Always drink responsibly. Never drink and drive. This should go without having to be said but not everyone does. Scotch is meant to be sipped and enjoyed not wasted by doing shots or ruined by water/ice. Proper scotch drinking is a slow savoring of the craft and taste of another land. Irresponsible drinking is not enjoying scotch it is wasting life.
Being of Scotish descent, I have a love and interest in all things Scotish. The name Whiskey comes from a mispronunciation of the first word in the Scotch Gaelic name of "usge betha" (water of life). Scotch has two common categories: single malts and blends. A single malt comes from a single distillery and gives the taste of that region. A blend is a mix of a variety of distilleries malts and is designed for a more generic taste that novice scotch drinkers seem to like. Never add water to scotch it is insulting and for that matter don't put ice in it unless it is a blend. Scotch should be sipped. To maximize your taste here is my suggestion for enjoying scotch:
- before taking a sip, borrow some of the angel's share and let your nose enjoy the scotch too (i.e.: take a smell of the scotch and enjoy the aroma)
- take a sip and hold it in your mouth to let all of your tongue enjoy it (different parts of the tongue can taste different tastes so see what the scotch has, a good one is complex)
- swallow but pay attention to the lingering tastes on your tongue
- when the flavor starts to fade (this is the finish) take a small sip of clear water (not mineral water) as this will bring out some of the subtler flavors (this is how water should be used, pouring it in your drink literally dilutes some flavors masking them and reducing the enjoyment)
- talk to your friends you are with, scotch is a social beverage after all.
Single Malts I like
- Sadly my favorite single malt, Strathisla, is a Speyside malt, but it has no site. Be careful the distillery used to (and probably still does) license the name to go on another distilleries malt, and while still good it is not the original. Why do they do this? Strathisla makes up about 60% of Chivas Regal (the most popular blended scotch in the world) so there is not much left for bottling. Last time I was there (I have visited twice) they mentioned you could only get the real deal at three locations in the world, all in Scotland (their shop and two sister distilleries), and they don't ship. My bottles are for special occasions.
- Glenmorangie A great scotch with a distinctive flavor. The warehouse where the casks are stored is across the road from the ocean, and floods with sea water regularly, and a bit of the salty water flavors the scotch. The result is a delicious and enjoyable highland malt, that is a credit to Inverness. They have a variety of finishes (using different types of casks for maturation and some flavor comes in), which are all good, but I am partial to the original. This is the scotch the Highlander drinks in the original Highlander movie.
- Laphroaig is my favorite Islay malt because it is a robust, mouth-filling malt. Islay malts are noted (in general) for their strong peaty-smokey-marine qualities, because they come from the island of Islay in the west of Scotland, where it is particularly wet, and hence the peat used to smoke the grain before making mash gives it its strong earthy quality. Laphroaig is a south island distillery, and is widely considered to have the strongest flavor. It has very strong peat smoke and salty brine qualities. Some even say it has a medicinal seaweedy taste. I think it tastes like a campfire cookout on the beach... it is a mouth full of flavor. It is a love it or leave it scotch, since it is so flavorful, and as I am a member of Friends of Laphroaig I definitely am in the love it group. Interestingly Prince Charles agrees, as it is the only scotch to bear his seal. The site is well done, and even has videos of the peat being cut, and the grain smoked. My mouth is watering as I write...
- Bowmore is a north island Islay malt that is commonly available, and really well worth it. I quite enjoy the complex flavor, even though as it is not a south island Islay it is not as strong, and tends to be a little sweeter. What it has is a delicious peat-smoke flavor with a forrest campfire in a marine fog quality. They are definitely a high quality, craft brewing operation that follows the old traditions. If you are used to the milder, clean flavors of a Highland or Speyside malt than this would be a good introduction to Islay malts. Bowmore has a lot of varities, not all with ages listed, but they are all worth a tasting with friends. The website is quite good, and includes an online tour with four different hosts and an inner core area for enthusiasts (myself included).
- Lagavulin is an Islay malt with a particularly smokey flavor. It is a south island distillery and well worth a try. It is famous for having a heated war to control Laphroaig around 1900 (trying to steal the water source, buying off the head distiller from Laphroaig, making duplicates of Laphroaig's stills from the ex-head distiller, numerous law battles, and trying to buy out the lease then land itself). That was a hundred years ago, and the result has given us a strong, flavorful malt. While I don't smoke (being alergic and all), I hear that its smokey qualities make it particularly good with a quality cigar. I will take friends word for it, but the scotch is excellent no matter what you have it with. The website is the group that owns Lagavulin, and a number of other fine wiskeys like Caol Ila, Talisker, Oban, Cardhu, Cragganmore, Dalwhinnie, and Royal Lochnagar. The site is a more generic covering of all the scotches they provide and an overview of scotch in general by region to highlight their brands.
- The Macallan Arguable the best all around scotch, which is why it is not at the top of my list. Don't get me wrong, I greatly enjoy it, and its many variant finishes. They are solid, finely crafted malts. My only issue, is almost self-condemning, they are so widely recognized as great that it is like saying the Seals or the SAS is a tough group. Yep it is obvious and everyone knows it. By the same token you can't go wrong with it either. The site is well done and informative, as one would expect from the king.
- Glenlivet The oldest legal distillery, but certainly not the oldest. It is the most popular scotch in the US and is a good reasonably priced single malt. It is a light, Speyside malt
- Glenfiddich A nice but light, and almost bland Speyside scotch. This is what I call single malt bar scotch. It is probably a good one to start on though given the price and ease of drinking.
- Ardbeg is the third south island Islay malt that is still in operation (the last Port Ellen can still be found and if you see it get it, they are working off the reserves from when it shut down in the 80's - is is an experience). Ardbeg is not as well known as Laphroaig and Lagavulin, but hey it is still an Islay malt and well worth a drink. The site is pretty cool too.
- Bruichladdich is an Islay malt, which is experimental like a micro-brewery. It has a wide range of scotch, with the milder/sweeter peaty-marine flavor of north island Islay malts. It even has non-peaty ones - shocking. If you like craft brewers you should give it a try.
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