Why did God invent scotch? | AspenTimes.com

Why did God invent scotch?

ASPEN Saturday afternoon started off on a sour note as Aspen Food & Wine Classic waiters offered tasters a cocktail of Fine Oak Cask 10-year-old Macallan Scotch whisky, Cointreau and fresh lemon juice: Single-malt Scotch purists reacted with mild shock at the adulteration of such fine whisky.But the concoction tasted good, the purists were mollified before the first glass had been emptied, and from there on the Macallan tasting at local restaurant Elevation rose to the expectations of a highly expectant crowd.These were Scotch whisky drinkers, you understand, with well-established preferences that sometimes lean toward fanaticism, and Macallan is at the pinnacle of the Scotch whisky pyramid. The Macallan, a company that never uses caramel to darken its product, was the first brand to earn a government license, in 1824, and is known as “the master of wood and spirit” for its whiskies.Scotch is made only in Scotland, though the Japanese made a stab at producing scotch there and were roundly condemned for their efforts a decade or more ago.Historically, there have been hundreds of different distilleries in Scotland, though large English conglomerates have swallowed many smaller concerns, their distinctive brands lost forever.A distillation of barley malt, aged in oaken casks and bottled at various ages and with various flavor influences, it is a surprisingly malleable beverage and has in recent decades achieved a high level of fascination for yuppies in America and the nouveau riche on just about every continent.As with fine wines, drinkers of scotch speak of a particular “nose” or aromatic profile to every bottle, a special “palate” that describes the subtleties of taste, and a “finish” that tells how the scotch feels and tastes once it has gone down the hatch, so to speak.Eden Algie, the brand ambassador for The Macallan, introduced the crowd at Elevation to several rare vintages with fairly distinctive characteristics, along with a bit of Scottish humor.Repeating a conversation he said he once heard between a reporter and a scotch expert, he asked his audience, “Why did God invent Scotch whisky? To keep the Scots from taking over the world. And it’s done a pretty good job, actually.”As the preliminary socializing and munching of appetizers progressed, some of the more dedicated aficionados tried some of the bottles open at various tables, including a “Cask Strength” featuring whisky around $55 per bottle, aged eight to a dozen years and bottled directly from the cask, without any blending of years of addition of water.Also available was the 18-year-old Macallan, a popular vintage that sells for about double the price of the Cask Strength, and a 17-year old Fine Oak Cask aged in American oak to give it a subtle, bourbon-like undertone that the makers hope will appeal to American whiskey drinkers. Algie called the Fine Oak Cask series (there’s a 10-year-old as well) “a wonderful bridge between those who drink bourbon and those who drink scotch.”But Algie also had “a little surprise” in store for his audience – tastes of some truly rare and expensive vintages, including a couple from The Macallan Fine & Rare Collection adorning a table at the front of the room. He said this couple dozen bottles represented more than $180,000 worth of Scotch whiskies, although the bottles on the table were filled with colored water to avoid temptation for any would-be unauthorized samplers.First on the menu, a relatively light scotch distilled in 1968 and bottled in 2004, was matured in American oak with a sherry oak seasoning for up to three years. Algie didn’t mention the price tag on this one, but he did note that the last bottle of a 1926 vintage had sold for $60,000 a couple of years ago, to a collector he said could probably get twice that if he sold it today.Then came the highlight of the event, samples of a 1976 vintage aged in sherry oak, a little darker and more complicated than the 1968 and being tasted at a public event for the first time ever. The suggested retail price of a bottle, according to Macallan, is $1,500.Sporting overtones of fruit, spices and vanilla in the nose, a hefty peat-smoke palate and a dry finish, the taste represented a heady moment for the crowd, even those who are not usually scotch drinkers.John Colson’s e-mail address is jcolson@aspentimes.com

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