I worked my way through college as a bartender in a small pub outside of Chicago. My parents would sometimes come in for an evening when there was a good folk music or jazz show. I was the only one who could pour my father’s Grants: two fingers, and a splash of water. Now, one person’s splash is another person’s drop…and by “splash” Dad meant about three drops of room temperature water. I didn’t get it, but that’s how he wanted it, and so that’s how he got it.
Many years later, on my first trip to Scotland, I got it.
My son and I were traveling to discover the sites of our family heritage. We were staying in a B&B just outside Kirkmichael and the owners had prepared a vegetarian haggis, tatties and neeps dinner for us in their little restaurant. As we were served, it was explained to us that traditionally whisky is poured over the haggis. I sheepishly admitted that I hadn’t the taste for whisky, but agreed to try it. Our Hostess returned in a few minutes and said that her husband would like us to join him in the pub after dinner.
We thoroughly enjoyed our meal and then wandered down the hall to the pub. Set out on the table were nine bottles of Highland Single Malt, a pitcher of water, glasses, and a book on Whisky. As our Host and a couple of his friends had a classical jazz guitar jam session, I started at the left end of the row of bottles: reading the label and looking it up in the book as I sipped. Kyle, just 18 at the time, decided that he’d rather read and so retired up to the room.
I learned so much about the flavors and the delicate balances of whisky. I had thought that it was just all the same (kind of yucky), but my American wine tasting experience and frame of reference came in to play as I sipped and let the liquid slowly roll over my tongue. I tasted them both before adding a drop or two of water, letting the ph in my mouth wrap itself around the flavors, and then a few minutes later I took another sip. There were some that were entirely too peaty for me and I understood why I hadn’t liked whisky before ~~ it was the particular whisky I had tasted.
The next day, on the suggestion of our Host, we drove to the Edradour Distillery just at the edge of Pitlochry. And I came away with a bottle of their divine Crème Liquor.
Over the ensuing years, I have come to appreciate some very fine Highland Single Malt whiskies. My favorites are Oban, Strathisla, and the Balvenie 12 Year Doublewood, with Edradour (I’ve only seen it in Boulder, CO in this country), Aberlour, Highland Park and Glenmorangie running close behind. Kyle, now 25 , has become quite the whisky connoisseur. He even bought a special cabinet for storage. The last time I visited him we had a little whisky tasting of our own. He has a few new ones since then that I have not tasted, but most we agree upon. He has quite the collection, including his very special edition bottle of the Thor from Highland Park. His favorites are Oban, Scapa, Cardhu, and The Balvenie Doublewood.
Both our tastes run to the mellower whiskies, we both find that the Glenfiddichs, Glenlivets and the Laphroags are too peaty for us. There is one place where we find the Macallan quite tasty, and that’s in the Top Shelf Butterscotch Pudding at Bistro don Giovanni in Napa, CA.
Here’s a tip that I came up with for getting the right amount of water in to the glass: I ask for room temperature water in a glass with a bar straw. Then using basic physics, I hold my finger over the end of the straw as it sits in the water. When I let it go over the whisky, just the right amount goes in to the glass. Works better than trying to pour or spoon it in, and takes fingertips (with hand lotion or whatever on them) out of the equation.