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Daily Glass: Scotch for Every Day

February 7, 2020 6 comments

Yes, Scotch. Yes, Talk-a-Vino is a wine blog – mostly, anyway.

When I was looking for the name for this blog, my first choice was Grapes and Grains – unfortunately, the domain was taken, and of course, you know the end result of this search. But this is not important. The important fact, the truth of the matter, is that in the making of this snob/aficionado, Scotch was there before wine.

Unlike many wine lovers, I never had my pivotal wine – many wine lovers can refer to a specific bottle which was a revelation and a turning point for them to become faithful wine lovers – however, this was not my case. At the same time, when it comes to the world of scotch, my story was different.

I tried to find my love in scotch for a while, but nothing worked – I couldn’t derive pleasure from a sip of this dark yellow liquid – whatever I tried was too harsh for my palate. And those were not necessarily Dewar’s, Cutty Sark, or J&B – standard staple single malts, such as Glenlivet 12, Balvenie 12 and similar – nothing was working for me.

One day in the liquor store, looking helplessly at the great selection of the beverage which was not singing with me, my eye stopped at Cardhu – a 12 years old single malt from Speyside (there are five main regions in Scotland producing distinctly different scotch – Highland, Lowland, Speyside, Islay, and Campbeltown, plus a number of islands, such as Orkney and Skye). It was reasonably inexpensive at $27 (this was in the mid-1990s, today the same bottle is $40+), and I decided to try it. The first sip of Cardhu was a turning point – it was mellow, playful, and elegant – enough to make me an instant convert.

For Cardhu’s revelation to happen, I can only guess that my palate was ready at that time by all the previous attempts – this is what we call an acquired taste. I had a similar scotch revelation in 2005 when I all of a sudden fell in love with Talisker, peaty and medicinal tasting scotch from the Isle of Skye – until that evening, I couldn’t stand Talisker’s iodine and smoke loaded profile. An acquired taste again, yes. Anyway, this is my scotch lover’s story.

When drinking for pleasure, scotch is a perfect drink (once you acquire the taste, of course!). Today, you can buy a bottle of good scotch for $50 – $60. You can spend a little less, and you can spend a lot more – as with the wine, the sky is the limit. While $60 sounds expensive, versus, let’s say, a $25 bottle of wine, let’s look at the things in perspective. $25 bottle of wine means 5 glasses, so each glass is $5, and you can only keep the wine bottle open for so long. Good scotch is a sipping beverage, so one ounce of that is perfectly good enough to enjoy (if your idea of drinking scotch is by doing the shots, you reading the wrong post for a while). $60 for 25 ounces means less than $2.50 per drink. Plus, you can take your time drinking that bottle – I have some bottles at home which had been open for a few years – they are still perfectly enjoyable as on the day when I opened them. I hope you can see my point that scotch makes a perfect drink for every day.

Recently I got two bottles of Speyside scotch for review. The idea was to write a post before January 25th, to celebrate Robert Burns’ 261st birthday. Born in Scotland in 1759, Robert Burns was one of the most celebrated poets, who also happened to mention whisky (scotch) in many of his poems, so it makes perfect sense that his birthday is best celebrated with a glass of dram. Well, that blog post didn’t happen on time, but the scotch I received was simply delicious, and this is what I want to share with you.

Source: Speyburn Speyside Distillery

Source: Speyburn Speyside Distillery

If you will read the stories of the different distilleries in Scotland, you will find one common theme in those – the water. Distillery’s unique water source is often cited as the foundation of the “distinct character” particular scotch has.

Speyburn Distillery was founded by John Hopkins in the 1890s when he “discovered the Granty Burn – an untouched stream hidden in a secluded Speyside valley”. The first Speyburn whisky was distilled in 1897 to celebrate Queen’s Jubilee – it was not a simple task, and you can read more about the challenges on distillery’s website.

The making of whisky at Speyburn distillery starts with the best quality malted barley, and of course, the water. The barley is crushed, and then it is sprayed with hot water for 4 hours to convert starches into the sugars. The next step is fermentation which is done in stainless steel tanks and wooden barrels made out of Douglas fir. Once fermentation is finished, the liquid goes through the double-distillation process which results in the production of alcohol. It is only now the most important part – aging – starts, using bourbon and sherry casks. 10 (15, 18, …) years later, we get the golden liquid which we can then enjoy.

I had an opportunity to taste two different scotches from Speyburn. Speyburn 10 Years Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky ($30) was beautifully mellow, with playful herbal aromatics on the nose, and citrus, honey, and spice on the palate. It is perfectly smooth and easy to drink. I have to mention that in today’s world, this scotch offers an insane QPR.

Speyburn Arranta Casks Single Malt ($44) (Arranta means “intrepid” and “daring” in Gaelic) takes your taste buds to the next level. On the nose, it offers more of the vanilla and butterscotch profile, adding honey, mint, lime and a touch of white pepper on the palate. Beautifully round and complex, with a long playful finish – this scotch really lingers, going and going for the next 3-4 minutes after the sip. Delicious, and again an excellent QPR.

There you are, my friends. If you like scotch, Speyburn perfectly represents Speyside and offers a tremendous value for every day enjoyment – but it will also play perfectly well for any special occasion you might have in mind. Cheers!

 

Tasting Series At Cost Less Wines – Part 2, The Hills of Scotland, or Glenlivet Tasting

December 22, 2010 Leave a comment

Continuing our tasting series courtesy of Cost Less Wines, we are now moving from Champagne region in France to Speyside in Scotland. As a group, Speyside scotches usually mild, with nice and round character, and not very peaty. Subject of this tasting was The Glenlivet, oldest (and legendary) legal distillery in the region (as usual, Wikipedia provides wealth of information about the distillery, and also you can take a look at the company’s web site, even though I find it no so easy to use).

Four scotches were represented at the tasting – 15, 18, 21 and 25 years old. Such a tasting is a great opportunity to explore, experience and learn. Effectively, at this tasting you had an opportunity to try a “vertical”. I understand that wine category “Vertical”, when you try wine from the same winery made in a succession  of years, is not applicable to scotch. But it is amazing what every 3 years in the cask would do to the actual taste. In the event, there was nice and noticeable progression in the taste – starting from smooth and simple Glenlivet 15, gaining complexity with the 18, and being super-rich, complex and round with 21.

To my taste, Glenlivet 21 was probably the best. It had very complex but clean taste profile (yes, it was my favorite in the tasting and it has great QPR at $110). However Glenlivet 25 was beyond complex. It had a lot of stuff going, including oily substances on the palate – or may be I simply didn’t spend enough time with it.

Does Glenlivet 25 worth $300? I think the answer is rather yes than no. At the same time, one have to really understand the virtues of taste of the fine scotch, in order to fully enjoy it. But in any case, it makes a fine present, especially for “someone who has everything”. I will be glad to try it again if I will have the opportunity, but for now – there will be more tasting events at Cost Less Wines, don’t miss it!

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