Gude ale hauds me bare and busy,Robert Burns' birthday is tomorrow. "Gude Ale" was the poem from last year.
Gars me moop wi' the servant hizzie,
Stand i' the stool* when I hae dune—
Gude ale keeps the heart aboon!
What is whiskey but the quintessence of beer? And what is the highest form of whisky but Scotch? (Subtract the "e" and magic occurs!)
So we turn from ale to Scotch!
Though the weather turned nice this week, earlier this month and over the holidays the rain and dark and cold made a person crave the warmth of a good whisky!
During the holidays friends and family generously shared. Connoisseurs will observe these may not be among the most interesting of Scotches - but they were sure tasty anyway! And we cannot offer comprehensive tasting notes or anything like a real snapshot of Scotch whisky and whisky distillers. (If you know Scotch, move along, nothing to see here...)
But even at a basic level, these tipples did remind us that Scotch is a fascinating and complex beverage, worthy of close attention. While Scotches lack hops and hoppy bitterness, they can claim to be the highest expression of barley malt.
So, you know, if you have the funds, buy a bottle - or two, or three!
Glenfiddich 12 was the favorite of many, but we thought it was just too smooth and sweet. It was like the winning, super-friendly sales personality. Superficially engaging and agreeable - but you wondered if it just was telling you what you wanted to hear, and might say the opposite to the person next to you. What did it really think, you wondered.
Johnnie Walker Green, a vatted malt, was both less winning and more interesting and satisfying. It was a little smokey, sweet, tart - balanced and complex in a way the Glenfiddich was not. Even though it was a blend, it was not bland, and had a personality.
The "beauty shots" tell all: These are "big brand" Scotches - not exactly tin can macrobrews like Budweiser or Coors, or even fake micros like Blue Moon, but in some ways more like the big, national craft brewers, say Boston Beer or Sierra Nevada.
But they are also marketed or owned by large, multinational conglomerates. Johnnie Walker is a Diageo brand. Glenfiddich is part of the William Grant & Sons portfolio. Reliable, but perhaps not very adventurous. And certainly not indie!
The less famous and smaller distillers are often the most interesting. Some are legitimately artisanal. And though we cannot say we've been able to taste large numbers of Scotches, one interesting trend is that long ageing - and higher pricing - does not necessarily make for the favorite-ist drink. Scotches whose age starts with a 1x seem livelier and fresher, more nimble and quick. The twenty and thirty year-olds are weighed down, thick, clotted somehow. Your mileage may vary.
The liquor store in the Burke Block downtown seems to have the best selection.
Bars are also a good way to sample. The price of a shot neat might seem high, but relative to a whole bottle you may not like, the shot is a value.
(Now...how much to say about distilling? What is "industrial" grain whisky? Industrial whiskey is produced in a continuous process, using a column still. Single malt is distilled in a single batch, using a pot still. The pot still isn't necessarily artisanal, but the column still is most certainly not artisanal.)
*The stool? One sitting on "the cutty stool, or stool of repentance, assum[ed] the character of a penitent for fornication."