Thursday, November 7, 2013

More Fun With Whisky

Most of my experience with Scotch whisky is fairly recent. My first taste of whisky hails all the way back to 2004, during my first trip to Orkney, when Captain John offered me a dram on my last night in the archipelago. I wasn't really sure what to think of it at that point, and didn't pay it much more attention for a very long time. In 2009, the Cap'n and HH6 visited, and he asked if I needed anything from "Blighty" - apparently that's a nickname for the United Kingdom - so I requested a bottle of Scapa Single Malt (not knowing about Highland Park at the time, but that's alright!). The Cap'n graciously provided, and I saved that bottle for a special occasion - that occasion being a meeting with my dad in Wyoming as I road-tripped across America prior to heading to the Middle East. Dad's not a whisky drinker, but even he agreed that Scapa was nice and smooth. I continued to enjoy the bottle once I was back in the States in 2012.

A few months ago, I talked about Scotch whisky, mainly discussing a place called The Grill and a dram of whisky that my buddy Sergeant G implored me to seek out. While I've been in Scotland, I've made an effort to cultivate a taste for whisky. So, today, I thought I'd continue with this week's theme of alcohol by taking a few minutes to discuss my experiences sampling fine malt whiskies during my year (and some change) in Scotland.

First and foremost, let's get our terminology straight. This challenge is best summarized by an ancient sketch from Saturday Night Live...

For those of you who were unable to decipher Mike Myers' Scottish accent, he said:
"'Scotch' is a drink, 'Scots' are a people... But we're both quite tasty."
That having been said... Nobody in Scotland calls it "Scotch", but rather, "whisky". Scotch whisky can only be made in Scotland, although there are other places that make whisky (Japan being one noteworthy example). Last week, Fail Blog ran a feature that they titled "The More You Know: Bourbon Vs Whisky", but which should really have been titled "We're Advertising for Maker's Mark Today". Its own money quote was actually from the comments section, in which someone literally said:
"Shouldn't this be marked as an advertisement for Maker's Mark?"
And how! At any rate, it does give a few objective facts about whisky and how it's made. One of the things I found interesting was that the plural form of American and Irish "whiskey" is "whiskeys", while the plural form of Scotch, Canadian, and Japanese "whisky" is "whiskies". That's good information to have; the rest of it is pretty much just a bunch of shill for Maker's Mark, which isn't Scotch whisky, so who cares? So, all of that having been discussed, what are some of my experiences with various whiskies?

Ardbeg 10: I really, really like this malt. I do tend to go for the more peaty, smokey whiskies, and this is one is delicious. Lately, while I've been working on Bold Brigand projects, I've found myself enjoying a double of Highland Park 12, and then moving on to Ardbeg for something a bit more aggressive. It's fantastic.

Ardmore: One of my favorite malts is Ardmore. I've only ever found it at The Tippling House, which promptly ran out of it and took around a month to get more of it in. Oh, well, when it's available, it's fantastic.

The Dalmore: Early during my last night in Aberdeen, I found myself at The Tippling House while a representative from The Dalmore was making a visit. Between his visit and me knowing CN Constable, I was able to get a taste of The Dalmore, and really enjoyed it.

Edradour: As I noted in my previous post about whisky, Sergeant G implored me to seek out Edradour. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't especially memorable. On the other hand, I've come to the conclusion that you can't really enjoy whisky with any ice or water in it - you really need to drink it straight up. (Plenty of people will disagree with me on that, and that's fine, as drinking whisky is a fairly personal thing and everyone has their own preference.) Next time I'm in Aberdeen, maybe I ought to give it a try without the ice cube that I incorporated into the first sample I tried.

Highland Park 12: Both because of my love of Orkney, and because of its great taste, HP12 is my "old reliable" whisky. I tend to prefer smokey whiskies, but there's just no beating HP12's smoothness with just a touch of inexplicable honey flavor to it. Once I get back to America, one of my first orders of business will be to find out how I can get a hold of HP12 on a regular basis.

Highland Park 18: HP18 is an older malt, which means that it runs a bit steeper, which means that I save it for occasional enjoyment. I first tried it during my tour of the distillery, and absolutely loved it. Unlike HP12's confident smoothness, HP18 is slightly more aggressive - it requires careful enjoyment and respect.

Thor and Loki: Thor and Loki are higher end whiskies from Highland Park. I got my first taste of Thor back in Aberdeen, while I was trying to kill the St. Machar Bar's bottle of Thor in an effort to free up one of the Viking longship wooden cases for CN Sister. Thor's a good whisky. I had my first dram of Loki last week - for more than £12! - and while it was alright, I didn't think it was worth the equivalent of $18 for a dram. Like HP18, these are more costly drams that merit being saved for special occasions.

Scapa: What can I say? The tiny Scapa Distillery does a great whisky. It's smooth, it's delicious, and it's Orcadian. Outstanding!

One addendum to all of this. I tend to send a lot of post cards to remind my friends back in America that I'm still alive. Occasionally, I post an offer of a post card on Facebook. I did that on Tuesday, and my buddy Nicholas of Arabia struck on something that became popular...
Nicholas of Arabia: Tom, you know how women sometimes put perfume on letters? Can you send me a postcard and rub some scotch on one?
Tom's Cousin PJ: Ill take a scotch coated card.
The Garminator: I will email you, and I also want mine "scotch-coated"
In the end, I think I sent four "Scotch-coated" post cards, which is to say, post cards featuring a drop of whisky. Most of them got HP12, but Nicholas of Arabia was fortunate to get a drop of HP18. I hope he enjoys it even a mere fraction of the amount that I've enjoyed getting acquainted with whisky over the last year (and some change).

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