Team Plenty of Ice had the pleasure of a Scotch whisky class at The Beverage Academy recently. The class was held in the Wilson & Wilson Detective Agency bar within Bourbon & Branch. This all started as a birthday surprise for my husband and turned into a delightful and enlightening evening of learning and tasting. It was delicious, too.
The class was full and started with each participant making a cocktail. Each of us had the tools at our seat to make a Bobby Burns. The instructors (the most excellent Tony and his assistant Eddie) were poised with the necessary square (!) ice and booze.
The Bobby Burns
The Bobby Burns includes 1.5 oz scotch (we used Bank Note), 1 oz sweet vermouth (Carpano Antica) and 1 bar spoon of Benedictine. We stirred the three spirits in a glass filled with ice, strained into a chilled coupe, twisted a lemon peel over the glass, and dropped that peel right into the coupe. It’s a wonderful starter cocktail in the Scotch world and, perhaps more importantly for a class like this, a towering classic among Scotch cocktails.
Next up was a brief history lesson on the origins of Scotch, the regulations that restrict what has to be in the bottle to qualify as “Scotch,” the differences between grain, blended, single malt, and more, and finally a review of the dominant regions of Scotland as they relate to the nation’s whisky. Each region has a broad flavor profile with many variations within the area. We tasted five different single malts, each from a different and key area. To qualify as a single malt, these Scotches are all made from malted barley in a single distillery and are not vatted or blended with whisky made in any other distillery. To be called a Scotch whisky, the liquid pleasure must be made in Scotland and matured for at least three years.
Our first taste, Auchentoshan Three Wood, is a Lowlands whisky. The three woods reference its aging in bourbon wood for at least ten years, oloroso sherry for about one, and six months in Pedro Ximenez. This was popular among our group, though I found it a bit perfumy, delicate, and wimpy. It is for sure tasty and a very nice way to ready the palate for what was to come.
Springbank 15 hails from Campbeltown. (Its distillery buildings have been owned by the same family since 1828, the longest such example of Scotch whisky.) I’ve loved every Springbank I’ve had and the 15, though new to me, was no exception. It’s rich, round, lightly smokey, and packs just the sort of wallop I love in a good Scotch.
Aberlour 18 is a Speyside whisky. To me it offered a sweetness and mellowness that many Speyside whiskies offer, and it grabbed less attention than the Springbank.
Clynelish 14 from the Coastal Higlands. It’s a fruity, spicy Scotch that I’ve been in love with since my friend Lisa introduced me to it a few years ago. It’s less bold than what I usually drink and is almost always a winner with those less familiar with Scotch.
Ardbeg Uigeadail from Islay was my favorite of the five. I’m partial to Islay whiskies and they are famous for a more medicinal, sooty, bold flavor. They vary greatly, and Ardbeg almost always rocks my world and my taste buds. The Uigeadail was new to me and one of the three best Scotches I’ve ever tasted. It has an amazingly rich flavor, happy to announce itself and stick around. It’s a hot, intensely smokey, powerful drink.
One of the many things I love about the world of Scotch is the varied flavors. All four of us had our own favorite among the five we tasted and we tended to feel strongly about our pick. That made for lively conversation and lots of sharing to be sure each person’s favorite was their dominant beverage of the evening.
Tony recommended David Broom’s beautiful and informative book, The World Atlas of Whisky. I’ve since picked up a copy and it is a great resource. It would also make a very nice gift. Tony also called out Michael Jackson’s famous writings on Scotch (“This Is It,” too, you could say) as well as Jim Murray’s annual Whiskey Bible.
We had a great night and, if you have time to check out the Beverage Academy, do it. I’ve taken four classes there now and loved each one. Cheers!