While you're frying up some eggs and bacon, we're cooking up something else: a way to celebrate today's food holiday.
We look across the pond for today’s food holiday. The Scots have been making whiskies since at least the 15th century, and it’s that tradition we celebrate today: Happy National Scotch Day!
Scotch whisky (generally not “whiskey”; Scotch and Canadian whiskies tend to be spelled without the “e”, while Irish and most American whiskeys use it) by law must be distilled and aged in Scotland from malted barley and, sometimes, other grains. If it’s made with just malted barley and water and bottled as whisky from one distillery, it’s one of the famous “single malt” Scotch whiskies. If a Scotch is made with other grain, it’s referred to as “single grain.” There are also blended Scotches - such as the top-selling Johnnie Walker - that use whiskies from multiple distillers.
Scotch whiskies are aged in oak casks, but unlike American straight whiskeys, the casks don’t have to be new. Many American white oak casks that once held bourbon or other American whiskeys find a second life in Scotland to age Scotch whisky, and some distillers also use casks that formerly contained sherry or port to add different flavors.
Scotch comes from five different regions in Scotland, each with its unique character. Some Scotches are light and floral, such as Glenkinchie from the Lowlands, while others (particularly Laphroaig and other malts from the island of Islay) can be smoky and peaty, with a distinct salty tang reminiscent of iodine. If you’re just starting out with Scotch, consider a fruity and smooth whisky like Glenfiddich, or a nicely complex sherry-like malt such as The Macallan. (Islay malts can be great, but can be an acquired taste, and you may want to work up to them if your palate is new to Scotch.)
Iain McCallum, Master of Malts at Morrison Bowmore Distillers, which makes Auchentoshan, Bowmore and Glen Garioch, says that he didn’t take to his local spirit right away: “As a youth growing up in Glasgow, Scotch was always an intimidating proposition. Whether it be in Hot Toddies: a concoction of sugar, whisky and hot water that was administered by mothers to test the seriousness of sudden, unexpected illness. If you drank the toddy, then she knew that you were genuinely unwell, if however you miraculously recovered she had correctly concluded that it was double maths at school that day.”
More people drink Scotch for fun than medicine these days, whether with soda for a “Mad Men”-style highball, in cocktails such as the Rob Roy, Penicillin and Blood and Sand, or as-is, with perhaps an ice cube or splash of spring water.
But do what you like: “There is no correct or incorrect way to enjoy whisky,” McCallum notes. “The most important thing is that you actually taste the flavor of the spirit.”
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