i’ll have the glenmorangie with fries please

5/18/09

The lovely Katie sent me a deeply disturbing article from the Wall Street Journal about… yes, you guessed it, AMERICANS WHO PUT ICE IN THEIR SINGLE-MALT SCOTCH. Parts of this piece actually make it sound reasonable, and even the author breezily admits to liking a “scotch cocktail”. Pardon me while I boot and then rally on top of my high goddamn horse.

It’s fine to put ice – or blasts of water or soda – into a run-o’-the-mill blended scotch like Famous Grouse, Cutty Sark or Johnny Walker (Red or Black, not Blue), because they aren’t meant to be all that great anyway. Water and ice smooths out the rough edges, and makes a vaguely unpleasant drink into something merely boring. Frankly, if you’re going that route, I’d suggest a nice bourbon, but then again, I retain a significant amount of “sorority girl” in my Weltpolitik.

A single malt, however, is an entirely different beast. It hails from one particular distillery with its own idiosyncrasies, usually aged between ten and twenty years, and is presented to you as an expression from that tiny place and time. Something like a Macallan 18 year old can actually contain several much older barrels in the mix (called “vatting”), aged in rare sherry casks. There’s currently a shortage of these kinds of whiskies.

Let’s go even further. I have a bottle of Glenfarclas 41-year-old, distilled in December 1966, one of 326 bottles taken from Cask 4107. This particular cask was selected for an amazing flavor that conjures chocolate, dried apricots, the burnt top of crème brûlée, charred firewood and ancient leather chairs. A dram is only a third of a shot, but it’s an experience that took longer than most of our lifetimes to achieve.

ScotchGlenF41(bl).jpg

Imagine finding a lost Van Gogh or Rembrandt, something indescribably evocative – then having it carefully transported from the old Austrian attic where it was discovered, all the way to your house in America. When the movers get there, you say, “Okay, cool. Now stick it in the pool.” THAT’S what you’re doing when you chuck ice into a single malt.

Hey, I’m all for snazzing up your drinks with as much shit as possible. Gimme a Purple Schoolbus or a Grasshopper or a rum with Five Alive, Mountain Dew, coconut flakes and rainbow jimmies any day of the week, as long as we’re on the Outer Banks and the Heels are playing. But if you’re planning on tossing a couple of fluoride-laced ice cubes into your glass of 1986 Bruichladdich, you should save yourself the trouble and just hit yourself on the head with a hammer while you flush $20 bills down the toilet.

0 thoughts on “i’ll have the glenmorangie with fries please

  1. kent

    I’d go further — any liquor worth drinking at all is worth drinking straight. Maker’s Mark? Templeton Rye? Bushmill’s? They’re all brilliant, one sip at a time.
    Some liquor is meant to be a little raw — if it bothers you, take a smaller sip.
    Single Malts are a whole other realm — once you have a had a few nice bottles, everything else tastes like Kool-aid by comparison. But still, if you can’t appreciate the taste of your booze by itself, why not just buy straight grain alcohol.
    The problem with Americans is that they toss back shots. That only makes sense with Vodka and cleaning products.
    But I guess if your goal is getting drunk, any sense of tasting what you’re drinking doesn’t matter. I love drinking, and I hate getting drunk.

    Reply
  2. Chuck B

    When I was a teenager, my parents had wine every night with dinner. They wanted to let my sister and me drink some as well, but they were worried about the repercussions (legal and otherwise) of doing so. Someone told them that, in France, parents serve watered down wine to their kids to ease them into it, so my parents started serving us glasses mixed about 50/50 wine and water until we were older. It served as a good set of training wheels until I could appreciate drinking wine the right way.
    That’s the same approach I took toward scotch. When I was in my 20s, I wanted to learn how to appreciate scotch, but I found taste a little much for my tender sensibilities. So I drank it with healthy amounts of ice. Over time, I used less and less ice (and drank better and better scotch) so that now I can drink it neat. If I had started out that way, I would probably have been so scarred by the taste I wouldn’t have tried again for decades!
    As a side note, I have to take umbrage with the comment from Kent that “The problem with Americans is that they toss back shots.” That’s a pretty broad brush you are painting with there, and it’s certianly not been my experience as a whole. Yes, of course there are those that fit that stereotype, but I don’t think that statement is either (a) accurate or (b) necessary. Besides, have you ever gone out drinking with Russians? Australians? Icelanders? It ain’t about savoring fine wines, I’ll tell ya that.

    Reply
  3. Jody

    After ‘ruining” many fine bottles of expensive bourbon and scotch given to me by clients and friends, I have finally figured out that I really love ginger ale and the “mixer” doesn’t really matter. A little AAA, Beam or perhaps even Old Crow go a long way toward enhancing a delicious frosty glass of ginger ale.

    Reply
  4. Salem

    Jody- It’s funny you should mention that. After wasting years indulging in the most extraordinary single malt scotch, I finally figured out that I just really love to accessorize with fine crystal. Now, I just walk around with a favorite piece of Baccarat and I don’t fall down as much anymore.
    Ian- The previous statement may contain elements of truth, however, I just uncorked the (empty)Gordon & MacPhail 1967 Tomintoul we shared last year. That one glorious drop rolling around the bottle, is not letting go of its legacy. Notes of rich scorched caramel and light honey tea fill the bottle. Oh, my. Really, truly, wow.

    Reply
  5. eric g.

    A buddy of mine once passed out at a party he was hosting. When he woke up, he saw some of his party guests mixing his Macallan 30 with Coke. A true nightmare.

    Reply
  6. Piglet

    People put ice in their drinks because they like them cold, or maybe to make a normal sized glass seem full without having to use an inordinate amount of booze or walk around with a teeny tiny girly-man glass.
    It is possible to get or make some little hollow plastic squares 3/4 full of water, to be kept in the freezer and put in your drinks to make them cold without diluting the drinks. And they’re reusable for decades. Problem solved.

    Reply
  7. jersey

    as an avid fan of macallan (12), oban (14), glenlivet (18), “the blue”, and others, let’s just say we agree to disagree.
    i mean, i like it neat from time to time, but i’m also a fan of three or four cubes in my scotch when the mood strikes me.
    is it 5pm yet?

    Reply
  8. Chip H

    Only with you halfway on this, my virtual friend and talented diarist. No ice, I agree. Ice flattens it and makes it nasty real quick. But there is nothing wrong with a tsp (or even more) of room temperature spring water. Swirl it neat first, then drop in the water. You get more to sniff when the water hits. If you’re really in an experimentin’ mode you can even try to figure out the right amount of water for each of your favorite singles.

    Reply
  9. Ehren

    I agree, Ian. It’s all about finding out what you want, then finding the thing that’s made for that purpose (or conversely, using a thing for the purpose it is best suited.) You don’t spend $50,000 on a sportscar, then put a luggage rack on top of it, a trailer hitch on the back, and then throw the whole family in for a camping vacation. Sure, you own it and you can do what you want. And you may derive some pleasure from knowing you’re in a sports car while on a family vacation. But now your sports car is no longer a good value for your $50,000, because it’s not doing what you bought it for. It’s actually operating like a candy-apple red, poorly-designed minivan. Same with a good steak. If you spend a chunk of change on a really great cut of premium meat, then you pour ketchup on it, you might as well save your cash and buy a cheaper steak. It’s all about form and function, and about maximizing your investment.
    If you actually don’t like the taste of fancy scotch without watering it down so that it’s flavor is washed away, then just buy something cheaper with less flavor to start with, and water that down. You’ll get the same result without wasting cash or ruining something that someone else might really value.

    Reply
  10. Ian

    A dash of tepid water – especially to cask-strength single malts – in indeed not only enjoyable, but sometimes necessary. It’s the ice I object to.

    Reply
  11. littlerattyratratrat

    A small piece of rapidly melting ice has roughly the same effect as your dash of tepid water. A slight dilution “wakes up” the flavor of the scotch, and is endorsed by all the distillers I’ve ever heard comment on the subject. “Real men drink their single-malt straight up!” is machismo bullshit.
    This shouldn’t be equated with “single malt on the rocks”, which we can all agree is an abomination. But frankly, if all I could get was Glenlivit or Glenfiddich, I’d stick with a nice Dewar’s over ice, thanks.
    So, what’s your best single-malt experience? I remember my dad and I making the acquaintance of a bottle of 25-year-old Macallan in a bar in Edinburgh. That was something. The best, though, had to be a hand-initialed bottle of glorious madness at the Tisch of a Williamsburg rabbi one shabbas about ten years ago. Probably a Glenrothes, based on the shape of the bottle, but I’ve never been sure. Man, those rebbes don’t drink the cheap stuff.

    Reply
  12. Lindsay

    Every distillery or whisky-worshiping pub I went to recommends a little water in every single malt. More than a dash, but still not much. Not sometimes, but all the time.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *