As I am going to The Scotch Malt Whisky Society Extravaganza here in Houston tonight, I thought it an appropriate time to mention my love of Scotland, along with its premiere export, Single Malt Scotch Whisky. Yes, that is how they spell it, no “e” as we do.
Growing up, I would occasionally get a taste of the blended Scotch whiskey that my parents would drink, and generally always wondered how they could stand that stuff. But, as we mature, so do our taste buds, and as I found myself appreciating foods that were hitherto out of favor with my palate, so too did I come around to an appreciation of Scotch.
But it wasn’t until my late friend Richard High gifted me with a bottle of Laphroaig that the epiphany came. This was something I had never tasted; the incredible flavors, capped off with the smokiness that come from malting the barley with the local peat, were a revelation, and started me on a journey that continues to this day.
Made from only three ingredients, malted barley, yeast, and water, the single malts are distilled a batch at a time in copper pot stills. The varieties of flavor come from the water source, the size and shape of the stills, the kind of wood used in the barrels for maturation, and even the air around the distillery, as the wood breathes during the years of aging, and imparts flavor as well as color. For instance, the granite-fed water and crisp air of the Highlands will impart a different character than the water and air of the Island of Islay (eye-luh), as the water runs over peaty soil, and the air is full of the brine of the sea, as all the distilleries there are right on the water. Coupled with the varying degrees of phenolic flavors imparted by the different amounts of peat used in the malting, Islay is known for the smokiness of its whiskies, which have become a favorite of mine.
As I tended to favor Lagavulin for a while (and White Horse, a blended Scotch with Lagavulin as its base, is still my favorite of that genre), I decided I should marry my interests with my work, and I contacted Lagavulin, and the their parent company, which at the time was United Distillers, and was granted full access to the distillery for a comprehensive shoot. I spent about 5 days on Islay, and the weather was wonderful. They actually credited me with bringing it from Texas!
Here is one of my favorites from that trip, shot on good old Kodachrome.
It was eventually used by The British Tourist Authority in a newspaper campaign in the USA, back in the days when stock photography was still viable.
I also had fun giving presentations to my clients, usually on a Friday afternoon, as I would do a slide show (yes, remember those?) on the process of making Single Malt Scotch Whisky, and on The Island of Islay, complete with a bottle of Lagavulin so the participants could get a first hand experience of the fruits of the gentlemen’s labors.
We’ll be going back to Scotland this August, and although we won’t make it to Islay, I will be touring a couple of distilleries that I have not yet visited. I look forward to sharing the results with you at a later date.
Meanwhile, if you are so inclined, visit The Scotch Malt Whisky Society web site to learn more about the society, which buys select casks from the various distilleries and bottles the contents themselves, non-chill filtered and at cask strength. And I’d love to give you a referral for membership should you decide this might be something you’d like to explore further.