January 2007


One big ticket discussion item that often comes up is the topic of ice (Scotch on the Rocks?),water and mixers as ways to enhance the experience of a good single malt.

Here is my personal take on the addition of these items to a good single malt.

Other

Ginger ale and Cola are the two most common requests I had as a bartender for (flavoured) mixers to a scotch. Usually these were additions to a blended scotch, such as Bells or Grants, and I do think that Ginger Ale in particular can enhance the harsher flavour of a blended whisky (malt and grain) when used in moderation.

Cola on the other hand never made any sense to me. While Cola can accentuate certain drinks – such as rum – I don’t feel it brings anything to a scotch, whether it be blended or single malt.

Would I add a mixer to a single malt? Absolutely not! The beauty of any single malt comes from the (sometimes subtle) differences in flavour from producer to producer. These different flavour notes are a complex product of the local geography, the malting process, the unique shape of the stills used by each distillery and the aging process used for each product within a producers arsenal. It would, in my opinion, be a travesty to mask all of that with a flavoured soda drink.

In fact, I would go as far as to say that if you need to add a flavoured mixer then you really do not enjoy scotch enough to appreciate a good quality single malt. Stick with blends and save some money.

Ice and Water

Ice is a trickier cat. Once again, I really have no problem with adding ice to a blended scotch whisky, as it really helps to tone down the harsher tone of the grain whisky. Single malts, however, generally lose their subtlety of flavour when ice is added. The main reasons for this is that by cooling the drink it reduces the rate of evaporation of the liquid, meaning that the ‘nose’ or aroma of the whisky is dulled down. In addition, the tongue can sense more flavour notes for a warmer product. Again, personally I avoid ice in all single malts at all costs, and generally try very hard to persuade others against the use of ice as well.

Water, though, can have the opposite effect. Unless the single malt is particularly mild or subtle in flavour to begin with (like most lowlands and the Bruichladdich 10y.o.), a small splash of water can really open up the aromas and flavours.

In fact, water is an essential addition to any cask strength single malt. These were never intended to be enjoyed at 60% strength, and should be watered down to the equivalent of 35-40% (experiment on the qty for each cask strength product) to really get the most out of the product.

 

Note, that all the comments above are really my personal preferences for enjoying whiskys at their best. As always, if something works better for you and helps you enjoy a whisky product that much more then by all means go for it.

Welcome to my new blog. I am hoping that this becomes a useful resource over time, and will welcome suggestions or requests in the comments section.

Firstly, an introduction to myself. My name is Mark, and I do not promise to be a total ‘expert’ on the subject of Single Malt Whisky, and also do not expect to hit the heights of such folk as Michael Jackson or Charles Maclean. However, I have been enjoying the ‘water of life’ since the age of 18 and continue to expand my experiences with this amazing beverage. It is those experiences that I would like to share as this blog evolves.

My original introduction to Scotch was from an employer of mine, Russell Abbott – the owner of a local milk delivery company in Rushden, England -where I worked weekends doing milk delivery. His tipple was Bells Extra Special blended scotch whisky, and he quickly introduced me to the taste. Of course, first impressions were not good to my young and inexperienced palette and beer or lager continued to be my main drink of choice, but I did occasionally enjoy a wee dram at that time.

Shortly after that, I started working part time at a local Working Men’s Club serving drinks at the bar. It was here that my appreciation for Whiskey started up. You may have noticed the change in spelling, which of course was deliberate. The stewardess at the time (I forget her name now – sorry) enjoyed Jameson and soon got me back on track to appreciating the golden spirit. At that time I enjoyed Jamesons but preferred Scotch to the sweeter flavours of Irish Whiskey. I branched out into a few different Single Malt Whiskys – mostly the likes of Glenfiddich, Macallan and Glenmorangie – and lost some of the fear instilled in me by the rougher flavours of blended whiskys.

Moving onto a few years later, around the time I left University, a few factors really sparked my interest in single malts.

Firstly, I got married for the first time. While the marriage did not lost too long, a few memories of our vacation in the highlands of Scotland continued on. Even to this day my favourite Speyside whisky is Aberlour, thanks to a visit to the town of the same name in the new year of 1995.

Sometime not too long after that, I revisited Scotland with 3 of my old school friends when we basically looped around the country visiting distilleries, pubs, and restaurants. Particularly good memories come from a stay in Oban, including an evening in a small pub (that must have had over 400 different whiskys to choose from) and a tour of the Oban distillery. Another enjoyable tour was of the Dalwhinnie distillery, which has the highest altitude of any Scottish distillery.

Around the same time a work colleague,”Big Ian”, was also a fan of the single malts. We would spend many an evening after work in Newcastle surprising each other with a new whisky from the bar and testing each other to identify the region, age and/or producer.

All of these events evolved into a great love of everything Single Malt, and a deep appreciation of the influence that the Scottish people, geography and techniques have on the exquisite flavours of a good single malt whisky. Since those times I have continued to try new brands and attempt to bring friends into the fold with varying levels of success.

Over the course of the next few months I hope to add a catalog of the single malts that I have been enjoying lately and adding tasting notes as much as possible. I’ll also be writing posts on my take on some of the important aspects of the relationship between Scotland and the magical drink it produces. Once again, let me know in the comments if you have any suggestions for content and I’ll do my best to provide it.