Friday, February 5, 2010

Single Malt Scotch? It's About Time!

Anyone following me on Twitter knows I have at least two passions that get a daily writeup: gardening and single malt Scotch.

We're not talking about Scotch blends here, such as Johnnie Walker or Dewars.

We're talking about the stuff that turns heads at a table when the server appears with a glass of an aromatic single malt Scotch (neat, with water on the side) that originated in the Islay region of Scotland, an area noted for its peaty, smoky single malts such as Laphroaig, Laguvalin, Caol Ila, Talisker and Ardbeg.

But men (and an increasing number of women) do not live alone with these heavy hitters. The lighter, more delicate single malts have a charm all their own, including my favorites: Macallan 10 Fine Oak, Mortlach, Bowmore.

A single malt Scotch can be defined as: a whisky produced entirely in Scotland from a single malted grain (barley) at a single distillery. A blended whisky contains the products of several distilleries as well as several different grain malts.

Over 500 aromas and tastes have been associated with the 80 or so single malt varieties available today. It's the aroma that intrigues me, and has intrigued me since an article on the subject of whisky tasting appeared in the local newspaper three or four years ago. Up to then, I had never purchased, or sampled a single malt Scotch.

 And now, the single malt Scotch collection fills three cabinets.

The majority of the rants on this blog deal with gardening. So, it's about time for this, a single malt Scotch rant:
I wish restaurants and bars had a wider selection of single malt Scotch selections! Here in California, it seems a request for a single malt brings up the usual suspects: Glenlivet, Glenfiddich, Bowmore and, if you're lucky, Macallan. There's nothing wrong with these brands, but the choices usually do not stray away from the samples of what's available at most supermarkets: Glenlivet 12, Glenfiddich 10, Bowmore Legend and Macallan 12.

It would be nice if bars and restaurants had a wider range of single malts based on their aromas and tastes, not necessarily more varieties. If the typical bar carries four single malt Scotch varieties (which seems to be the rule here), they should span the range of aromas and tastes: perhaps a Macallan 10 Fine Oak,  a Bunnahabhain, a Glenfiddich 18 and a Laguvalin 16. With those four, a person could experience a wide array of aromas (from toffee to peaty) and tastes (medium-bodied fruit to full-blown medicinal smoke).

A classification of single malt whiskies has been developed which attempts to help delineate all these sensory perceptions. So, if this article piques your interest, expand your single malt Scotch horizons in a logical fashion (as opposed to my original buying habit: "Oh, that's a pretty bottle!").

A well-stocked single malt whisky collection should have one from each cluster...when the economy rebounds. I've underlined my favorites in each. The others aren't necessarily below average...more than likely, I haven't had the funds to purchase them!

The Classifications:
Cluster A ( Full-Bodied, Medium-Sweet, Pronounced Sherry with Fruity, Spicy, Malty Notes and Nutty, Smoky Hints): Balmenach, Dailuaine, Dalmore, Glendronach, Macallan, Mortlach, Royal Lochnagar.

Cluster B (Medium-Bodied, Medium-Sweet, with Nutty, Malty, Floral, Honey and Fruity Notes): Aberfeldy, Aberlour, Ben Nevis, Benrinnes, Benromach, Blair Athol, Cragganmore, Edradour, Glenfarclas, Glenturret, Knockando, Longmorn, Scapa, Strathisla.

Cluster C (Medium-Bodied, Medium-Sweet, with Fruity, Floral, Honey, Malty Notes and Spicy Hints): Balvenie, Benriach, Dalwhinnie, Glendullan, Glen Elgin, Glenlivet, Glen Ord, Linkwood, Royal Brackla.

Cluster D (Light, Medium-Sweet, Low or No Peat, with Fruity, Floral, Malty Notes and Nutty Hints ): An Cnoc, Auchentoshan, Aultmore, Cardhu, Glengoyne, Glen Grant, Mannochmore, Speyside, Tamdhu, Tobermory.

Cluster E (Light, Medium-Sweet, Low Peat, with Floral, Malty Notes and Fruity, Spicy, Honey Hints ): Bladnoch, Bunnahabhain, Glenallachie, Glenkinchie, Glenlossie, Glen Moray, Inchgower, Inchmurrin, Tomintoul.

Cluster F (Medium-Bodied, Medium-Sweet, Low Peat, Malty Notes and Sherry, Honey, Spicy Hints ): Ardmore, Auchroisk, Bushmills (technically, an Irish single malt), Deanston, Glen Deveron, Glen Keith, Glenrothes, Old Fettercairn, Tomatin, Tormore, Tullibardine.

Cluster G (Medium-Bodied, Sweet, Low Peat and Floral Notes ): Arran, Dufftown, Glenfiddich, Glen Spey, Miltonduff, Speyburn.

Cluster H (Medium-Bodied, Medium-Sweet, with Smoky, Fruity, Spicy Notes and Floral, Nutty Hints ): Balblair, Craigellachie, Glen Garioch, Glenmorangie, Oban, Old Pulteney, Strathmill, Tamnavulin, Teaninch.

Cluster I (Medium-Light, Dry, with Smoky, Spicy, Honey Notes and Nutty, Floral Hints): Bowmore, Clynelish, Bruichladdich, Glen Scotia, Highland Park, Isle of Jura, Springbank;

Cluster J (Full-Bodied, Dry, Pungent, Peaty and Medicinal, with Spicy, Feinty Notes): Ardbeg, Caol Ila, Lagavulin, Laphroaig, Talisker.

  Two excellent varieties not mentioned in the list that deserves recognition, available at Trader Joe's (here in the West)...for around $20! Finlaggan (It would probably go into Cluster J) and Lismore (a cluster B).

Two of my other favorites are also reasonably priced (for single malts!): Macallan 10 Fine Oak ($32) and Bowmore Legend ($29). Your tastes may...and will...vary.

Want to sound like an expert on single malts? A good first book on the topic that is an easy read: Kevin Erskine's "The Instant Expert's Guide to Single Malt Scotch".


  1. Wow. And I thought thirteen divisions of daffodils were complicated!

  2. I never knew there was so much to learn about scotch. Time to do some "research"!

  3. My liver is quivering just thinking about it.