Scotch: The Water Of Life

January 21st, 2011

Photo by Massimo Gammacurta
Originally published in Guitar Aficionado, Spring 2010 Issue – Buy Issue

The next time you curse the winter cold, remember that if it weren’t for Scotland’s chilly climate, the ancient Celts may have never been inspired to blend yeast, water, and malted barley dried over burning peat into the wonderful warming libation known as Scotch whisky. The original premium liquor, Scotch is distilled in six regions—Campbeltown, Highland, Island, Islay, Lowland, and Speyside—each with its own distinct characteristics, traditions, and style. We recommend serving Scotch in a tulip-shaped Glencairn Glass, to focus concentrated aromas toward the nose, with a splash of UK mineral water or a single cube, to release subtle, complex flavors otherwise obscured by alcohol burn.

Glenmorangie Sonnalta PX (Highland)
$80

Glenmorangie produces a wide variety of single malt Scotch aged in Sauternes, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Port, Madeira, and Cognac casks that give each variety very distinctive character. Sonnalta PX is the second of the distillery’s Private Collection series, non-chill filtered, aged in American white oak and double matured in Pedro Ximénez sherry casks, resulting in a high-class flavor profile.

Nose: Elegant blend of toasted nuts and wood
Palate: Crème brûlée caramel, vanilla, tobacco, orange

Lagavulin 16 Year Old (Islay)
$50

Southern Islay Scotches are notorious for their abundance of peat smoke, resulting in a whisky that drinkers either love or hate. Lagavulin’s magical production process includes moss water and oak casks exposed to salty sea air, resulting in dark, dry, and complex flavors that are exquisitely masculine.

Nose: Medicinal, campfire smoke/peat, antique leather chair
Palate: Leather, cigar smoke, barbecue, bacon, salt, and seaweed

Johnny Walker Blue (Blend)
$155

Although most single malt Scotch enthusiasts used to scoff at blended whisky, Johnny Walker Blue changed many a tune. Made from a variety of rare, old-aged malt and grain whiskies, Johnny Walker Blue is in a class by itself, and priced accordingly.

Nose: Smoky burnt oak, ocean, citrus
Palate: Smooth but spicy, bittersweet chocolate, oak, honey

GlenDronach Revival 15 Year Old (Speyside)
$92

Non-chill filtered and matured 100 percent in Spanish Oloroso sherry casks, GlenDronach Revival may be bottled by new ownership but its taste will please the staunchest Scotch traditionalist. An outstanding after-dinner dram.

Nose: Earthy, mushrooms, pipe tobacco
Palate: Coffee, light woody tannins, distinct sweet/sour sherry overtones

Glenfiddich 18 Year Old (Speyside)
$92

Glenfiddich 18 Year Old is a fine, traditional Scotch aged in Oloroso sherry and Bourbon casks and married in small batches. Glenfiddich was the first distiller to market its whisky as single malt Scotch, and its classic taste has become the standard that many drinkers associate with Scotch.

Nose: Sweet barley malt, turpentine
Palate: Cinnamon, espresso, charcoal with toasted coconut finish

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