mòine mhòr

10/29/06

I’m a firm believer in diving straight into peculiar, specific hobbies and skill sets: one thing about practicing violin for twenty years is that it gives clarity to your obsessions. I’ve had many in my lifetime, and in fact, am still perfecting a few as we speak. Just this week, I worked for a few hours on my 3-point shot, my putting wedge game, odd syncopations on the drum kit, practiced about 35 songs on the bass (and still wrote a treatment for a new movie – thank you, Mother’s Little Helper pills!)

Add to this, my curious love for valuable liquids. I’ve always been slightly turned on by the idea of a thimbleful of perfume costing upwards of a thousand dollars. During the dot-com days, the management chicks always had Crème de la Mer, a substance that costs thousands of dollars a tube. I’d read about immaculately virgin olive oils in Italy that fetch thousands per ounce. But there is one precious liquid that I actually enjoy: single-malt Scotch.

1926Macallan.jpg

While we were in Scotland, Tessa and Lucy put up with my desire to see every distillery we came across, and I hunted through Edinburgh, Inverness and London for the most hallowed spirit stores in town. Invariably, there would be some bottle of whiskey that was so dear as to be beatified: a Macallan 1928, a 40-year-old Ardbeg, a Bunnahabhain 1963. Inside would be this liquid, made by men in a completely different age, almost able to bestow magical properties on those who’d dare drink it.

After decades of girl drinks, I finally grew into whiskey about six years ago. Probably the only honest road to a tiny dram of scotch are the untold cubic kiloliters of wine coolers, woo-woos, Sex on the Beaches, cement mixers, purple schoolbuses, White Russians and finally, Jim Beam and Cokes that I had to ingest in order to be ready. I would certainly not start anyone out on a neat single-malt. I would begin with Midori and Kahlua, and discuss whiskey at a future date.

My first Scotch love was a Lagavulin 16-year-old I tasted in San Francisco the day before I moved to New York City in 2000. Having randomly sampled an 18-year-old Macallan, I switched immediately – the peat, the smoke, the layers of flavor were so wonderful. It became my regular scotch, which wasn’t easy, because that shit’s expensive.

Over the last two years, I searched around for different single-malts that might take that complex flavor even further. By the time I got to Scotland a few weeks ago, I was even beginning to understand the difference between a Speyside malt (in the middle of Scotland) and the Islay malts (from an island to the west).

Truly, delving into this subject is like falling in love with Dungeons & Dragons, and then seeing the four thousand different permutations of the game. My “a-ha” moment came at our hotel near Tessa’s grade school, where a knowledgeable bartender listened to my description of the perfect scotch, and then poured me a Bruichladdich 1973.

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Bruichladdich (pronounced “brook-laddie”) is a gorgeous distillery on a far western bank of Islay, and I swear, you can taste sunsets, seagulls screaming, water bubbling over ancient rocks, the peat deep in the soil… about fifty different thoughts, smells and tastes run through your head when you have just the tiniest tongueful. It was at that moment I truly understood why certain people spend their lives in search of their own personal single-malt grail.

I got about eight different rare Scotches while overseas and mailed them all back (miraculously, they all arrived). I found the Bruichladdich 1973 in the back display case of an ancient whiskey shop in London, and wrapped it in my luggage.

And still, I’m no drinker. I have a half-dram of Scotch maybe once or twice a week. I like the act of it enough to keep it special, and mostly, I just like looking at the bottles and appreciating the vast amount of time that goes into whiskey itself. There’s no faking forty years. It can’t be approximated. Soon enough I’ll know what that feels like.

It’s a joy to find the world interesting, but sometimes you wish you had more people to share it with, lest you find yourself out of the conversation. And so I ask – do any of you drink Scotch, and which kind? And if not, what was your last exciting collection, singular hobby, or obsession?

0 thoughts on “mòine mhòr

  1. Isis

    I cannot settle into one kind. I think the magic is discovering it in situ (although I have tried some fine single malts for the first time on this side of the Atlantic). If I had to name a persistent favorite it would be Scapa, from (and which I first had in) Orkney–named after the Scapa Flow, where a bit of the German fleet was scuttled in WWI. The whiskey has all the beauty and clarity of a walk along the sea.

    Reply
  2. aa

    If you check your bottles, you’ll see that when you’re talking about single malt Scotch, it’s
    “whisky” not “whiskey” (no E). The Irish use the “e” but not the Scots.
    I like Talisker, Springbank, and Laphroig.

    Reply
  3. Chris M

    I’m currently partial The Balvenie, the 15 year old and 21 year old are wonderful. It is a smooth, rich whisky that spreads layers of pleasure on the tongue.
    I haven’t been to Scotland since I was a boy and we stayed with my Aunt Ruth in Glasgow. I would love to go back to tour distilleries and possibly find some relatives.

    Reply
  4. Claudia

    I’ve never been a drinker, but I’m definitely an eater, and therefore I fully appreciate your descriptions of flavor complexity. I love working out the details of a dish just by taking bites. “Is that….nutmeg? Perhaps a trace of smoky jalapeno?”

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  5. Just Andrew

    I approve of your tastes there Ian. Anything with ‘Glen’ in the name doesn’t suit me much – I love the smoke, pepper and peat flavors of the Island Scotches.
    That said, I rarely drink scotch any longer since I discovered the single barrel bourbons a few years back. All those college years drinking Wild Turkey and Makers Mark set the table for my enjoyment of Basil Hayden’s, Booker’s and Baker’s.

    Reply
  6. kent

    At my old job the CFO used to share out single-malts in his office if you were still at work after 5 on Friday. I kind of get what you’re saying here, but the most prized single malts have a creosote nose to them that I don’t associate with tippling pleasure. I’d rather have a regular everyday blended scotch, like Johnny Walker Red or Chivas.
    I prefer Irish Whisky. Maybe it’s a “kid’s drink” next to single malts, but there it is.

    Reply
  7. the Other Lee

    Unfortunately I’m not ready for scotch yet, I’ve tried a couple of times over the last 5 years to buy a bottle and drink on it until I could enjoy it but it doesn’t work. Maybe when I grow up.

    Reply
  8. Joanna

    My husband’s at work. My son’s at preschool and my daughter’s asleep. And now I’m alone with the Halloween candy, my most recent obsession.

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  9. Claverack Weekender

    Seems to be an evolving taste, but here’s my current “must have in the cabinet” list:
    1. Macallan, even the young stuff
    2. Laphroaig
    3. Glenmorangie sherry finish
    4. Balvenie
    5. Oban

    Reply
  10. Neva

    Oh yes, Joanna, I’m with you on the candy, but this year I made my husband buy it and keep it in his car because otherwise it doesn’t make it to Halloween. I’d take a good Kit Kat over a scotch anyday.
    My latest time-sucking obsession is Sudoko. I have yet to finish the hardest one of the week but I’m determined. In addition to keep my mind limber it works better than ambien to get me to sleep at night!

    Reply
  11. Anonymous Canuck

    So I asked myself, “Self, what’s a dram?”. Turns out, not very much: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dram_%28unit%29 – it’s 1/8th of an ounce.
    There’s a wonderful whisky shop in Terminal 3 at Heathrow, where I used to have to wait for transfers to Air Canada flights back when I worked for the Irish. They usually have a dozen or so bottles open for tasting, and not just the cheap stuff.
    My shelf currently has a Poit Dhubh, yummy and quite complex, and an Auchentoshan 21yr (picked up at Heathrow) – my snobby friends said “why did you buy a lowland?” and then they tasted it and then they asked for more :-)
    I’d also strongly recommend crossing the Irish Sea and picking up Red Breast or Green Spot.

    Reply
  12. kevin from NC

    I once did scotch.. i now drink bourbons exclusively ( during the months with an ‘R’)
    I have no knowledge with which to comment on topic. If any of you ever want to talk about Kentucky Spririt, I have my bottle open and a glass handy to share.

    Reply
  13. Rebecca

    I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a scotch and whiskey virgin. 36 years old and still drinking girly drinks!
    Neva, I’m with you on the Kit Kat’s… I think I ate 3 yesterday. AHHHH!! I just got under 130 pounds for the first time in 5 years and now it’s freaking Halloween and I have 3 kids. Shit. I’ll be 140 again by Christmas unless I get a hold of myself.

    Reply
  14. cd

    ian, you don’t know me, but i wanted to tell you that thanks to the pictures on your blog, i recognized lucy’s BFF, hank, at the grand army plaza farmer’s market this weekend (i’m a park slope girl AND a former DTHer, for the record). he looked to be quite content in a stroller being pushed by his mom, looking at pumpkins. such a cutie!
    re lovely tastes: at the risk of sounding too clicheed, the first mouthful of a really red wine — the quick warmth of alcohol, the tingling on the tongue and oh my, the skins of flavor peeling themselves back one by one — is heavenly. maybe i’ll make it to scotch one day.

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  15. emma

    I, too, am still on the girly drink cycle. I typically avoid licquor (so much, I can’t even figure out how to spell it). I just took a sniff of the one bottle of scotch in our house and the smell does not appeal to me. One day, like the Other Lee, maybe I’ll grow up.
    Interesting point about the spelling of whisky. The american way seems to include the “e”, as the Jack Daniels label spells it “whiskey”, but the bottle of Scotch does read “whisky.”
    I haven’t gotten bit by the Soduko bug, but still love a good crossword puzzle when I find the time. Those DTH crossword puzzles were great for getting through classes.

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  16. Suzie

    Ha ha ha ha, I am such NOT the drinker! My favorite alcoholic bevvy is Bailey’s Irish Cream, talk about girlie!
    But the latest collection that I am currently obsessed with is the Boynton board books for my 4 month old baby boy. They have rhyme and rhythm, color and cute illustrations. I can’t get enough of them. I am so G rated.

    Reply
  17. xuxE

    i’m not much into scotch, i’m more of a vodka girl. so for me it is probably shoes. i just recently bought some fabulous pucci adidas.

    Reply
  18. Ian

    aa – good catch on “whisky” vs. “whiskey.” I thought it looked odd.
    Anonymous Canuck – Yes! That whiskey shop at Heathrow is amazing. That was were I found a bottle of Brora 30-year-old (duty free), a scotch that has been rated one of the best ever, and the distillery has been closed since 1983. I was so psyched – that stuff is IMPOSSIBLE to find.
    cd – you saw Hank at the Farmer’s Market? He’s the best. Lucy views the internet as nothing more than a Hank Picture Delivery Mechanism. What did you do at the DTH?

    Reply
  19. ken

    Before I knew the difference, I always drank Johnnie Walker Black, I figured if it was good enough for Greg Dulli…Then a friend turned me onto single malt Islay scotch. My first foray was Laphroaig, which I love but is expensive if you drink a fair amount, ditto Ardbeg which I also like a lot but can be cost prohibitive. So when I dip a bit in quality for a better price, I go for Bowmore which at half the price of Ardbeg or Laphroaig is a bargain and still is a great Islay single malt.

    Reply
  20. cd

    ian: i mean, really — what didn’t i do there. statnat assistant editor, editorial writer, managing editor, and in my finest moment, hurricane warrior. the DTH opened the door to many things for me: a rock-bottom GPA, 10 extra pounds, and a plethora of campus parking tickets. and of course, kick-ass journalism training and some of the best friends i’ve ever made. and i’ll never forget stacy wynn.
    park slope teems with awesome kids, but hank looks like a force to be reckoned with. as does his mom.

    Reply
  21. eric g.

    Since I got into scotch about five years ago, I’ve been partial to Macallan. I prefer the 18, but it has skyrocketed in price recently, so I’m usually content with the 12. Recently I’ve discovered Glenrothes, which is a nice smooth scotch. I’m also a fan of what Balvenie is doing these days. I can’t handle the peaty scotches (gives me heartburn), so Laphroaig and Lagavulin are out. My friend Will has seventy single malts on beautiful glass shelves in his basemant, so I’ve been able to sample a lot of scotch over the years. Glenlivet 1969 and the Macallan 30 have been highlights.

    Reply
  22. tregen

    Macallan 12…dollar for dollar the best, although the 24…. My God the 24. I would love to make a “scotch tasting” tasting trip someday but until then I suggest dropping into Awful Al’s bar in Syracuse NY someday and ask for Dave and enjoy the drinks. If anyone makes it, tell them Trajan sent you.

    Reply

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