Logan R. Brouse, proprietor and mixologist of Logan’s Punch and Tacolicious, has run bars and clubs in Shanghai for over eight years. In between hangovers, he puts pen to paper in his column for That’s to record his pontifications on the drink industry.
My fondness for a particular brand of Irish whiskey, chased with shots of a specific Italian digestive, is the world’s worst kept secret. Many moons ago, when I worked in the trap house that was San Francisco in the early 2000s, I was a brand ambassador for a single malt scotch whisky called Balvenie. Despite barley-filled nights and fuzzy mornings, I learned that people have questions about scotch that they didn’t always feel comfortable asking. People being uneducated about booze has me worked up like Bill Nye talking climate change on John Oliver’s show Last Week Tonight so here’s some f*cking info!
Let’s start with the difference between single malt and blended whisky. In general, single malts must come from one distillery, which would be something like Laphroaig or Macallan. With that said, even though a single malt comes from one distillery, it can be a blend of different barrels. This means that a 50-year whisky is still judged by the youngest aged whisky with which it’s mixed - kind of like Michael Jackson.
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Blended whiskies like Chivas are mixed from different distilleries to create a unique taste. Much like snowflakes, no two are exactly the same. Where American Whiskeys generally pull from corn, rye Scotch whiskies generally like to party with wheat and grains. Break that down and it means that it’s usually the sugars and yeasts that propel the spirits towards booze excellence, as well as the climate of the country.
Before drinking the stuff, you have to ask yourself if you like a smoky flavor (called peat) or something unpeated. Scotch gets its smoky flavor from the peat that grows abundantly around Uncle McScrooge’s property. Depending on the region, the distillation process imparts more or less of a peaty taste. You can find this information right on the bottle, but a basic rule of thumb is that the Highlands produce bottles that are less smoky than that of their Lowlands cousins. Islay Scotch (pronounced eye-lah) falls into this category.
You might be wondering what peat is. It is mostly bricks of dried and dead plant matter like moss and shrubs that are found in bogs and harvested to provide fuel. In the old days, the peat was used to fuel the fire on the still, and this gives scotch its uniquely smoked flavors. Considering the relationship between fire and humidity, it makes sense that you would need more peat in a wet area.
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If drinking liquid campfire sounds good, try Laphroaig 10 Year Old – it will make you feel like one of Charlie Wilson’s congress buddies during the Cold War. Like most great single malt scotch, you don’t need more than a cube of ice or a splash of water to open the subtle flavors hidden beneath this bad boy’s macho exterior. If there are men in pleated skirts in your general vicinity, drink it neat to avoid offending them.
In contrast, Macallan 12 is a highland scotch with much less peat. It’s kind of like Demi Moore in G.I. Jane; sexy and demure but will knee cap you if you look at it wrong.
Chivas Regal is probably the most well-known blended scotch. For blended scotch, the master blender (in this case, Sandy Hyslop) selects single malts from distilleries from around Scotland to create a consistent taste that sets them apart from other brands for mass production.
If I’ve managed to teach you anything between jokes, remember not to add anything other than a cube (or two) of ice or a dash of water to a single malt. Blends are the frat boys of the scotch scene and are more open to interpretation, and as Raymond Chandler once said, “There is no bad whiskey. There are only some whiskeys that aren’t as good as others.”
[Cover image via Pexels]
See more of Logan's columns here.