Alcohol! With many different cultural expressions all over the globe its often easy to confuse one expression with another. Take Whisk(e)y for example; Whisk(e)y itself isn’t so much a product as it is a process. Or rather a product that is defined by a process. And that process has different rules and regulations depending on the dirt your standing on. Some of us prefer Bourbon to Rye or Irish Whiskey to Scotch Whisky. But do you know the core differences between them? The answer is more than just geography. Breaking down the different faces of Whisk(e)y and what the deal is with this seemingly silly parenthetical ‘e’ will be the goal of the coming weeks blog entries. So stay tuned!
As a general rule of thumb I don’t like to generalize about the vast world of alcohol too much. Lumping things together in one category and slapping a label on it does a disservice to the nuances and creative mold breaking that takes place at, say, different Scotch distilleries. That said, for ease of conversation, I’ll be speaking a bit generally today. So take this with a grain of salt and understand that the alcohol rabbit hole goes deep. There’s always something more to be learned about each one of these products and the people (heroes?) making them. Conveniently, after your thirst for quality Whisk(e)y has been stirred up you will be able to find some excellent expressions of Scotch, Irish and American Whisk(e)y available at the vomFASS Mall of America location.
This week we are going to focus on Scotch. What is single malt Scotch? Single malt Scotch Whisky is a product that comes from one single distillery as opposed to a Scotch blend which is a product containing the Whisky from multiple distilleries. Historically produced using malted barley, and only malted barley for single malts, Scotch begins it’s journey being double distilled in large copper pot stills. Scotch, by law, must be aged for a minimum of three years in Oak barrels. These Oak barrels are primarily former Bourbon barrels (which by law in the US can only be used for Bourbon ageing once) or former Sherry casks. Only produced and aged in Scotland you will find this Whisky being distilled and aged in a few different regions, five of which are officially recognized.
The Lowlands, Highlands, Speyside, Islay (pronounced, “eye-la”) and Campbeltown make up Scotland’s main Scotch producing regions. Here at vomFASS Twin Cities inside the Mall of America we carry a healthy supply of world class single malt Scotches from almost every region (even the not so officially recognized parts. Cool!). Our selection includes, but is by no means limited to, a 17 year old offering from Auchentoshan in the Lowlands. This is one of the outlying triple distilled scotches. The dram is smooth, warm and delightfully complex. From the Highlands we offer a bold but refined 20 year old Glengoyne. Appropriately, Speyside takes up the most real estate here at vomFASS MOA as it is home to the highest density of distilleries in Scotland. A personal favorite of mine is the dark and mysterious 19 year old Inchgower. I love to pour this for guests looking for a Speyside Scotch that thinks a little outside of the Speyside box. Bunnahabain 26 is our one and only single malt offering from Islay. Next to it’s other Islay brethren, Bunnahabain 26 does not cloud the drinker in a plume of peat smoke. Rather, this unpeated offering showcases notes of the ocean that surrounds the Islay region while caramel and soft vanilla permeate the drinking experience. Should you wish to get to know these beauties better than I can describe them, we not only offer in store samples but we regularly hold Scotch classes as well as wine tastings and Mediterranean cooking classes too!
Aside from being a geographically specific spirit (similar to Champagne, Cognac or Tennessee Whiskey) Scotch is produced under strict regulations established long ago that are still practiced today. True, practices have changed and expanded since the first Scot discovered how to make Uisge Beatha, or The Water of Life, such as the incorporation of Wheat and Rye grains and triple distillation practices at a few distilleries. But at its core, Scotch remains a liquid tip of the hat to the wonder of tradition and the inexorable push of alcohol based ingenuity. All the while instilling in it’s drinker a true sense of place. Cheers!
Check back next week as we continue our journey down the winding Whisk(e)y road to Ireland.
Will O’Reilly studies all things alcohol. You can find him at vomFASS inside the Mall of America.