So our very own Minister of Fine Spirits, Leigh, recently got me hooked on scotch. Before, I had never been a fan of the stuff–but Leigh showed me my problem was that I simply wasn’t trying scotch that was expensive enough. I say this with a tear in my eye because now being addicted, it’s not a cheap vice to have. But Leigh, vindictive and evil as you know she can be, took me straight to the heart of awesome yet pricey scotch country: a Macallan tasting.
Macallan makes single malts and ages them in sherry and oak casks. Each type they put out is different and delicious and fantastic. And that’s when I began to see the interesting aspect of drinking scotch: there are many, many differences between scotches. It’s like drinking beer: but less fattening and more expensive. Unlike drinking beer, though, there are three major ways to enjoy scotch. There may be other ways, but those are best discussed in private and probably with someone you know very well.
#1. “Neat.” This is ostensibly to mean “with nothing added,” but it may also have its origins in the fact that if you want to add #2 or #3 but don’t, you may just need better filtered water.
#2. Add a bit of water. This “opens up” the scotch (translation: makes it taste different) and can best case enhance the experience, and the worst case at least changes it up.
#3. Add some ice. This can be considered “on the rocks” but I think that phrase just sounds dumb. Or it could be that I’m a bit perturbed the whisky stones I have just don’t work that well.
[ad#longpost]I personally like to have a sip neat then add a couple of cubes of ice and I’ve basically taken care of #2 and #3 at once. And every time I take a sip it’s a different drink. So it’s like a tasty Swiss army knife. Or something.
Anyway, to my point: having been introduced to scotch and sampling all six scotches available at that first tasting, Leigh decided it was time to throw me in at the deep end of the pool and then hurl a boulder at me. In other words, we were going to The Single Malt & Scotch Whisky Extravaganza.
I forget what the final total was, but I believe there were around 110 various kinds of scotch and whisky on hand. I know what you’re thinking: hey, no worries, just relax and take your time…but no, worry: you only have two and a half hours to do as much…well, damage…as you can.
People: this was like the thirteenth labor of freaking Hercules. Facing down that many choices from all over the world and having the once a year opportunity to attack them properly, knowing that if I failed to taste one I might not get another chance (that I could afford) until the next year? Would I, with my still diminished tolerance, be able to hold up?
Well, the evening began with the Whisky Panel, where reps from the major whisky providers–like Macallan, Glenrothes, Classic Malts and others–sat in. They even had a gentleman representing Japanese whiskies: the Suntory brands. I didn’t even know such things existed, but damn, I’m game if they are. Anyway, this was an opportunity to ask questions of these people who know so much about scotch whisky that even Doc Ezra himself would be impressed. The Macallan Man talked about his collection of 500 scotches that, if I was hearing him right, he kept around mostly for scientific purposes. And I say that without quotation marks around the term. These folks are that hardcore. And I have this image of a mad scientist, in a kilt, cackling as he examines various drams. But anyway, considering the whisky info collected at the table in the front of the room, it was like the whisky version of the Justice League or something.
I learned things at this event. Like why my brother seemed pissed when we told him we had bought him 18 year scotch and were going to just stash it for him for seven years and then he would get the 25 year scotch he wanted. (Doesn’t work like that, apparently. So we drank the scotch…why waste it, right? Anyway.) I learned that you should recork your scotches every five years, although ideally you should drink the stuff. I also got a dram to start off with, which was also nice.
Something else I learned that I found a little odd was the tasting notes that get created for these various spirits. Examples given were “church pews” as well as “an aristocratic fart.”
After this, I thought…you know, hell, I can do tasting notes like that. So I decided to.
After the Whisky Panel adjourned, we went into the room with the scotches and a buffet dinner. And I tried to take full advantage of both. I think the constant ingestion of food is what enabled me to make it to my hotel room without the aid of a luggage cart later in the evening.
So final tally: I managed to sample twenty-eight scotches over the course of the evening. Considering I went from six to twenty-eight, I’m actually not displeased with myself. And here are some of my favorite tasting notes that I scribbled down during the festivities.
Aberlour 16 Year Old. “Toffee and sweet aroma. Tasting it at first is like having sweetness and smokiness have a knife fight in your mouth. And not a Sondheim dancing-about knife fight. A bloody full-on knife fight. Then after that, it’s smooth again.”
Ardbeg 10 Year Old. “Peaty, chemical blend. The info says ‘medicinal phenols.’ They totally pegged it. However, I must say it cured my psoriasis.”
Balvenie 21 Year Old PortWood. “Smooth after a time but a bit of a rude aftertaste, like a stand-up comic you’re only offended by once you get home.”
Bowmore 15 Year Old. “If this were any more peaty it would be called ‘The Adventures of Peat and Peat.'”
Dalmore 18 Year Old. “Strong, good for the sinuses. If it doesn’t clear them out, drink enough of it and you’ll forget you have sinuses. Either way, you’re good.”
Double Barrel 10 Year Old. “The cartridges they loaded into this shotgun are one of sweet and one of smoky. This is an adequate boomstick.”
Glenfiddich 18. “Smooth and saucy. Like Penelope Cruz pre-Vanilla Sky.”
Glenfiddich 21. “Screams ‘scotch’ in a crowded theatre.”
Glenlivet 21. “Starts off like the Glenlivet 15, very smooth…then it picks your pocket and thumps you on the nose.”
Glenlivet 25. “Smooth as hell. Little burst of flavor and then it’s like drinking air. If that suit in The Abyss had been filled with this stuff, then I might have gone down into the trench. That’s what I’m saying.”
Glenmorangie Lasanta Sherry Cask 12 Year Old. “The perfect blend of strong and smooth, kind of like Angela Bassett’s arms from Strange Days.”
Laphroaig Quarter Cask. “Very peaty but not unpleasantly so. Slight burn and tingle, like falling asleep in the sun on the bunch. You know, like that time in college but nice and without that whole sun poisoning nonsense.”
You might notice that I didn’t include any visual notes or aroma notes. This is mostly because after a while, it just sort of becomes pointless. They all blend together. However, at the risk of pissing off the Glenrothes rep who was on hand, they “marry” together. Blending is something completely different. She made sure we understood this on penalty of…not getting any proper samples from her. So.
Anyway, my favorite new scotch that-I-could-afford was the Jura Superstition. My favorite new scotch oh-god-why-cant-i-stop-crying-look-at-the-price-on-that-goddamn-thing was The Classic Cask Rare Scotch Whisky 35 Year Old. The tasting note on it was my favorite of the evening:
Ahem. Anyway, there’s no Macallan notes up there because Leigh and I had both already tried all the Macallan they had on hand and…well, that stuff is just delicious. And probably my still favorite overall brand. Cosette agrees. (Yes, Cosette was there. I was afraid she would have luggage cart duty.)
Part of my problem going in this year is that I didn’t know what to expect or how to conduct myself through the room in an organized manner so I could get more. Would I recommend the event to someone else? Certainly. The price is not cheap: $135 for non-members, but hey, you get access to scotch whisky experts, samples of the drinks themselves, and a kickass dinner. We also got a souvenir tasting glass, which is perfect for port (more on that in a later report). I wouldn’t recommend it as your first brush with scotch simply because there’s simply too much to take in and you’ll be overwhelmed.
Hellacious fun, though. Can’t wait for next year. For more info (there are still some dates left as it makes its way around the U.S.) check out their official site here.