No, I really do. I saw that Total Wine was offering an “Introduction to Scotch Whisky” class. Seriously? Who does that? Well, as I arrived, I was informed this was the first Scotch whisky class so far undertaken, for fear of a drunken brawl. The staff didn’t need to be concerned, even though the class was composed of all men, except me. Literally, I was the only girl. I thought there would be at least one other chick, but no, I was all by myself, surrounded by hairy dudes. You better believe I waved my wedding ring around and said things like “My husband wanted me to take lots of notes.” So now, I’m here to share some of the wisdom imparted to me by excellent Total Wine staff member, Chad.
Scotch whisky was an accident, discovered by dudes trying to make metal into gold—alchemists, they’re called. They didn’t succeed in making gold; they did succeed in creating the yummiest liquor in the world. Scotch is composed of three—count ‘em, three—ingredients: malted barley, yeast, and water. That’s it, folks, but that’s just the beginning. The barley is dried by using peat: an accumulation of partially decayed vegetation matter. The peat is burned; the barley is dried, and it becomes “malt.” The malt is mixed with the yeast and water, and voila! Right? Wrong.
Subtle differences (the shape of the still, the mood of the distiller, the minerals in the water) make different scotches taste differently, as do the casks used in the distilling process, as does the surrounding environment during the distilling process, as does the amount of time distilling takes place. Scotch has to be aged for a minimum of three years before it can be consumed, but most are aged much longer. Exhausted yet? I wasn’t, but that’s because by then, I was tasting scotch.
Some random trivia before I get into the tasting:
- Did you know Johnnie Walker was actually the name of a grocery store? Back in the day, grocery stores could go around to local distilleries and buy a single cask to mix with casks from different distilleries and make their own brand of scotch. People liked the scotch from the Johnnie Walker grocery store. It became popular, and the name stuck!
- The key regions for scotch making in Scotland are Islay, Highland, Speyside, Lowland, and Island. Many would argue the best scotch comes from Islay.
- “Whisky” refers to product made in Scotland, Wales, Canada, or Japan. “Whiskey” indicates the scotch was made in Ireland or the United States.
Okay, so how do you taste scotch? First, sniff it. What do you smell? Next, taste it. What do you taste? Now, the important thing: before you go back for sip number two, put a couple drops of water into the scotch (or possibly an ice cube). This awakens the flavors! Something I didn’t know! Now, evaluate: what was your overall impression?
Now, I’ll give you a quick rundown of what we tasted, what was good, and why I think so, based on what I learned about myself at the tasting. I learned that I don’t like scotches with heavy peat influences. To me, they taste like (in Chad’s words), a “burned down hospital”—gauzy and filled with smoke. Taking that into consideration, these are the ones I didn’t like:
- Shieldaig “The Classic” for $17.99. Gauzy! Antiseptic! Smoke! Too much!
- Johnnie Walker Swing. $54.99. Cool bottle; dusty scotch.
- Glenfiddich 15 Year. $37.99. Cool story about this one, even though the taste was a little too earthy for me. When they make 15-year, they use the same cask over and over, and they never let the cask sink lower than half-full. That means when you’re drinking the 15-year, you’re drinking a bunch of other years, too, possibly really old ones! Cool! But the palate? Not for me.
- Shieldaig Highland. $17.00. Peat!!! Ewwwww.
Arguably, I didn’t like these because I don’t have a fine-tuned palate. Whatever. So I’m a novice. I still greatly enjoyed the following:
- Dewar’s 12 Year. $25.99. Very light. Vanilla. Sweet front. An easy drinker.
- Monarch of the Glen for $21.99. May have been my favorite. Heathery, floral nose. Complex but soft with a sweet finish.
- Glenmorangie Nectar d’Or. $59.99. They made this using Sauternes casks from France, which would explain its sweetness. Wow. Complex. Long gentle finish. Wish it wasn’t so expensive.
- Battlehill Bowmore 28 Year. Uh … $129.00. Yeah, I didn’t want to like this one, based on that price-point, but zounds! This was good! Very smooth. No alcohol burn. If you have the means, buy it.
- Compass Box “Great King Street.” $44.99. Vanilla, caramel nose with a honey palate. Sounds like dessert, yeah?
Was I a tad buzzed following the tasting? Yes. Did I spend nine dollars on a yearned-for bottle of Dogfish Head 120 Minute Ale for Jake? You betcha. Did I have an absolute blast? Hell yeah! I suggest taking a class at Total Wine, and soon. You learn a ton. It’s great value for your money. (This tasting was only twenty-five bucks.) And you’re going to have fun.
Upcoming events at the Goodyear location include: Bourbon on February 25, Tequila on February 28, an IPA class in May, and a Single Malt class May 5. Learn more at their events page.