I once tried to be a scotch drinker, but it didn’t work out.
Still, on a recent trip to Scotland, I thought I should try some of the country’s single malt scotch whisky to see what all the fuss is about. When in Rome . . .
Scotland is synonymous with single malt, where the drink dates to at least 1494. Today, it has some 90 malt whisky distilleries.
For scotch newbies like me, single malt is made with malted barley at a single distillery and aged for at least three years. Blended scotch, on the other hand, combines several types of whiskies (barley, wheat or corn) and typically is not aged.
Glengoyne Distillery in Dumgoyne (about 15 miles north of Glasgow) has been making whisky since at least 1833. Today, it produces 1 million liters of whisky a year that’s aged at least 10 years. As soon as I walked on to the property, I smelled the sharp, sweet scent of the grain used to make the whisky.
My recent 45-minute tour of the distillery started with a we Dram of 12-year single malt. Glengoyne offers seven tours — from my basic tour for just over $12 to a $193, five-hour Masterclass.
While I and about 35 other visitors sipped our scotch, tour guide Helena De Raemedenaeker told us about the history of Glengoyne, scotch processing and how to drink scotch. She showed us how and where the barley is malted; took us through the mash house; and gave us a peak at some of Glengoyne’s oldest casks.
Glengoyne uses only three ingredients: malted barley, yeast and water. Although all single malt makers use the same ingredients, each distillery’s product has a distinctive character, such as smokiness, a hint of vanilla or a whiff of peat, due to variations in the process and equipment.
De Raemedenaeker noted that Glengoyne uses the same techniques as years ago for a smooth flavor. It uses warm air, not peat, to heat its barley. Distillation occurs in copper kettles in small batches.
By Scottish law, scotch must be matured in oak casks, which can contribute to the flavor of the product. Glengoyne uses barrels made from American and European oak. Some casks were previously used for sherry, giving the scotch a darker color.
Scotland has five major single malt production regions: Campbeltown, Highland, Islay, Lowland and Speyside.
Gengoyne’s Teapot Dram is matured in six sherry casks for 59.6% alcohol. That particular scotch is sold only at the distillery and is listed in the book 101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die. According to De Raemedenaeker, the name harkens back to a time when workers received three drams of whisky a day. Instead of drinking it, some younger workers pooled theirs in a teapot, where it aged into a fiery spirit
Most Glengoyne whiskies, however, have between 40% and 43% alcohol content.
Single malt has seen a dramatic increase in interest since the 1980s. While I was there, Glengoyne was selling its last bottle of 35-year whisky for about $3,800.
Alas, Im still not a scotch drinker, but I tried.
Note: Whisky is the way Scots spell it.