I’ve recently been taking my scotch drinking more seriously. I’ve always had an interest but was able to really taste some amazing scotches at the last agency I worked for (a small group started the ‘scotch Friday’ tradition..a tradition I kept up even after I left :).
As with most behaviors, it’s always easier to keep on it if you have a partner, so it wasn’t until Hubby was enlightened at a recent work function with his ‘a-ha- scotch – a 12 yr-old Bowmore (they are also on Twitter!). It helped that my boss, Brian, is a scotch lover too and taught us all about the delicious drink.
Perhaps it’s co-incidence, or that like attracts like, but the topic of drinking scotch has come up quite a bit in my social circles, much more than it ever has before (Maybe it’s attributed to age? i just leave it at that). And most of the conversation is similar to how I felt not too long ago – that I have tasted some, liked it and want to taste more. But there is such a barrier to getting good scotch (knowledge, price, etc) that many have never taken the leap.
And that’s how I came to host my first Scotch Tasting Party.
While I was slightly more advanced than my guests, I still have a lot to learn, so research to host the best party was the first (and most important) step. I hope that I can compile all the information so that anyone looking to host their own party can use this as their go-to resource. Below this list I will, in detail, discuss what I had at my party and how the tasting went.
1) Picking scotch
I’m still learning the difference b/w whiskey, whisky, scotch, bourbon, single malts, blends…the basic thing you need to know is that Scotch ONLY comes from Scotland. I would recommend to stick with single malts as well. They just taste better. [Interesting fact: whisky without the 'e' is typically scotch. Check out the spelling variations on wiki.]
It’s important to know that Scotch varies depending on the type of region is comes from because of the weather and environment – wind, water, soil – all have an affect on the flavour, so this is why it varies by region. There are 6 regions in total and over 80 distilleries across the country.
There are two ways you can pick what to drink - 1) Pick scotch from different regions OR 2) Pick from the same region.
For a first time party, I recommend to pick from different regions. It will give you a better idea of the varying flavours of scotch. Also, beginners may not be able to taste the subtleties in scotch from the same region. I also would keep it to about three different kinds. Not only can it get pricey, but there is a lot to taste, so you don’t want to overwhelm.
Here is a great list to start from: The Fifty Best Single Malt Scotches
2) What to eat
Once you’ve decided on the region, it’s important to choose food that goes well with it. For each region I’ll post an overall idea of the kinds of foods that were suggested for each region. Keep in mind that these “rules” are etched in jello, so really, just go with what kinds of flavours and styles of food you are accustomed to.
Lowland – Dips and crackers, earthy veggies with not too powerful herbs (rosemary goes really well), olives
Islay – Anything smokey (cheese, fish, veggies). Anything crustacean as well.
Highland – Harder to pick because of the variety of flavours, but if you pick a sherried or port casked kind then this is great with desserts.
Island, Campbeltown, Speyside – Garlicky flavours, similar to lowlands but stronger herbs and spices.
Here is a great list of traditional Scottish recipes.
3) How to drink it
I’m going to point you to the perfect website for how to drink scotch (when you are doing a tasting). Why say something when someone else has said it better?
4) Odds and Ends
The details are really what make an event. I rearranged the furniture in my house to accommodate a ’round table’ style. I prepared a presentation that I played on my TV (I embedded it below) that went through some fun notes and trivia about each of the distilleries or scotches. I’m fortunate to have a techie husband, so we plugged in my Mac and I was able to control everything from my iPhone using the keynote app. Pretty cool eh?
Make sure that you have something for them to write their notes on. I went to the dollar store in search of small note books that they could keep and came on the treasure in the photo inset on the right. Could you ask for a better notebook for a scotch tasting party? I think not.
I really wanted to send out real (as in not virtual) invitations but couldn’t find anything I liked. I used evite and it worked really well. I kept the party small (14 invites, 8 people RSVP’d yes). My invites were a bit of a mixed bag – almost everyone met for the first time, which was pretty cool. It just turned out that way; really my focus was on having people that really were interested in trying scotch.
1) Lowland: 16 Auchentoshan (Aw-ken-tosh-an) Hart Brothers Vintage
This area has only three distilleries elf and most of the brew ends up in blends. It has a more mellow flavour so it’s good for the beginning of the night or for beginner tongues. We chose a special vintage edition that is only distributed by the Hart Brothers.
Sweet and Yukon gold fries, oven baked with rosemary and thyme
Hummus, asiago/artichoke, curry mayo
2) Islay: 10 year Laphroaig (la-FROYG)This region is the smallest in size but not in flavour. Pronounced EYE-LUH, this area is flat and covered in peat that is subjected to the water and high winds from the sea. This lends itself to the more earthy, peaty flavour of all the scotch from this region. Interestingly, the distillery was the only legal exporter of alcohol to the US during the prohibition. They fooled the US government into thinking the whiskey was medicinal because of it’s iodine smell.
Smoked salmon, smoked cheese, smoked
nuts, Roasted cauliflower and cheddar cheese soup, olives, pearl onions, pickled beets
3) Highland: 12 yr Glenmorangie (Glen-’mohr-injee) Quinta Ruban
This is a special type of scotch that is ‘extra-matured’. It spent the first 10 years maturing in American white oak casks, before being transferred into specially selected ruby port pipes from the Quintas or wine estates of Portugal. This attributes to it’s sweeter flavour.
While most of the Highland’s I’ve tried have been sweet there is a large variety of flavours from this region (as opposed to scotch from Islay). Since it’s the largest in size, it means it’s also diverse in weather and, as I stated earlier, weather plays a significant impact on the flavour of scotch.
85% coca chocolate from Ecuador, milk chocolate (for those that don’t like dark), Oreos ( which go AMAZINGLY well with scotch), Coffee beans from Detour Coffee, Maple Pecan mini tarts
One final note before I finish this lengthy (but awesome!) blog post. My guests were all so generous, they brought gifts when they came. The best part was that each gift was so thoughtful and ran with the theme of the party: 170 raw Oysters (and the muscles to shuck them), a lovely decanter with Scotch mints and toffee (the toffee didn’t last long!), a set of four Scotch glasses (which I wished I had opened at the beginning of the night), and a new Islay I hadn’t tried (but I did by the end of the night!).
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