Monday, March 21, 2011

Hosting a Scotch Tasting Party

One of the things I think I would really enjoy doing is hosting a scotch tasting party.  Where I'm from, there are the occasional wine-tasting parties that bring like-minded individuals with similar passion together for an evening of indulgence.  Such an event not only creates a form of camaraderie with other enthusiast, it can also help to further develop and broaden your knowledge on the alcohol. 

A scotch tasting event combines sophisication and relation, the very traits which the drink itself represents.  It is a toast to civilization. 

When throwing a scotch tasting event, it is important to know your audience: are they novices or experts?  Cater to them and serve scotch that will capture their interest.  For instance, for beginners, consider something that is higher on drinkability, with a wider range of taste profiles, which will allow them to experiment and discover what type of scotch they like.  For the more seasoned scotch drinkers, it would be better to narrow the choices and focus on a more specific region (e.g. Islay) or taste. 

Unlike wine, scotch tastings should be limited to no more than 4 - 6 choices.  Why?  Firstly, scotch is alot stronger than wine proportionally.  You wouldn't want your guests to be passed out drunk at the end of the session.  In addition, the palate can become overwhelmed due to the strength of the scotch itself.

Another consideration to have when hosting a scotch tasting is what type of glass to use.  In my previous post, I explained the differences between the glasses most commonly used.  Although it is certainly fine to use any glass for personal enjoyment, it is more appropriate to use a "nosing glass" in a scotch-tasting event.  The tulip-shaped glass can help guests to better identify and appreciate the flavors and aromas of the scotch, and it adds another touch of sophisication to the party. 

Next, and quite importantly, is what scotches to offer?  Most hosts of scotch tastings stick with single malts, as they tend to have a more distinct and unique character, taste and smell.  These differences are more muddled in a blended scotch.  As to which sinle malt scotch to use, well, this goes back to the earlier passage on what your audience is.  Serve accordingly to what the majority prefers.  You can either serve one from each of the five scotch regions, or you can focus on a particular region and sample several scotches from different distillery. 

In addition to the scotch and the glasses, a pitcher of filtered water should also be available.  Most experts agree that adding a few drops of water can really bring out the flavors and aromas in the scotch.  Ice, however, is not neccessary, as true scotch enthusiast will never consider adding ice to their alcohol. 

Finally, a pad of paper and pen should be provided to each taster for making notes on what they did and not like about each bottle.  Consider handing out pre-printed sheets with areas to write in the label of the bottle, general thoughts, and taste categories (age, body, color, palette, smell and finish). 

Many hosts also have food available at the tasting, being careful not to choose food that will clash with the Scotch. Some suggestions are sharp or mild cheeses, unflavored crackers, dark chocolate, and various fruits.

The nice thing about scotch tastings is that you can try out very expensive bottles that you normally would not buy.  Also, if you live in a big enough city, you can invite one of the main scotch companies to bring one of their reps or ambassadors to host the tasting for you.  This way, you can get a specialist present to provide background information and answer any questions. 

I hope this post will encourage readers to consider trying out and attend a local scotch tasting party.  Who knows, you may just discover a bottle of scotch you like that you would have never come across by yourself.  Till the next time, you keep it classy SimplyScotches readers. 

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Climbing the Scotch Ladder for Beginners

I have a friend, let's call him Pete.  Pete, like most people, occasionally drink blends like Johnnie Walker Black, and mostly on the rocks.  On one occasion at a bar, perhaps somewhat intrigued by my scotch obsession, he decided to try a single malt.  Unfortunately, he ordered from the bar-tender a dram of Laphroaig (very strong and smoky).  All it took was one sip from the glass, and Pete began coughing violently and choking.  He later told me that he cannot believe people actually enjoys scotch.  Pete never touched another glass of scotch since then.  

Unfortunately, I suspect Pete's case is more the norm rather than the exception.  Too many people often start off with too advance, and are immediately put off by the pungent taste.  Starting with an Islay (as in Pete's case) is like drinking a Guinness if all you ever had was Bud Lite. 

To help beginners out there still discovering the wonders of scotch, I developed this simple "scotch ladder" guide.  Start off at the bottom rung, and move on to the next step when you feel comfortable with the level you are on now.  This way, it allows your taste buds to develop and adapt, and in the process appreciating, the various flavors of scotch, without them being too overpowering right from the start. 

Your journey starts here.

1. Start with a smooth, light scotch.  Focus is on drinkability.
Recommendations: Cragganmore 12 yr, Glenfiddich 12, Dalwinnie 15 yr
Value selection: Cragganmore 12 yr
Premium selection: Glenlivet 18 yr
Cragganmore 12 Yr

2. Next, introduce some complexity and richness. 
Recommendations: Macallan 12 yr, Glenfarclas 17 yr, Longmorn 15 yr
Value selection: Arbelour 12 yr
Premium selection: Dalmore 21
Macallan 12 Yr

3. Add some light smoke. 
Recommendations: Oban 14 yr, Highland Park 15 yr
Value selection: Glen Garioch 10
Premium selection: Royal Lochnagar 12 yr
Oban 14 Yr

4. Dial up the smokiness.
Recommendations: Highland Park 18 yr, Bruichladdich 10 yr
Value selection: Highland Park 12 yr
Premium selection: Springbank 15 yr
Highland Park 18 Yr

5. Enter the peat man.
Recommendations: Talisker 10 yr, Bowmore 12 yr, Talisker 18 yr
Value selection: Talisker 10 yr
Premium selection: Ledaig 20 yr
Talisker 10 Yr

6. Final stop: Islay
Recommendations: Lagavulin 16 yr, Laphroaig 10 yr, Ardbeg 10 yr
Value selection: Caol Ila 12 yr
Premium selection: Lagavulin 12 yr
Lagavulin 16 Yr

Friday, March 18, 2011

Distillery Map

From this earlier post, I explained how the flavor profile of a scotch, even though it can be quite unique at different distilleries, do have some common characteristics that separate them from scotch from other regions.  In this post, I will share with you a map that I came across showing the location of the various scotch distilleries/brands spread around Scotland:

Because Speyside is the region where the most distilleries are concentrated, here's a closer snapshot of the area:

If you desire a more interractive map, check out this site: 
Here, you can select from a list your favorite distillery, and the map will auto-zoom to where the distillery is located in Scotland.  Pretty neat!

Have a great weekend everyone!  May your glasses stay full of scotch and pockets full of money.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Scotch Glasses

Most scotch aficianados agree that the indiviual pleasures of scotch appreciating were further enhanced by drinking from the right whisky glass. 

While I am personally not picky enough to insist on drinking from a specially designed whisky glass, I can appreciate the amount of work and thought put into creating the glass.  In this post, I will explore two of the most common type of glasses that people drink out from.

Whisky Tumbler:
One of the most common glass to drink scotch from is the whisky tumbler.  The whisky tumbler typically holds 8 to 10 ounces, and is the perfect glass to use if you are having your scotch with ice, or if you are adding a mixer such as coke or ginger ale (the horror!).  Of course, you can quite happily use the tumblers too if you are drinking your scotch neat, or with a bit of water. 

There isn't any inherently wrong with drinking from the tumbler, and do not let anyone make you feel bad for drinking from one.  Even though I find myself reaching for one quite often whenever I'm pouring myself a dram or two of scotch, the tumbler isn't really designed to facilitate the nosing and tasting of the aroma of the scotch, of which both elements are important to truly appreciate scotch. 

Tulip-shaped Glasses

The glass favored by most scotch aficianados is the tulip-shaped whisky glass.  These glasses come in two types: the Scotch Malt Whisky Society's tasting glass, and the Gelncairn glass.  Although differing slightly from each other in shape, both glasses have a slightly bulbous base tapering up to a narrow top. 

The bottom half of the glass encourages evaportation through its larger surface area and the contact to the warmth of your hand.  The narrow top focuses the smell, concentrating the aroma of the scotch at your nose.  All this comes together to enhance the aroma and this most certainly can enhances the drinking experience. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Captain Planet

Came across this funny scotch-related picture, thought I would share with you guys.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Describing Scotch - Finish

Finish is a common and familiar term often used to describe the taste profile of a particular scotch.  To put it simply, the finish of a scotch can be described as the after-taste left in the mouth.

"Short" and "long" are two of the most common words to describe the finish of a scotch.  The scotch's finish is how long the flavor impression lasts in your mouth and on your tongue after it is swallowed.  This is where the scotch culminates, and the after-taste comes into play. 

To observe the finish of the drink, ask yourself these questions: did it last several questions?  Was it light-bodied (think the weight of water), medium-bodied (like the weight of milk) or full-bodied (with the consistency of cream)?  Can you taste the remnant of the scotch on the back of your mouth and throat?  What was your last flavor impression - fruity, smoky, oak?  Does the taste persist, or is it short-lived? 

Monday, March 14, 2011

New milestone - 400 followers!

A new milestone has been reached at, we have 400 readers following us!  This is a huge achievement.  When I started this blog, I thought I will be lucky if I have 20 followers.  Now, just a few months later, we hit the big 400. 

To everyone out there, this achivement cannot be possible without your support.  Words cannot express the gratitude that I feel.  Thank you everyone!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Scotch Snobs

If you are as interested in scotch as I am, there will be many times in your journey to quench the thirst of knowledge that you will come across other scotch enthusiast.  While the majority of them are usually pleasant to chat with, especially since you share the same hobby, I will occasionally come across a few that is known as scotch snobs.

A scotch snob is someone who only drinks a particular type of scotch.  They seem to enjoy giving some elitist opinion on why they like the drink, and often turning up their nose on other types of scotch. 

This phenomenon is unfortunately common enough in the scotch circle.  Perhaps, from the olden days where scotch has an elitist stigma attached to it, that association sort of stuck with certain individuals, and they bring it up to another level so as to differentiate themselves further from other scotch drinkers.

The scotch snobs can generally be divided into two types.  Those that only drink single malts, and those that only drink peaty, Islay scotches (like Laphroaig).  I have yet to hear of any scotch snobs that only drink blended malts. 

While I have absolutely zero problems with those two types of scotch (in fact, I enjoy them), I think it is silly to restrict yourself to it.  Personally, I feel the true appreciation of scotch is allowing yourself to have an open mind, and thoroughly immense yourself into the various works and efforts put in so that you can enjoy that in fine dram of scotch, blended or single malt. 

That's it for now.  Till the next time, bottoms up my friend.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Modern Age Scotch Ads

Some of my longer readers may recall that I did an earlier post on old school scotch ads.  Perhaps not too surprising, scotch was marketed almost exclusively to the male audience back then.  That, I would argue, still stands true today.  To be fair, I personally do not know of too many females liking scotch.

What had changed, though, was that men of means or wealth are often the ones depicted in the ads.  This created a elitist, almost snobbish, view on the drink.  As the years gone by, this aspect has certainly withered down a little, with the ads perhaps trying to target a wider audience.  The challenge they face here is how to escape that snobbish/elitist stigma that was attached to scotch in the past, yet not bringing down too far that it cheapens the drink.

Modern age scotch ads generally have a, well, modern feel to it.  More specifically, it usually involves a dark background, with the object of interest in bold gold colors.  Design is kept simple, minimalistic, with few distractions.  People are seldom depicit in the ads.  Instead, they are replaced with "actions".  Actions such as pouring the drink, clinking glasses, and stuff of that nature. 

Anyway, here are some of the ads that I gathered.  Feel free to compare the difference between the two generations of scotch ads:

Friday, March 11, 2011

Feeling better

After almost a full-day spent lying in bed, I am feeling much better.  Thanks for all the well-wishes out there, and god speed to everyone who has families in Japan or Hawaii. 

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Down with the cold

Feeling under the weather today due to a cold.  Will be back in no time to update the blog.  For my readers that are done with their mid-terms, down a scotch for me will ya.

Simple Scotches, out.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Initial tasting from a new bottle of scotch

One observation I made when taking the initial drink from a freshly opened bottle is that, more often than not, the scotch does not taste quite as good as subsequent tasting.  The difference, though certainly noticeable, is hard to describe - perhaps a "sharp" taste to it, as well as a stronger alcohol presence.

Left to stand by itself, the flavors will tend to meld and improve after a while.  Air, I believe, is the reason for this change in taste.  When the seal of the bottle is broken, and the cork is removed, air enters though the mouth of the bottle and interact with the alcohol.  This renewed interaction between air and liquor, combined with the natural evaporation of the alcohol, serves to alter the flavor of the drink. 

As always, bottoms up my friend.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Mojito

Although the painful winter still has a few weeks of life in it, one of the most refreshing drink that my wife and I enjoy is a nice, tall glass of Mojito.  Originating from Cuba, its combination of sweetness, refreshing citrus and mint flavors complement the rum perfectly, making this the perfect summer drink (even though summer is still some time away). 

In this post, I will take a break from the usual scotch-focus topic, and show you how to make a Mojito.

What you will need:
Rum - I use Bacardi Rum here. 
Mint leaves

Pluck out a few mint leaves and put them into a glass.  Bartenders usually remove the stems as they are not too visually appealing, but I leave them in as I think they add to the minty taste.  Add in a teaspoon of sugar for taste.

Squeeze half a lime into the glass.  Pour in 1.5 oz of Bacardi Rum, and top off the balance of the glass with Sprite.  Proceed to muddle the mint leaves with a spoon, or if you have it a muddler.  Make sure to crush up the mint leaves as much as you can so that it releases more of its flavor into the mixture.  Add ice, and stir the drink to ensure an even mix.  Enjoy your Mojito!

If you are interested in another of my drink recipe, check out my post on the Godiva Chocolate Martini.  Bottoms up, my friend.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Bourbon and Sherry casks

Scotch, unlike wine, does not mature or age once it is bottled.  It matures when placed in oak casks.  The quality of the casks where the scotch was aged is very important.  According to experts, the nature and quality of the casks, together with the quality of the barley, the making process can make up for 95% of the final quality of a malt whisky.

Naturally, wood, in the form of the casks, plays a very important role in the production of whisky.  Only oak casks are used, as they are flexible yet solid enough to be constructed into the shape of a cask.  Oak also adds very distinct character and flavor profile to the spirit as well.  Only specific oak species are used for whisky casks: White American Oak, and European Oak.

In the process of making scotch, second-hand casks are used almost exclusively.  A virgin oak wood cask, with its fresh "woody" elements" could potentially overpower the subtleties that we appreciate in a fine glass of scotch. 

The second-hand cask used for the maturation of scotch, almost always, has been used before in the production of bourbon or sherry to absorb some of the harshness of the new wood. 

But why bourbon?  Well, that is because American law (bourbon is mostly produced in Kentucky) states that a bourbon cask can only be used once for the production of bourbon.  The cask become of little use to the bourbon distillers, and the Scots can then pick it up for a nice price. 

Bourbon casks, generally speaking, import a characteristic vanilla flavor to the whisky.

In olden times, when alcoholism was more socially-acceptable and rampant, sherry (fortified Spanish wine) used to be shipped to Britain from Spain in casks rather than bottles.  It was expensive to ship the sherry casks back to Spain when the alcohol was drained from the cask, and so empty and discarded sherry casks were scattered all over the 19th century Scottish landscape.  In what is quite possibly one of the world's earliest recycling initiatives, the Scots started gathering these second-hand sherry casks and re-used them for the maturation of their scotch.

Sherry casks are more expensive than bourbon casks, and account for only 7% of all casks imported for whisky maturation.  In addition to transferring flavors from their former contents, sherry casks also lend maturing spirit a heavier body and a deep amber color.  For this reason, single malt scotches that have been matured in sherry casks are prized by blenders and usually fetch a price premium. 

These days, it is not uncommon to see both bourbon and sherry casks being used more than once.  A sherry cask that has seen four or five fillings is not unusual.  Naturally, with each filling, lesser and lesser of the wood's character is transferred to the whisky, which just goes to give scotch their uniqueness in the sense that one bottle can quite easily differ from the next bottle, based on the cask they were in.

Till the next time, bottoms up my friend.

Sunday, March 6, 2011


I just found out that there is a limit of around 300 blogs that you can follow.  As a result, I went through my list of followed blogs and cleared out a huge bunch of inactive ones.  This way, I can start adding new blogs that are active to my list once again.

To all those that have not done this yet, I highly recommend you to clear out your list of inactive blogs.  You will not be able to follow more blogs once you hit this 300 limit.

Bottoms-up my friend.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Is scotch an acquired taste?

I still remember my first tasting of scotch.  It was at a college party.  Being poor college students as it is, the only liquor that we can afford are the cheap ones.  Amidst the several bottles of vodka and rum, there was a lone bottle of Johnnie Walker Red.  As my eyes settle on the bottle of scotch, flashback of memories take over my mind as I recall the "alpha male" image of my grandfather sitting in his rocking chair, sipping on a glass.  I was also curious about the taste, but the opportunity to taste one never really showed up.  Until now.

I poured myself a small amount.  Being the first-time, I started debating whether to add coke (I later found out that Johnnie Walker actually recommends adding mixers with the Red label, which tells you the quality of the scotch) and/or ice to it.  Being curious on the real taste of the drink, I decided to add just a few cubes of ice, and took a sip...

Boom!  The harshness of the alcohol smacks me like a speeding train, first stinging my nose, then lighting my entire mouth up.  It was like nothing I had taste before.  Not wanting to spit the scotch out in front of everybody, I struggled and forced myself to swallow it in one gulp.  My face scrunched up uncontrollably as the alcohol passed through my throat.

My body recoiled as I recover from the shock of the drink.  I wondered to myself how could anyone possibly enjoy drinking scotch?  I reached the conclusion that scotch is an "old men's drink", and that only old men enjoy this stuff.

Years later, when I started working, I received a bottle of Glenlivet 12 years for my birthday from a colleague.  Remembering my previous experience with scotch, I hesitated to give the Glenlivet a try.  The bottle ended up sitting on my kitchen counter for about 5 months.  One lonely wintery night, I was home alone with nothing to do.  I spied the bottle as I walked past the kitchen.  I started questioning my ability of perhaps better handling the alcohol drink now.  Cautiously, I poured myself a tiny amount of scotch, and gingerly took a sip...

Ahhh, much better.  The drink was still kinda harsh, but it was much better than my first experience.  Swallowing it was still quite difficult.  I continue to drink a small dram for the next few nights, and it got easier with each passing day.  Slowly, the flavors and aroma opened up to me, and I started to appreciate the work and effort it took to create scotch. 

To all people out there who were like me, who think they don't really like scotch at the first few tries, my advice for you is to stick at it.  Scotch is, without any shadow of doubt, an acquired taste.  It will get better as you get more familiar with it.  If you are drinking from a cheap scotch, consider going higher up the quality ladder, you might find yourself liking it better.

Till the next post.  In the meantime, bottoms up my friend. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

What causes a hangover?

You know that feeling: you woke up in bed and it feels like someone is hitting you with a hammer.  The room seems as if it is spinning.  Your head is pounding, and your whole body is aching.  Your mouth is dry, and you are dying for a drink.  It is the morning after a night of drinking, and you have a hangover.

But what causes a hangover?

Well, you will be surprised to learn that science is still undecided on the exact mechanisms by which alcohol causes hangovers.  There are several things that contribute to a hangover, but one of the main factors is simply dehydration.  Alcohol has a dehydrating effect that causes your body to produce more urine than normal, resulting in the feeling of dehydration: dry mouth and general feeling of lethargy. 

Drinking alcohol that contains impurities or preservatives can also contribute to giving you a hangover. 

Cogeners are chemical compounds other than alcohol and water which are found in alcoholic drinks.  They are added to alcoholic beverages as they can contribute with a pleasing color, flavor and smell.  The more congeners consumed, the worse a hangover is likely to be.  Darker spirits (such as soctch) contain more congeners than lighter spiritis (such as vodka).  Similarly, cheaper spirits generally tend to have fewer of these impurities removed, resulting in a stronger chance for hangovers. 

Unfortunately, there are no hard and fast rules stating a set amount of alcohol that will cause a hangover.  Each individual reacts to alcohol differently, but generally, the more you drank, the more severe the hangover symptoms. 

Preventing a hangover:
  • Eat before, and while you are drinking.
  • Drinking lots of water to remain hydrated.
Hangover remedies
Left alone, hangover will usually go away after some time.  But if you are seeking some fast relief to ease your pain, here are some suggestions that reportedly can help:
  • Drink water.
  • Eat something simple like eggs.
  • Exercise.
Hangover Don't
Although it may be ok to take a couple of aspirin to help you deal with the headache, avoid taking Tylenol tablets.  Alcohol combined with acetaminophen (the active ingredient found in Tylenol) can prove to be very damaging to the liver.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Alcohol and Calories

It is a commonly known fact that drinking too much alcohol can make you gain weight.  Alcohol contains calories with zero nutritional value.  In addition, alcohol can also slow down your metabolism, as well as inhibits one's liver from metabolizing fat. 

While it may seem difficult, sometimes almost impossible in certain instances, to completely avoid alcohol especially in social events, knowing the calorie content of alcohol will arm you with all of the nutritional facts related to your drinks that can possibly help you avoid developing those unsightly love hands. 

Beverage                Serving (oz.)                 Calories
Beer (light)                    12                                105
Beer (regular)               12                                150
Wine                              4                                   77
Wine Cooler                  10                                125
Scotch, Vodka, Rum     1                                  64 (80 proof), 80 (100 proof)               

However, just because alcohol contains calories does not mean that you should avoid them completely.  Studies have shown that moderate consumption of alcohol is associated with better health and longer life than is either abstaining from alcohol or abusing alcohol.  The key word here is, of course, moderation.