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Let's talk Scotch

Before the season starts, and we commit to killing the liver in earnest, let's discuss another option for self medication when your team is starting nothing but freshmen at DB:  scotch.  Many people are afraid of scotch, because it can seem like an intimidating beverage, with a dizzying array of choices.  I once was where you are now, scotch neophyte, and I have seen the mountaintop.  I am here to help guide the way.

Here's the most important thing:  Drink what you like.  Drink the kind of scotch you like, because you like it.  You don't have to impress me, or anyone else.  

Scotch is mostly 40% alcohol (although it does vary).  If it is a malt whisky, it is made only from malted barley.  (There is grain whisky, but that's more rare, and not part of what I'd call classic scotch.

Let's talk about the divisions of scotch.

Blends, and single malts.

There are those that also include single grain scotch or blended grain scotch, but those are the two big divisions. By and large, blends are cheaper, and also more consistent.  Examples of blends:

 

 

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via upload.wikimedia.org

 

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And our good friend Mr. Johnnie Walker, for instance.  The advantage to a blend is that you'll generally get the same product in each bottle.  Johnnie Walker comes in a variety of styles, from cheapest to more expensive: Red, Black, Swing, Green, Gold, and Blue.  What explains the price increases?  Well, the age of the scotch used in the blend, and the type of scotch used in making the blend.  To my palate, the best of the bunch is:

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via upload.wikimedia.org

Green.  They use a variety of scotch from the four corners of Scotland, and age each one at least 15 years.  I prefer it to Blue, price notwithstanding.  If you buy a bottle of Blue, will I drink it?  Bet your ass, but I'd prefer to buy 4 bottles of Green.

Now, let's talk about the regions.  This matters, and will influence your purchase.  There are generally speaking, 4 whisky producing regions:  Islay, Speyside, Highlands, and Lowlands.  There are other regions, but those are where the majority of the booze will come from.

Islay single malts:  Laphroaig, Bunnahabhain, Lagavulin, Caol Ila, and Ardbeg, to name a few.  Common characteristics for Islay (pronounced eye-lah):  peat, iodine, seaweed.  Why?  Well, Islay is an island.  They didn't have a ton of trees to burn, so they used peat fires.  Also, you tend to get strong sea flavors, as well.  There are exceptions, like Bowmore, which is in part sherry cask aged, so it is sweeter, but in general, when you buy an Islay scotch, you are looking for peat.

The Ardbeg Supernova

 

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via www.gentlemansgadgets.com

Is a bad motherfucker.  There is a ton of peat in this whisky.  Their Uigeadail (oog a dal) is very iodiney, and is at higher alcohol than other whiskys. 

Many people like Islay single malts with cigars.

Highland Single Malts:  My favorite single malt comes from this region, (Oban), but it is not a classic Highland malt.  It's a cross between Islay style, and Highland style.  Highland Single Malts tend to be lighter, and sweeter.   The Dalmore is a classic Highland Single Malt, as is Glenmorangie.  (Tip: the 16 Men of Tain, the distillers for Glenmorangie, are said to be the basis for the movie Highlander.)  Glenmorangie's La Santa, aged in sherry casks, is sublime, and also reasonably priced.

Speyside Single Malts  The big boys come from here:  Glenfiddich, the Glenlivet, the Macallan.  These are often good beginner single malts- not overly aggressive, etc.  The Glenlivet is aged in French Oak bourbon barrels.  Drunkard's tip:  there's a really delicious 12 year old Tomatin that is a Speyside Single Malt, that isn't very expensive- 30 bucks or so.  Highly recommended.  

Lowland Single Malts:  There are only 3 left- Auchentoshan, Glenkirchie, and Bladnoch.  I honestly don't know a ton about these, as I usually spend my liver in the Highlands, or on Islay.  According to the web, these are traditionally lighter, because they are triple distilled.  These also generally minimize peatiness.

Random thoughts:

You may prefer certain barrels for aging over others.  I find that sherry aging is much sweeter than what results from bourbon bottles.  The bottle should tell you where it was aged, if you buy it in a store.  The older the scotch, the more mellow it will be.  Laphroaig 10 year old is much harsher than the 15, and harsher by far than the sublime Laphroaig 25.  With age comes price, obvs.

How to order:

I prefer my scotch neat, with water alongside.  I learned this from a friend of the family who came from Scotland.  He says that a bit of watter dribbled into the scotch will open up the flavors.  There're chemical reasons why this works, but it does.  Also, I find that the lighter malts are good with a cube of ice, like Tomatin.  Do not let anyone bust your chops for drinking it on ice.  Remember, drink what you like, how you like.

How to get started?

Pick a good scotch bar.  They will have a large selection, and should have friendly waitstaff.  If you like one, then ask the bartender for something similar to compare.  The web has a wealth of information on scotch, and the bible to me is the late Michael Jackson's (not that one) The Malt Whisky Companion.  If you have questions, ask me!  I love scotch, and I'll help if I can.  Happy drinking.

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