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The Social Drinker: A Taste for Scotch

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Scotch is really, really ridiculously good.

If Dionysus had been born in the Scottish Highlands it would have been his drink of choice. Nothing would be more fitting for the god of everything delicious then a dram – the Scottish word for “pour” – of the good stuff.

“Scotch whisky is made from barley and the morning dew on angel’s nipples,” wrote novelist Warren Ellis. When it comes to talking about scotch that about sums it up. We’re pretty much done here.

Oh, you want more proof, pun intended? Okay.

Scotch is the perfect drink. It warms the throat, tingles the nostrils and tastes – simply put – amazing.

It has a storied past, for those who like something with a bit of tradition. Scotch manufacturing legally dates back to the mid-1820’s. To give perspective on how far back that is, the United States only had 24 states in 1821. The first mention of scotch – as we know it – dates back to 1494. At that point, America had yet to be named.

Photo credit: Danny Nicholson, Creative Commons Licensing.
Photo credit: Danny Nicholson, Creative Commons Licensing.

Making a decent bottle of scotch is also maddeningly complex; which only adds to it’s curb appeal. There are plenty of variables to scotch creation. What type of barley was used? Where was the scotch casked: Highlands, Lowlands or maybe Islay? Is it a single malt or a blend? Peat or unpeated? How were the stills heated? Was it matured in sherry casks from Spain or charred bourbon casks from America?

Like a Swiss watch or the perfect curveball, crafting a fine scotch takes time, skill and plenty of patience. The complexities behind scotch distillation give even the world’s greatest vineyards a run for their money. When it can only be called “scotch” if it’s manufactured in Scotland, there’s a reason that even an “inexpensive” bottle starts at $50.

If you are willing to shell out a Grant or a Franklin, it’s incredibly easy to get a hold of even if every bottle is imported from Scotland. No matter where you travel, odds are you will find a Scottish whisky tucked amongst the worlds alcohols. The fact that the local Brown Jug in Fairbanks has a scotch section should be proof enough. More to the point, the only whisky Scotland can even legally produce is scotch whisky. Them’s the rules.

However, developing a taste for scotch can be brutal. It really can. Especially if you get started on the wrong taste bud, so to speak.

If you’re like me and like something sweeter – which is saying something in the world of scotch – then stay away from the whiskys of the Lowlands or Islay. While I’d love to have a dram with Nick Offerman (of Parks and Recreation fame) he probably wouldn’t want to have a dram with me. His favorite whisky is the Lagavulin, a whisky from a distillery known to create some of the peatiest scotch in the world. The peat gives the whisky a smokey flavor which is really just code for “wet cigar.”

Even my golfing hero Miguel Angel Jimenez or the incredible actor Brian Cox can’t get me to go back to peated whiskys.

If you’re looking to wet your whistle in the world of scotch, take my advice. Start slow, at a bar, with a Highland. The bar is key since it’s cheaper to try a glass and hate it then buy a whole bottle and hate it. The Highland and Speyside regions are known for creating scotch with a sweeter disposition.

I’ll take a dram of Glenmorangie or The Balvenie any day. Mix in a little water to open up the flavor and you’re on your way to a good anything; night out, night in. You name it.

If you do end up buying first and tasting later – and end up loathing the stuff – let me know. I’ll be right over. As Mark Twain wrote, “Too much of anything is bad, but too much of good whiskey is barely enough.”