Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Pre-Lenten Scotch Tasting

Bracing myself for a dry forty days, it seemed a good time to pull down every bottle of Scotch that I currently have in the liquor closet and do a tasting.

If you are somewhat shocked to discover that anyone should even want to own four different varieties of Scotch, this may not be your post -- unless you find such pleasure in the flow of my prose that you can overlook the self-indulgence of the dedicated whisky drinker. If, on the other hand, you had expected to see at least six bottles in the picture above, you are my man (or woman -- though MrsDarwin might have a thing or two to say about that).

While I would not wish to violate the Wedding of Cana Principle, that one should begin with the best drink and proceed to the lesser quality once it's impossible to tell the difference, in this case I chose to begin at the bottom and work up. My reasoning here is that if I begin with the richest flavor, I will find it impossible to recognize those virtues which the milder varieties have by the time I get to them.

Thus we begin with Teacher's Highland Cream, an old-school blended Scotch which was a big seller in the US at the beginning of the last century. I ran into Teacher's via the WSJ drinks column focusing on "recession Scotch". Teacher's got high marks as surprisingly high quality for a blended Scotch which sells under $15/liter. This is a surprisingly good Scotch, better than many of the less expensive single malts that I've had over the years. After I introduced a good friend out here to it a couple months ago, he passed the recommendation on to his father-in-law, who abandoned his brand of twenty years to adopt Teachers. It's not a miraculous quaff, but this is a solidly good Scotch. A little smokey (though not an Islay smokestack by any stretch), the very slightest hint of malty-sweetness, with hints of caramel and wood. This isn't great, but it is very good. And if you are looking for a good basic Scotch to pour over the rocks or knock back as a night cap, this bottle belongs in your cupboard.

Next up, The Balvenie 10 Year Single Malt. MrsDarwin gave this bottle to me as a birthday present, and we've moved up the price range a bit. This bottle will set you back $40-50. You can tell, too. The smell is deeper and the taste is fuller. Switch back to Teacher's now for a sip and it tastes pale and more like fresh grains, still rough and un-aged. (Teacher's is only aged 36 months.) This isn't an old Scotch at ten years, but it's full, more orangey then yellow in color, and has deeper tones of malt and wood and smoke and that peculiarly Scotch-y taste which is often called a "hint of iodine", though I would imagine none of us sit around drinking iodine. Do not put ice in this Scotch. At most a tiny bit of spring water, but I'm all for straight up. And get it in a glass where you can smell it, perhaps even a small brandy snifter. This is a very polished Scotch, and without any of the quirkier tastes which can make some Scotches harder to learn to love.

Third we have The Glenlivet, 12 Year Single Malt. This (as with all my single malts at this time) is a Speyside Scotch, and as such it's fairly accessible. This is darker tasting and more medicinal than the Balvenie, however. Though both Scotches are matured in Bourbon barrels (with typical Scottish thrift, Scotch is always matured in recycled barrels from other liquors or wines) you can taste the Bourbon much more clearly here, though the color is actually a little lighter. Not smokey, but a little more burnt and perhaps a hint of malty sweetness under it all. Glenlivet is one of the top selling brands of Scotch, and one can tell why. I like it but all things considered I don't know if I'd buy more if it. It occupies a middle ground between the deep mahogany Scotches and the lighter more stringent ones. The lingering note is a bit medicinal. A refined and respectable Scotch, but I think one wants to go more out towards one or another of the peripheries.

And last of all, we move to the deep amber Macallan Cask Strength Single Malt. This is a serious Scotch, bottled at a full 58% alcohol and costing about $60/bottle. (Though compared to other cask strength scotches, that's actually cheap.) Put this in a glass with some space -- the shot glass I'm holding here doesn't do it justice. It has a strong nose of caramel and malt and sherry and sheer alcoholic power. And as I drink it straight up (as is my habit with all Scotches) it's a bit of an assault on the tongue, though given its strength its fairly smooth. This is aged in Sherry casks, and you can tell. It's the only one of the Scotches to have a fruity taste -- though we're talking dark, aged fruit here. No girliness. There are medicinal/iodine undertones here too, and caramel and the slightest bit of sweetness. Cask strength Scotch (at least straight up) is not for the first or second time Scotch buyer, but this is the real thing. Any of the other Scotches will taste like pale whiskey if you go back now.

This is dark and primal. A taste of the moors and the fens and bogs. A dark, cold, Scottish taste. Unwashed, kilted, violent. No pansy orange importedgermanmonarchsforthisscotch... Real. dArk. BloodY. CLayMorE. Kill, dark, peat, iron, kilt, oatmeal, thrift, presbyterianenlightenmentcapitalismtheoryofmoralsentiment work e t hi c thi ngy...

Tell that woman to stop shouting in my ear and critiquing my spelling. I'm not drunk. I'm only being taken captive by my muse. And her Scotch. My that muse can drink Scotch.

Now into the cupboard my bonnies. I'll see you at Eastertide.


nathansward said...

Fantastic post. You, sir, are a gentleman, a scholar, AND a fine judge of liquor.

My palate is still in training, but I would like to recommend Tomatin 12-yr. If you have had it, I would like to hear your comments.

Rick Lugari said...

I've never been fond of any type whiskey, but your inspired description of the Macallen incites in me a profound desire to partake of that pleasure while blasting the recorded version of Marillion's Grendel.

John G. said...

Very nice post... Does giving up the drink include brewing as well?

Betty Duffy said...