Scotch whisky is considered an acquired taste. And indeed, the smoky aroma and taste of many Scotches is unusual enough that many folks need a breaking-in period. But there are several different types of Scotch whisky, and not all of them take getting used to.
What’s the difference between a single malt and a blended Scotch whiskey? “Single malt” means the spirit must be made in a single distillery using exclusively malted barley, must be distilled using a pot still, and must be aged for at least three years in oak casks. Blended Scotch whiskies are just that – blended. Did you know that Jack Daniels Black is a blend of 42 different 12-year-old Scotches?
I learned all this recently from Robin Nance, the Midwestern representative of a Scottish distillery known as Auchentoshan (pronounced “ock-un-tosh-an"). She was here in Chicago to introduce a new single malt Scotch to the market. Called American Oak, I found it light and clean-tasting without a trace of smoke. It’s the newest of their Scotch whiskies, and they served it in some delicious cocktails and a lovely punch. Plus, it tastes very, very nice on its own.
Auchentoshan, which has been making Scotch since 1823, triple distills every drop of all their whiskies, according to Ms. Nance. The extra pass through the still is said to result in a lighter and higher alcohol content whisky. The distillers give the new American Oak Scotch further complexity by aging it in North American oak barrels that used to hold bourbon. By law, bourbon cannot be aged more than once in the same barrels, so Scotch makers often buy those barrels.
She said the Scotch industry is moving away from the earlier method of using age statements. Read this interesting discussion on how important age statements are today for whiskies.
Just for fun here are the distiller’s notes on the various Auchentoshan whiskies. Makes me want to run right out and put some in a dish and eat it!
- The 12-year-old Auchentoshan has the color of golden honey and smells like crème brûlée and citrus with a signature nuttiness. When you taste it, look for toffee with tangerine and lime notes, then gingery at the end.
- The 18-year-old has the color of deep golden summer barley and an aroma with tobacco leaf, caramelized sugars, green tea and toasted almonds. The taste is described as fresh and floral, yielding to tangerine zestiness that keeps on "refreshing and invigorating the mouth." I love these tasting notes, don't you?
- The Three Wood is a rich golden bronze and smells like blackcurrant, brown sugar, orange and plum. It tastes of hazelnut with cinnamon, lemon and butterscotch flavors. At the end it's fruity with long-lasting oaky sweetness.
- Gotta say their 21-year-old was lovely. I'd happily substitute it occasionally in place of a good cognac. A complex flavor that was clean and light with a tiny touch of sweetness. Color: bright copper. Vanilla and oak with ripe gooseberry aromas. On your tongue: light chocolate and soft green fruit with a twist of old oak and honey. Yikes. Don't you want some right now?
And by the way barbeque goes great with Scotch. Sampled some delicious food from a place called Lillie's Q Barbeque, 1856 W. North Ave. and the French Market, 131 N. Clinton St. Definitely worth checking that restaurant out. The pulled pork was the sweetest and tenderest I remember eating, and I loved their smoky hot barbeque sauce.