Friday, June 18, 2010

Scotch Part II - Islay

First things first:  We were planning on drinking the Liberty Cocktail this week, but it was not to be.  Somehow, someway, I managed to lose my bottle of calvados.  I know, I know, it sounds crazy right - how does a person lose a bottle of alcohol.  Your guess is as good as mine.  I hunted for it too.  My guess is that it'll turn up over the weekend, in which case we'll make it first thing next week.

In the meantime, we're going to dive into Part II of our ongoing scotch series.  Today, we're going to discuss one of the main production regions for scotch, Islay, an island off the southwest coast of Scotland. 


Islay (pronounced "eye-la") is a small island, with only 239 square miles of space.  By way of comparison, Rhode Island is approximately 6 times bigger, with around 1,500 square miles.  In other words, Islay is tiny.  But what Islay lacks in land mass, it makes up for in its quality production of notoriously peaty scotches.

Each of the scotch regions is known for its particular contribution of scotch flavor profiles that are typically found in its scotches contents.  For Islay, it is peaty-ness.  What do I mean by peaty-ness?  Smoke, smoke and more smoke.

Islay happens to hold an inordinate amount of peat on its landmass.  Peat is an organically created bunch of partially decayed vegetation.  It doesn't sound too exciting, right?  But, in much of the world, peat is used as a fuel source, and Islay is one such place that has effectively used peat fires to dry the malted barley used to make scotch.

This is what cut peat looks like
These peat fires, drying the malted barley, impart the classic Islay flavor profile.  For lay people, it's "smokey", for scotch drinkers, it's "peaty."

There are 8 producers of scotch on Islay: 
  • Ardbeg
  • Lagavulin
  • Laphroaig
  • Bowmore
  • Bruichladdich
  • Bunnahabhain
  • Caol Ila
  • Kilchoman
I've consumed scotches from 6 of the above, not having tried Bruichladdich, nor the recently producing Kilchoman.  The others though all produce quality stuff.  But where to begin with so many options?

First, I suggest shopping at a quality liquor store in your area.  I know it seems like a rather obvious suggestion, but if you're at your local Kroger or Winn-Dixie, the stock boy won't know zip about picking out a good scotch.

Second, ask to taste something, if it's available.  Not all stores have scotches available to taste, but many do - ask, and sample.

Third, with Islay scotches, start with something that isn't mindblowingly peaty.  In other words, don't start with Laphroaig.  If we were to create a 10-point scale of peatyness, with 10 being an extremely peaty, smoky scotch, Laphroaig cranks out 11's.  They're great, I love them (I have the 10 and 15 year old at the house), but, their bottlings are probably not the best place to start if you're new to scotches, particularly peaty scotches.

Check out Bunnahabhain's 12 year old, or Caol Ila's 12 year old.  Both are nicely peaty, with a great balance of flavor.  On the 10 point scale, they're both about a 6 or so.  For the uninitiated, this will be plenty of smoke.

My final thoughts are related to the World Cup.

My prediction is that the US wins its match today 2-0 over Slovenia.  Also, after having watched Argentina the last couple of games, I'm astonished that this is the same team that barely qualified for the tournament.  They barely qualified!  In other news, Spain is underachieving.  Again.  And, the entire German side has cropped hair.  Shocking.

Have a great weekend everyone - see you all next week.  I'm off to hunt down the bottle of calvados.  Cheers!


JML on June 18, 2010 at 12:58 PM said...

i was just watching a walker black commercial. they used 3 cubes, i've noticed that you use 1 cube.

who should i listen to?

The Amateur Mixologist on June 18, 2010 at 1:29 PM said...

I believe scotch should be enjoyed with however much water or ice you want. Alcohol is meant to be pleasurable, and if you enjoy drowning your good stuff in water or ice, have at it.

Scotch aficionados would recommend adding distilled water to nearly all scotches, to "open it up" - meaning - bring out its flavors.

I like to do this by adding 1 small ice cube (think about the size of 1-2 sugar cubes). The ice melts quickly, opens up the flavor of the scotch, and you'll savor a couple cool sips before it returns to room temp. That's my preference, but any method will do. Just enjoy the experience.

Ron on June 30, 2011 at 1:40 PM said...

You could have asked for permission to use the Islay map on your website which is copyright

The Amateur Mixologist on June 30, 2011 at 1:42 PM said...

Sorry about that Ron - we'll take the map down right away.

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