When it comes to Single Malt Scotch Whisky, there is a serious misconception that somehow you need to know something special to drink and enjoy it. Since some Single Malt Scotch Whiskies can be expensive, there can be an air of elitism around them. Scotch enthusiasts will often rattle off tongue-twisting names followed by the largest year they can come up with, proclaiming that it is the be-all and end-all of Scotch. Unfortunately this is utter and complete nonsense. The truth is, like every other spirit category, Single Malt Scotch can be experienced in the glass without a deep understanding of its origin or history. Great Scotch Whisky doesn’t have to cost a fortune or even be a single malt. If you pour us a nice dram of Chivas Regal 18 blended Scotch Whisky or even Johnny Walker Blue Label, we’ll sip them with glee. Both are excellent spirits and both are great choices for your glass.
The wonderful thing is that you don’t have to chose. It’s not rude to roll your eyes the next time someone declares they are an”Islay” guy or that they only drink Scotch Whisky from “The Highlands”. While we love some of the Single Malt Scotch Whiskey from the Islay region (including Ardbeg, Coal Ila and Laphroaig), if we only stuck to that region we’d be missing the mind blowingly good Highland Park 18, which is from the most northern point of Scotland, and the gem that is Ledaig 10 which comes from the Isle of Mull. By sticking to peat monsters we’d miss out on the lovely rich fruit tones of the sherry barrel aged that is Macallan or the beautiful balance of the Speyside Glenfarclas. There’s such a wide palate of choices in whisky from Scotland that it’s almost criminal to pick one at the exclusion of the others.
Recently, Master of Scotch Whisky Martin Daraz lead a room full of bartenders, mixologists, journalists and spirit reps through a blind tasting of six Scotch Whiskies (including Glenfarclas 12 Year, Coal Ila 12, Jonnie Walker Red, Talisker, Auchentoshan and The Glenlivit 12). Throughout the tasting we were all asked to guess which spirit we were tasting and which region we thought it was from. In a room of over thirty people, not a single person (including the Drink Spirits Staff) was able to correctly name each whisky. This isn’t a failing of the people in that room, but a fantastic reminder that even those of us who are paid to know, study years on end, and have finely tuned palates can’t with any certainty identify these whiskies by brand. All we can do is identify how it tastes, if it’s a good whisky or not, and if we like it. This is the very same thing you can do, even if you are not a Scotch drinker can do. When it comes to spirits all anyone really needs to know is contained in the glass.
After being completely humbled by the tasting with Martin Daraz, we interviewed him about Scotch Whisky and got his thoughts on how people can start their Scotch journey.
If you’ve been intimidated by the category of Scotch Whisky or have picked one brand as ‘your whisky,’ we challenge you to start your adventure. The best way to do this is to taste, taste, and taste some more. The next time you are at a bar with several brands of Scotch Whisky, ask if they can pour you a flight of Single Malt Scotch Whiskies from the different areas of Scotland. Focus less on the brand name or where it comes from and more on the flavors in the glass. This journey is about finding the Scotch that you enjoy the most.
A little trick we learned from Ryan Magarian (beverage consultant and distiller of Aviation Gin) is to go into a bar and ask them to split a single shot of whisky between three different brands. If you offer to pay the full shot price for the most expensive brand, most bars will be happy to spilt that order up, and it gives you a very easy and relatively low cost way of exploring whisky.
Enjoy your journey.