At this point in my life, I’m married, own a house, have a job, speak 3 languages decently, and can tie a bow tie. Â The only thing that I’ve missed in the quest to become a gentleman is being a Scotch drinker. Â Now, I’m resolved to take this final step into manhood.
My first encounter with Scotch wasn’t pretty. Â I was probably 20, and my Dad offered me a swiggle of his Glenfiddich. Â It struck me as unnervingly similar in smell to the polyurethane I use to seal my wood floors, and the taste wasn’t much better. Â The impression it left me with was overwhelmingly negative – I didn’t intend to get to know it better.
Some years later, I met Scotch again at a Christmas eve family gathering. Â My uncle Rick got a bottle of 15 yr old Scotch that he insisted I try. Â I held my nose and took a tiny sip. Â It burned, Â but I managed to get the whole thing down.
Fast forward to last week- I got to try a 20 yr old Scotch, and it was delicious. Â Tradition dictates that Scotch should be enjoyed slowly and carefully, but I was the first one to finish my glass and would have asked for more, if it weren’t so damn expensive.
Yesterday, I picked up a bottle of 12 yr old single malt Glenlivet from the good people at Sam’s Club, and this evening I’m trying it out.
So far, so good.
It still burns, but I find that a little water in the glass helps ease the burn and lets you taste a bit more of the flavor. Â The flavor itself is very difficult to define – slightly sweet, and a little fruity. Â The predominant tastes are almond and honey, maybe some smoke. Â There are other tastes too, but they’re too subtle for me to grasp.
Like so many things life, knowing a bit about Scotch helps to enhance my enjoyment of it, and, I hoped, would help me figure out what I was tasting.
The Scotch I’m enjoying is a single malt, meaning it comes exclusively from barley, a grain seemingly capable of anything. Â The early stages of Scotch production are almost identical to beer – the barley is sprouted, which ramps up sugar production, then dried and ground into coarse bits. Â These bits are then steeped so the sugars are released into water, and becomes malt. Â From there, the path diverges from beer a bit, and I don’t quite follow all the ins and outs of fermenting and distilling. Â Eventually, the unfinished Scotch is put in barrels, and must be aged a minimum of three years.
If you’re thinking that honey and almond don’t quite follow from boiled and dried barley, you’re quite correct. Â My hypothesis is that yeast is a major player. Â In the brewing world, the choice of yeast can have more influence over a beer’s final flavor than all the other ingredients put together. Â Those little critters can somehow impart flavors of fruit, bread, flowers, you name it.
A little more research shed some light on how the drying of the barley takes place. Â Instead of using plain old hot air or convection to dry the sprouted barley, some Scotch distillers burn peat in kilns and use the smoke to dry the barley. Â The centuries of cumulative biomass in the peat introduce all sorts of interesting flavors, which I guess collectively comprise all thoseÂ unnameablesÂ I mentioned earlier.. Â It’s just the sort of wacky behavior you’d expect from the folks who invented golf.
As I finish this glass, everything that went into it seems so clearly connected. Â The land, the crop, the bottle, and the ceremony all belong together. Â It’s humbling to think that this particular Scotch was made when I was 16, thinking about who I was going to hang out with this weekend. Â Now, my thoughts turn toÂ the men in my family who drank Scotch, and what their lives were like at 28.
Mostly wondering what they would think of me now.