Scotch Whisky on a Cold Evening

This winter has been cold and white in SW Ohio this year, much more than usual. The last I heard, we’re about 50% over normal for snowfall. With that, I have to admit I have wimped out a bit and haven’t cooked outside like I normally do. As you may have read, I have been learning how to brew ale, and I’m still getting more info and getting ready for my next batch, an English strong ale.

bottles

Another thing I’ve been enjoying this season is good Islay scotch whisky. Not to sound snobbish, “whisky” is how they spell it in Scotland, “whiskey” is how it’s spelled in the US. Neither are wrong, just different.

Islay line up

I heard recently that scotch has more variance in flavors than any other liquor. With several regions identified for whisky, each with a dominant style, it’s not a surprise to me. And my favorite whiskies tend to come from the island of Islay, off the west coast of Scotland. The Islay whiskies tend to show a lot of peat smoke, saltiness, iodine and toffee flavors. And, so far, my three favorites are almost within site of each other on the southern shore of the island, from Lagavulin, Laphroaig and Ardbeg. To those, I recently added a Blackadder whisky, which is a bit of a different animal.

Lagavulin

Blackadder buys barrels of whisky from distillers and ages them, then bottles them by just pouring the whisky right into bottles, not filtering in any way. In fact, the bottles have bits of black cask in the bottom of the whisky.

A friend of mine came over to try the four whiskies I had, and he brought along a bottle of The Macallan 18, an 18 year old Speyside whisky aged in Spanish sherry casks. This is a well-known, very expensive scotch.

We started with the Blackadder Peat Reek. The whisky is aged to 11 years, and has no added color. It pours a light blonde, and, sure enough, there were a few specks of black char in the bottom. This didn’t do anything to the taste. I didn’t really know what to expect of this, as it’s not known what distillery the whisky is from. My guess would be Lagavulin, but it could be Laphroaig, too. Anyway, it was sweeter than I expected it to be, and had a good peatiness, and the name implies it would. It also had a bit hit of toffee, with a bit of salt and iodine. Really good! Since this comes out of the cask into the bottle, it’s at about 58% alcohol, so it needed a bit of water to calm it down. This isn’t a bad thing; leaving it at high levels of alcohol just means that you miss out on some of the other stuff going on.

Cask bits

Lagavulin came next. The 16 year old is considered by some to be the best whisky produced. It’s not as peaty as Ardbeg, but comes through very nicely smoky, with a richness that the extra 6 years in the cask gives the whisky. There is caramel color added, but I don’t think it changes the flavor. There’s subdued salt and medicine, but a nice heat, but with no fire on the way down. Adding a couple drops of water brought out the sweetness even more.

glasses

Ardbeg’s 10 year old came next. This is a big in peat, with heavy salt and iodine, not as much sweetness. This is just a nice whisky to drink with a couple drops of water.

The last of the Islays we had was the Laphroaig cask strength, another 10 year old. It needed a bit of water, too, to tame it a tad, and it falls right between Lagavulin and Ardbeg in both peat and sweetness. Any of these Islays is worth having around… It’s almost too much to have all four on my shelf. :)

Tasting

So then the big boy was opened up, the Macallan 18. It poured thick and coppery, getting the color from the sherry casks, I’m sure. There was really no smoke to the whisky, at least after drinking 4 Islays! What was there was a big finish of sugary sweet. In my opinion, a bit too much. I need to try this one on its own, not with Islays first, to be sure, but I’m not sure I’d go out of my way for this one at all. It was a bit of a disappointment, really.

The Macallan 18 bottle

The Macallan 18 poured

We did try one more single malt; Amrut is made in India, of all places! I had a mini-bottle of the peated version. Compared to the Islays, there was no real smoke to it, though. However, we both preferred it over the big, expensive 18 year old!

All-in-all, it was a fun evening sitting around trying a series of whiskies with a friend… a great way to spend a cold winter evening.

About Curt McAdams

I guess I'm a bit of a foodie, learning to cook from my mom, then getting obsessed with outdoor cooking, competition barbecue, bread baking and just about all things food. Lately, I've been trying to upgrade my photography skills a bit, though I still have a long way to go.

8 comments

  1. Looks like a brilliant evening!

    Not to be picky, but I think only the Irish use the “e” in Whiskey. Even the US Whiskeys I’ve seen have been “Whisky”. At least that’s been my experience.

    My go-to Scotch is the Balvenie 12-year Doublewood. It’s a tremendous dram. Fruity, but not overly sweet. There’s a decent herbal and peatiness while still being a very good drink. I don’t tend to like the overly smoky and charcoal flavors. (Johnnie Walker Black, YUCK!)

    Also, you haven’t lived until you’ve had the Macallan 25-year. Luckily, I wasn’t paying on that bar tab. ;)

  2. Looks like a great night. A little poker would have made the perfect one though.

  3. Joel,

    Most American whiskeys do use an “e”, with the exception of Maker’s Mark and a few others. Jack Daniels, Knob Creek, etc., call themselves “whiskey”. I also don’t put any JW whiskies in the same group as good single malts, but I do like them for a rusty nail.

    I hope the Macallan 25 is more impressive than the 18. The 18 wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t anything special to me.

    Mark,

    With just 2 of us, poker might have gotten boring, and too many more would have drunk all my good scotch! :)

  4. What a great way to spend time indoors – tucked away from the cold. I’ve not tried the scotch brands you reference here. Springbank 15 – a Campbeltown Single Malt – is a personal favorite.

  5. Kevin,

    I’ve seen Springbank, but never tried it. It’s amazing the range of flavors that make up single malt whiskies, but yet they’re all using the same ingredients.

  6. Now that’s the way to spend a cold evening! The only way I could see to improve it would be to pair the whisky with some fine cigars, but with tasting as the apparent object of the exercise, cigars would have been a bad idea.

    I absolutely love Lagavulin 16. I don’t have the sophisticated palate to pick out the hints of/notes of, etc; I just know what I like, and Lagavulin fills the bill. I first tried it in ’07 in Tulsa. I asked the bartender to give me something in a single malt other than the usual bar fare of Glenfiddich and The Glenlivet. Fortunately this was an upscale place and they just happened to have about 30 single malts from which to choose. The bartender didn’t even hesitate in his choice, but went straight for Lagavulin, saying he’d been a Scotch whisky man his whole adult life, and it was his all time favorite. Let’s just say he was well tipped, as I had discovered a new love.

    I look forward to reading the rest of your blog. I don’t get to cook much these days, but I enjoy reading about it and picking up new ideas. Thanks for the link!

  7. Garry,

    If you like the Lagavulin 16, see if you can get your hands on some Ardbeg Supernova 2010. Or even better, start exploring all of the Islay distilleries, known for their peatiness, but there are some great varieties at Bruichladdich. I’m now starting to move more and more to cask strength whiskies, too, where you add a bit more water, but you can control how much you use.
    Curt recently posted..The Phil McRibMy Profile

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