Yet another holiday season is among us, and what better to do than surround ourselves with friends and family while eating, drinking, and being merry.
During this time of year, many people enjoy celebrating their time while getting special drinks to share during their events- but often have trouble knowing what to select.
Spirits, especially Irish whisky and Scotch, and wine are often amongst the highest desired of such beverages. Today, we’ll delve into selecting a quality single malt Scotch for your holiday events.
Whether a high quality product or merely an excellently branded drink, acquiring your holiday or special occasion spirits can be quite costly.
Considering such, how do we know what drinks to purchase while assuring that our investment is not forfeit due to not liking what we have just collected?
The best way to maximize your new acquisition is to understand what the characteristics are of the beverage you are intending to consume.
Selecting your drink can be a difficult and time-consuming process, so it is important to know some of the basics of the spirit you’re intending to consume.
Let’s start with some basics of Scotch whisky.
Of course, not all spirits from each region will be guaranteed to have the general qualities listed, but it is a general rule of thumb that is typically trustworthy when considering your beverage.
One of the largest and most prevalent areas of the whiskies produced in Scotland — well known for their full-bodied drinks.
Though they often feature peaty characteristics and smoky plumes, the region is highly varied and the tastes between distilleries of this region are quite different depending on its geographical location.
Distilleries from the north are known for their use of heather and spicy characteristics while the southern end is often thought of to use fruitier flavors. Some distilleries of note include Oban (notorious for their 14 year single malt), Glenmorangie, Ardmore, and Dalmore.
Largely known for their lighter-bodied single malt whisky, there are only a few operating distilleries left in this region despite its moderate size (from just under Glasgow to the dividing line of England).
The best known Scotches from this region are Glenkinchie, Bladnoch, and Auchentoshan. However, it is still possible to find older bottles from Rosebank, Gordon & Macphail, St. Magdalene, and other historic distillers through online collections.
The championing sector of Scotland’s whisky (more than half, actually), the Speyside region boasts a massive portion of all distilleries in Scotland.
Despite the fact that it is geographically located within the confines of the Highland region, the complete difference of characteristics between their spirits and the rest of the Highland area put them into two different categories.
Most of the distilleries of this region use water from the natural river Spey in their distilling process. Often said to be the most complex, richest, and ‘elegant’ of Scotch whisky, it is also known for its sweetness as well as its varied flavors and its breathtaking aromatic features.
The most famous of these distilleries include Macallan, Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, Balvenie, and Glenfarclas.
Scotch from this region is typically the heaviest smoked (massively peaty), and the strongest flavored of all single malt whiskies.
Their attributes are often attributed to the exposure to the seas that surround it as well as the windy climate the distilleries reside in.
Some go as far to say that the whisky (especially that of Laphroaig and Ardbeg) is like drinking a campfire. The most popular choices from this region come from Laphroaig, Lagavulin, Ardbeg, and Bowmore.
Though once home to more than 30 individual distilleries, there now remain only a handful of producers of whisky in the small peninsula that encompasses Campbeltown.
The modern names to know from this area are Springbank, Glen Scotia, and Longrow.
While not an actual region of Scotland’s distilleries, rather it is Scotch from every other island of Scotland that produces spirits other than Islay, it is often associated to have a blended set of characteristics of the Highland and Islay regions of Scotland.
As such the drinks classified under “Island” are often general pleasers for those who are not looking for extremes on any end of the Scotch tree.
The most popular whisky selections from this region include the luxury brand Highland park, and one of my favorites, Talisker.
What glassware should I be using?
Now that we know the regions and their whiskies’ general characteristics, we have to decide what type of glassware best suits our needs for consumption…
Do you go with a standard glass? A shot glass (hopefully not)? A tumbler? Are there even glasses specific to spirits?
To anyone interested in acquiring some new glassware, there are indeed some glasses better suited for consuming Scotch than others.
Known amongst these glasses are the Glencairn whisky glasses, Riedel Vinum single malt glasses, and if under duress without other whisky-specific glasses, a standard tumbler will serve your purposes well.
The benefit to a proper Scotch glass is that it allows you to experience the spirit better by allowing more air on the spirit as it nears your palate as well as the opportunity to get a better nose on the liquid as it presses nearer to our noses through their tulip or otherwise shaped lips.
The Glencairn glasses can also feature a special ‘ginger lid cover’ that builds up aromatic features before you open it to get a full whiff of the wondrous beverage placed before you.
Since we taste more with our noses than with our limited palates, this feature is vastly important to the whisky experience.
Riedel Vinum Glass:
To water, or not to water a Scotch?
Adding water to whisky is a process of diluting it in order to lessen the medicinal quality of the drink, but it also serves as a passageway to opening the nose of the drink to produce additional aromatic elements.
Typically a drinker will add water to their Scotch if the alcohol level is that of a traditional cask-strength beverage (meaning that it has not previously been diluted before bottling, thus giving a pure perspective of the spirit before it has been ‘tamed’ for consumption)- though some enjoy drinking theirs at these heightened levels of medicinal alcoholic presence.
When we add water, we are lessening the harshness of our drink and allowing ourselves to better experience the drink that we have poured for ourselves.
Similar effects are done with an ice cube, though an ice cube will also lower the temperature of the drink- thus lessening the tongue’s ability to sense and receive the flavors of the scotch in addition to the diminished flavors presented by diluting the drink in the first place.
If the dulled sensation of the drink is desired without diluting it, you could also use whisky stones- but you should be careful using them as to not damage your glassware.
However, drinking Scotch is a personal experience- and the best way to enjoy and appreciate what you’re drinking is to find out the method that works for you!
To sum up today’s column, I’ll offer a few of my favorite whiskies that fit the bill for a wonderfully festive holiday without breaking the bank.
5. Glenlivet 12
Often a first single malt choice for young and known consumers alike.
Its price range is fair and its flavors are mild and tasteful.
The nose takes us to a floral place with soft and clean scents. The body of the drink is light to medium with a smooth finish.
The palate will note flowery tones, peach or pear, bits of vanilla and a smooth balance between its sweetness and malty dryness. Bottles typically can be found for $45-50.
4. Laphroaig 10 year
While not as common a choice due to its nature as a Islay malt, the Laphroaig 10 offers a great experience from the land of peaty beverages and untamed, ravished wilds.
Its golden hue is often mistaken for a weakness in flavor, but the drinker’s nose will quickly be met with a massive smoky experience that includes seaweed and ‘medicinal’ qualities while catching brief moments of sweetness.
The drink is certainly a full-bodied one, and the palate will be treated to a delightful helping of peat which seems to layer itself time and time again over the tongue as well as a surprising moments of sweetness and some hints of salt.
Bottles can often be located for around $50.
3. Talisker Storm
A young, but notable, addition to the Talisker line.
The whisky is released without an age statement (though it cannot be called a Scotch whisky if it has been aged for less than 3 years), but it does not taste to be as young as it is. The nose will find a slightly restrained spicy aroma and possibly the scent of sulfur or struck matches, though honey and ripe fruits will quickly present themselves.
While smoky notes drift into the picture, the nose will also catch saltiness and some aroma of pepper.
The palate will be treated to a sweet and mellow initial flavor until the spice and heat presents itself along with a bit of nuttiness.
Adding water will make the balance between the smoke and sweetness more easily detected.
While released in a more limited manner than some of their other selections, the bottle is fairly priced at around $50.
2. Glenfiddich 12
The most common 12-year whisky in the world- selling more units than any other; and for good reason!
The 12-year Glenfiddich is best known for its overall light and friendly demeanor.
The nose is subtle with notes of grain, malt, honey, and light alcoholic tendencies that are met with wisps of floral tones, minerality, and citrus.
The finish includes tastes of sweetness, oak, and general fruity remarks.
This drink is a truly consistent Scotch with all of the stereotypical notions of a Speyside Scotch. These bottles typically sell for around $45-50.
1. Balvenie Doublewood 12
As a holiday drink, what more could be asked than for it to be a delectably sweet, mildly bodied drink with a smooth finish?
Excellent for dessert, during a meal, or even as a nightcap, this drink is a definite crowd pleaser.
The whisky is first aged in a whisky oak cask for most of its years of maturation before being placed into sherry oak cask to finish its aging process.
Due to this process, the nose can expect to be showered with sweet fruits and sherry tones that blend tastefully with wafts of honey and vanilla.
The palate experiences a gentle barrage of various smooth and mellow flavors including nutty sweetness, cinnamon, and the succulent sherry that it retains from its second barrel aging and conditioning phase.
Though slightly higher in price than its competitors, the price gap is acceptable and will be well received by just about every guest that may consume it.
The cost of this bottle will net around $55-60.
Enjoy the Holidays (and Bottoms Up)!
Whatever you are drinking (or not drinking) this season, we here at the Gents of Lancaster hope that you have an excellent holiday wherever you are and whatever you are celebrating.
May your holidays be filled with memories and wonder.