I am a new scotch whisky drinker. Having developed a taste (and apparently a tolerance) for alcohol at a relatively late age (early 40s), I went from the sweet to dry white and red wines, then sweet to straight gin and vodka drinks, including perhaps a margarita or two. But I only started trying scotch in September of 2015 after discovering (and then getting completely obsessed by) a little show on STARZ called “Outlander.” Let me explain…
“Outlander” is a show about a married, time-traveling WWII nurse from 1945 thrown back to 1743 in Scotland where she meets a dashing Highland warrior just before the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745. Actually, “Outlander” is a whole series of books and novellas by Diana Gabaldon, the first volume published back in 1992. I have no idea how this series passed under my radar for so long. My only explanation is that I had 2 young daughters at the time, and the “Harry Potter” series was very big in my house. This show, now in its 3rd season, captivated me on many levels…there’s the sci-fi time-traveling aspect, the history of Scotland (what was it that happened in 18th century Scotland that was so important anyway?), and to spice things up a bit, a sexy romance with an incredibly handsome leading man and gorgeous leading lady. Having inadvertently fallen down the rabbit hole, I watched the entire first season, read all the books, discovered an online book club and various Facebook groups, started listening to the English History podcasts, and going to the New Hampshire Highland Games and Festival (another perk of living in Boston). It was at this last event that I tasted single malt scotch for the first time.
Because I had become so obsessed with Scotland and Outlander, and on the show the people were always having a dram or two, I wanted to try scotch and like it (being a fangirl can be tough). There was a tasting from the Laphroaig distillery at the first Highland Games that I went to, and Simon Brooking, Laphroaig’s US Whisky Ambassador, gave a wonderful presentation of the history of the distillery and details about each of the 4 bottles we were tasting. They were big, smoky, peaty…and I loved it. I admit now that I probably started in the deep end of the whisky world after only drinking wine and vodka up to that time, but that’s the point…there was flavor by the bottleful, and like wine, each distillery and each bottling carried its own charms. I was hooked, and happy to be so.
I started collecting notes as I tasted single malt whisk(e)ys and bourbons at restaurants, airports, and friends’ houses because I wanted to remember what I liked and what I didn’t. And then…the notes disappeared. My 6 year old laptop had started having hard drive issues, and eventually got so corrupted that, unbeknownst to me, the Notes app started writing over existing files. After my laptop crashed, I was unable to recover those corrupted files, so over a year’s worth of notes were gone. ** SIGH **
Ok, the reason for this blog (finally!)…I love to learn, and learning can be a communal event (that’s why tastings are so popular and fun). As I continue to try new and favorite single malt scotches, whiskeys, and bourbons, I’m going to write up my observations and share them with you. In return, dear reader, I’m hoping that you will share with me your opinions of the expressions I’ll be presenting. Most importantly, as my palate is still developing, I need help in coming up with adjectives…I can only call something spicy, smoky, peaty, and leathery for so long before they cease to be descriptive.
So without further ado, here’s my first entry…
(Ok, just kidding, there’s a little more ado…you might be wondering why my blog is called Scotch & Scones…what’s this about scones?!? Well, that will be explained in my next entry. This introduction has gone on long enough…)
Gordon’s Fine Wines and Liquors DTX, 39 Temple St, Boston, MA is a wonderful wine and spirits shop located across from Boston Common (DTX stands for Downtown Crossing, just so you know). They have weekly Whiskey Wednesday tastings, and the staff, led by Ken Gordon, are friendly and knowledgeable. I’ve been going to these events on and off for a couple of months, only having discovered it last Fall (alas, those early notes are gone, but we must soldier on…). There are even “regulars” that I’ve started to recognize and learn from. The world is my classroom.
So since this is my inaugural entry, I thought I’d start with the single malt that started it all for me…
1/13/17 — Laphraoig at Gordon’s DTX presented by Simon Brooking (yes, the US Whisky Ambassador, himself!)
Laphraoig is one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland, started (officially) in 1815. Located on the isle of Islay (pronounced “eye-la”, meaning island…yes, it’s the isle of island) located in the southernmost island of the Inner Hebrides of Scotland, north of the Irish coast. There’s a strong ocean influence on the peat in the region, so when the malted barley is smoked, it’s a heavy iodine-peat that inhabits the mash. Of course, the different whiskies will have different flavor profiles based on the amount of smoking that occurs (as well as due to other factors such as type of cask and time in casks used to age the whisky, grains used in the wort, etc.), lending various characteristics to each expression. To see the distillery’s official description of each whisky, go to Laphroaig’s website for details.
We tried 5 different brands:
- Finished in a bourbon & sherry cask
- Taste: soft peat, smooth, not spicy
- Triple Wood
- Aged in American Oak ex-bourbon barrels, then 19th century Quarter Cask, & finally in Oloroso Sherry casks
- Taste: peatier, a little briny, smoke lingers, some spice
- Cairdeas 2016
- Nose: fruity
- Taste: some peat & smoke, creamy, smooth & accessible, big finish
- Finished in bourbon & Madeira casks
- Accessible price
- My favorite! (This one I bought, and Simon was kind enough to autograph the bottle for me)
- Taste: classic flavor profile (smoky, peaty, floral, spicy, sweet, dry)
- Very good, but most expensive of the flight (champagne taste, beer budget…)
- A favorite of Sam Heughan (Outlander’s star)!
- 10 year cask strength
- Taste: Big, bold, smoke, peat
A quick comment…when I took these notes I wasn’t planning to blog about them. I’m hoping to record the presenters at future tastings so I don’t miss out on their detail descriptions of each sample. Also, now you see what I mean about adjectives — I need more descriptive words!
Well folks, there you have it…my first tasting entry. Please leave me your comments about your experiences with these whiskys (especially if you have different words to describe them!), suggestions on other single malt whiskeys and bourbons to try*, and questions and comments about the blog.
* As I am not able to buy full bottles just for myself to taste, I welcome help with tasting locations in the Boston area or places to buy the cute, little bottles of the brands you suggest (you know, the 50 ml ones you find on planes). Thanks!
Slainté! L’chaim! Cheers!
p.s. I’m relatively new to the Boston area, having grown up in Southern California. When I first arrived 3 years ago, I was in awe of my surroundings, and wrote about those experiences in my first blog called The Adventure Continues…A Cali girl’s exploits in Boston. Please come by and check it out!