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Saturday, August 24, 2013

Tasting the Scotch in Scotland

On The Royal Mile

The magnificent Edinburgh Castle
Churches galore

Blowing the pipes.

Edinburgh, a fine old medieval town. Whining bagpipes, kilts, clans and Scotch whiskey.

Want to play the bagpipe?  Race around in a wool skirt?  Claim ancestry back to the Celts?  Mac this, Mc that?  I don’t want anyone checking my ancestry, or my credit rating.

On the other hand:  Want some smooth sipping aged malt whiskey?  Even the Judge is nodding. The defense rests.

Found just the place to sip some Scotch and learn trivia that’ll win you a bar bet or two. The Scotch Experience, a discrete four story building in downtown Edinburgh, in the middle of The Royal Mile.

“Honey, you go on ahead.  I’m just going to stop in here for a second.  Looks like a real educational opportunity.” 

That’s not a lie.  The Scotch Experience will fill you with more information than you can possibly digest before compete inebriation.

Step through the door, a lovely maiden sells you a ticket, and plops you in a rotating barrel. Just sit back and grab an insight into the three steps of making whiskey.

The Tasting selections, from smoky to sweet

Fermentation.  Ingredients are almost the same as beer.  Malt, water, yeast.  What is malt again?  Barley drenched in water, allowed to sprout, then dried and ground. Mixed with water and yeast, fermentation takes place.  To get a smoky flavor, they dry the barley with a peat fire.

Distillation. Separates the water from the fragrant alcohol, raising the alcohol content to about 70%.  See, if you hadn’t slept through Chem class…

Maturation.  Scotch Whiskey must be made in Scotland, using only barley, water, and yeast, and it must be matured no less than three years.  Most single malts are aged much longer.  The longer it matures, the less Scotch you have.  Evaporation takes about 2% a year.

Barrels of oak, first used for Bourbon or Sherry...then Scotch

How about ‘blended whiskies?’  Good question.  To create a blended whiskey, a master blender combines several Scotches, along with some so-called grain whiskey.  Grain whiskey comes from wheat, or other grains other than barley. 

Here’s a tip:  A blended whiskey carries the age of the youngest scotch used in the blend.

The age of the Scotch (time in the barrel) determines the flavor.  But aging is not linear.  I tasted The Dalmore 12 and 15 year old Scotches, then bought the 12 year old, finding it smoother and tastier.  Taste is individual, like the ideal temperature of bath water, or the size of the perfect breast.  With breasts, of course, opportunity trumps everything but getting caught.

Another tip:  Once a Scotch is bottled, the maturation process stops.  Cold.  A 10 year old bottle of Scotch forever remains a 10 year old bottle of Scotch, until it finally becomes an empty bottle of Scotch.

Geography.  There are five Scotch producing areas in Scotland:  Highlands, Lowlands, Islay (pronounced Eye-la), Speyside, and Campbeltown.

Tip:  Every minute, 2340 Bottles of Scotch are sold worldwide.  That’s about 20 bottles per second.

Here’s a quick tour of the four major areas, by flavor.

Lowlands:  Citrus, to an almost bread flavor.

Highlands:  Sweet, nutty florals.

Speyside:  Light to dark fruit, like Christmas

Islay:  smoky, sweet, possibly a light iodine finish

These are only hints. Expect dramatic variations and surprises.  In any case, the best place to begin your quest in the heart of Edinburgh, on The Royal Mile, at The Scotch Experience. 

The perfect glass for tasting.  Glencairn. Designed in 2006 and winner of The Queen's Award 

One wall of the 3400 bottle Scotch collectiion

Another wall of the collection

World's largest bottle of Scotch...five feet tall

But, there's more to Scotland than Scotch

“Honey, I’m fine.  Just a few more minutes.  Go ahead and finish the castle tour… visit the gift shop, go to the spa, get a massage, have your nails done.”

1 comment:

  1. Beautifully written!! I like the breast analogy and the in-depth explanation of how to make scotch!! You are a great writer with such candor!! Well-done! So glad I can vicariously live though you and your travels! And of course, I loved the beautiful hand model (Jan)!