Sunday, February 10, 2013

Whisky, Women, and Wi-FI - a Scotch Post

“Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough.” ― Mark Twain 

The picture was taken where friends and family gathered, a night back in January.  The moon was building, the air was quiet, the earth a motionless sphere in cooling space.  Stepping outside, one breathed in the cold, across which the faint scent of a fire touched the palate with smoke. Above, the night streamed in thick indigo threads, beyond which lay myriad points of crystal lights.  It was a good night for a small glass of whisky.

Whiskey vs. whisky?  The difference between whiskey and whisky seems simple but it's not. Whisky typically denotes Scotch or Canadian versions and whiskey denotes the Irish and American beverages. Although both spellings are of Celtic origin, there are substantial differences between the countries products, include the selection of grains, number of distillations, the maturation period and the type of still and barrels used.  Each country's style has its own unique characteristics to savor and there are some further divided into sub categories like bourbon.

Irish vs. Scotch? Unlike Scotch, the malted barley in Irish whiskey is dried in enclosed kilns, not roasted over peat fires, which is why it does not have that distinct smokiness of Scotch. Irish whiskeys maintain the natural flavor of the barley, fragrant, with a unique but softer roundness of body. It's an enjoyable drink indeed, but not the beverage of this cold winter evening. I want something that brings the echo of smoke across my tongue, down my throat, and leaves me with the smallest bit of heat on my breath, after that last sip, that soft lick of flame as a candle gently sighs and goes dark.

Just as in the wine world, where names like Napa Valley, the Okanagan Valley, Bordeaux or Rioja tell someone not just where a wine was made, but what it will bring as far as color, clarity and taste, scotch whisky has its own geographic intricacies. But among all, there is one common thread, the origin of the drink is Scotland.  If you see Scotch Whiskey made in Massachusetts - run!!!

There are friends I know socially and professionally that enjoy a good Scotch. Enjoy to the point there is rumored to be a Scotch Club amongst some of them, a fluid society of friends who meet to share stories  of good guys and bad guys, of airplanes and automobiles, while sipping the best of that liquid mystery which is brought forth from barley and water. None of us are kids.  Most kids today can't keep up with us.

Scotch isn't something to drink because it's there, as it's not cheap. One doesn't drink it to get a "buzz".  It's the warm sip of history and tradition, a celebration of artisanship and the deep pleasure of life.  It's a developed taste.  It's a journey; one that will take you though the rugged Highlands, along the waters of the Sound of Islay to the Isle of Jura where George Orwell penned his novel 1984 at the age of 46, describing the place as an extremely "ungetatable place".

Besides, it makes up for the times when we're about ready to go on duty and we need to have iced tea.

But, in all honesty, I never tried Scotch whisky until I was  in my 40's, when my best friend brought some back from "duty free" on a business trip overseas.  I'd tried some amber adult beverages in my youth, but they were of the ultra cheap American variety, smelling of uncapped magic marker and tasting of sharp heat, the taste equivalent of pulling a hot cast iron pan off the stove with your bare hand. After that, the scotch was a revelation, the honeyed, warm glow of meeting an old friend. 

Since I started spending time with folks that actually knew what a good whisky was, and even better, would share it with me, I've learned a lot.  We've also come up with a number of ideas for introducing others to such fine beverages (forget that Bambi Airstream idea, let's get one of these).

As for the many varieties and price ranges of whisky/whiskey. I'd classify them on a HOTR 1 to 10 scale.

(1) Taste buds usually recover from the shock by morning.  May incite anarchy in redheads.
(2) Chock full of dreadfulness. Put aside for the next Democratic National Convention or Sheep Dip, whichever I would want to attend first.
(3) Suitable for anti freeze, almost as tasty.  May improve with age, but usually drunk by the very young at a shotgun wedding bachelor party.
(4) It's like a root canal, sometimes you know you just have to have one.  Doesn't mean you are going to like it. Often blended with 7-Up to get rid of it.
(5) The Keltec of adult beverages.  If it was all that was in the house, I'd sip it.  Otherwise, no.
(6) It's 10 degrees out.  It's this or hot tea.  Maybe I'll just put a splash IN the tea.
(7) You're getting warmer.
(8) Very nice.   I'd not be embarrassed to have this on my side buffet with guests.
(9) I really feel badly  that I didn't try this 20 years ago.
(10)  It's like a good quality firearm.  When you want it, cost doesn't matter that much.

So, if you wish to venture into the aisle of whiskys, don't go cheap and don't necessarily go for the brand you see on billboards with a floozy blond.  This isn't a drink for Monday night football and wings.  This is a drink for those gentle dark nights of retrospect, a sip of warmth before the long corridors of sleep.  This is the clink of a glass next to the fire, sipped slowly under the long sound of rain, the taste, a whisper of smoke.  It's  life lived richly, profoundly enjoyed in amber miniature.

It's not a drink for youth or debutantes or post tractor pull.  Its  taste, whether drunk during travels, or at home, is an invitation, leaving you with a fading aftermath of promise, that secret affirmation, like taste itself.

A Dhé, beannaich an taigh - Brigid

52 comments:

  1. If you enjoy Scotch, you must try Laguvulin, a single malt Scotch. You will remember it forever. About $90 a bottle at BevMo or Costco and well worth it. Enjoy.

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  2. I do enjoy Scotch from time to time. We don't drink much, but when we do, it's quality.

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  3. Your grading scale is spot on I think. I spent too much time in my youth on the low end of that scale. Dang near ruined my taste buds.

    FWIW, my son-in-law is a connoisseur of single malt beverages. And very large watches. He is, after all, a flyer of single seat, very fast jets. The type that fly off of boats, very big boats.

    Yes, there are days I envy him. That would be Sunday through Saturday. Not that I dislike my cubicle. No, I wouldn't say that, at least not with the boss in earshot.

    A Glenlivet would be nice right about, now.

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  4. I too didn't try scotch until my 40's , I really like Macallan. One day I hope to go to Scotland and take a Scotch tour

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  5. Lagavulin is nice.
    The Balvenie--I like the Double Wood or the Single Barrel. And one day I will bring home my Dad's old Miniatures collection. There are probably a hundred Whiskys and Whiskeys most connoisseurs have never even heard of...when that happens, I will catalog it all again, and perhaps a few care packages will go out to those who appreciate such things.

    Vic303

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  6. And some is made in terribly small batches, handcrafted a gallon or two at a time....and handed out to good friends only.

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  7. Dear lady, you have captured an old man's heart!

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  8. \_/ Have one on the house...

    Dann in Ohio

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  9. Then there was the viking, raiding across the north sea. Pillaging on the isles over there. Taking kegs of fine aged beverages from the local natives. Grog was their second choice. The viking helped selves to the distilleries across the sea.

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  10. Oh the shame of admitting that I am mixer of whiskey, and not a sipper of fine Scotch. Look in my liquor cabinet and you will be assaulted by a Canadian blend(usually Black Velvet). Back in my sailor day, I had a buddy try to convince me that Jameson's was the best stuff in the world, and a short number of years ago, another co-worker attempted to convert me to the world of single-malts.

    It just wasn't my cup of tea, which is kind of strange, because I like the 'peatiness' of a Scotch Ale.

    About the only amber liquor I've ever found that I could enjoy sipping was Crown Royal Cask 16...very smooth, but none of the 'history' flavor you mention.

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  11. Glenmorangie is probably my favorite distillery, although their older batches are better than their newer stuff.

    Another great option is a distillery here in Texas, Balcones. They make a whisky in the Scotch style that is excellent and can be had for about $60

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  12. I've been enjoying single malts for a few decades now; last year I tried a wheat whiskey from the Dry Fly Distillery of Spokane, quite good, very smooth. A few weeks ago I picked up a bottle of a port cask aged whiskey from them, nice and smokey like a good single malt.

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  13. An Omega Seamaster is a watch I associate with dry martinis, shaken not stirred. :)

    (I have a Speedmaster, an anniversary gift which I consider to be one of my most prized possessions, but, after the last overhaul bill, I switched to a Casio Edifice for day-to-day wear.)

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  14. Conveniently for me, one of my coworkers is the co-owner of a bar with the goal of having the widest selection of whiskey in town. Life is rough.

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  15. Many adventures ago I had the great luck to live for a time in a place that had, among many, one establishment that had both a Beer Club and a Whiskey Club (their spelling, not mine). Paid membership, of whatever type one chose, entitled one to select the discounted journey of choice. Many selected the "Around The World in 500 Beers" (they really did have over 500 different beers); a rather smaller group chose the "North Atlantic Scotch Tour" (there was also an "American South Bourbon Tour" as well as others; as bourbon's sole practical use is cleaning motorcycle parts, I declined to participate in that one).

    I have never regretted the adventure or the education that came with it, although from time to time my credit card has. One quickly learns that, however tasty, blends are merely training wheels for single malts, or a really good Irish, and that one may spend a joyous portion of life searching for perfection.

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  16. I tried "scotch" in college. I say "scotch" because I'm still not convinced that the bastard didn't pour me a glass of perfume by mistake. To say it tasted horrible is understatement. You need to add a 0 to your list to properly describe how foul that sip was. No redeeming qualities what so ever. I was in my 40s before I tried a sip again after years of drinking Kentucky bourbon. A knowledgeable bartender poured me a glass of Macallan 18. Very nice. I may have to find a scotch bar, a few hundred dollars and a good cab for a night of tastings.

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  17. Just a FWIW, Old Sheep Dip isn't bad either... about a 6-7. However DO NOT try Scotch from Japan!!! EVER!!! You know what my preferences are- Springbank, and Macallan 25...

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  18. Scotch is liquor for grown-ups.

    Never "on the rocks", and GOD FORBID! never used in a cocktail with something else. Using single malt Scotch for a Rum & Coke is damn near a capital offense.

    A dram of single malt by the fire at the end of the day is one of the Finer Things in life. It's like liquid civilization.

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  19. From my Navy days, I recall I had a hard time with the taste, but it was the gut wrenching hurling that put me off Whisky, Whiskey and Bourbon...not from over indulgence, I never got past the first small glass. It is interesting to learn the history and differences, your writing as always is well worth the read :) I suppose this makes me a light weight but....what is...is.

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  20. B, have I delivered "cough medicine" to you before?

    I just remember the show on whiskey where the master brewer at Glenlivet took a sip, "so warm and gentle on a cold day, that's central heating as it should be."

    Sadly, never been a sipper of scots whiskey. But I can solve many of the problems of the world with a glass of neat Bacardi 8.

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  21. I like an occasional Scotch. But my preferences lean toward Bourbon and Tequila (not together!)
    Became 'unsettled'(ill)after my bachelor party.
    Could have been the Haig Pinch bottle and Michelob boilermakers...
    I couldn't walk by a liquor store for six months afterward...

    I'll stop now.

    gfa

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  22. My goodness, you can write!

    Brought back a wonderful memory of MacAllan 18 Year Old (neat), the North Carolina mountains and a campfire in the snow.

    Thanks to you, dear lady, I now lean somewhat more to the Irish side...Jameson, Bushmills.

    Thanks!

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  23. As Eric said, try Laphroaig. To say it's smoky is putting it mildly; it's rather like drinking a good cigar.

    ...I suppose it's too early in the morning to have a wee nip. Also, it would be frowned upon to do so at my desk. Still, it's a lovely thought....

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  24. From first sip at about age 10, from a bottle of "Ol' Chain Hoist" within the behind the house, shadowed circle of Dads and uncles I've always had a thing for bourbon. Tried every thing else over the years including the 151 proof rum that fueled the barracks campfires and poker players at Roosy Roads during the Castro tantrum. Always came back to that Tennessee penicillin called Jack Black. A friend gave me a bottle of something called Bernheim Small Batch that was very good but Uncle Jack beckoned and...well.

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  25. I enjoy the highland varieties, led by McCallan -- particularly in the flavorful cask strength bottlings. Ay!

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  26. MaCellans 18 year old - fantastic

    But recently introduced to Double Wood Scotch - and love it.

    Scotch is best when "cut" with ice.
    Scotch, a good book, a dog beside me, and chillin' out

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  27. My current go to whisk(e)y list:

    Scotch: Lagavulin 16
    Bourbon: Van Winkle Special Reserve Lot B
    Irish: Red Breast
    Tennessee: George Dickel No. 12
    Misc. American: Bernheim Original

    I can't believe my first post on the blog is alcohol related. I REALLY don't drink that much, but when I do it's good stuff.

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  28. Not only do you post outstanding musings, your also prescient.


    Scotch Club tonight....

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  29. If you can find Loch Dhu, try it. The black whisky and I had a lovely run in its heyday.

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  30. Wow! I have so many new favorites to try now after your suggestions.

    It's been a long day on the road, I will be back after time to put my feet up for a bit.

    Mac - I go on call at midnight. Another time. Thanks for the memories and my best to everyone there tonight.

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  31. Old NFO, sounds like you made the same mistake I did ONCE

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  32. I'm with Dave and Eric - The Laphroaig. Or the bottle of "'frog" as some of my coarser friends refer to it.

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  33. Jim Pickering - you're not the first person to tell me that. There's not a Costco around here, but I will scout some out.

    Lois - with work, I often spend the evening with a mug of tea, but when I can, I do. And yes, quality is the key. It's the same reason I can't eat a Big Mac.

    OlfAFSarge - I miss flying, parts of it, but intellectually, I was ready for something else. He's a lucky one though, all the new toys to play with. Give him our best and thanks for his service, and yours.

    Chip - I've not done the Scotch tour, I did get a tour of Jameson and Bushmills the last time I was in Ireland and brought some home for gifts.

    Monkeywrangler - Dad has a little bottle of scotch on his shelf in his study, cheap stuff, but he was making noise about trying it now that it's about 40 years old. Bro and I need to wait til he naps and fill it up with Scotch again, it didn't survive a college party.

    B - indeed, and that I understand is some REALLY good stuff.

    James - oh, thank you, you ARE going to make me blush.

    Dann - indeed I will when I'm not on call any more.

    john bord - I'm mostly Scot, Irish with a bit of Norwegian and Cree, I do so understand.

    greg - I've just been trying them the last 3 or 4 years, so I'm still learning.

    Matt W - I saw a magazine article on the Texas distillery and they had fine things to say about it, but it was not to be found.

    Jeff - lucky you.

    Roscoe - for the gentlemen of the watch, either would be appropriate, he and his wife are both quite daring.

    Marko - liquid civilization - that's it, perfectly!

    Fred - there was a bar near the base of the Space Needle that had the beer thing, I left some brain cells there during college, before transferring to parts south.

    Bob in Tampa - from the photos of the place you and your wife have nestled in those parts, it looks like a perfect spot to sit and sip.

    Ken O - the jury is out on that one, some love it, a lot of folks hated it. For the price I'm not sure I'd try, but if someone offers me some, I'm game.

    Bob Cloud - I use some bourbon in cooking, (it makes a dandy sausage gravy) but it's a bit too sweet for me, but a family member loves theirs and I make I get them a good bottle at the holidays. Thanks for the note after Christmas, hope all is well.

    Old NFO - even worse would be Japan Scotch from one of those vending machines. :-)

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  34. First time poster - been lurking and enjoying your delightful writing for most of a year now . . . You might like to find a bottle of Connamara single malt peated Irish, don't bother with the fancy one unless you can find a bottl eof thecask strength!. But I must second the lad who offered the wee dram of Lagavulin.

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  35. Mike - thank you for your first post and a VERY good list!

    armedlaughing - for me it was some bridal shower thingy with some pink girl cocktails made with vodka. The headache that ensued put me off such drinks for a lifetime.

    DaddyHawke - that would indeed warrant a "zero". Sorry for your pain but thanks for the smile.

    Kirk A - ay!

    Taildragoon - welcome, and I appreciate the heads up on a fine selection.

    I heard from the Scotch Club tonight (being kind they sent pictures since I'm having tea tonight). I've something else to add to the list it appears.

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  36. I forgot my other go to Scotch, also an Islay. Ardbeg 10. Lot's of smoky peat (or is it peaty smoke?) and pepper.

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  37. And there is something known as Laird's 12 Year Old Bonded Brandy. K&L has a bottle or two. I bought one as a celebration when K broke the glass ceiling with a sledgehammer last week.

    Discovery of these pleasures later in life makes them all the more delightful, when there is no rush to finish.

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  38. at the end of a long day in the saddle...mtn lake, moonlight, bonfire, scotch... nothing better.

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  39. Sorry, Brigid - when I enlarged the view I had not read the label properly - disregard my previous comment please. But thanks for the blog - I may try another Scotch whisky on your recommendations :-)

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  40. I love Laphroaig,Lagavulin and Caol Ila. The smoky Islas are always tucked away in my home to be brought out after a cold day afield or on the water. In the summer Old Pulteney or Deerstalker may be found as well. Sipping on a Lagavulin 16 at the moment after a day on the North Atlantic.

    dan

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  41. I love Laphroaig,Lagavulin and Caol Ila. The smoky Islas are always tucked away in my home to be brought out after a cold day afield or on the water. In the summer Old Pulteney or Deerstalker may be found as well. Sipping on a Lagavulin 16 at the moment after a day on the North Atlantic.

    dan

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  42. Once I offered a gal friend a drink...wasn't sure if she did drink or not. I said I had Scotch or Scotch...she said she would love Scotch with a splash of water...ha!...I thought it would be the other way around..like water with a splash of Scotch!...that still makes me laugh..

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  43. I'm waaay late to this party... seeing the link in yer sidebar... but I HAVE to comment. I stumbled upon the Glenfiddich distillery while on a DIY castle tour of Scotland in 1981 (I was stationed at RAF Uxbridge in London at the time) and that was a literal life-changing experience for me. The wide-world o' single malts opened up to me at that time and I pretty much never looked back.

    I noticed some of your commenters have a low opinion of blends and I used to, as well, but give Johnnie Walker Green a try. That whisky is worthy, in every sense of the word. The Gold is also good, but the Green is both moderately cheaper and more mouth-friendly to a dyed-in-the-wool single malt fan. Good stuff, Maynard.

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  44. Late, too, but...

    It's easy to find tasty cheap Canadian, but Canadian Velvet is horrible. Canadian Mist, on the other hand, is a good frequent drink, and inexpensive.

    I like Irish, US, bourbon, but...I have to to be in the mood for Scotch.

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  45. If you don't smoke...
    Dahlwhinnie.

    Just stumbled on your blog. SAVED.

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  46. Sounds like a wonderful combination.

    Jeanne

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  47. Blaker55 - welcome!

    Jeanne - My welcome to you as well to Home on the Range.

    I hope you will both will stop back.

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  48. When I buy whiskey, it's Red Breast.

    Otherwise, the new distillery in my neck of the woods is doing great, especially if the owner would stop using up all the product and just let it sit in the charred oak longer..

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