The art of making ScotchBottom Highlights, Eat This! Thursday, June 9th, 2016
I’m not a Scotch drinker yet I was excited about attending a Scotch tasting. The tasting – a training seminar for team members, was arranged by TRUST’s co-owner and General Manager Steven Schwob. Schwob believes knowledge is essential to providing “exceptional service” for a “more enjoyable dining experience.”
Michelle Fedor, brand ambassador for Bruichladdich (Brook-LAH-dee) Scotch, was our well-versed facilitator. Three small product samples were set at each seat along with glasses of water and disposable pipettes. Fedor revealed the “art of making Scotch” as she led us down a “gentle slope to the sea”.
Barley is to Scotch as grapes are to wine. The unique flavor characteristics of grapes derive from the vineyard’s specific terroir, or combination of soils and climate. The same is true for barley. The barley used in production of the artisanal spirit, swept by misty ocean breezes, grows on the hills of Islay Island, a link in the Hebrides chain off the coast of Scotland.
A “single malt” means the Scotch was distilled on site – Scotland, and aged in oak casks for at least three years. There are no oak trees on tiny Islay Island, so casks of all ages and variety are obtained from any and all sources. And just as terroir affects flavor characteristics, so too do the casks.
Every batch of Bruinchladdich is handcrafted in a bayside distillery originally established in 1881 using locally sourced ingredients, traditional methods and Victorian-age equipment. There are no computers or assembly lines, only 85 employees dedicated to producing the finest Scotch whisky.
The “art” begins with soaking barley seeds in water to induce germination (think alfalfa sprouts). Germination is necessary to convert the grains starches to sugars, and sugars are necessary to produce alcohol – just add water and yeast. Germination is terminated by exposing the sprouts to hot air which is sometimes generated by burning peat – a lighter sort of coal comprised of pungent compacted botanicals. Thus, Scotch may be “peated” or “unpeated”. And just as terroir and casks affect flavor, burning peat imbues Scotch with its trademark “smokiness”.
The malt is then double distilled using non-chill filtering (think hammered copper moonshine still). Chill filtering is like placing a cup of hot home-made chicken stock in the fridge and flavor-laden fat rises to the top. Instead of discarding separated oils as other distillers do, they are instead incorporated into the spirit – swirl the glass and long thin “legs” are revealed. In addition to flavor, the oils provide a silky smooth feel in the mouth.
Fedor warned us the sample spirits were extremely potent (50 percent alcohol by volume), and explained the intense initial flavors mellow and expand with the addition of water – hence the pipettes. Dilute to taste.
Scottish barley (unpeated) – The zesty pour begins with teasing kisses of green apple and apricot, which expands to an earthy spiciness in the middle before finishing with a rich nuttiness. Stimulating.
Islay Barley (unpeated) – Sourced from a single farm where barley fields are exposed to salty sea breezes, the slightly smoky pour with notes of grilled banana and honey has a satisfying briny finish. Smooth.
Port Charlotte (peated) – Imagine crème brûlée by a campfire. A sophisticated combination of smoky roasted marshmallow and caramel with dark cherry and sloe fruit toward the end. Succulent.
My sincere thanks to Steven Schwob and the TRUST crew; I now have a greater respect and appreciation for Scotch. Drink this, thirsty readers. You’ll be glad you did.
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