Whisky, Water Of Life For A Cause, And The Good Doctor | Interview With Matthew Lurin
On May 18th in New York City is held The Water of Life charity event – an annual whisky tasting opportunity to support the efforts of GIST Cancer Awareness Foundation, a non-profit organization whose focus is to cure a form of cancer – Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumors (GIST) – and to help those living with it until then.
The format of the tasting is unique – think speed dating with Whisky Ambassadors, with up to 5 guests at each tasting station. You’ll share drams and stories for several minutes. Then, everyone moves on individually to their next of many ‘whisky dates.’
The tasting is accompanied by food and dessert, too. If you are also a cigars lover you certainly have to get a VIP ticket.
Matthew J Lurin MD MBA FACEP CPE is currently a practicing emergency medicine physician in New York. A longtime season ticket holder for the New York Yankees and Knicks, he is also a whisky aficionado and co-founder of the Whisky Nerds.
Matt’s first connection to whisky started at about the time he turned 30. Looking to find a common bond with his stepfather from Edinburgh, the two found a happy medium at Scotch Whisky. He started collecting a variety of Scotches, and through the years and his travels has now amassed a sizable collection. Sitting at over 1000 bottles, “Enough till I am well past 90”, he says, he enjoys hosting events in his garden as an opportunity to share, open, and then later purchase even more.
Matt’s stepfather was diagnosed with GIST, a rare cancer, a few years back. He wondered how he could help raise funds and awareness for this disease, and thought of a fundraiser involving whisky, the water of life itself. After debating on different formats, he decided that this event should be unique, and wanted a comfortable environment where folks could both enjoy and learn about what was in their glass. Thus the “Water of Life” was born, and based on the response to year one it’s a welcome addition to the New York Whisky landscape.
- What inspired your passion for whisky?
My stepfather, Joe, was Scottish and my mother wanted us to find something in common. He wasn’t into American sports like basketball or baseball, but we stumbled upon a mutual interest in whisky. Over the years we shared many great drams, and whisky evolved into a personal passion.
- What does whisky mean to you?
Whisky means love, pride and honour. Craftsmen poured their heart and soul into growing barley, fed it to yeast, selected wood, aged it, and waited patiently for it to be poured into a glass and appreciated. There is a duality in whisky tasting. On one hand it’s fun, the alcohol is strong. On the other, it’s intellectual. There is something special about dissecting a dram and uncovering the palette.
- What role has Joe played in your whisky education?
Joe was the first to turn me on to the craft. He loved sherry cask whiskies and introduced me to many amazing drams over time. On holidays we would exchange bottles, much to the chagrin of my mother, who thought whisky was a gift one gave without much thought. Us ‘Malt Maniacs’ knew better.
- What’s the meaning of the name Water Of Life?
Whisky comes from the gaelic uisce/uisge, a shortened version of uisge beatha meaning “water of life,” also known as aqua vitae in Latin. Whisky was originally used as a medicine for both aesthetic and antibiotic. As a physician myself, I’m keeping the history alive.
- What does Water Of Life celebrate and stand for?
It’s a celebration of life. We’re on this planet for a finite amount of time and should enjoy life to the fullest. Joe lived like that, and when he found out he had a rare cancer known as GIST(Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor), his life changed.
- What’s the relationship between Water Of Life and the Charity?
I was working on the event for quite some time until I realised that none of this would have ever happened if not for Joe. His condition didn’t permit him to continue enjoying whisky and there was no better place to donate the money than to people fighting the same fight as him. The first two events were held by Life Raft Group and this year we are pairing with GCAF (GIST Cancer Awareness Foundation). The GCAF reports that 97% of the funds they collect go directly to their grant award programs. So once I tally the event revenue, I direct where the funds will go.
- How do you think Water Of Life is changing lives?
By creating awareness and raising money for those affected by the disease. The monies raised in the first two years went into the fight against the disease, but now as we grow, we donate more to GIST research.
- How could you describe the attendees?
From whisky novices to experts, the young and the old, people from all over the world and all walks of life. Oddly enough, our show has more doctors than at any other whisky tasting event.
- Why do you think people have to support this cause? What experience in terms of senses can Water Of Life offer?
People support many causes in their lives, often due to a personal impact it has had on them. For the first two years, mainly friends and family came to support my stepfather and I. It grew into a community of people who came for amazing food, whiskies, and good company. My friend once told me that whisky isn’t just about what’s in the glass, but about the person holding the glass and the memories you share.
Attendees can expect to have their senses challenged. I always get a laugh when I say, “Whisky stimulates all your senses,” and then hold a glass up to my ear, look puzzled and then reply, “well almost all.” Guided by the best connoisseurs in the country, attendees receive structured tastings on each of their whisky “speed dates”.
- Do you believe you can do, be and have anything you want?
I do. As a kid, I wanted to be the Batman. I grew up to be a handsome playboy come philanthropist. Still not yet to the extent of Batman, but I am headed to Vegas now to work on that.