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.