My first memories about Scotch whiskey were of my father's words: "Rotten potatoes. That's what it smells like." When I got old enough to experiment, of course I made sure to test this drink. I realized dad had a point about the unusual smell. But after trying a few types I concluded he was dead wrong about its desirability as a libation. And now that I'm a boomer I'm finding it downright joyful to drink single malt scotch, especially when at the same time I can discover new cool Chicago places to eat/drink/enjoy.
Thanks to the fine reps from Bowmore, I spent a recent beautiful sunny Sunday sailing with a bunch of mostly much younger folks on the Anita Dee I, a handsome private charter yacht berthed at Navy Pier. While cruising the Chicago River and then the lakefront, we sampled punch made with Bowmore single malt scotch whiskey. I've tried a number of single malt scotches but not this brand before.
The punch consisted of Bowmore’s blended 12-year old scotch, lemon juice and coconut. First taste, very smoky – common in scotch whiskies made in peat-fired kilns. By the second cup, everything seemed to have blended and smoothed out so the smoke was just a whisper, and it sure went down easily with the delicious food.
I was surprised and delighted by the ship's really good food, including three types of grilled kebobs – vegetable, chicken and beef – along with passed appetizers (like tuna on crispy, curvy little crackers and shrimp egg roll), and freshly shucked oysters.
While they told us about their products, the Bowmore folks introduced the ceremony of the Oyster Luge. First you take a sip of oyster liquor, then take a sip of your scotch, lift the oyster out of the shell and eat it, then pour a bit of scotch into remaining oyster liquor and drink that right from the shell. This little trick was invented by someone who hadn’t yet learned to appreciate the full flavor of scotch or the briny taste of oysters but wanted to learn. I can see how it helped him. Even though I already love both scotch and oysters, this combination made for a smooth, eminently edible treat.
Bowmore has a bit of romance to its story. It’s been being made for 200 years in a distillery that sits at the exact longitude and latitude at the center of Scotland on the island of Islay (pronounced ‘eye-la’), one of the oldest in Scotland. In a delightful Scottish accent, the Bowmore rep painted for us a picture of “sitting on the shore and gazing across the bay to Ireland while sipping a few whiskies.”
Later the group trolley-ed over to bar Sable, 505 N. State St., where talented bartender Mike dramatically shook up another specially concocted Bowmore scotch cocktail.
Made with the 12-year-old, lemon juice, blonde vermouth and maraschino cherry juice and shaken to a froth with crushed ice, this drink was light and refreshing with that by-now-familiar faint smoky hint. These pre-dinner cocktails for scotch lovers went very nicely with some Sable's thin, chewy-crust pizzas.
Look for Sable's interesting flavor combinations on its pizza - prosciutto with sweet balsamic glaze and a dusting of parmesan, or mushrooms with scallions and little dollops of goat cheese. Sable has living-room comfy seating and big windows that made it a nice place to relax on a laid-back Sunday afternoon.
Next stop was the hotel itself, Hotel Palomar, 505 N. State St. There, on the outdoor terrace on 17, Bowmore handed out samples of its 15, 18 and 25-year-old versions – along with tenderloin beef sliders and tiny chocolate cakes – against a fabulous backdrop of Chicago skyscrapers.
To make the day even more impressive, the weather was extraordinary – 68 degrees with a light breeze and sunshine that wouldn't quit. It's true - your surroundings, the company you're with, and a relaxed atmosphere make a big difference when you're tasting wines or spirits.
And by the way, you can also take a vacation on the Island of Islay. Bowmore operates several cottages where you can kick back and imbibe, far away from the regular world. My daughter traveled around Europe and Africa some years ago and said Scotland was the most beautiful of all the places she saw. Now I'd really like to go there one day.