Hello and welcome to The Whisky Mafia. My plan for this blog is to help induct more loyal soldiers into the whisky drinking fold, with a particular emphasis on understanding and appreciating Scotch single malt whiskies. In order to do that, dear reader, you’ll first need to disavow yourself of some preconceived notions about Scotch whisky that are a common barrier for entry into what can at first glance appear to be a bafflingly complicated and closed off world. Let’s get right to it, shall we?
1) Scotch Whisky Is For Old White Scottish Men
I’m certainly not here to argue that a great many older, blue eyed, Scottish gentlemen don’t enjoy a wee tipple of Scotch now and again. What I am here to express is the notion that this stereotypical image of Scotch whisky as the exclusive domain of some tartan festooned old grouse hunter sipping magical elixir from a hip flask while reclining in his rocking chair before a roaring fire is a comically outdated one. As a younger fellow of only partial Scottish ancestry, I myself am living proof that Scotch whisky appreciation is skewing further into a more youthful realm. More importantly however, in my several years spent organizing and hosting whisky tastings in my professional life, I’ve observed countless single malt enthusiasts spanning a spectrum across all age groups, genders, ethnicities, religions, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Whisky has always been intended as a drink by, of, and for the people, whoever those people may be. Let’s aim to keep it that way.
2) Scotch Whisky Is Only For The Super Rich
Much along the same lines as my first point, there is a persisting notion amongst those on the outside looking in that single malt drinkers are an elite cabal of billionaires lighting cigars with $100 bills and scoffing at peasants as they quaff difficult to pronounce liquid from complicated looking crystal glassware. Once again, some of these people do indeed exist, and there are a few reasons why this image has been cultivated in the popular culture, most of them marketing related (more on that later). I certainly won’t contend that single malts are inexpensive per se. Depending on where you live in the world, prices for many single malt whiskies can often be downright extortionate (ahem, Canada…). No matter where you hail from however, or (generally speaking) how much money you have in the bank, you can afford to start a collection of single malts if you take Scotch appreciation for what it really is and always should be, a hobby. Play Magic the Gathering? Collect comic books? Build little ships in glass bottles? You’re exactly who we’re looking for. The geekier the better. For the average Jane or Joe, collecting and appreciating Scotch whisky is all about nerding out over the fine details in order to make wise and informed purchasing decisions, and then showing off and sharing with friends.
3) Scotch Whisky Culture Is Too Intimidating
To tie my first two points together, the imposing image of the Scotch drinker as either some claymore swinging bagpiper standing atop a misty moor while wearing Braveheart-style face paint, or a robe wearing Illuminati member who has a Scrooge McDuck swimming pool full of gold coins, is one of the primary reasons your average drinker has decided malt whisky simply isn’t for her. The majority of these stereotypes are in fact the product of decades of marketing on the part of the Scotch industry itself. It’s not uncommon to see single malts marketed to the obscenely wealthy fetching anywhere from £15,833.33 on the shelf (1968 Balvenie anyone?), to nearly half a million US dollars at auction. This ludicrous pricing arms race is very much reminiscent of the worst kind of wine snobbery, and these kinds of headline grabbing bottlings are meant to appeal strictly to the 1%. Bully for them I suppose, but let’s not forget that if you’re fortunate enough to live in the UK for example, you can still get a fantastically enjoyable bottle of single malt for less than £30. The other tricky image hurdle to overcome, particularly for those of us living outside of the UK, is the sheer Scottishness of Scotch whisky. With crazy Gaelic names to contend with (say Bunnahabhain 10 times fast), and occasional branding that would make Robbie Burns himself blush, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and scared off. The trick once again is to remember that whisky is a hobby; it’s not necessarily meant to be immediately welcoming and accessible, but a little due diligence and patience will go a long way towards setting your mind at ease and allowing you to remember the fundamental law of enjoying Scotch: at the end of the day, it’s just a glass of booze.
4) All Scotch Whisky Tastes Like A Hospital On Fire
Some of you have perhaps already attempted to dabble in Scotch whisky, being offered a glass of supposedly “lovely” liquid by a friend or relative, only to be utterly freaked out and confused by the smell of iodine, seaweed, smoke, and dirt emanating from your glass. For many people, having the wrong first experience with single malts can be the first and final straw in their relationship with whisky.
Let me reassure you with total confidence that a) not all Scotch whisky smells and tastes like smoke and b) once acquired with time and practice, the taste for peaty (smoky or earthy) whisky becomes an insatiable obsession for many (but not all) whisky drinkers. The range of aromas and flavours found in single malt whisky run the gamut from flowers, to honey, to vanilla, to apples, to baking spices, and even gummy bears and Christmas cake. There are an infinite number of styles and tastes to be found in Scotch whisky, which is precisely the reason it’s such a deep rabbit hole of geeky obsession and collection in the first place. Keep an open heart and and open mind and I promise you’ll find an entry point that suits your taste.
5) Scotch Whisky Is Only For Special Occasions
If there’s one point I can’t emphasize strongly enough, both to those of you who are new to the whisky world, and those who have been collecting and purchasing single malts for decades, is that Scotch whisky is for drinking. Now obviously some bottles may be more precious than others, and weddings, holidays, births and deaths may be the perfect time to dust off that truly old or unique bottle from your shelf to share with friends and family. It’s a common mistake however, to think that these are the only occasions when it’s appropriate to enjoy single malt whisky. Finding a few affordable quality daily sippers to enjoy while lounging on the couch after a long day, going for a hike with a hip flask in tow, or playing board games with friends, is one of the most crucial ingredients to truly understanding what Scotch whisky is all about. Collecting bottles purely as some sort of investment scheme, or perhaps worse, being too afraid to share or enjoy a dram with friends for fear that what you’ve purchased is far too precious to simply sip when you’re in the mood, runs counter to all of the hard work that the men and women in the Scotch whisky industry put in to making their product so immensely enjoyable. Whisky is delicious. Drink it.