Scot’s Scotch Whisky
“Since I’m buying,” General Boone said, “give them whatever they want, Sergeant, so long as it’s cheap. I’ll have a Scotch, no ice, and a glass of soda on the side.” [Griffin, W.E.B. The Generals (Brotherhood of War Book 6) (p. 131). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]
Most of W.E.B. Griffin’s male characters drink Scotch, and mostly they drink Famous Grouse Scotch, the largest selling whisky in Scotland. [No, I have not misspelled the synonym for grain liquor. The word is spelled whisky in Scotland and Canada and whiskey in the U.S. and Ireland.]
I have read every book in Griffin’s military series—nine in the Army series and ten in the Marine Corps series. (You can find them all here: https://www.bookseriesinorder.com/w-e-b-griffin/), and I was well acquainted with Scotch drinkers and Famous Grouse as his drink of choice for his best protagonists after a hard day on the battlefield or the battleship. So, after a tough day of retirement a few years ago—I think I had just had my car washed—I was driving by the ABC on the way home and decided to stop in to see if they had a miniature, or at least an affordable, bottle of Famous Grouse.
They did, and thus began my introduction to the world of Scotch whisky. Unfortunately, I was to have neither a favorable nor a flavorful first impression of Scotland’s drink of choice. If you take the worst skunky beer you have ever tasted and multiply by ten, that was what that Famous Grouse was like. I convinced my wife, Sandy, to try it with me since she had also read all the Griffin books. She didn’t get beyond the sniffing stage. It was just awful. It was beyond me that the educated spirits drinkers of the world could drink such sewage.
We poured what remained of that small bottle down the drain. The only positive thing that I could say for Famous Grouse was that it was relatively inexpensive as Scotch whiskies go. Two years passed, and a few bourbons and gin remained the only spirits in our very modest supply.
I really cannot tell you why Sandy and I decided to give Scotch whisky another try. Perhaps it was the documentary we watched about how Scotch was made or my affinity for the lovely lilt of Scot’s brogue. Regardless, I began doing a bit of research on Scotch and especially Scotch for beginners. I quickly dismissed the YouTube videos by amateurish experts who were clearly several shots and two sheets to the wind when they made their recommendations. I focused instead on videos from the Scotch distillers themselves. Then, I went back and watched that documentary again. I talked to a Yankee friend from New York who I figured to be a Scotch drinker, and I was right. He recommended a brand called Glenmorangie.
Armed with my research and my friend’s recommendation, I returned to the liquor store and asked about what Scotch miniatures they had in stock. They only had a Macallan miniature, and the damn thing was $9. I bought it anyway and brought it home for Sandy and me to sip as our second foray into the world of Scotch whisky.
Amazingly, the Macallan did not taste like Famous Grouse’s effluent. Instead, it smelled of fruits and was sweet on the tongue with just a little bite, much less harsh than some kerosene-bourbons I had tried.
Taste-test complete, Sandy and I made another trip to the ABC store (what a capitalist failure ABC stores are!), and we decided to purchase two small bottles of Scotch—a 10-year-old Glenmorangie and a 12-year-old Macallan. Both were produced in Scotland’s Speyside area where milder and sweeter single malts are distilled. As well, they were unpeated or produced without the barley being dried with a peat fire.
Our impressions of the Glenmorangie 10 were very positive, just as Ernie had promised. A bit sweeter than the Macallan and smooth like a nice wine. The Macallan 12 is a hint dryer with less taste of fruit than the Glenmorangie. We liked what we were drinking. We like having a drink together each afternoon around 4:30, and Scotch, unlike beer or wine, is carb-free. Thus, began our journey toward Scotland.
However, our small collection of single malt Scotches has grown to include a two more Glenmorangie varieties—a Glenmorangie 14 and 18 (Christmas gifts— too expensive to drink otherwise). We still enjoy our Macallan 12 and have added a Glenlivet 12 and consider them our favorites with our Glenmorangie 10. We also have done a bit of exploring with an Auchentoshan Three Wood 12, a Glenlivet finished in rum casks, and an Aberfeldy 12. Our most interesting diversion from Glenmorangie was a Kirkland 22 Speyside that we purchased from Costco in Atlanta at a most reasonable price. A Macallan 18 easily goes for $250—definitely out of our range. However, the Kirkland 22 is around $80. Still expensive compared to a six-pack of Yuengling, but worth the totally different experience of drinking a spirit that had been age at least 22 years. Sandy and I both found the Kirkland 22 nice on the tastebuds with the greater complexity that one would expect from a liquor that spent 10 more years than what we were getting used to.
The world of Scotch whisky is a big one indeed with hundreds of varieties—many within a single brand. A few things are true of all Scotch whiskies. First, a good Scotch is more expensive than a good bourbon. All Scotch is distilled from malted barley and aged at least three years. Much Scotch is aged in used oak bourbon barrels from the U.S. but can also be aged in European oak barrels. Should you purchase a 10-year Scotch, you are getting a spirit that is at least 10 years old but can be older. Single malt means it comes from a single distillery and only contains barley as its grain. In contrast, blended Scotch, such as Johnnie Walker, combines malt whisky, either from a single distillery or many, with whisky made from another grain.
I can’t yet tell you that I can detect by smell or taste chocolate, pineapple, pears, or peaches, but I can tell the difference in fruitiness in each of our different kinds of Scotch. Some are sweeter than others on the tongue, and some linger a bit longer because of higher alcohol content. Also, as with bourbon, more expensive doesn’t necessarily mean better.
I have made sure that I finished this excursion into the world of Scotch whisky just in time for my afternoon tipple. Now I must decide which variety I will have with a cube of ice (always and only one and made from filtered water) and a splash of sparkling water (never from the tap).
We haven’t planned our trip to Scotland yet. That trip will likely have to wait on a trip to Hawaii to celebrate surviving the pandemic. I am betting we can find a nice Glenmorangie in paradise.