Sunday, November 1, 2009
How to Drink Scotch
Throw Back Some Scotch with the Game on the TV?
I think not. There are a lot of beverages that can be casually consumed. Beer is a great example. Mow the lawn on a hot sunny day and there is nothing better than having a beer in a chilled glass afterwards as you survey your well manicured lawn. Watching football? Beer works great again. Especially when you consider marrying it with the salty potatoe chips and cheddar drizzled nachos. Barbecue? Beer is great to start with and then move into a nicely decanted Cabernet Sauvignon when you take charge of that t-bone with mushrooms and risotto, as you chat it up with the neighbors.
Scotch and other whiskies (ie. Irish, Canadian, bourbon, etc.) do not lend themselves to the above occasions. Why? No elitism here friend. There is nothing wrong with watching football or organizing a barbecue in your backyard. The problem rests with scotch itself. The stuff is very powerfull and if you sip too much (which is not very much in terms of volume) you'll be more than intoxicated. You'll probably embarrass yourself (which may not be a big deal to you), but more importantly you will embarrass your wife, and then you know it's a big deal. So, the solution? Stick to beer and wine for the casual get-togethers and reserve the scotch for yourself and a few choice friends.
Besides the lightning quick intoxication, the other reason it is not ideal to casually toss back this wonderful spirit is that you miss the great experience of pondering the complex flavor profile. So, what follows are some suggestions as to how to drink scotch and appreciate it in its splendor:
1. Find a Quiet Place. The den, the basement, beside the fireplace, your cottage overlooking the lake, you get the picture.
2. Get Comfortable. Kickin' back on my favorite, beat-up, ol' lazy-boy in the basement, the kids are in bed, the wife is reading in the bedroom or asleep, means this is my quiet time to unwind. Ya gotta be comfortable. If that means your adirondach chair facing the lake or the ocean with the dying embers of the campfire glowing near you, well then do it. Dad's Hideaway. That's what I call my basement den. Find your's.
3. The Tumbler. Lately, if you read an article on scotch, there will invariably be a reference to the Glencairn glass. The glass was designed and manufactured by the Glencairn Crystal company of Scotland and introduced into the marketplace in 2001. It is a rounded crystal glass at the bottom but, tapers inward toward the top of the glass in an attempt to trap some of the aromas of whisky. It somewhat enhances the drinking experience in the sense that the tapered body traps the aromas more effectively than a regular tumbler. It will not improve the whisky upon the palate. I think a brandy snifter is actually more effective for drinking scotch. If you just have a crystal tumbler, that will work too. Just stick your nose deeply into the tumbler and sniff.
Bottom line friends is get a clean crystal tumbler, brandy snifter or Glencairn glass and get ready.
4. A Tall Glass of Water and a Spoon. You need the glass of water to drink in between sips of scotch. This assumes you are drinking the scotch straight. If you like it with ice, you should still drink the water to hydrate yourself and clean the palate in between drams.
The spoon is for experimentation. When trying a new scotch, whisky or bourbon, try it straight for starters, then with a teaspoon of water to each shot and finally ice. You will quickly learn your preference. If you always drink with ice, have one or two with ice, and then change to two teaspoons of water to each shot. You might surprise yourself. I used to always add ice, but over time on the second or third drink I would be too lazy to get out of my chair and get ice out of the fridge. So, I ended up pouring a shot straight and taking just tiny sips. Key word here is "tiny." I was surprised that I enjoyed it greatly. Eventually, I abandoned adding ice altogether. That was a shocker as I drank whisky with ice for many years.
Just a note on the water. Use distilled water or Brita filtered water. It makes a difference.
5. The Pour. When opening a new bottle, you can't just pop the cork, pour it and immediately sample. Well, technically you could, but I am going to give you a compelling reason not to. It has been my limited experience that upon opening a new bottle it is not uncommon to get a sharp flavors and even alcohol tastes upon the palate. Solution? Pour your dram and let it sit for a few minutes (ie. 5 - 10). You do not need to do this everytime you want a drink, just when it is a new bottle and you are opening it for the first time. Once the air reacts with the whisky in the tumbler, it will soften and generally improve. Some scotches don't need this procedure, but many do.
6. Take a Sip . . . Not a Big Gulp! A lot of people don't like scotch, whisky or bourbon. Why? Well, they made two fatal mistakes when drinking it. First, they probably took to big a mouthful, downed it, and promptly gagged or had a facial expression that no mother could love. So, the first rule of drinking whisky is to take a little sip, and I mean little, think tiny, think half a teaspoon to start. If you take a whisky, scotch or bourbon in such a small quantity your drinking experience will be quite different. You will not gag, grimace or have the urge to woof. Instead, you will note the flavors and upon tasting you will be ready to make a decision in relation to the second most common mistake of people new to the whisky world. The second rule to remember is that upon obeying the first, you need to determine whether or not you would prefer your whisky with a little water or ice. Of course this is only a decision that you can make. When I intitally started drinking scotch, I added two ice cubes and poured a dram to just cover the top of the ice cubes. With the passage of time there were occasions when I was too lazy to go to the fridge upstairs and get more ice. Accordingly, I found myself sipping some scotch neat, and I was surprised to discover that it could be quite enjoyable. Today, I have lost the desire for ice in my scotch, but do like to add a teaspoon or two depending on what I am drinking. You have to do the same experimenting to determine what you like best. When arrogant, self-proclaimed scotch experts declare that scotch must be consumed neat, you have to dismiss such pronouncements. It's all up to the individual
7. Have an Open Mind. When evaluating a scotch, don't get hung up on whether or not it is a blend or a single malt. Just enjoy it!
© Jason Debly, 2009 - 2011. All rights reserved.