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Sipping Scotch for the Spray Park

Rotarians enjoy Scotch tasting and live music. -- Michelle Croissant photo

While Scotch may not be appealing to everyone's tastes, there were plenty of local whiskey connoisseurs in attendance for the Grand Forks Rotary Club's Seventh Annual Scotch Tasting fundraising event, held Saturday, Jan. 31 at gallery 2 from 7-10 p.m.

January 25th of each year marks the annual celebration of Scotland's national poet Robert Burns, who allegedly liked a drink or three—making the day a perfect excuse for Scotch lovers to indulge in their favorite spirits while feasting with friends to the drone of the pipes.

In his 1785 poem "Scotch Drink" Burn's high regard for whiskey is obvious:

"O thou, my muse! guid auld Scotch drink!

Whether thro' wimplin worms thou jink,

Or, richly brown, ream owre the brink,

In glorious faem,

Inspire me, till I lisp an' wink,

To sing thy name!"

This year's Grand Forks event, a more intimate sit-down affair than the gallery's annual wine gala, was intended as both a belated celebration of Robbie Burns Day and a club fundraiser. Nine premium single malt Scotches—ranging between 12 and 18 years old, and $80 to $150 in price—were available for sampling, along with wine and beer. A $35 ticket provided five liquor samples in addition to a variety of delicious hors d’oeuvres prepared by Neil Krog and Twisted Fork Catering. The Rotary Club also provided a safe ride home program.

Club Assistant District Governor Cathy Korolek told the Sentinel, "We're certainly working towards the Spray Park, and we're doing really well fundraising. So everything we're doing is going towards that." Korolek was manning the reception table for the evening. She said they had sold about 83 tickets to that point—at a cost of $35 each—and there were still a few stragglers buying tickets at the door. A 50/50 draw was held to raise further funds for the project.

Grand Forks resident Shara Lamont and her husband Scott were two of the later arrivals. "He's drinking and I'm driving," she announced as they paid for their tickets. "I am not a Scotch person," Lamont told the Sentinel, "but I love coming to this. So I have the nibbles and I chat with people, and Scott gets to wear his kilt." Her husband was clad in traditional Scottish garb, including a chinchilla-furred sporran and a brushed wool tam. Lamont said that another bonus was getting away from the kids. "And they get to have their favorite babysitter and they're so excited!"

Each attendee also received a notebook featuring a description and tasting notes for each Scotch, including a section to make personal notes for each tasting.  Although tasting Scotch involves similar aspects to tasting wine—color/appearance, nose (aroma), first sip, and overall taste—notes on Scotch tasting tend to contain more humorous descriptions—a 12-year-old Glen Scotia whiskey is described as, “Very crisp and fresh, it holds lots of yellow malt, a soft florality (floralness?), and some lemon zest. There’s apple cider vinegar and sugar, and maybe some minor hints of oak pulp. Underscoring all of this is an ocean breeze and old fashioned bandages.”

Another important difference from wine tasting is that the first sip of Scotch is not swirled around in the mouth, which leaves a strong unpleasant flavour in the mouth. Instead, allow the whisky to roll over the tongue and then swallow.  Scotch tends to get smoother as it ages. Many experts believe the best way to taste Scotch whisky is lightly diluted with water, and with no ice.

While the crowd sipped Scotch, savoured brownies topped with strawberries and chocolate sauce, and clapped along to some rousing traditional tunes played by a piper from Grand Forks Pipes and Drums, Rotary Spray Park Chair Lynne Burch manned a tabletop display of the spray park plans. The overall design was laid out along with pictures, technical specs and pricing for each component. Spray parks, much like playgrounds, are generally custom designed by combining various separate elements, each with their own price tag. This will allow for potential future expansion as funds are raised.

Burch explained that the whole project is worth $400K, with only $73K left to be raised. Not bad, considering they only started raising funds in the fall of 2013. "Sixteen months we've been at it," Burch said, "It's been a long, hard haul." 

She broke the numbers down. The park equipment alone is $110K, the underground design is $163K and the installation is around $100K. "But . . . once it's in it's in, right? And then there's not a lot—I mean it's more like an underground sprinkling system—there's not much to do." 

"The Phoenix Foundation is really helping out," said Burch, who also serves on the foundation's Grants Committee, "because they're allowing us to flow donations through there so we can tax receipt them, because we can't do it through Rotary." The Grand Forks Rotary does not have charitable status, because they don't meet Revenue Canada's threshold requirements. "So what we do when we get the money, we put it through the Phoenix Foundation. The Phoenix Foundation pays it out to the city but then they tax receipt it."

Pointing out one feature, Burch explained that it was purchased with a Phoenix Foundation grant, “but they also bought this plus the drains. So these are purchased now."  The Rotary will be applying for another grant this year. 

According to Burch, FIS (Family and Individual Services) provided a generous donation in the amount of $1600 for one of the other elements. "So now we're going to try and hit up some of the businesses in town to do this. You know, this is a lot, so they're going to have to . . . get together maybe and purchase some of it, or they may just decide that they want to just make a donation." 

Burch also has 40 cubic metres of concrete available for purchase. "So for $250 you can buy a cubic metre of concrete. I had 40 to sell, I've sold nine." The completed spray park will boast a big sign featuring the names of all donors.  "That's how everybody can participate and it becomes a true community project. It will become the property of the City of Grand Forks at the end of construction.

Despite hopes of opening the park this summer, Burch said it is probably not going to happen. "We would like too. I don't think we're going to have the money in time, but you know we might be able to do it this fall and then it will be ready for next spring." She says they can't construct in the park in May or June because the water is too high, so to open this summer would mean having to get the infrastructure in by the first of April.  The city also has to get a permit from Interior Health to connect to the water system. "So until they get that permit," said Burch, “we’re probably, in all likelihood, looking at 2016." 

The facility will be accessible to everyone. "What I like about this," said Burch, "is that this is barrier-free. You know what? There's no user fee to get to use it and kids in wheelchairs can go in." She continued. "The thing is too, the way the park is designed, they have the stuff for the big kids at one end and the stuff for the little guys at the other, so that they don't get run over.

Burch says that the park "will be built with a retain/re-use grey water system in order to accommodate the City’s water conservation plan and be an example of sustainable facilities for other communities. "It's been designed so that the water from the spray park goes down a drain [and] goes into a big holding tank," explained Burch. "They pump that out, and that's what [the City] is going to use to water their flower baskets and all their planters, so they're not going to waste the water."

"I think this community just needs this little spark." Burch believes the spray park will attract the attention of families passing through Grand Forks and boost economic development. "It's going to have a high profile and they stop and, you know, then they spend money here, they stay here." 

All of the attendees would likely agree that the night ‘twas a most noble reason to enjoy a fine glass of Scotch. Cheers to the Grand Forks Rotary Club and all of the volunteers, donors and other supporters to date who have generously given their time and resources towards making the spray park a reality in this community.

For more information on the Spray Park, or to donate, please contact Lynne Burch at 250-442-8657.