"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Sons of the Pioneers theme for TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon artist's musings melding metaphors and journalism, for readers in more than 150 countries.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Never on the rocks--from the "Whisky Correspondent"

Here's the story that appeared in the July 29 issue of the Journal Record, the daily business newspaper in Oklahoma City. After a dram of Ardbeg's last night, I wanted to share with you what I wrote. I think I earned the appellation "Whisky Correspondent" at the paper, so I'm looking for new assignments.  Headlined, "Never on the Rocks," which was the title of my previous post too. This was the most fun I've had on an article in a long time, especially in the "research" before writing it. 

Oklahomans who gather after work with  their blended scotch on the rocks cocktails would discover an entirely different whisky world in Scotland.
While Dewars and Famous Grouse top the Scotch whiskies sales charts here, they're weak in that and taste too in the home of more distilleries and whiskies than anywhere else in the world. Single malts are king, and not just on the Royal Mile of Edinburgh.
"You can buy Dewars at the airport," said Alan Rogerson, assistant manager at at one of the Whisky Trail stores in Edinburgh, a city that seems to have more whisky stores than Oklahoma City has convenience stores. The shelves are lined with hundreds of bottles of single malts. About the only similarity with America is that Famous Grouse is the best selling blend in Scotland.

Amie Hendrickson, manager and sommelier at the Edmond Wine Shop, agreed.
"Blends are the favorites and best sellers," she said. Her main distributors report Dewars as the best selling scotch in the state, and it and Famous Grouse are among the top sellers at the Edmond store.
But in Oklahoma, the best selling single malt usually includes The Glenlivet, Hendrickson's suppliers report, though several other brands  are also favorites, while the best selling scotch in the world is Glenfiddich, Rogerson said.
Hendrickson's not surprised at the variety.
"Single  malt drinkers tend to be more adventurous and try more, but they all have their favorites,"  she said.
And scotch isn't as popular in Oklahoma as other liquors, said Randa Warren, of Warren Wine and Spirits in Tulsa. Warren is the only master sommelier in Oklahoma, and said that vodka and others outsell Scotch here.

Drinking and buying scotch in Scotland is an adventure as different as the blends and single malts.
Hendrickson said the blends are designed to be refreshing and delicious, for use in cocktails.
"They're not complex. Many blended drinkers don't even like single malts, the flavor is so different. There's as much complexity in scotches as there is in wine,"  she said.
It's no wonder. Scotland, with more than 100  whisky distilleries, produces single malts by the hundreds, in an area a little smaller than the state of Maine. America is second in the world, with just 15.
To experience the full range of adventure, visitors should put The Scotch Whisky Experience (http://www.scotchwhiskyexperience.co.uk/) on their travel itinerary. Located at the foot of Edinburgh castle, it offers an hour-long tour explaining the distilling process. Or visitors can just go to the store….lined with hundreds of bottles of scotch from all of the country's six producing regions.

A visit to the bar offers single drams, or "tastings" (what Americans would call "flights")  of four different whiskies. Prices start at about 23 pounds (current exchange rate is about $1.60). That first flight offers four drams from four of the  distillery regions, culminating in a smokey, peaty Ardbeg malt from the isle of Islay. For the more adventurous, and richer, there are other tastings, ranging up to more than 100 pounds in price.
Staff members at any of the  stores--regardless of age-- all seem to be whisky experts and the word "adventurous" is a word that keeps coming up in reference to scotch.
Caleb Jaffray of The Scotch Whisky Experience said that the Ardbeg Uigeadail scotch  is "dark and mysterious," and at 50 percent alcohol might need just a little water to "open it up" in flavor.

Water perhaps, but never on the rocks as in Oklahoma on a hot August day. Scotland's cold enough, but drinking Scotch there is a ritual of swirling, sniffing, and slowing sipping, perhaps while dreaming of sitting by a blazing fire after a cold day in the highlands.
Those sampling at the Whiskey Experience tastings take at least 30 minutes to sample those malts. It also helps them to be able to walk out afterward.
 Henderson said that scotch sales in Oklahoma increase in the winter, between January and March.
In most of the English speaking world, it's spelled "whiskey." But  in Scotland, it's "whisky" and the tastes and sales are as different as the spelling.
Scotch is serious business in Scotland, where its production must meet specific standards. Single malts must be aged at least 10 years in barrels--some up to 30 years, and must be at least 40 percent alcohol. But blends make up a majority of the production because of worldwide sales demands in places like Oklahoma.
Your whisky correspondent at work

Hendrickson and her husband vacationed on the isle of Islay this past year, visiting distilleries.
For the adventurous who want to try really expensive scotch, she recommends going to a "high-end" steakhouse, and ordering one dram at the bar. 

"If you want to know what a really expensive  Scotch tastes like, order one $100 dram and share  who you're with. Those many varieties cater to many different tastes," she said.

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