Scotch has always had an aura of sophistication with authors like Mark Twain, Dashiell Hammett and Dorothy Parker, extoling its virtues, but the spirit has become trendy in recent years with everyone from Prince Charles to Supermodel Coco Rocha endorsing the special whiskey.
If you had told Guy Sporbert while growing up in middle-class Highland Falls, New York that he’d be the face of one of the most impressive Scotch Libraries in North America, he’d probably have told you that you were drunk. But today, Sporbert is indeed the Senior Scotch Ambassador at the Westin Kierland Resort and Spa in Scottsdale, Arizona, and known as a national authority on the spirit.
With more than 300 different scotch whiskies, 10 to 15 percent considered quite rare, the resort’s Scotch Library is one of the best in the country.
How Sporbert landed the coveted job is the perfect tale to listen to while sipping a dram of the Glenmorange 18 or The Balvenie 21.
After a stint in the Air Force, Sporbert’s dad recruited him to work the bar at the bowling alley he owned in town. It was here that the 22-year-old Sporbert discovered Jack Daniels and an interest in whiskey was born.
“Whiskey is my favorite spirit and scotch is my favorite whiskey,” Sporbert explained. “I’m interested in all aspects, and whenever I can learn more about it I soak it up like a sponge.”
After four years at his dad’s bar, Sporbert became owner of a popular local in town, but a golfing trip to Scottsdale in the dead of winter was all it took for him to go home, sell the business, pack up the wife and four kids, and leave snow behind for good. Sporbert spent more than two decades in various beverage positions at the Fairmont Scottsdale, including head bartender of the TPC. But when the restaurant closed for a year-long renovation in 2012, Sporbert had to find a new direction.
“I didn’t want to be a 62-year-old pool boy bartender,” he joked.
What had initially seemed like a crisis, turned into a case of serendipity when Sporbert landed at the Westin Kierland right when the resort was creating its scotch program.
Since 2013, the Scotch Library has delighted whisky aficionados and novices wanting to learn more. Tastings with Sporbert can be privately arranged, or guests can simply attend the Evening of Scotch, featuring three tastings, every Friday night. The library includes popular quaffs like the Glenmorangie 25 and the Glenfiddich 21, as well as some truly luxurious sips.
“Our oldest scotch in the library is a 62-year-old Macallan,” said Sporbert. “But that’s not the rarest. That would be our 50-year-old Balvenie. There are only 131 bottles in the world and only 15 in the U.S. It’s the most expensive whiskey in the world. When you’re sipping a Balvenie 50, you’re practically guaranteed no one on earth is doing what you’re doing right at that minute.”
While that scotch will set you back $2,000 an ounce, Sporbert insists that great scotch doesn’t need to be expensive.
When you’re sipping a Balvenie 50, you’re practically guaranteed no one on earth is doing what you’re doing right at that minute.”
“I have more than 30 bottles of whiskey at home and none are more than $100,” he said. “You don’t have to spend a lot, you just have to know what you like.”
The problem is that most people don’t really know that.
“Many people are intimidated by scotch. They feel they have to have knowledge and sophistication to enjoy it,” Sporbert said. “I love giving them information and seeing them light up.”
Despite the fact that Sporbert humbly calls himself an enthusiast not an expert, after 47 years behind the bar he’s accumulated a wealth of knowledge he shares during each tasting.
For private tastings, Sporbert determines the level of experience the guest has with scotch before selecting the specific spirits to serve. In my case when I told him I had none and was a wine drinker, he selected whiskies that were smoother, and one that finished its aging in a port wine cask.
Sporbert explains that the key to enjoying scotch lies in your nose.
“Your nose and tongue need to be on the same page to enjoy a glass,” he said. “The more you smell it, the better it tastes.”
To that end, we sniffed for 30 seconds. As a wine drinker, I was tempted to swirl the glass, until Sporbert tells me that while it looks cool, it doesn’t aerate and open up the way wine does—the trick for that is to add a few drops of filtered water. Sure enough the first sip without water is much more intense than the second with it added.
I was tempted to swirl the glass, until Sporbert tells me that while it looks cool, it doesn’t aerate and open up the way wine does.
Scotch, unlike other country’s whiskies, can be aged in a variety of barrels, which is key after learning that the flavors in a whisky are a direct result of the type of barrel used. This explains why there is such diversity in scotch compared to any other whisky.
All of the whiskies Sporbert had me taste were more than18 years, which I’m shocked to find out comprises only a scant two percent of scotch made. I also learn that whatever year is on the label tells the consumer what the youngest whiskey in the bottle is. So an 18-year might be blended with a 20-year in a blended scotch whiskey.
While there is no Scottish blood in Sporbert, he certainly looks the part dressed in traditional Scottish attire, kilt and all.
“At first wearing the kilt was a little weird,” he admitted. “But if I knew all the attention I would get, I would have worn it in high school!”
Scotsman or not, Sporbert has clearly found his clan in scotch lovers.