My present day taste for scotch is nothing I’m particularly proud of, but it is noteworthy because it was so unexpected. If you haven’t acquired a taste for scotch, there is a strong likelihood that you would find the smell and the taste of scotch repulsive. My first advice to you is to keep it that way! I do not recommend that anyone develop a taste for scotch, but since I have developed such a taste, here’s my story.
I can remember first encountering scotch in my parents’ basement the morning after my folks had hosted a party to celebrate the creation of a new recreation room. My parents had reason to celebrate such a thing. They both grew up during the Great Depression as destitute farm children, neither of them finished high school, as young adults they endured the demands of World War Two, they were saddled with the challenging demands of three rambunctious boys at an early age in life, and they struggled to provide food and shelter until the mid-1960s. That’s when things began to turn around for them.
After much hard work and sacrifice, they finally had a recreation room in a poured-concrete basement, with wood-panelled walls, a pool table, a card table and a wall-hugging bar! Why not celebrate?
Beer was always part of such a celebration of course, as were whiskeys, but suddenly here was scotch! I can’t imagine that there was ever an adolescent boy who, while cruising the detritus of last night’s adult party, failed to sample what the adults found so enjoyable. That was my first exposure to scotch. It burned my throat and tasted so foul as to make my shoulders shake much the way my aunt’s nightly dose of cod-liver oil had done. Yuuuuck!
I never developed a taste for cod-liver oil, but heaven help me, I did develop a taste for scotch. Thankfully, it was slow in arriving.
I sampled scotch from time to time over many years and though it became more tolerable because I knew roughly what to expect, I don’t recall ever taking a draught and enjoying it greatly until I was past age fifty. I tended to sample only the most popular scotch blends, mainly because they were “known” and because they were affordably priced. Johnnie Walker Red, Cutty Sark, Ballentines, Black and White were standards. Over time, scotches became as enjoyable as any other whiskey, though I still liked Canadian Club and other rye whiskies too.
Scotch snobs had told me that only single malt scotches were worth drinking. I tried some. They failed to impress me as somehow more outstanding than the good blends. But notice I said, “the GOOD blends?” As a dedicated miser, I hang my head in shame. My scotches were escalating from Johnnie Walker Red label, up to Black label, up to Gold label, up to Platinum label, (not yet up to either Green or Blue). Suddenly, scotch had it all over the other whiskies! Then came the single malts too and scotches from smaller distilleries, then awareness of regional disparities. Uh-oh! I was hooked! I’d developed a taste for scotch and there was no turning back AND (forgive me, whomever might be the saint who protects misers) it’s expensive! Shoooot! Who’da thunk it, eh?
Me, the guy who rarely pays the full price for things like apples or berries, the guy who stocks up on canned beans when they’re on sale, that same guy just smiles and bears the freight to buy a bottle of scotch that sometimes heads north of $100 a bottle!!! YIKES!
To be sure, there are very good, very drinkable scotches that may be had for less money. I am still drawn to Johnnie Walker Black Label as a blend, and Tè Bheag, (pronounced, CHAY-vek) but excusably remembered as “Tea Bag” both of which are within reasonable range. But as single malts go, Laphroaig (pronounced, la-FROIG) but excusably remembered as “Leap Frog” for that time when one stands in bewilderment before too many bottles of scotch. I confess that expensive one is my favourite.
I like the Islay-region scotch, Laphroaig, especially the even more expensive Laphroaig QA (quality aged) single-malt because it is deep and wonderfully complex. It is also rich with the very thing that will turn non-scotch drinkers away in disgust, peat smoke. Peat smoke, for scotch virgins, will smell not-too-vaguely like the odour that emanates from a pile of burning, wet rubbish. I detest the smell of burning, wet rubbish, but the more refined smell of peat smoke in scotch is a delight!
In my time, I have enjoyed deep, complex red wines too. Amarone (am-ah-ROW-nay) being one that fits that description. But my olfactory sense is quickly overcome with a single swallow of red wine. Red wine, I smell once before I taste it, thereafter the bouquet is not gone but it is so lacking in intensity as to be negligible. But Laphroaig’s bouquet just never quits. It is there and it stays there, ever-present, sip after sip. Delightful, much to my penny-pinching chagrin. I am so disappointed in myself! How could a poor boy, who prides himself on being value conscious, ever allow himself to develop a taste for expensive scotch? I ask you!
I suppose though, since I am condemned to live with such an unreliable sot as myself, I’ll just have to excuse that peculiarity by claiming that, despite my spend-thrift ways at the scotch wall of my liquor store, I have other redeeming qualities. Trust me. I do.