Wine ó Drinking like a newspaperman 

Drinking like a newspaperman

By Tim Protzman

Except newspaper salaries wonít buy a $150 scotch

 

Most newspaper editors drink, and itís not the way we winos do ó spending all evening sipping and tasting and seeing if itís good with peanuts, and cheese, and cheese mixed with peanuts, telling stories about this ďwonderful ancient bottle of Shiraz ó the veritable precursor of Grange*,Ē that we sipped (thereís that word again) looking out over Sydney Harbor.Ē

Editors donít sip. They quaff. And contrary to legend they donít drink a lot. They do a quick shot for medicinal purposes, just after deadline or before they deal with a diva employee. Editors are quick and to the point. Itís their job. And many keep a bottle in their desks. That part of the legendís true. Occasionally they have a great idea. Hippo editor Rob Greene suggested a column about whiskey, specifically a bourbon-vs.-scotch taste off, which reminded me a previous showdown in 1999.

But first the mystery: In 1998 John and I drank his brotherís scotch. We had all rented a beach house on Marthaís Vineyard and Johnís brother had left it behind. We found it hidden in the linen closet with a Post-It Note that read: Medicine. So we drank it on the deck with some people we met in a restaurant who had just returned from Germany where they filmed Ramstein in concert for a documentary. The contents of the bottle did taste like medicine though. It had the peatiness of scotch but also these extra sharp little flavors, like bitter herbs. Youíd think Iíd remember the name because when we admitted we found it and drank it, Johnís brother freaked out.

ďIt was a special blend I got in Scotland!Ē he said, whining.

But his wife solved the problem when she found and ordered a second bottle, which, after much haggling between the two Scottish brothers, cost us only $75 apiece. Youíd think Iíd remember the name of something that cost about $40 dollars a shot.

A few years later when all had blown over, I visited Johnís brother and his wife. After dinner they brought out a half-empty bottle of the $150 scotch. And a bottle of Knob Creek Bourbon.

Now she was a Southern gal and she handed us two small samples in a snifter. Of course we could tell the difference, but when we tasted, the bourbon seemed smoother, more mellow. When we tried the Knob Creek against a bottle of Dewarís the divide seemed not as great. And here the mystery begins: why do two brother whiskeys taste so different and what was the name of that $150 bottle of scotch?

The difference is in the details. Single-malt scotch is made from barley. Bourbon by law is 51 percent corn. The grain is allowed to germinate, like it does with beer. Itís roasted and allowed to ferment. Then itís distilled.

Most single-malt scotch is roasted over peat fires, while Bourbon uses oak. Then they both go into oak barrels. Scotch makers use new, old and used oak from port wine production. Tennessee whiskey like Jack Daniels is filtered through maple wood charcoal. Bourbon gets its flavor from the corn and the charred oak barrels it ages in, scotch from the grain, water and material used to roast the barley;  and Tennessee whiskey from filtration and aging and a process called sour mash where part of the last batch goes into the next batch, just like a sour dough starter for bread. In Scotland, the first and last drops of the distilled liquor are used in making the next batch. Bourbon makers start fresh every time.

Premium Bourbons include Blantonís Wild Turkey, Very Old Barton, Woodford Reserve, Elijah Craig, Jim Beam, Makerís Mark and W.L. Weller. Another good Tennessee whiskey, aside from Jack Daniels, is George Dinkel. Itís made with corn and rye.

Taste these whiskeys side by side and youíll smell the vanilla and char, the sweet corn squeezings and the limestone water.

Scotch has a rougher taste. The peat gives it a leathery finish with hints of pepper and spirit.

Some good single-malts include Auchentoshan, Bladnoch and Glenkinchie from the Lowlands; Talisker, Knockdhu, Glenmorangie, Dalwhinnie and Oban from the Highlands; Bowmore, Lagavulin and Laphroaig for the Isle of Islay on the western coast; and Glenlivet, Balvenie, Macallan and Cragganmore of the Speyside District.

All are expensive and taste of the water and soil of Scotland. Each has a bracing first taste with grain, wood and a spicy fiery finish. Each is made in semi-modern distilleries, using traditional recipes and methods. Take a sip, feel the warmth and relax. Now youíre drinking like an editor. 

To learn more about scotch whiskeys visit www.scotch-whisky.org.uk. There you can read about single-malts, including Clynelish, the $150-a-bottle mystery Scotch with the name thatís hard to forget. Thanks to Rob, another modern mystery solved.

*Penfoldís Grange, which was known as Grange Hermitage until the early 1980s when the European Union had the French place name removed, is a vibrant, expensive Shiraz that ages superbly. The grapes are grown in the Barossa and Clare regions of South Australia. And since its success in the late 1950ís as Australiaís premier wine, itís been expensive. The 1999 is priced at $174.99 a bottle.

Find your bottle

The New Hampshire Liquor Commission can help you find your beverage with a click or two. Just go to www.nh.gov/liquor, type the name of your wine into the product locator and click ďgo.Ē The siteís search engine will come up with a list of stores that carry the bottle you seek.


óTim Protzman

 
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