The Water of Life

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My daddy taught me many things, and one of his most enduring lessons was an appreciation for single-malt Scotch whiskey. Whiskey, he used to tell me, is a man’s drink. Thanks to him, I’ve never been caught in public, with a fruity concoction sporting an umbrella.

Whiskey used to be called aqua vitae: the water of life. These spirits originate with barley, a grain which was originally used to feed livestock. Human beings didn’t like it, until they figured out how to distill it. Now we love it.

Single malt refers to malting the barley, which is the process whereby the kernels are soaked until they germinate. When they are in the perfect stage of sprouting, they’re dried and killed off. The malting of the barley allows for some enzymatic changes in the seeds, which enhance the output of the distillery. Once the barley is malted and dried, the mash is made, and through natural processes, a carbohydrate-rich solution is allowed to ferment. A few months in, a filtering process is completed, and the solution is allowed to continue fermentation in casks made of Spanish Oak. Traditionally, these casks would have previously stored sherry wine.

After a minimum of three years, the casks are vented, and the solution is filtered at least one more time, before bottling. The color and flavor of Scotch is potentially complex, and Scotch aficionados rival wine-tasters for their appreciation.

If you want to embark upon the journey to an appreciation of single malt Scotch, know your definitions. There are “Scotch whiskey” varieties which are blends of single malt with Bourbon or other spirits. Johnny Walker is not single-malt, though it contains some single-malt. Suntory makes an excellent single malt whiskey which is not Scotch, but Japanese.

Beginners often enjoy Glenmorangie’s original. It’s a medium bodied Scotch, with hints of citrus and vanilla. My favorite is Oban 18, for its honey and caramel overtones. If you have expensive tastes, you can’t do better than 30-year old Macallan.

9 thoughts on “The Water of Life”

  1. Edited, only to change the category.

    180 post. Let the de-Mormonization of the blog begin in earnest.

  2. I’m a fan of the peaty, smoky Islay malts, although it’s easy to get too much of a good thing. Too much too often and it coats the palate so you can’t taste the complexities any more. Not that I’d turn it down. I like to drink Johnnie Red, not because it’s better (it’s good), but because it allows you to sense what’s better by comparison. After Johnnie Red, for example, Johnnie Black tastes awesomely complex and three-dimensional.

    I’ll never forget my very first sip of Lagavulin. Not saying it was better than sex, but if I’d only ever had sex once I’d remember it like it was yesterday, and if I had Lagavulin every night, each time would be just as good.

  3. I hopped onto the computer to go through my RSS feed and found this… loving… article. Very interesting. I’m part Scottish (paternal; “Ramsey”) and part Anabaptist (maternal), directly descended from the Swiss Brethren. The latter part won out and I’ve never consumed an alcoholic beverage. Nevertheless, thanks to whoever “Georges St-Martin” is.

  4. Everyday kinda guy here .. with my everyday kinda Scotch .

  5. I didn’t think it was possible for me to become less interested in booze; but I just looked up the prices on some of these whiskeys, and the incredible happened.

    If ever I decide I’d like the feeling of rocks rolling about in my head, I’ll accomplish that with a 10 dollar bottle of cheap gin.

  6. It’s cheaper than a womminz .. much cheaper. heh

    My 12 and 18 year old scotch from the highlands lasts a long time.

    And .. one more thing .. once you’ve tried it .. you’ll understand why we pay those prices.

    American Whisky is inferior to Scotch Whiskey .. imho.

  7. Part of the appeal of Bourbon for me is a hint of sweetness that Scotch completely lacks. I can appreciate each on its own merits.

    Bourbon by definition is 51% minimum corn squeezins aged in new barrels of charred white oak, meaning that they can’t be reused for bourbon. The Scotch distillers don’t have any such restrictions, meaning that their distilleries are a market for used Bourbon barrels. Your Scotch is likely to have been aged in a Bourbon barrel from Kentucky.

  8. It’s cheaper than a womminz .. much cheaper. heh

    If you’re talking about marriage to a wimminz, in the age of the divorce courts, then there ain’t much doubt about it.

    A case could also be made for the economy of heroin addiction…

  9. A case could also be made for the economy of heroin addiction…

    Opportunity Costs brother .. heh.


    True enough Boxer .. booze and other gateway (legal) drugs are just that .. either a gateway to further destroy yourself legally (e.g. booze) or illegally (e.g. herion).

    As you mention .. I meant marriage -v- playa (re: cheaper) .. but at the rate of false accusations these days .. I’m not sure anymore.

    We had another false accusation at work this weekend .. wifey had husband charged with DV3 .. she put his job in jeapordy and will not shed a tear .. because he’d better find’da way to pay her what she’s entited to in the divorce. Killin’ the golden goose doesn’t phase’em .. at this point .. I flirt (a lil) with the young (18-26 year olds) wimminz cuz they haven’t shown their fangs yet (i.e. single never married no kids) .. after that .. they are to well versed in destroying your life .. just like herion.

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