, designed it.) Sláinte enjoyed a readership of over 70,000 consumers in North America. Ramsay also travelled the country hosting whisky tastings for the Classic Malts.
For his services to Scotch whisky, he was inducted into the prestigious Keepers of the Quaich. The managing director of The Macallan, Peter Fairlie, was his sponsor.
Ramsay became US editor for Britain’s Whisky Magazine, travelling to Kentucky and writing stories about the distilleries and distillers of the Bluegrass state. For his services to Kentucky and Bourbon, Ramsay was inducted as a Kentucky Colonel, sponsored by Jimmy Russell, the iconic distiller of Wild Turkey. In addition to writing about whiskey for the Malt (now Whisky) Advocate, Santé, Cigar Aficionado and other publications, Ramsay’s friend and drinking partner, Michael Jackson, asked him to write the North American chapters for the award-winning book, The Definitive Guide to World Whisky.
In an early foray into WhiskyBack culture 12 years ago, Ramsay sourced and imported a unique 15 year old bottling of Glenfarclas to pair with Portland Brewing’s MacTarnahan’s Scottish ale. It was followed by Modern Spirit, a fresh, vibrant $30 a bottle dram with no age statement and bottled at 46% abv, anticipating the current trend in single malt Scotch. It paired magically with MacTarnahan’s Black Watch Porter.
Ramsay owns and operates Ramsay’s Dram Academy of Whisky in Portland, OR, teaching classes about every style of whisky to industry and consumers. (Along the way, he was nominated “the Best person to Drink with in Portland” by the Willamette Week.) His latest whisky job was the Curator of the Multnomah Whiskey Library, in charge of 1500 whiskies and copious other spirits, education of staff, members and consumers, and creating events and tastings.
With WhiskyBack, Ramsay has come full circle in his journey of discovery for the perfect dram and pint of beer, combining his two great passions. We hope you enjoy the journey, too.