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.
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.
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?