Discovering the single malt scotch


POSTED: Monday, December 14, 2009

The first encounter

It all started with an assassin and his drink of choice: single malt scotch.

After a hard day's work taking down bad guys, freelance assassin John Rain, of the various “;Rain”; novels by Barry Eisler, would sit down with the amber liquid and let the warm drink soothe his weary soul. The drink would envelop his palate with each sip, the smooth flavor of smoke blooming in his mouth, the warm aftermath of the drink filling his stomach. My wife, Flo, and I were intrigued.

During our daily commute we would often listen to the “;Rain”; audio books to make the traffic a little more tolerable, and that's when we discovered our new passion: single malt scotch.

The descriptions of the drink and the enthusiasm with which Rain drank it spurred our interest, and we soon found ourselves at Fujioka's Wine and Spirits in Market City, staring in uncertainty and excitement at the varied scotch selection. There were 12- and 18-year-old scotches; scotches that were $50, others that were $150; some had been stored in dessert wine casks, and others touted fruity aftertastes. Flo and I were bewildered.

Fortunately, the helpful connoisseurs at Fujioka's helped us find a great “;starter”; scotch: Highland Park, aged 18 years. We quickly went home to learn for ourselves what it was that Rain, our favorite assassin, loved so much.

Sitting down with our glasses, Flo and I uncorked the scotch and took a sniff. A deep, smoky aroma prepped our palates. I poured my wife a glass first, then one for myself. We toasted and I took a sip. Immediately, the rich flavor of smoke blossomed and filled my mouth. Then came a silky warmth as the liquid slid down my throat. Lastly, while savoring the lingering taste of smoke on my tongue, I could sense the floral sweetness that marked this particular scotch.

I looked at my wife, who was already smiling with satisfaction, and I knew we were thinking the same thing: We were hooked.



How to drink a single malt

As with anything any personal preference, there is no right or wrong way to drink scotch. But there are ways to enhance or avoid diluting the aroma and flavors.

Many scotch drinkers choose to drink their single malt neat (nothing added), believing that adding anything, even water, will weaken the taste and fragrance of the drink. Some prefer to add a small amount of pure spring water, which can enhance both flavor and aroma. Bottled water is best for this. It is better not to add tap water, which might contain chlorine or other impurities that can interfere with the aroma and taste.

It is also wise to avoid adding carbonated water, which has a tendency to interfere with the liquor's aroma. Furthermore, if you prefer to drink your single malt scotch on the rocks, be aware that ice will dull and dilute the flavor and fragrance.








        Although each scotch is unique, the malts produced in each region have common characteristics that separate them from whiskies of other regions.

        Smoky, peaty whiskies are the trademark of the island of Islay. The single malts produced here are considered among the most aromatic available.


        The whiskies produced here are ideal for those who prefer something milder in flavor and style. Even the color is lighter, reflecting a less assertive approach.


        Often considered the ultimate in scotch whiskies. They range from aromatic and light-bodied to deep and husky, with flavors compared to chocolate or old cognac.


        By far the largest region, producing bigger, bolder and generally more rounded whiskies, in a range of flavors and styles.





        Single malt scotch is a type of Scottish whisky. The term “;single malt”; refers to the distilling process and to the particular grain used: Single malts are the product of one distillery (in contrast to “;blended malts,”; “;pure malts”; or “;vatted malts,”; which are distilled in multiple locations), using malted barley as the sole grain ingredient. The distilling must occur and the whisky must mature in oak casks in Scotland. To be called scotch, the liquor is required to mature in the oak casks for at least three years, although many distilleries choose to mature them for longer (usually 12 years or more).




        Since my craze (as my wife calls it) for single malts began late last year, I have bought at least 25 different bottles of single malt scotch. That's not a lot and I know I am just a single malt newbie. But I will tell you what I enjoy drinking.

Lagvulin Distiller's Edition: This is from the Islay region, known for its peat and smoke flavors. I liked its light smoke and sweetness. The finish was long and smooth.


Macallan 12: A Speyside-region scotch that is aged in sherry casks. Loved the light


fruity flavor and smooth finish.


Oban Distiller's Edition 1993: A Highland-region single malt that seems to combine the best of the Speyside and Islay regions. Light, fruity with a touch of smoke. Smooth and long finish, ahaaa!




Sources: www.scotchwhisky.net, wikipedia and www.maltmadness.com