Scotch: A Beginner’s Guide to Whisky as Art, Part 1By J. Wallace
In an age where most liquor is industrialized, marketed with electronic music and mixed with Red Bull, there remains an art form that most men may be missing. To many, the word “scotch” only recalls images of Grandpa, Hemingway, and perhaps Ron Burgundy. There are others, however, that have developed quite the love affair with these aged malts and blends. Read along, fellow GearCravers, and learn how to properly savor one of life’s greater pleasures; a good single-malt scotch.
You’ll learn that “whisky” refers to scotch made in Scotland, while “whiskey” refers to stuff like Kentucky bourbon. You’ll also learn how each of the brands we mention mellows as it ages. For example, a 12 year Glenlivet won’t taste as smooth as an 18-year old, but some older scotches are actually less enjoyable than their younger counterparts. Without further adieu, let’s begin!
Glenfiddich (pronounced more or less “glen-fidd-ick”) is an excellent starter whisky. This Speyside malt is a bit salty, astringent and slightly harsh compared to other varieties, but makes for an excellent place to start. You’ll appreciate the other scotch in this list much better by starting with Glenfiddich. This scoth comes from one of the most popular whisky-making regions in Scotland. There are 46 distilleries in the Speyside area alone! This is a malt that holds up well on the rocks, or even with a bit of water to even the flavor out.
Continue reading GearCrave’s beginners guide to scotch after the jump!
Some whisky lovers consider Glenlivet a big step up from Glenfiddich. This is another Speyside malt which offers a peaty flavor with a hint of smoke and shoe leather. That may sound wrong, but it makes sense once you’ve tasted it. Glenlivet is smoother than Glenfiddich and is fine neat, on the rocks, or with a bit of water.
Laphroaig (pronounced “la-froy-g”) is a medium bodied malt rich, smoky, and a bit seaweedy. Some detect a bit of brine and iodine. This malt comes from Islay, one of the Scottish western islands, where malts are all strong-flavored. This is the point where some say you should stop watering down your scotch and start drinking it straight for maximum enjoyment. There are plenty of scotch lovers who believe just the right amount of water can open up new levels of enjoyment, so it’s really down to preference.
Macallan is a very fine Speyside malt. It compares to Glenlivet as favorably as Glenlivet compares to Glenfiddich. It’s smooth and has no burn at all. Slightly sweet due to being aged in sherry casks, this malt is known as the “Rolls Royce of single malts.” You cannot go wrong with an 18 year-old Macallan if you want something smoother than Glenlivet and not as peaty.
Campeltown is the home of the mighty Springbank distillery. This malt is a more acquired taste and is not cheap; but it’s well worth the price. Those who love Springbank appreciate it’s Islay-like qualities but without the brine, salt, etc. Some taste this one and run away screaming, while others love its unique flavor. This whisky is distilled three times (the usual run is twice) and this is not chill-filtered before bottling. Our advice? Try this as a shot in a bar before investing in a bottle. If you are inclined to love it, you’ll know right away. If you’re on the other side of the fence, you’re only out the price of a shot. Don’t worry if you hate this–it means more for us, you sick bastard.
Five scotches all well worth the time; you will have plenty to contend with in our selections. Best advice–try all of these at a good bar and get a shot-by-shot review. Best to compare either two scotches in a single sitting only, or try to spread out your experimentation over a series of weeks. Once you’ve had access to all of our selections you’ll discover where your taste fits and can make a very informed purchase. Be sure to drop us a line after discovering the brands that work best for you!
Stick around, GearCravers, part 2 is on its way. On the next edition, we’ll cover how to drink the whisky of your choice, from dillution, glassware, where to buy your favorite whiskys and more.