In Craig’s Baxter’s Beer post this weekend, the comment thread drifted from beer to whiskey (or as I spell it, “whisky”—blame my time in the UK and my British wife going on about “the Queen’s English, blah, blah, blah”, but I digress). Brian Anderson suggested a whiskey thread for a future Baxter’s Beer, but why wait for Saturday—let’s start the discussion now.
Personally, I’m a single malt Scotch man (again, from time in UK), and I must consume it neat (straight), as nature intended. Ice is for blended Scotch, which I normally avoid as much as possible, but will drink in a pinch. In comparison to single malt, blends to me taste like a jumbled mess that possesses little or uncertain uniqueness and turns my sinuses and taste buds inside out, kind of like the way you tilt your head and screw your face in awkward directions when you hear fingernails against chalkboard. For those of you who really like blended Scotch, God bless you.
I won’t claim here to be a full-up connoisseur, and you can obviously find loads of information on the interwebs about Scotch or any other whisky, but I will pass on a bit of info and rules of thumb. In any case, the best thing to do is your own exploration, to find one that best suits you.
There are literally hundreds of single malts out there, and like the bourbon discussion last weekend, a Scotch can only be called that if it was distilled in Scotland. Unlike champagne, the whisky industry actually abides by that rule. I have only sampled a couple dozen or so, and I look forward to sampling many more. Each one has a unique smell, taste, and aftertaste, based in part on filtering the water through peat moss or airing the malt with peat moss smoke (so the smokiness is quite variable from distillery to distillery, label to label). All are based on malted barley and matured in oak barrels (the type of which affects the taste).
The basic rule of thumb for single malts is to go with one matured for 10 years or longer, and usually the longer it is matured, the better the taste and the higher the price. Having said that, many 10 year old single malts are great. The ones you always see in the store—Glenlivet, Glenfiddich, and Glenmorangie, are all great everyday Scotches and excellent ones to start with—just don’t stop with those, as there are far better ones out there, depending on your taste and budget. Also note that Scotch is also classified by region, with Speyside accounting for nearly half of Scotch labels (drawing their water from the Spey river in northeast Scotland, in what is otherwise the Highlands--the water source also affects the taste). Glenlivet and Glenfiddich are Speyside, Glenmorangie is Highland. My favorite to date is Bunnahabhain, from the Isle of Islay, smooth from start to finish—very balanced, and (ironically for me, I suppose) used as a base for a number of blends. Cardhu (Speyside) is another favorite, along with Isle of Jura. I’m sure as I continue to explore another favorite or fifty will score high on my list.
If you ever make it to anywhere close to Scotland, I highly recommend a distillery tour. I have had the opportunity to visit a couple of distilleries in Scotland—Arran (on the Isle of Arran, southwest of Glasgow, and the youngest distillery in Scotland—founded in 1995!) and Oban (in a cave on the west coast north of Glasgow, near the Castle “Arrrrrrggggh” from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which is actually closer to a village called Connell—I kid you not). The tours are very interesting—to include learning how to properly taste the whisky—and of course, SAMPLES!!
I could go on, but I suspect I’ve rambled on for too long as it is. Besides, I need to save something for the soon-to-be-legendary comment thread. The fan posts here have been a bit lacking since the SB Nation reboot, so hopefully this can help pick things up. If ever any of you are near the Emerald Coast here in the Florida Panhandle (or wherever I might move to), look me up—I’ll have a wee dram waiting for you. And I'll bring a bottle the next time I'm back home and make it to a game, if any of you let me crash your tailgate.
Now it’s your turn, what’s your favorite whisky or whiskey, and why?