Scotch is a big topic, and one that I, as someone with most of my formal education in wine rather than spirits, find quite intimidating to write about. However, I truly believe Scotch, like wine, is best enjoyed without snobbery and best spoken about by whomever happens to enjoy it. I accidentally became interested in Scotch. In a wine course I took a few years ago, the small spirits section of the program left little impact on me. Honestly, I was there to learn about wine, so being tested on spirits felt quite like that annoying science elective you pushed to your last semester of university and so you take astronomy thinking, “I like stars,” then you end up having to learn a bunch of physics formulas which were the exact reason you’d pursued an Liberal Arts undergrad to start with. You know?
Anyway, Scotch. The one spirit that made me think, “huh, interesting,” of the many we tried in that course was a Scotch. It was the Springbank 15 year. I’d never heard of Springbank or Campbeltown. Honestly for a girl with about as much Scottish blood you can find in a third generation Canadian, I was deeply ignorant. But that ounce of Springbank 15 year literally converted me in one sip. For me, Scotch has a complexity that I do not have the palate to pick up on in other spirits. I love it. It reminds me so much of wine in terms of the depth and layers you can experience from even a moderately priced bottle. Certain Scotch Whiskys, like really good wines, take me on rambling tangents because I can never quite say enough to really convey my love.
I recently returned to Scotland (on a much more mature, yet equally booze-filled trip) with my partner in tow. Funny enough, what we imagined would be a wet spring trip, turned into a much more Canadian-type affair. Our arrival coincided with the treacherous “Beast from the East,” a violent blizzard that stalled every causeway, delayed food deliveries, and essentially shut the country down for several days. We, used to spring snow and blizzards, felt it was all a little dramatic...until we tried to pull a U-turn in our rented Vauxhall. Due to the uncharacteristic weather everything was closed, thus no mainland Whisky distilleries for us. We spent most of our trip on the Isle of Skye (if you like landscape-filled roadtrips, drive there from Edinburgh). We then had the chance to stop by the famed Talisker and sipped a few of their offerings, which was lovely and I was left filled with the feeling that I was tasting the flavours of one specific place. Afterward we headed up the hill to The Oyster Shed in Carbost to eat the freshest seafood selection off of a wooden barrel while overlooking the cold, rugged coast line, shivering. A seriously perfect experience. Our Scotch highlights, however, mainly occured in the cozy guest houses and lodges in which we stayed. Honour bars and giant whisky selections paired with roaring fire places were truly the epitome of perfection for me.
As the weather here at home turns, Scotch comes to mind. There is simply no cozier feeling than a warm blanket, a friendly face or two, and a dram of really tasty whisky on a cool autumn night. Grab a bottle of one of the following to wistfully salute the passing of summer and warm your spirits as days start getting chillier.
Springbank 10 Year, Campbeltown - $83.50
I’ll start with my favourite distillery. Campbeltown has an enormous history in the production of whisky. However, this once hub, has fallen from 34 working distilleries to just 3. Fortunately for us, Springbank stuck around and continued to make some of the most traditional whisky out there. While most distilleries buy at least a portion of their malt, Springbank does all their own malting on site. Springbank Distillery makes three different Scotch single malts that are unique in taste and style; Hazelburn (free of peat and friendly), Longrow (the peatiest and most traditional), and Springbank (lightly peated and elegant). The Springbank 10 Year holds phenomenal value. It is slightly peaty and distinctively briny. Pears, vanilla, citrus, and cinnamon are punctuated by a salty tang that I particularly crave. The whisky finishes dry and is light despite its bourbon and sherry cask finish and developed flavour profile. Please, just enjoy!
Auchentoshan Three Wood, Lowlands - $83
Auchentoshan is located not far from the apparently rough and tumble town of Glasgow (which I find remarkably friendly and enjoy tremendously, even above my beloved Edinburgh). Heralding from a hard working, no frills area of the country, this whisky is brasher and bolder than the average. If you’re a Bourbon drinker who wants to transition into Scotch, this may be a good place to start. Aged in ex Bourbon, Oloroso, and Pedro Ximenez sherry casks, this Scotch is lively, smooth, and richly flavoured. Think notes of toffee, chocolate, and dried fruit. This whisky is completely unpeated, making it a very smooth and sweet dram. Enjoy this gutsy Scotch when you’re feeling a little brazen.
Ardbeg Grooves Limited Edition, Islay - $147
Created in honour of Ardbeg Day 2018, Ardbeg Grooves is aged in mature red wine cask that have been well-charred, thus causing grooves in the texture of the barrel. On the smoky side of things, which is traditional for both Ardbeg and Islay, “Grooves” is mellowed by the time spent in the deeply charred casks. Treacle and toffee are balancing agents for the campfire and salt water that provide the backbone to this deliciously curious whisky. Inspired by the 1960s, Ardbeg throws it back to Islay of days gone by, citing “peat & love” as their inspiration. In 2015, Ardbeg celebrated 200 years of whisky production and can claim some of the earliest female distillers (circa 1853) as their own. If you like smoke and fire in your Scotch, then you’ll certainly enjoy this dram. Perhaps pair it with the last backyard bonfire of the season and a couple of s’mores for good measure.