To be honest, I'm not much of a Scotch whisky drinker. But that may change. I'm beginning to appreciate the craftsmanship and care that goes into making single-malt Scotch, in part due to what amounted to a master's seminar on the stuff during a recent lunch.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Mitch Bechard, a Scotsman who is also brand ambassador for William Grant & Sons, owners of Glenfiddich Single Malt Scotch Whisky. I don't normally drink Scotch with lunch, but this was research. Turns out that Glennfiddich is a pretty good foil for The Copper Onion's killer pasta carbonara; both taste a tad smoky.
The Glenfiddich saga begins with a fellow named William Grant. In 1886, aided by cheap labor in the form of seven sons and two daughters, Grant began building a distillery by hand. A year and 750,000 stones later, it was finished and named Glenfiddich, which Bechard told me is Gaelic for "valley of the deer." The first Glenfiddich Scotch was poured Christmas Day 1887.
It wouldn't be until 1963 that Sandy Grant Gordon, a great grandson of William Grant, would introduce the world beyond Scotland to the joys of single-malt Scotch versus blended whiskey. Today, Glenfiddich—which is one of the few remaining family-owned single-malt Scotch producers—thrives and is sold in more than 180 countries. In fact, the worldwide demand—up 87 percent since 2002—for single malt is so great that Glenfiddich has had to raise its prices in order to keep up with demand and keep its whisky on the shelves. Recently, at an auction for charity in New York City, a bottle of Glenfiddich 55-year-old Janet Sheed Roberts Reserve Scotch—named for Scotland's oldest living woman and her achievements in education—sold for $94,000. It was the last of only 11 bottles made and auctioned.
Well, you and I will never taste that 55-year-old Scotch, the appeal of which would probably be wasted on a charlatan wine drinker like myself, anyway. The good news is that Glenfiddich's "entry level" 12-year single malt Scotch can be had for around $40, leaving you with some $93,960 to spend on other things.
You might be relieved to know that, when it comes to single-malt Scotch, age isn't everything. We all know a 40-year-old asshole, after all. The Glenfiddich bottles you're most likely to encounter here are the 12-year-old ($45), 15-year-old ($56) and 18-year-old ($100) single malts. The age is indicative of how long the Scotch matures in casks, which makes a huge difference in the various styles and ages of Glenfiddich. The 12-year Scotch, for example, ages in American bourbon and Spanish sherry oak casks for a minimum of 12 years, lending it pear flavors tinged with oak. By the way, Glenfiddich is the No. 1 buyer of used bourbon oak from America.
The Glenfiddich 15-year-old Single Malt Scotch that I tasted at The Copper Onion (you can, too) is very smooth, not hot or overly alcoholic tasting, with beautiful honey flavors that develop as the Scotch is matured in oak casks, followed by a mellowing turn in Glenfiddich's unique Solera vat and then in Portuguese oak. There are subtle vanilla notes along with exotic spicy hints of ginger and cinnamon. Delicious.
During lunch, Bechard also cleared up the question of what a "dram" is. "It's not a measurement of volume," he said. "A dram pour is really a matter of how much the barman likes you." Remember to tip your bartender. CW