Describing the enjoyment of drinking strong spirits seems to be an ageless topic for comics on both sides of the Atlantic. British comedian Tommy Cooper shares, “I’ve been on the whisky diet; I’ve already lost three days.” American comics George Burns, “I love to sing and I love to drink Scotch. Most people would rather hear me drink Scotch” and Henny Youngman, “When I read about the evils of drinking, I gave up reading” used drinking for years as part of their routines.
More serious writers have written similar and parallel thoughts on the subject: William Faulkner wrote “There is no such thing as a bad whiskey. Some whiskeys just happen to be better than others. But a man shouldn’t fool with booze until he’s fifty; then he a damn fool if he doesn’t”, while Raymond Chandler opined, “There is no bad whiskey. There are only some whiskeys that aren’t as good as others.”
American author Abigail Padgett wrote, “An appreciation of prose is learned, not instinctive. It is an acquired taste, like Scotch Whisky.” About the phrase “acquired taste”, what have wine marketers done that their counterparts in single malt have not? It seems most wine lovers, even wine likers, know whether they prefer reds or whites, Chardonnay or Cabernet, and many are comfortable discussing differences in wines from various countries. When talking about Scotch, however, oft-heard phrases run something like “I had Scotch once, and didn’t like it”, or “It’s an acquired taste – too complicated for me”. To help ease the journey through the daunting array of bottles, labels, ages, and prices, perhaps the following will help.
Each single malt Scotch whisky is unique in its color, aroma, taste, and finish. Not caring for one specific brand, does not mean you will not absolutely love another.
As with wine, a single malt Scotch whisky is usually categorized by the specific geographic area of its birth and aging. In Scotland, there are four to six different distilling regions (depending on who’s talking or what book you’re reading.)
Single malt distilleries (single meaning what’s in the bottle is from a single distillery; malt meaning the barley grain was allowed to germinate, converting starches into maltose sugar enzymes, which produce deeper, richer flavors), are located in the far flung corners of Scotland. This is why a label on a bottle of single malt will usually, but not always, include the whisky’s specific region, like “Lowland Single Malt Scotch Whisky”, whereas the label on a blended Scotch says “Product of Scotland”.
|If you are looking for a whisky that is||You might explore this region||Whose brands include|
|Warm, rounded, smooth||Highlands||Oban, Glenmorangie, The Dalmore|
|Floral, fruity, spicy||Speyside||The Macallan, Glenlivet, Glenfiddich|
|Slightly smoky, a bit dry||Islands||Highland Park, Talisker, Jura|
|Robust, earthy, quite amoky||Islay (“EYE-luh”)||Laphroaig, Lagavulin, Bowmore|
|Fresh, light, little or no smoke||Lowlands||Auchentoshan, Glenkinchie, Bladnoch|
|Slightly salty, full, robust||Campbeltown||Springbank, Glen Scotia, Glengyle|
In acquiring a taste for single malts, a few key questions almost always come up: What about adding water or ice? Is an older, more expensive, whisky better? In a Chicago Tribune article, Great Scot! Demystifying Single-Malt Scotch Whisky, One Region at a Time, The Glenlivet Ambassador, Ricky Crawford, addressed both these issues by saying, “In general, younger whisky is less complex and less expensive; older whiskies deserve more time and attention while sipping, and might benefit from a few drops of water to lower their naturally higher alcohol content. But, older isn’t necessarily better. It’s just like wine, in that the general rule is that aging improves the spirit, but some are better younger.”