Thursday, September 15, 2011

I like scotch. Scotch scotch scotch.

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Just as Ron Burgundy proclaims in Anchorman, I've long considered myself an enjoyer of Scotch.  Now, there's a significant dichotomy between simply enjoying scotch and being knowledgeable about it, and until July, I hadn't experienced a scotch truly exquisite enough to warrant further investigation.  A booze-filled weekend jaunt in Sunriver and a concrete engineer with a penchant for the fine stuff changed everything.

Late one night towards the end of the vacation, our motley crew was playing cards and becoming fatigued with our awesome lineup of wine and beer.  My friend Matt looked over at me, a glint in his eye, and the magic words came out of his mouth:
I brought a little something special that I've been saving. A fine connoisseur with a monocle and top-hat as yourself will certainly enjoy it. By the way, did you know that concrete and cement are two different things?
Did I mention that Matt is a concrete engineer? No? Well that's the subject of a different post on a different day. Back to Scotch. Matt pulled out a bottle of Oban Distillery West Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky that he had purchased in Scotland, and we went to town.

About Scotch

Scotch is essentially whisky, made under specific conditions and guidelines.  An interesting side note, whisky produced in the United States is spelled whiskey, although that is irrelevant for these purposes as by definition Scotch cannot be produced in the US.  To learn about this mysterious and powerful beverage, allow me to consult our favorite reference, Wikipedia:

"Scotch whisky (often referred to simply as "Scotch") is whisky made in Scotland. Scotch whisky is divided into five distinct categories: Single Malt Scotch Whisky, Single Grain Scotch Whisky, Blended Malt Scotch Whisky (formerly called "vatted malt" or "pure malt"), Blended Grain Scotch Whisky, and Blended Scotch Whisky. All Scotch whisky must be aged in oak barrels for at least three years. Any age statement written on a bottle of Scotch whisky, in the form of a number, must reflect the age of the youngest whisky used to produce that product. A whisky with an age statement is known as guaranteed age whisky."

A lot like wine labeling regulation in the United States, Scotch Whisky is controlled by the Scotch Whisky Regulations 2009 in the UK.  I'd love to meet the politicians who wrote that law!

Oban Distillery

Founded in 1794 in the west coast Scotland port city of Oban, the Oban Distillery is one of the very early scotch producers and is one of the smallest in Scotland.  Operating with 2 pot stills, Oban produces a "West Highland" style Scotch in relatively small production.  Best know for a 14-year old Scotch, Oban also has released an 18-year and 32-year edition...and the Distiller's Edition, my new favorite Scotch.
Oban NAS Scotch

The bottle that Matt had brought for us to share was the Oban NAS, a distiller's reserve edition with a production of 8999 bottles available only at the distillery. In Scotland.  Exclusive.  My notes are a bit sketchy, but as I recall from Matt's description, this is a very special Scotch.  Initially aged for 14 years in Bourbon oak barrels, the NAS is then transitioned to a Montilla Fino sherry cask for 3 years, and finished for 3 more years in a second sherry cask.  If you're bad at math, that's 20 years, friends.  20 delicious years.

Matt poured Gordon and I some tasting glasses and instructed us on the *proper* way to taste Scotch - a three stage process. First, we did the wine-tasting routine with the Scotch "neat", at room temperature with nothing in the glass except pure Scotch.  We smelled, swirled, and sipped.  Then, Matt added a dash of water to our Scotch, to dilute and open it up a bit.  The final and third stage was on the rocks, with just a cube of ice.  It was fascinating to see the progression of the Scotch through the process.

Gordon, a man of few words, said this, "Wow.  Powerful at first.  Then, woody."  I immediately noted that this was very well balanced compared to the swill I usually drink.  It immediately hit my sinuses, then adding water broke up the oils a bit and caused the Scotch to envelop my mouth a bit more.  The sherry casks seemed to add some caramel notes and sweetness to the nose.  It was delicious.

So there you have it, my first foray into the world of fine Scotch.  Hopefully you learned something, I know I certainly did.  Among other facts, it solidified my enjoyment of this fine beverage.  More to come as I convince Matt that I'm worthy to share with!

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