Gulfport resident Daniel Spoth celebrated his 17th annual Scotchtoberfest Saturday, October 24, pandemic be damned. According to the Eckerd literature professor’s invitation, he wasn’t exactly thrilled to be hosting this year’s Scotchtoberfest via Zoom, but it had to be done.
“Scotchtoberfest will happen whether you like it or not,” he wrote, tongue firmly planted in cheek. “It has been long before you were born. It will be long after your death. It cares nothing for death, in fact, for death is simply another step on its inevitable march toward oblivion.”
Like most great ideas, Spoth’s Scotchtoberfest was inspired by a classic episode of “The Simpsons.”
In “Bart’s Girlfriend,” Bart falls for the Reverend’s daughter, but he can’t seem to win her over, so he returns to Sunday school to prove that he can be good. Bart makes it all the way through his first class without incident. Then he sees Groundskeeper Willie playing bagpipes in the park across the street under a green Scotchtoberfest banner.
“It turns out to be a ruse to get Bart Simpson to do something punishable,” says Spoth’s wife and Scotchtoberfest co-host Dr. Amanda Hagood, an Animal Studies Instructor at Eckerd College.
As Willie explains Scottish traditions to a small group of people, Bart lifts up Willie’s kilt. Suddenly, Principal Skinner pops up out of nowhere and gives Bart three months’ detention.
“Congratulations Simpson. You just fell for our sting and won yourself three-month detention,” says Skinner. “There’s no such thing as Scotchtoberfest.”
But there should be, right?
The beauty of a nonexistent holiday like Scotchtoberfest is that you can make it yours. There are no rules but your own.
“We originally intended it to be (as it appears on “The Simpsons”) a fusion of Scottish and German cuisine and culture,” says Spoth, “so typically there is terrible bagpipe and polka music flooding the area and an array of sides (German cabbage, bier cheese soup, Scotch eggs, vegan haggis, etc.) from both countries.”
Spoth’s homemade sausage is the centerpiece of the event, which typically is extended to those in the Spoth family circle.
“We tell of Scotchtoberfests where we used store-bought sausage,” says Spoth. “That was only for about three or four years, until I taught myself to make sausage around 2008.”
Spoth’s tried many new sausage recipes since, some inspired by internet recipes and others pure invention. Some are successes; others not so much. The good ones stay and the bad ones go, but Dan’s mother Jean designs placards for them all.
“Jean started making these beautiful little placards for the different kinds of sausage,” says Hagood. “I have some of them framed.”
She looks at the old framed placards and recalls the sausages that didn’t work: “The Hawaiian Portuguese is still around. The Bratwurst is still around – it’s a perennial. The one that hasn’t returned — in fact, it should probably be recalled altogether — is the datil, because when you cook it, it explodes. It is not a safe sausage. Unsafe at any speed.”
“We didn’t know it was going to happen,” says Spoth. “We didn’t have cameras prepared. It was the first Scotchtoberfest in St. Pete. Everything about the sausage seemed fine. I was like, ‘Here I am in this tropical location; I’m going to make use of some local ingredients.’ So I got some mangoes, and I got some datil peppers from St. Augustine and was like, ‘These two tastes will go well together.’”
Reader, it did not go well.
“Everything was fine. And then I stuffed the sausages and put them on the grill,” says Spoth. “And it was just like this Lovecraftian horror. It just split and oozed in this carpet of meat, all over the top of the grill. It was horrifying. It still tasted fine. I don’t know what went wrong with it.”
This year, Spoth made the greatest hits of Scotchtoberfests past, “so that attendees can relive an array of happier times,” he says. Because of the pandemic, attendees ordered their preferred sausages from Spoth in advance, who delivered them by post, on-campus handoff or home delivery.
The most popular sausage this year was the Nashville Hot Chicken.
“I think people requested 24 or 25 of those,” says Spoth. “The second most popular, I think, was the Hungarian sausage. We actually ran out of those…The duck was quite popular, and smoked knockwurst. People like the Nashville hot chicken though. It’s become quite the institution. I intended it as just a one time thing, but it’s made an appearance at three or four Scotchtoberfests since.”
The trial-and-error doesn’t end with the recipes. Scotchtoberfest has also brought about innovations in eating.
“I’m doing the three-different-sausages-in-one-bun trick, which I learned at my third Scotchtoberfest,” says Eckerd Film Studies Professor Dr. Christina Petersen. This technique lets you try more sausages at once by cutting them in thirds and putting them all in a single bun.
“So I’m rocking a tripartite bun-sausage situation here,” says Petersen. “We’ve got duck and alligator for the water experience, and then just a straight bratwurst.”
Now you know how the Spoths do Scotchtoberfest, but how you choose to do it is totally up to you.
Officially, Scotch whisky isn’t part of the Spoth’s Scotchtoberfest, but I’m going to recommend it here anyway.
There are whiskey-sausage pairings all over the web, and it would be a shame to waste this knowledge. Whisky Advocate’s Stephen Beaumont interviewed Chef Jesse Vallins and cookbook author Lindy Wildsmith on whiskey-sausage pairings and whiskey-charcuterie pairings, respectively, for Whiskey Advocate in 2018-2019. Both interviews are available online.
Vallins, executive chef at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Tavern, recommends pairing duck sausage with Mortlach Scotch; French-style Herbes de Provençe-flavored sausage with a full-bodied Scottish malt; and Haggis with Lagavulin 16-Year-Old Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky. Lindy Wildsmith, author of the cookbook and preserving manual “Cured,” recommends pairing spicy chorizo with an Islay malt, and mild pork-based sausage with lighter single malts or blended malts.
While the Spoth Scotchtoberfest is generally a private affair, there are many reasons to celebrate your own Scotchtoberfest in 2020. It’s a good excuse to splurge on Scotch, order fresh sausage to-go from a local market or restaurant, or start your own sausage-making hobby. Who knows? A made-up sausage holiday may be just what your 2020 needs.