I have to tell a little story about a day that I spent with a man named Gerald: A man and his Scotch whiskey.
In the course of my work met Gerald when a mutual friend introduced me to him in order to assist in his build of a new webpage for his effort “Hollywood's Garage” that is his personal automobile museum collection and that specialises in Automobilia resale. Gerald needed a site that was more accessible for him to personally make changes to and had blogging features so I helped him set himself up on a WordPress installation.
During our interactions, we began discussions about cigars and scotch where I explained him that I knew quite a bit about what I know but I know that there's a whole world out there that I don't. Gerald doesn’t have the same thirst he once had but has managed to amass quite a selection over the years of not only scotch but also cigars. A match made in debauchery perhaps?
My experience in scotch to this date was drinking it for about the past 4-years since I decided to step away from other types of alcoholic drink. Being a small business owner/operator I have been limited to what I can afford and to what has been available at the places I frequent. So, not much when you consider the variety of possibilities available. Unfortunately I hadn’t been properly introduced to the uisge beatha during my many years as a bartender back in the days. At this point I knew the definitions of the difference between single malt, grain, double malt, and blended, but that was about it.
The generosity in spirits (get it?) of this man afforded me a copy of a book called Michael Jackson's Malt Whiskey Companion and another on cigars.
But: it is the “Scotch” Whiskey I'm here to talk about today.
Due to my work/play schedule I never seem to find an opportunity to read the book and that's relatively fair I guess, but what Gerald decided to do in order to further my education was a beautiful surprise. He decided to not only continue to lend me the books until I have an opportunity to read them but he took me along on what amounts to an adventure through Whiskeys.
He invited me over one afternoon for a “tasting”, whatever that was to mean. Needless to say his collection is quite extensive but we only sampled 7. It was the middle of a work day after all.
On the table today, and in order of tasting, was labelled:
• Glenfiddich old cask 15 year
• Tallisker 12 year
• Highland park 12 year
• Glenkeith ? year (year not labelled)
• Glenmorangie 10 year
• Bowmore Sherry cask 15 year
• Chivas Imperial 18 year blend.
The years above were the labelled year and not the actual age. Some were unknown like the bottle he had given me as my bonus: an approximately 25 year old bottle of Glenfiddich “Special Old Reserve” with no age indicator. But I’ll talk about that after I open it in June for a friend’s wedding.
Little did I know that I would spend the next three hours on an adventure through what scotch is how it got to be there and why it is.
Allow me to set the stage though as it was part of the ambiance. Gerald is a man of many interests and his home is a reflection of it. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon, if brisk, and Gerald’s home is bright and sunny. His passions extend to contesting on-line, so his living area is walled on one side, by his best win to date, in a 70+inch TV that seemingly only gets channels with sporting events. But that isn’t the most interesting thing in the room as it also houses the better part of Gerald’s' private home collection of Automobilia. The longest wall in the space is festooned with all sorts of models, knick-knacks, items, tchotchkes, and more. I cannot begin to describe the numbers of icons represented there so I won’t.
Instead I’ll get to the chase and begin.
Glenfiddich old cask 15 year.
This was a great place to start actually. Smooth, what you'd expect from a Scotch as a neophyte, but better. Just a nice tasty Scotch that I wanted more of, which is always a good indicator. Floral and with a peppery note to it. I’ve long been involved in a love affair with pepper as spice and could really appreciate it making a visit to my glass. If you haven’t much experience in Scotch yet then you can imagine this as “better”. Being an admitted Glenfiddich fan I was already in heaven but wondered what I might experience next?
It is here we began the discussion on soda, water and ice. All my drinks on this day were with ice only. I’ve always preferred ice as it allows me to experience the flavour profile at my own pace. What I know now is that the more water you add releases the fruity and flowery flavours in the drink and the less you add preserves its natural peat, oak and bitter notes. It’s as simple as that. Thanks to this discussion, and several others with experts since, I no longer get into protracted discussions about “how much water” is the right amount with experts having been quoted at anything from a “splash at most” (no more than 1/2oz) to a 50-50% mixture. It’s what YOU like and nothing more. If I was to give advice: try 2 oz Scotch to about 3 cubes of ice first and as it melts it’ll hit the point where you like it, then that’s about your personal flavour. Every Scotch is different though, sometimes bottle to bottle, so play around with it a bit. I couldn’t get myself to try the soda option as I can taste the Carbon Dioxide in carbonation so didn’t want to influence my experience on this day. That and carbonation forces the alcohol into your blood stream faster and I needed to be productive later that day.
Tallisker 12 year.
HOLY COW! Peaty. I had thought I know a little about what people meant when they say “peaty” but I just got schooled son. My mouth puckered then salivated as though I was eating savory. There is a bite to this one and the spice flavour is knocked up a bunch with white pepper and heat. Very complex, I just kept tasting and tasting and tasting as the different elements hit me in waves. Then clearly honey after, a new experience for me. The spices make it very warming and what I can only describe as comforting. Like a warm blanket on a cold night. As we drank it I couldn’t figure out one element I was experiencing and was told it was cereals making for a body. I had such a strong desire to have more. This is a thinking Scotch as it just seemed to develop and develop more and more as we sat. I will recommend this to anyone who tells me they know peats, or even just Scotch, and help them to drink it no problem.
On peat: A fact I now know is that it is the Highland distilleries that are known as the peat distilleries (Speyside being the primary region but separated somehow from the Highlands). The Lowland Scotches are known for their light bodies and smoothness (but that depends on where you draw the lines). Islay is an island which is known for its peats and smoke notes and seems to be its own little region in itself. I could go on but I have a lifetime of Scotch knowledge to gain before I can be considered any authority on such matters. I do a quick google search and learn of other regions to include Campbeltown and “Island” (separate from Islay), so on we go…
Highland Park 12 year.
Another strong bite here. I wrote down the word “round” and can remember the aromatic of the citrus finish. Sweet though, and honey here too, but also creamy like a good cream-soda (if that helps?). If you don’t think creamy and Scotch in the same thought, then you should try this out. The citrus notes actually refresh somehow, even as we were now beginning to sink in to the alcohol. More pepper on the end. A clean drink worthy of any glass.
Glenkeith ? year.
Back to an overall round, smooth and fine drink. More of what I thought of as a fine Scotch drink. I wish I knew more about this one as it was a quality drink but I think I was distracted by the previous bottles’ peat followed by honey and then honey and citrus. I was thirsty but salivating and only made just a few short notes on this one.
Gerald had this all planned out of course and he drops me back into it.
Glenmorangie 10 year.
At first my pallet couldn’t decide what I was tasting in this intensely robust dram. I thought maybe a caramel or caramel cream? What was amazing about this one was that there was no noticeable alcohol taste or smell but you could detect the smell of vanilla from first pour. A very fruity and creamy thick drink with what I learned was lemon, nectarine and apple. Possibly the most oak, rich with flavour drink of the day (and that I’ve ever experienced). Not a daily drinker by any stretch but a genuine treat!
Bowmore Sherry cask 15 year.
My notes start to get a little messier here but I’m pretty sure that it reads as ‘15’ year. I mention the choco-mocha impression it gave me, smoky and that it was so thick that it seemed to cling to my glass like an aperitif liquor. Compared to the rest, it was a very demanding drink in that it made me stop dead in my tracks to consider it. Peat, fruity, spicy, creamy, pine tree flavoured, desert like and smoke filled Scotch. Another type I hadn’t considered as part of the world of Scotch before and one I would likely keep a bottle at the back of my cabinet for after large meals at holidays.
Chivas Imperial 18 year blend.
What a great way to end the day. I note that this was a “perfect middle” whiskey, not too busy or thought provoking. It had a note of citrus, barley, some vanilla, a little spice and you could taste the oak. Easy to drink and not busy at all. No one element was trying to jump to the forefront or was waving franticly for my attention from my tastebuds on the aftertaste. Perfect to end on.
All in I would say that I didn’t experience anything that wasn’t now a plan for my personal collection in the making.
Personal favorite? Likely the Bowmore. I would also keep the Tallisker as a close second and maybe even a tie for first as it was just a totally different experience.
A little wobbly and at the end of my time limit I sat with Gerald a short while longer over a cigar each and tried to organise this post in my head a little wondering how I was going to explain the adventure I had just experienced. I don’t remember getting any more work done that day, but I know I have a lot more appreciation for the water of life. Definitely a task worth the effort.
Gerald’s doors are always open when he’s around and is always up to good conversation. He only has a policy that you say “please” if you are looking for any of his Freebies he offers frequently and I highly suggest that if you are ever in the Lower Mainland of Vancouver and are at all interested in motorcycles, cars or man caves you look him up. Information available at his website http://www.hollywoodsgarage.ca.
Writing this has made me thirsty and seeing as how it’s a beautiful sunny work day I think I better go or the temptation will draw me in again.
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