So, it happens the last Thursday of every month until, well, it stops happening. And you'll need reservations. And tickets. But there is no good reason not to do it. After the success of his Irish Whisky tastings last year, D.J. Naylor over at the Celtic Crossing is now picking out some the best Scotches he's ever had to share, taste, and talk Scotch whisky.
This isn't just "drinking Scotch" as wonderful as that is — it is a production in praise of good Scotch ... while drinking a tot here and there, or course. Ah, and aren't you glad that I didn't say a "wee dram"? Tasting is different from drinking, or more to the point, "drankin'."
Scotch tastings in Memphis can be tricky. The day before, it was 40 degrees and I was all set to wear my tweed and drink some wooly Scotch. Then it turned out to be 70 degrees and I wore my tweed anyway becausee I'm bloody-minded and thought it would help me sweat the toxins out. As D.J. said: "We're here to educate — to increase your purchasing power. We're not here to taste a $1,000 bottle of whisky."
At half-time during the tasting, reservation tickets included a smoked salmon appetizer and a bit of Scotch egg — which is a hard-boiled egg wrapped in sausage and deep-fried. It lacks finesse, I'll admit, but it is wonderful. Now, here's what we tasted.
Glenfiddich Single Malt Scotch, 14 Year Bourbon Barrel Reserve, Dufftown, Baniffshire, Scotland $50, ABV 43%
As the name might suggest, this is a homage to U.S. bourbon — the Scotch is aged in used bourbon barrels and finished in deep-charred new American oak, which is a little different from the usual process. This is a light golden Highland Scotch — it's malty, it's got some spice to it, with little hints of toffee and vanilla. If you are a little nervous or wary of those peat-fire Scotches, this is a good choice for you.
Bruichladdich — The Organic Scottish Barley, Isle of Ilay, Argyll, Scotland, $100, ABV 50%
Pronounced "Brook-laddie" because, of course it is. Bruichladdich was bound to happen: The Scots went all organic. It is the localvore Scotch, using all local ingredients from three counties that no one on this side of the Atlantic ocean can pronounce. Bruichladdich has no pesticides and no artificial coloring. This last bit really threw me because I always thought that the original "water-of-life" was that rich golden brown on its own. I thought this because like a lot of people, I crave order in a disturbing universe. So it looks lighter than its counterparts, but at 100 proof, this can be misleading. It is the color of hay and has fine, oily legs when swirled in the glass. There is some sweetness to it and a hint of spice for the big feel of this most virtuous of scotches.
With a high-proof scotch, you can really see how diluting with a little water changes the taste, if not the character of a whisky. Here a little bit of water in a whisky neat really opens up the flavors. For one thing, undiluted spirits at that strength will pretty much overpower the senses.
Ardbeg Corryvreckan, Isle of Islay, Argyll, Scotland, $90, ABV 57.1%
D.J. says, "If you are a peat-head, this is a most enjoyable peat whisky." In 2010, the year Ardbeg introduced its Corryvreckan (pronounced: Ahh ... do we really care at this point?), it won "World's Best Single Malt Whisky" and "Single Malt of the Year." It has been likened to Laphroig 10-year, but I don't see it. They are in the same ballpark, but Laphroig is the more smoky peat-fire of the two. One wonderful thing about the Ardbeg is that is has a lot of spice from the French oak casks, but because it's distilled close to the sea, it has that certain iodine, seawater brine character. Which, I know sounds nasty, but it really is the hard-to-press-down quality that, for me, makes a great Scotch.
Macallan Extra Rare Cask Edition, Craigellachie, Banffshire, Scotland, $300, ABV 43%
This is just ostentatious. Wonderful but ostentatious. And I'm not just talking about the $300 price tag or the awesome red box it comes in that viewers of The Crown know looks suspiciously like those dispatch boxes the queen gets her official business in. This Scotch is blended from whiskies drawn from 16 Sherry cask styles. It leaves me asking, "Why?" Is it to justify the $300 price? Don't get me wrong, this was an epic snort of whisky, but I've had much better at $70. It is dark gold in color, with flavors of Sherry and oak and a long dried fruit finish.