Single Malts for Manly Men
Single malt Scotch is the ultimate expression of Whisky.
It’s amazing how three simple things—grain, water and yeast—can give birth to a complex spirit with flavors and aromas that vary from region to region and distillery to distillery.
The most famous Scotches have traditionally been blended Whiskies. These branded spirits are composed of an intricate blend of many single malt Whiskies combined with milder grain Whisky to give a less complicated but more easygoing spirit.
Many Scotch lovers begin with blends, but then move on to single malts, which are intricate and deep spirits, full of personality, and produced at small distilleries across Scotland. The most famous single malts come from the Highlands, with Speyside being a renowned sub-region, as well as the Islands surrounding the mainland. The Isle of Islay is the top source for bold, smoky, peaty Scotches that for many aficionados define the best of the spirit.
Five highly recommended single malts:
This Highland Whisky is one of the great Scotches. There’s a hint of peat moss in the nose and mouth, but it’s very subtle in comparison to the big Whiskies of Islay. Oban has a creamy mouthfeel and great honey, spice and heather scents. I love the complexity of fruit and spice flavors in this smooth, well-aged Scotch.
Some consider Laphroaig to be the ultimate manly man’s Scotch. With its intense smoke and peat aromas and flavors, and an almost medicinal edge, Laphroaig is Islay-style at its most intense. This Scotch smells like a peat bog by the cold Atlantic. Not for the faint of heart.
Amongst single malt lovers, Lagavulin is a legend. Though it also comes from Islay, Lagavulin is very different from Laphroaig. There’s smoke and peat in abundance, but where Laphroaig is punchy and relatively light in body, this is a full and surprisingly smooth Whisky. The peat and smoke flavors are woven into complex fruit, spice and vanilla flavors.
Balvenie 14-Year ‘Caribbean Cask’
This Speyside distillery frequently experiments with extended finishes, using oak casks that previously held different spirits or wines to put a final touch on their Whiskies. Balvenie’s latest project is the ‘Caribbean Cask’ finish, using once-filled rum barrels to impart a deep, rich, toffee and vanilla sweetness to create a remarkably smooth Whisky.
Glenmorangie 12-Year ‘Nectar d’Or’
Glenmorangie is one of the best distilleries in the Scottish Highlands, and like Balvenie they frequently experiment with extended cask finishes. The ‘Nectar d’Or’ bottling uses casks that held dessert wines made in the French Sauternes region to give this spirit a rich sweetness to its apricot, orange, vanilla and crème brûlée flavors.
Ice, Water and Scotch
At first blush, it might seem a little, well … unmanly to add water to one’s single malt Scotch. Years ago I met master distiller of a very famous Speyside distillery, and he cringed at the idea of single malt Scotch on the rocks.
“Save the ice for the blended boys,” the distiller said.
This isn’t to say that a little H2O addition to Scotch can’t be a wonderful thing. In fact, most veteran “nosers” consider it essential to revealing the depths and complexities of top Scotch.
There’s no firm rule as to how much water, if any, to add to your Whisky. High proof (over 100), cask strength bottlings are helped more than lower proof Whiskies. The latter are cut with water at the distillery to lower their alcoholic strength, and the addition of more water will simply dilute flavors and texture.
Water addition to higher proof Whisky, if done well, will reduce the alcohol burn of the spirit, helping to reveal more complex aromas and flavors.
Begin with a small splash and then take an open-mouthed whiff from your glass (you don’t have to open your mouth wide—just a little). Then take a sip. If the alcohol burn seems a little high, add a few drops more and try again until you find the proper balance between flavor expression and concentration. And remember, you can always add more water, but you can’t take it away. You might have to add more Scotch!