Did You Punch a Hole in the Wall Your First Time?
By: Fred Mastison – Scotch Connoisseur
Life is too short to drink cheap Scotch. This is a motto that has served me well over the years and led to a deeper appreciation for “uisge beatha” or the “water of life.” If your first experience with scotch required you to punch a hole in the wall to make it go down, then gather round for a little guidance. First off we need to understand just what we are talking about. Scotch can be found in two general compositions.
- Blended – This is the biggest category of Scotch and is composed of both malted and grain whiskey. A common name in this category is Johnny Walker.
- Single malt – This is the epicenter of all things wonderful in life. This whiskey stands alone and has specific rules surrounding its’ labeling. A single malt Scotch must be distilled in Scotland and matured in oak casks for at least three years. That is just the beginning as most serious Scotch is aged much longer before it sees the light of day; 15, 20 and even 50 year old bottles are common. I prefer to drink Scotch that is old enough to order itself.
Scotch, like so many good things in life has variety. Much of the variations in Scotch are driven by where it is made. We can break these up into four regions that have their own special characteristics. First up is Highland Scotch. My personal favorite region, this area produces an elixir that can be described as warm and smooth. Right next door is the Speyside region. This area is known for a Scotch that has a fruitier or even vanilla flavor. We now continue south to find the lowland Scotch. This is a lighter Scotch in both color and flavor. Many people gravitate towards this region to cut their teeth in the Scotch world. Lastly we head off the coast to the islands. These locations provide an environment for creating a Scotch that has a strong peaty flavor.
Drinking Scotch can seem like an ancient ritual. Many people shy away from ordering Scotch because they are either uncertain as to what to order, or they don’t know the magic phrases when asked, “how do you want it.” While “in a glass” may get a chuckle from your frat buddies, the bartender will just stare at you blankly as they prepare to pour you a glass of swill. The most common way to order Scotch is “neat.” This will simply be scotch in a glass. A skilled bartender will inquire as to whether you want a small glass of water to accompany it. The answer is yes. Stand by because chemistry class is about to begin. Using a straw as a dropper, add about half a teaspoon of water to your Scotch. Adding a few drops of water opens up the Scotch by breaking the surface tension that holds all the molecules together. The resulting chemical reaction creates just enough heat to allow more aromas to be released. Ice has the opposite effect and will hurt the taste and aroma and ultimately kills the nose of the Scotch. Now I plead with you…don’t treat Scotch like your average over the counter booze. Every time you mix your Scotch with coke, communism wins.
Scotch is not for everyone. Drinking Scotch does not make you manly or a woman of the world. There are countless window lickers that drink Scotch. I suggest that you do give Scotch a chance however. It may not be love at first sip. The traditional “burn” that comes with most Scotch scares people away. Have the courage to look beyond that and experiment to find the Scotch that fits you. It could be one of the best decisions you have ever made in your life. Until next time, drink like an adult and enjoy every moment of life!