The September 2011 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine is out, and it includes (among other things) my review column on Blended Scotch Whiskey. You can pick up a copy at the newsstand, or view it in digital format on Zinio. Here’s what I learned:
1. We hear constantly about single malt Scotches, but not much about blends. Some of them are pretty darn good. (of course, some not so much.)
2. What is blended Scotch? The Scotch Whisky Association provides downright draconian guidelines. For starters, It comes from Scotland. Yes, this seems obvious, but I think it bears noting that the “blend” doesn’t mean whiskey from other countries can be blended in there. It’s all Scotch whisky (the Scots drop the ‘e’), and it must be distilled and aged in Scotland. However — it may be bottled in other countries.
3. (aka “2a”) There’s at least one Single Malt Scotch in blended Scotches. The pesky SWA has more to mandate here: Blended Scotch mixes together one or more Single Malt Scotches, often with one or more Single Grain Scotches. For this tasting, blends ranged up to 40 different whiskies in a single bottle (that was Johnny Walker Black Label). A blend that contains only Single Malts is called a Blended Malt Scotch Whisky.
4. (aka “2b”) Wait, so now I have to figure out the difference between Single Malt and Single Grain Scotches? Damn you, SWA. Fine:
–Malt whiskey is made from malted barley (grain that’s been germinated or sprouted), and is distilled in old-fashioned pot stills, considered an essential part of the whisky’s flavor and character.
–By comparison, grain whisky, which mixes together malted barley with unmalted grains (primarily corn), is distilled in a continuous still – a more efficient technology than old-school pot stills, but many experts say the resulting liquor is correspondingly less flavorful.
(*Screeching to a halt*) You know what? I’m changing my “what I learned” points here:
3. (Revised) The Scotch Whisky Association is a pain in the butt.
4. (Revised) It’s a good thing that I have a copy of Gaz Regan’s “Bartender’s Bible” to help clarify the finer points of Scotch nuisance appreciation.
5. Where was I before that peevish digression? Right. Bartenders are understandably reluctant to mix rare Single Malts into cocktails. But they are less skittish about mixing more readily available –and often more affordable– blended Scotches into classic drinks like the Blood and Sand or the Bobby Burns.
…Or to create original new cocktails. In fact, at the Manhattan Cocktail Classic in May, bartender Jason Asher created the Northshore Cocktail for my “Whiskey is the New Black” seminar, made with Peat Monster from Compass Box. It turned out to be a lovely, smoky riff on the tiki genre. Here’s the recipe. Enjoy, and be sure to to curse, I mean toast, the SWA when you drink.
By Jason Asher
1/2 ounce Hum liqueur
3/4 ounce Monin almond or orgeat syrup
1/2 ounce lime juice
3/4 ounce Peat Monster whiskey
Serve on rocks, garnish w/ lemon peel