Raise a wee dram of a fine single malt with the old man
Every father, in candid moments, cannot help acknowledging a soft spot for a wee nip of fine Scotch whisky. Scotland native and now Pittsburgh-based barman John White offers insights to Scotch whisky's potent, enduring charms.
“When I thought about hobbies, stamp collecting did not appeal to me and I can't play bagpipes,” he says. “I don't care much for haggis and I don't play golf. But I do appreciate and enjoy a good malt whisky with friends.
“Each single-malt distillery produces a distinctly individual and concentrated style. The resulting broad spectrum of flavors makes it exciting to try a dram or two. Enjoying a single-malt Scotch whisky is sort of like Christmas morning and opening a package.”
In “The World Atlas of Whisky” (Mitchell Beazley, $34.99), Dave Broom outlines five “core” aroma and flavor profiles for single malts — fragrant and floral, fruity and spicy, malty and dry, rich and round, and smoky and peaty. Experiencing and appreciating the profiles requires knowing a bit about each distillery's location and methods for creating their bewitching nectars.
Single-malt Scotch whiskies come mainly from the Highlands and islands northwest of Glasgow and Edinburgh. The rugged, remote landscapes boast scenic, hilly walks and plentiful water.
“Highland streams, which we call burns, give pure, clean water, which is key in producing great Scotch,” White points out. “It also is a great land for sheep and barley.”
Barley provides another key single-malt Scotch ingredient. Each distillery uses “malted” barley steeped in water to induce germination. Drying the malted barley in heated kilns stops germination and begins converting starches into fermentable sugars.
According the White, the kiln fuel helps to determine the final whisky's character. Most, but not all distilleries, use fragrant peat.
“The type and amount of peat, which is basically condensed vegetation, influences the final aromas and flavors immensely,” White says. “With the island single malts, sea air and brine penetrate the peat, conveying iodine notes in the final whisky. Other whiskies have more smoky or floral traits.”
Next, producers “mash” the malted barley with hot water to create the “wort.” The wort ferments in the “washback,” creating a beer without hops. Thereafter, double distillation in copper-pot stills yields fiery, clear condensate alcohol ready for finishing and refinement. Aging in barrels adds color and complex aromas and flavors.
“Some whiskies age exclusively in used American bourbon barrels. Others age in used Spanish sherry barrels,” White says. “Some age in a combination of both types.”
Single-malt Scotch whiskies typically mature for at least 10 years and often for 12, 14, 16 years and longer before bottling. Longer aging mellows the spirit. Artistry comes in adding small amounts of older whiskies to hone the final whisky's personality.
To appreciate a single-malt whisky's distinct character, White recommends using a clean, tulip-shaped glass and pouring the whisky at room temperature.
“Then add just a wee bit of distilled water to release the whisky's intense aromas,” he advises. “Smell it. Taste it, and savor the long aftertaste. Good malt whisky is not meant to be guzzled.”
With Father's Day approaching, bring a wry smile to the old boy by inviting him to share a “wee dram” of a single-malt Scotch whisky. If by sad misfortune he's no longer with you, lift a glass in his memory.
Laphroaig 10 Year (4569; $49.99): Made on the Isle of Islay (pronounced “ eye-lah”), Laphroaig (pronounced “ la-froyg”) presents intensely peaty and smoky traits. And because the whisky ages near the sea, distinct iodine qualities tease the palate and linger pleasantly along with hints of licorice and black pepper.
The Dalmore 12 Year (3432; $46.99): From the northern Highlands' wilds on the shores of a narrow sea inlet called the Firth of Cromarty, The Dalmore embodies fruity and spicy “core” flavors. Dark plum, cinnamon and honey aromas greet the nose. Candied citrus and caramel flavors envelope the palate before refreshing, spicy citrus carries the finish. “Just a lovely experience,” White notes.
Glenfiddich 12 Year (7916; $43.99): From the Highland's eastern Speyside region, Glenfiddich exemplifies the floral-and-fragrant camp. Green apple and pineapple aromas open to sweet vanilla and lingering mixed-fruit flavors.
Dave DeSimone writes about wine for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.