My Favorite Scotch

Bottles of Glenmorangie (a fine Scotch whiskey)These three days I’ll be enjoying the FtBCon from my desktop, sipping Scotch or Irish whiskey. A lot. Because I like Scotch. And Irish whiskey. I’m pretty much a Scotch and Irish whiskey man, you see. Beer, dull (even when it doesn’t taste like piss). White wine, eh. Red wine can be remarkable if it’s not crap (and “not crap” does not mean expensive…if you ever pay more than $20 for a standard bottle of wine, you’re a dupe…or suffer a needlessly expensive curiosity…it’s the label that counts, not the price). American whiskeys (especially bourbons) are mostly too sweet (I’ve recently been introduced to only one I like, because it happens to taste a lot like Scotch: Basil Hayden’s…thank you, Phillip!). Vodka is a mixer (oxymoron intended). Ditto gin. Tequila, when you get the right kind (the kind you have to know to ask for, the kind that doesn’t pay for TV commercials). Mixed drinks, sure, whatever. Saphire martini on the rocks, dirty, three olives.

But really, my favorite is Scotch.

For those who don’t know, Scotch is a type of whiskey. So if you’ve ever wondered what the difference was, whiskey is to Scotch as ‘mammal’ is to ‘cat’. Bourbon is another kind of whiskey (usually on the sweet side)…Rye is another kind of whiskey (usually on the bitter side). And so on. Many whiskeys are just named for their land of origin, so Japanese whiskey is just…Japanese whiskey (and yes, there is such a thing…and it’s a lot like Scotch). Canadian whiskey is from, you know. Scotch is, you might guess, from Scotland. But that also means it has distinct characteristics according to Scottish brewing traditions, which have become trade law (Wikipedia will get you up to speed).

(And no, there is nothing intrinsically better about “single malt Scotch.” Despite the awe depicted for it in film and TV, it’s just more expensive and thus “fancier,” and some of the best whiskeys just happen to be single malt, often because the more aged the better and some traditionalists think it’s criminal to blend decades old brews, but just as a red wine blend can actually be quite excellent if the blender knows what they’re doing, and in fact blended reds are becoming quite popular now [for good reason, IMO], blended whiskeys could in principle be good as well. Whether they are or not doesn’t matter to me. I don’t care whether what I’m drinking is a single malt or a blend. Just as long as I like it. And I didn’t pay a zillion dollars for it. For more than you ever wanted to know about Scotch, you can read the articles of Michael Dietsch at Serious Eats.)

Bottle og Jameson (an Irish whiskey blend) next to a glass of it on the rocks.When I’m just drinking at home and don’t want to burn through anything too expensive, but also don’t want to tolerate an awful whiskey (and I don’t…ever), I drink Jameson. Which is not a Scotch, because it’s brewed in Ireland, so it’s (as you guessed) an “Irish whiskey.” It’s a decent low-end commercial whiskey blend, from a region of the world that knows whiskey old school. Being everywhere, it’s affordable in large quantities. It has the barest minimum of what I like in a whiskey, so it will do, sitting on the bottom rung of Plato’s ladder from the celestial ideal in the hypothetical mind of God to the lowest worldly imperfection that won’t insult your intelligence. A little bit up that ladder is Tallamore Dew, which will often be my preferred bar drink. If they have it.

But what I really like is Scotch. I’ll usually like any that are naturally smooth (as opposed to, for example, Laphroaig, which, despite it’s outrageous price tag, is shear turpentine…I’d sooner drink jet fuel; if forced to swill it, cut it with a lot of water…BTW, even a good Scotch can become delightfully more aromatic with just a few drops of water, so that’s always recommended, but apart from that I like my Scotch neat) and not on the sweet side (so, Macallan, not my favorite).

I’m still exploring the endless options in the Scotch universe. But my top number one favorite Scotch so far is Glenmorangie, which I was just recently introduced to at INR3, and tried again at SSACon Las Vegas just to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating how great it was. I wasn’t. Second to that is Jura, a lesser known Scotch from an obscure little Scottish island, which a school teacher generously shared with me at Skepticon some years ago (and if you’re reading this, give me a shout in the comments!). I’ve been a fan ever since. It’s unusually affordable for its quality. Neither are commonly stocked at bars, however. So I usually have to settle for something less impressive, like a Glenfiddich.

This weekend I’ll be breaking out a “Speyside” 20-year single malt Scotch I bought at Costco (under their Kirkland label) for a disturbingly low price. There are speculations as to what actual distillery it comes from (Speyside is a region, not a distiller, encompassing dozens of private labels, including Macallan), but it sounds like it might be a Macallan that’s a touch less sweet than usual, something more in the direction of a Glenmorangie. We’ll see.

I often philosophize about the excellence of Scotch…and the fact that many people don’t get it–it all tastes like turpentine to them, whereas for me there is a universe of difference between whiskey that tastes like gasoline and whiskey that’s actually superb. I get the same split over red wine: for some people, it’s all bitter bog water that with every sip begs the question of why it even exists; for others, it’s a vessel of complex aromas and flavors that startles with its aesthetic complexity. Red wine can take me to another place, with its galaxy of smells and tastes. Good Scotch, too.

Elegant close-up of snifters with fine Scotches in them.Indeed, the taste and feel of good liquor is the only reason to drink it. Getting tipsy or blasted drunk is just a bonus. But IMO, there really isn’t any good excuse for getting drunk on lighter fluid when you could do it on something that doesn’t taste like urine or turpentine. But wait. Ponder my inclusion of the word “feel” before. Good liquor is aesthetically pleasant to me not just because of the flavors, which really means aromas–like wine, a galaxy of them that radiate from your tongue into your sinuses, filling your nasal cavity, sparking neurons like no tomorrow. It’s also how good liquor feels. You’ll recall my use of the descriptor “smooth,” which you’ll hear a lot as describing a good brand. That’s that burning sensation liquor creates throughout your mouth, tongue, and especially throat…when it’s a pleasant burn, it’s smooth; when it feels like you just drank some displeasant acid-like choke-a-goat fire-water, that’s not smooth.

When I ponder the possible future technologies of android bodies replacing or standing in for our biological bodies (because, you know, that’s the kind of weird thing I think about a lot), I’m often brought back to the question of how the aesthetic experience of whiskey can ever be reproduced. It won’t be a straightforward matter of replacing taste buds in the tongue and airborne molecule receptors in the nose. Sure, we could “taste whiskey” in simulated universes (where we don’t even need actual bodies to interact with actual whiskey molecules), but to replicate the experience in real-space is not so simple. We could program our nerves to make anything taste like Glenmorangie…even water. Or rat urine. (So we won’t have to actually waste resources brewing fine Scotch for future androids.) But that wouldn’t be enough. What exactly is involved neurologically (not just in the brain, but, even more importantly, in the mouth and throat) in the felt experience of downing liquor? There is clearly a lot of complex neurophysics and chemistry there. What exactly is going on in the throat after a smooth drink of Scotch?

Something to think about.

I’ll just close today with one debunked myth and one word of advice.

First, the myth:

Quick pic of me holding up my official Jameson Irish Whiskey metal flask, which I bring to roller derby sometimes. Full of wonderful Jameson Irish Whiskey..No, silly, alcohol doesn’t kill brain cells. That’s pseudoscience. If you thought about it (and have learned anything about chemistry and physiology) you’d realize that’s impossible (it makes no more sense than power lines causing brain cancer). A drink that regularly killed cells of any kind (especially brain cells) would be an actual poison. I know liquor is sometimes called “poison,” but um, no. It’s not. In fact, as David Hanson, Ph.D., points out in “Does Drinking Alcohol Kill Brain Cells?,” the science is clear that “the moderate consumption of alcohol is associated with better cognitive (thinking and reasoning) skills and memory than is abstaining from alcohol,” and “drinking doesn’t kill brain cells but helps the brain function better into old age.” Alcohol still reduces your physical coordination and reaction time, however, which is why it’s dangerous to drive even under mild influence. And of course, drinking enough to be visibly “drunk” produces a state of global cognitive impairment. But it still doesn’t kill brain cells. You have to abuse alcohol to an extreme degree to suffer health problems from it (like damaging your liver: alcoholic liver disease requires maintaining such a sustained state of inebriation that your liver starts to burn out from the incessant heavy lifting). Drink responsibly. And don’t worry about it destroying your skills, memory, or intellect.

Second, the advice:

Anytime you spend the night drinking heavily, chug a tall glass of water before going to bed. Literally, chug the whole thing. Tall glass. Top to bottom. Don’t wimp out. Hangovers are just the symptoms of dehydration. Get that water in your system before you hit the sack. Your brain’s sleep centers will slow down your kidneys while you doze (SOP for the renal system), and all that water will settle in where it’s supposed to go. Then when you get up, you’ll have one hell of a pee. And feel a lot less hungover than you otherwise would.

Be excellent to each other. And party on. Smartly.

 

Comments

  1. coelsblog says

    Some bright spark is going to pop up and insist that the stuff made in Scotland is “whisky” and that “whiskey” refers to the inferior stuff made in Ireland and the US.

    • Reginald Selkirk says

      If one traveled to Scotland, or even bothered to read the labels on their beverage collection, one might realise that the split is not American vs. British.
      Just one of many available links

      Jesse Sheidlower: “As an aficionado of whisky and whiskey, I do have deep feelings on the usage, which is pretty much that the Times style should be changed. This isn’t a case where a small group of fanatics are insisting on some highly personal interpretation of an issue that is not adhered to by anyone outside their cult. It’s almost universally the case that the word is spelled ‘whisky’ in Scotland and Canada, and ‘whiskey’ elsewhere, and that, as you have seen, people really do care about this as an important distinction. I’d also observe that the O.E.D. points this out in its entry. So I would encourage you to adopt this distinction in the style book. I have no problem with using ‘whiskey’ as a the main generic form, if there’s no indication of location.’’

    • says

      … much like – if we’re writing about them in the US – it’s called the “Labor Party”, but if we are writing about them in the UK, it’s called the “Labour Party”? ;)

    • says

      I will assume by “alcoholic” you do not mean “anyone who drinks alcohol” but the medical definition of a person whose life is adversely affected by their regular consumption of alcohol–and yet they don’t stop (or moderate to non-adverse levels of drinking). Thus, both conditions must be meant (adverse effect + don’t stop or moderate). I have no adverse effects from my drinking (I don’t become belligerent, black out, drive while drunk, or become inebriated in situations where it is inappropriate or detrimental), so I am not an alcoholic. I’m a responsible drinker.

      Learn more and here. The former states it well:

      The main symptom of alcohol abuse occurs when someone continues to drink after their drinking reaches a level that causes recurrent problems. Continuing to drink after it causes someone to miss work, drive drunk, shirk responsibilities or get in trouble with the law is considered alcohol abuse.

      The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, IV, defines alcohol abuse as drinking despite alcohol-related physical, social, psychological, or occupational problems, or drinking in dangerous situations, such as while driving. The World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases refers to “harmful use” of alcohol, or drinking that causes either physical or mental damage in the absence of alcohol dependence. In other words, alcohol abuse is any harmful use of alcohol.

  2. bbgunn says

    My favorite Irish whiskey is Tyrconnell with Red Breast 12 Year Old coming in second and Bushmill’s Black Bush a close third. Since being introduced to Irish whiskies during a 2003 trip to Ireland, I’ve stuck with them until 2012 when in Ireland again, I tried Connemara Peated Irish whiskey. Connemara introduced me to peat and pushed me to try lightly peated Scotches when I came back to the US. I want to expand my Scotch tastes into Highland and Speyside scotches, so I’ll put Glenmorangie on my ‘to do’ list. Finally, I completely agree with you about Basil Hayden. If I have to drink an American bourbon whiskey, it’s Basil Hayden first, then Woodford Reserve if Basil Hayden is not available.

  3. ACN says

    Beer, dull (even when it doesn’t taste like piss)

    Sir, I say sir, I demand satisfaction. Pistols at dawn! :)

    • Reginald Selkirk says

      Pistols are barbaric. I suggest you face off with pint glasses. If he’s drinking whisk(e)y and you’re drinking beer, you should have no trouble outlasting him.

  4. badgersdaughter says

    You have precisely the same taste in Scotch whisky and Irish whiskey that I do, amusingly. They recognize me these days when I go through Heathrow Terminal 5 duty-free. I married an Irishman last year and we had fun laughing at what the French call Tullamore Dew, “tout l’amour”. Indeed.

    You may also enjoy these fine single malts, all of which I’ve sampled and found eminently to my own taste and purchased:

    The Glenrothes, Select Reserve (Speyside)
    Glen Garioch, 1797 Founder’s Reserve (Aberdeenshire)
    The Balvenie, 17 years (Speyside)
    The Dalmore, Cromartie (Northern Highlands)
    Bunnahabhain, Darach Ur (Islay)
    Ardbeg, Blasda (Islay) but don’t miss other Ardbeg offerings, either… :)

  5. Ally Fogg says

    Ooh, my specialist subject!

    First, a pedantic point – It’s Irish (or Bourbon) Whiskey. but Scotch Whisky, but I can forgive that..

    Can’t forgive this:

    “Laphroaig, which, despite it’s outrageous price tag, is shear turpentine…I’d sooner drink jet fuel;”

    Now that is fightin’ talk Richard!

    The peaty Islays are a more demanding, acquired taste, but dammit it is worth the effort. The added tones and layers of flavour are a whole new world of adventure. You might want to ease yourself in with the Bunnahabhain, which nods in the same direction but with a bit more subtlety than Laphroaig.

    Trust me on this, I’m Scottish.

    I’d also disagree with this

    (And no, there is nothing intrinsically better about “single malt Scotch.” Despite the awe depicted for it in film and TV, it’s just more expensive and thus “fancier,” and some of the best whiskeys just happen to be single malt, often because the more aged the better and some traditionalists think it’s criminal to blend decades old brews,

    There are some very good blends. I’d never cock a snook at an aged Chivas Regal, for starters. But (at least in UK) I think you have to spend more money on a blend that’s as drinkable as the most affordable single malt

    Anyway, quibbles aside, thanks for getting my tastebuds tingling.

    If you don’t know it, you should read the late, great Iain Banks’s wonderful book Raw Spirit, which is basically a travelogue through malt distilleries and a study on the golden glories of the glass.

    • killyosaur says

      Totally have your back with regards to Laphroig. It quickly replaced McCallan as a favorite of mine, I really enjoy that peaty, smokey flavor.

    • Dunc says

      Damn straight. Of the standard distillery bottlings, Islays are my favourites. Laphroaig is good, but I usually go for Caol Ila… Well, these days I usually favour single cask bottlings from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, which take whisky to a whole other level.

      If you find Laphroaig too challenging, you’d probably best stay away from Arbeg – now there’s some peaty, smoky, phenolic whisky! Laphroaig is mother’s milk by comparison.

    • thetalkingstove says

      Same here. Laphroaig is delicious. And it’s fun to encourage non-whisky drinkers to have a little sip and watch their face…

      Jamesons is pretty decent for something everyday. Bushmills, too.

    • steffp says

      I concur as far as the Islay Malts are concerned. Laphroaig 18 yrs is quite another league. For everyday use, Ardbeg 10yrs is a good low budget alternative. As is Caol Ila.
      .
      But, really, turpentine… Umberto Eco (in The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, 2005) may be excused for writing such things, he’s Italian, lives in the only country where 3yrs old whiskeys are being sold, but the OP, as an American…

  6. PrimeNumbers says

    I’m rather disappointed that you don’t like Laphroaig. Yes it’s very strong with it’s taste, but it’s also wonderfully complex too. Maybe their PX Cask would be more your cup of tea? Perhaps you need to try some of the other Islay whisky first? Ardbeg can be equally strong, but less of the medicinal flavour perhaps and Lagavulin tends to be a lot smoother but very smoky.

    But it sounds like you’re into the Speyside region, so try Aberlour. Their 12 and 16 are smooth and delicious and I reckon they’d be right for your taste preferences. But you should give their A’bunadh a go too, which is very very strong but such a sherry monster too, like the Macallans but NOT as sickly sweet.

    I also reckon you might like The Balvenie. See if you can track down a 21yr Port Cask. It’s not cheap, but it is quite wonderful.

    Although Glenfiddich as a fall back can be less than impressive, some of their more interesting editions are worthy of a bottle to try out. I have a bottle of their 15yr Rich Oak on the go and it’s a lot more complex than their standard green bottle 12.

  7. Peteo says

    Cool post. Balvenie DoubleWood 12 Year Old is my fav by far but I love trying new types whenever I can. Recently tried a Japanese Scotch, Yamazaki and really liked it also! And if you are ever felling adventurous, Dark Corner Distilery in Greenville SC makes a moonshine that is outstanding ( along with several other really good types including gin, whiskey and absinthe. You can try them all for a 7 dollar tasting. That was FUN!)

  8. Randall Johnson says

    One thing I never understood about Scotch- the high cost of single malts. Logic tells me the the transportation and labor costs of bringing two or more single malts together to make a blend would jack the price of the blend. No matter how they blend it, there are extra steps involved just like there would be for using some combination of different grapes together for a blended wine.

    Some good news for you- hangovers diminish with age. I haven’t had one at all since my early-mid thirties (now 66) and I have certainly deserved several since then.

    As well as the Scotch, I am also with you on dirty martinis. The olive juice is the deal maker or breaker on these and the best I have found are Reeses. Not eay to find where I am so I order by the case direct. Get the smaller ones with pimento in the jars with the pull-up tree for easy extraction- you get fewer olives but more brine to dirty up the gin.

    Anxious to try your Scotch and by tonight that curiosity will be satisfied.

    • says

      Note Ally’s remark above that in fact some blends are more costly than single malts. (Likely for the reasons you note, among others. Attempting a high end blend might be an art that balks at cost. But in many cases, we’re talking about hundreds of available brews in a single town, so transport costs are not significant if you aren’t too particular. The more so as some blends are blended from brews all made at the same site. Compare red wine blends: even good ones are rather cheap, so transport costs don’t factor much.)

      The affordable blends (e.g. Jameson) benefit from economy of scale. They just aren’t “great” whiskeys. Their cost is cut also by using cheaper brews for the bulk, which keeps cost down, and just spice it with more expensive brews to maintain the consistency of flavor and prevent it from dropping off the bottom rung of that mythical Plato’s ladder. Likewise, one of the advantages of going blend is that you can jockey your overhead on what malts you buy from where in the world, and mix and match to keep total cost down as the economic winds blow. It’s just that doing it that way can’t ever produce something elevated, just satisfactory.

    • Dunc says

      The main reason why blends tend to be cheaper is that the base spirit (typically over 90%) is grain whisky distilled in a continuous column still, which is much cheaper for the feedstock and much more efficient in terms of both plant and labour than batch distilling in a pot still, as is required for single malt.

    • Dunc says

      Another thing to bear in mind is that for most distilleries, it’s only a tiny proportion of the very best whisky produced that gets sold as single malt, so there’s a rarity premium. If the single malts were as cheap as the blends, we couldn’t produce enough at the necessary quantity to satisfy demand. We’re struggling to keep up as it is – many distilleries have expanded significantly of late, but you have to remember that it’s least 3 years before you can even call your spirit “whisky”, and most single malts are aged for at least 10 years, so there’s a significant lead time.

    • DrVanNostrand says

      I must respond to all of this blend vs. single malt shit. Blends are not simply blends of a bunch of single malts. As “Dunc” notes, they include a bunch of other grain spirits as well. In addition, blends are constructed by skilled blenders going from distillery to distillery to collect malts that aren’t quite good enough to go into a prominent distillery’s single malt stock. Jim Murray rightly notes that blends should be AT LEAST as complex and delicious as single malts since the blenders have an almost unlimited pool of flavors from which to choose. In the end, blends tend to be cheaper because they are on average younger, and from less valued barrels. In my opinion vatted malts are similarly undervalued. A skilled blender can put together some awesome vatted malts in whatever style you like at a lower cost than a comparable single malt.

  9. Uncle Ebeneezer says

    Sorry you don’t appreciate a good beer. We are actually enjoying a remarkable time for beer drinking. The variety and quality of micro-brews available to the masses at reasonable prices is probably close to an all-time high. Kolsch (rye beers), Hefeweizens, IPA’s, Stouts, Porters, Belgians, Pilsners, Lagers, Red Ales etc. There’s a pretty drastic range of tastes across the spectrum. So much so that I’d almost argue that there is more diversity across the beer spectrum than there is across any other type of alcohol. The main reason I love beer though is because it can be consumed in high volume. I’ve always been a big gulper of anything I drink, so mixed drinks or straight hard alcohol is just too dangerous because I never have the ability to just sip something. Also, I think different drinks serve different functions. And when it comes to a post-workout refreshment after a couple hours in the sun, nothing matches beer. Whereas wine goes better with meals. Different drinks for different situations has always been my motto.

    I have a couple friends who are real into Scotch. I’ve enjoyed it a few times but don’t know that I would ever drink it regularly. I loathe whiskey and bourbon, generally, but I’ve had some higher-end Scotch that was actually quite tasty and didn’t make me wretch in the way that whiskeys often induce. I didn’t analyze the differences in taste enough to isolate where the sticking point is for my own taste, but I know that Scotch is one of the only hard liquors for which there is a handful of brands that I can enjoy without any mixer. Though I can also enjoy a good vodka if it’s super-cold.

    Your note on water is great. Something I learned years ago about preventing hangovers. I’ve also learned recently that taking metamucil every day in addition to helping usual digestion, is especially helpful at remedying some of the less desirable effects that a night drinking can have on your digestive system.

    • badgersdaughter says

      I don’t appreciate a good beer, either, Uncle Ebenezer. My Irish-born husband, who just got his green card and is busily trying American beers good and bad, will sometimes pass me a glass and say, “Here, try this and see if you like it.” I will take a sip, and think, “mmm, this has much to like about it”, and then the “beeriness” of it will close in and I won’t be able to take the next sip. I just don’t like beer qua beer, it turns out. There was exactly ONE beer I was able to drink a full glass of, and that was an transparently light Taiwanese beer that came across like a sparkling white wine more than an actual beer.

    • says

      Then you might also like Lambec, a Belgian sweet beer (often comes flavored, e.g. Peche is peach-flavored). That I actually quite like (oddly considering I don’t usually go for sweet, much less beer). They sell it occasionally at Trader Joe’s.

  10. aziraphale says

    Like you I prefer Tullamore Dew to Jamesons and Glenmorangie to both. Current prices in my local supermarkets are:

    Tullamore £18-£20
    Jamesons £22-£23
    Glenmorangie £34

    so as you can guess I drink a lot of Tullamore and wait for special offers on Glenmorangie.

  11. Will says

    Richard, have you tried Lagavulin single malt? It’s been years since i’ve had it but i remember liking it.

  12. zoboz says

    Another reason why blends tend to be less expensive than single malts is that most of the blends you’ll find on the shelf include inexpensive neutral spirits in addition to a mixture of single malts. A mixture of nothing but single malts has traditionally been called a vatted malt, but I believe a more recent term is ‘blended malt’ (as opposed to a ‘blended whiskey’).

  13. sosw says

    Definitely agree with Ally and PrimeNumbers about Laphroaig. It’s one of my fairly regular choices.

    Lagavulin is very nice, although I rarely buy it anymore after it doubled in price over the recent years after disappearing entirely and reappearing…

    One relatively reasonably priced decent Scotch is Caol Ila. Not sure about availability in the U.S. currently, never seen it there and was told a few years ago it wasn’t available at all.

    Some other ones I buy fairly often are Talisker and Ardbeg.

    Japanese Whiskeys were mentioned a couple of times…I’m currently visiting Japan and haven’t tried any here. I’ve tried some Japanese Whisky long ago (don’t remember the name but would recognize it) which was…just weird. Perhaps I’ll try something if I have time (indeed the tiny bottles a couple of meters away in the minibar might be Yamazaki which was mentioned by Peteo, but it’s 2am so I’d rather not make a whole lot of noise by checking).

    Hangovers are just the symptoms of dehydration.

    For a mild hangover, that might be the primary factor, and dehydration certainly makes things worse, but a really bad hangover is quite a bit more…

    AFAIK a contributing factor to the neurological damage caused by alcohol is the depletion of some B-vitamins, so supplements might be useful.

  14. Zugswang says

    It’s surprising to me that you don’t enjoy a lot of bourbons, but of the scotches you’ve had, you prefer Glenmorangie (also my personal favorite for scotches), which has always struck me as sweet and mild for an unblended scotch.

    Granted, most of the more common labels like Woodford Reserve, Four Roses, Wild Turkey, and Maker’s Mark are all sweeter than I care to have in a bourbon (especially Makers), but there are lots of good, oaky, complex bourbons out there. If you ever run across some 18yo Elijah Craig, you might give that a try, as well, if you’re looking for something a little more robust.

  15. eidolon says

    I have to agree with you about Laphroiag. Absolutely vile. I know that marks me as someone who is not a “real” scotch drinker. I enjoy Glenlivet and Glenfiddich neat or with a bit of ice. Jameson seems harsh and needs a bit more ice.

    Now – here in Colorado, we have some fine distilleries. Stranahans whiskey and Breckenridge bourbon are ones you might really enjoy.

  16. Reginald Selkirk says

    In fact, as David Hanson, Ph.D., points out in “Does Drinking Alcohol Kill Brain Cells?,

    Yes, when I want an authorative opinion on neurobiology, I always turn to a Ph.D. of sociology.

  17. says

    Such a picky drinker, Richard! Of course, I am so omnivorous when it comes to alcohol that I like most of the drinks you listed above (except for mixed drinks, I kind of don’t see the point).

    Nice selection on the scotch and Irish whiskeys there.

    There is a glaring omission, however, to this discussion. What are your thoughts on Cognac?

  18. says

    In chill weather, I like whiskey warmed up a tad and with a bit of honey mixed in. I imagine that would taste even better if it were a quality whiskey and single-blossom honey. But I’m cheap. :D

  19. mobius says

    Single malt scotch. Goooooood stuff, served neat. Though I do have to say that personally I prefer cognac by a small margin. But to each his own.

  20. Jilltrippedjack says

    Kudos to all of you liquor connoisseurs. I base my alcohol purchasing decisions upon the free gift that comes with the booze. If I am in need of a T-shirt the beer wins. If I am in need of a glass one of the hard alcohols usually wins. I jest of course

  21. Sam N says

    I don’t know Richard. I feel like you’re romanticizing the act of drinking scotch a bit much. Without a doubt I enjoy drinking it, and favor Oban, although I’ll happily drink Glenfiddich or Glenlivet if that’s what available. It was sometime around the age of 25 it went from being unpleasant and burny to the most delicious substance on Earth. But I figure my appreciation is a combination of the ability to not face bad repercussions form high-alcohol content drinks (developed in my early 20s), the buzz from the alcohol, the signals I get from society (marketing, posts like yours, peer preferences), and association with particularly good conversation. I don’t think there’s anything fundamentally special about the liquor itself, but the world I live in has made it special.

  22. says

    Your statements that alcohol does not directly kill brain cells and cognitive benefits with moderate consumption are reasonable, but it seems to be a somewhat selective treatment of the consequences of alcohol consumption (since they “point” in the same direction with respect to benefits/risks).

    Alcohol can indirectly cause brain damage and brain atrophy via thiamine deficiency (very common in chronic alcohol abuse) and almost 4% of all global deaths and close to 5% of all disability life-years are attributed to alcohol (Rehm et al, 2009).

    You also state that “you have to abuse alcohol to an extreme degree to suffer health problems from it”. This turns out not to be accurate as even moderate consumption of alcohol increase the risk of many different harmful outcomes such as injuries, violence, damage to fetus, some cancer types (throat and gullet), liver disease and high blood pressure (Andréasson and Allebeck, 2005).

    Around 10 200 people died in 2011 in the U. S. due to drunk driving (around 1/3 of all deaths in traffic). Around 1.4 million people were arrested for DUI (alcohol or drugs) and this is just 1% of the 112 million self-reported alcohol DUIs among U. S. adults every year (data from CDC’s Injury Prevention & Control: Motor Vehicle Safety).

    References:

    Rehm, Jürgen, Mathers, Colin, Popova, Svetlana, Thavorncharoensap, Montarat, Teerawattananon, Yot, & Patra, Jayadeep. (2009) Global burden of disease and injury and economic cost attributable to alcohol use and alcohol-use disorders. The Lancet, 373(9682), 2223-2233.

    Andréasson S, Allebeck P. (2005) Alcohol as medication is no good. More risks than benefits according to a survey of current knowledge. Lakartidningen. 102(9):632-7.

    • says

      It seems you’ve been taken in by someone selling this narrative.

      You do realize the vast quantity of alcohol you would have to regularly consume to actually produce a significant sustained vitamin deficiency, right? Or a significant elevation of cancer risk, right?

      And you do realize that the “causes” of alcohol related deaths have to do with irresponsible drinking and not just consuming alcohol, right?

      And you do realize you can only harm a fetus from drinking if you actually have a fetus in you, right?

      I find it amusing when someone cites “violence” as a reason to avoid moderate consumption of alcohol. Um, you really need to bone up on your basic sociology and anthropology. And get out more.

  23. docsarvis says

    Good post Richard. I love Glenmorangie too, but MacAllan is my favorite Scotch. When drinking bourbon it is hard to go wrong with Basil Hayden or Woodford Reserve as you and another commenter noted. For tequila, I recommend Gran Centenario resposado.

    Don’t write off beer until you’ve tried some Jacobsen Brown Ale, but you’ll have to go to Denmark to find it.

  24. leftwingfox says

    My father drank from the Quaich in Oban, and fell in love with the scotch served. Back home though, he could never justify the price of Oban.

    When he returned a few years later, he mentioned it, but the hosts were confused. They certainly couldn’t afford to serve Oban to all their guests. They serve Old Mull instead.

  25. tmscott says

    “Or it’s just American English vs. British English. As one might “realise” when they use the appropriate nationality’s spellcheck.”

    Actually, the Brits do call American and Irish drink whiskey, while they reserve whisky for scotch. You should know better than to rely on spell checkers for proper use.

    Incidentally, if you like highland malts, I recommend Dalwhinie. It’s from a very small distillery with only two stills, that still uses wooden backwash condensers. It’s also at the highest elevation of any distillery in Scotland, and holds the record for the coldest inhabitable place in the country. The whisky is heathery, with a slightly sweet aftertaste, and only slightly smokey (unlike Laphroaig, Ardberg, or Ledaig).

    • docsarvis says

      Ah, I had forgotten about Dalwhinie. Excellent Scotch. I love their Cigar Malt paired with a fine maduro.

    • says

      Brits do call American and Irish drink whiskey, while they reserve whisky for scotch

      Emphasis on “Brits do.”

      We don’t speak the King’s English here. Almost since we drove y’all out and took this colony from ya.

      Try here and here and here and here and here. (All of which establishes that Americans really don’t care how it’s spelled and rarely use the different spellings the way Brits do.)

    • tmscott says

      Hey Richard,

      Well yes, as “Brits do”, because it’s their drink. As an Appellation d’origine contrôlée, by international treaty, they can call it what they like, and restrict the use of the name to their product. To ignore that appears as simply willful ignorance.

      Tom

    • says

      Actually, the U.S. is a sovereign nation and can name its products any way it pleases (indeed, by law, “whisky” is the spelling mandated for all whiskeys in the U.S., with a clause allowing alternative use of whiskey; no mention of any regional requirement…see links above…and from observation I have to conclude we have no treaty requiring otherwise).

      Moreover, labeling laws do not affect colloquial speech. Kleenex and xeroxes are no longer trademarks but generic names. Such is the way of reality. One cannot legislate their way out of reality.

    • tmscott says

      “…labeling laws do not affect colloquial speech.”

      True, and therefore California can call its sparkling wine “Champagne”, but who then is ignoring reality?

      Tom

  26. boneforgod says

    Dear Richard,
    There are many paths to a buzz. You have caught my interest with the Glenmorangie, so we’ll take a few steps down that path. Jameson is shit… did I mention there are many paths, as many as there are travelers :) A 12 year old Canadian Club and you will never lift Jame-the-devils-mouthwash-son to your lips again.
    A wonderful digestif is Patxaran from Licores Baztan.
    Cheers,
    bonehead

  27. beardymcviking says

    Go get yourself a bottle of ‘Tactical Nuclear Penguin’ from Brewdogs (also from Scotland). Then try to tell me Beer is dull!

    Seriously though, I agree with you on the whiskey, it’s a wonderful drink. I just opened a bottle of Auchentoshan triple wood which is very nice, though maybe a bit on the sweet side for your tastes, since it’s finished in sherry casks.

  28. DrVanNostrand says

    In general, I’m a little skeptical of the extreme regional specificity of all whiskeys. Grain bill, peat use in malting, and aging processes are all VERY important, and tend to be regional, but they’re not magic. McCarthy’s in Oregon buys highly peated malts from Scotland, has them brewed in Portland, and ages them for something like 3-4 years, and very successfully clones a 10 year old Laphroiag. In CA there is a place that makes “Leviathan”, a really highly peated single malt that is truly unique (clearly inspired by Islay). Since you are clearly not a crazy peaty Islay fan, I would really suggest a really high rye, well-aged whisky. My brother-in-law, who is from Speyside area and loves Highland and Islay whiskies, loved the 18 year old Sazerac Rye I bough him.

    Corn whiskey (bourbon is at least 51% corn) is very sweet, but rye is more like barley. It’s quite harsh, but takes to aging very well. I think there is likely to be a lot of overlap between people who like 12yr highland Scotch and people who like 12yr high-rye American whiskey. I once had the opportunity to buy a 15yr all-rye from Anchor distillery (Old Hotaling’s, very limited bottling, found purely by accident). It may have been the best whiskey I’ve ever had, and no hint of peatiness, turpentine-ness, or anything else. Smooth as Lester Freamon.

    Scottish single malts (Scotch) are great, but I’m a huge fan of expanding your repertoire way beyond that. Scottish vatted malts are amazing (choose your style: Islay, Highland, Lowland, etc…). Lots of Japanese malts are about as good as many Scottish highland malts, and Japanese blends are becoming truly amazing (at least on par with Jameson and common Scottish blends). Americans are doing great shit too! McCarthy’s is remarkably effective Laphroaig clone, while Leviathan (super peaty) and Stranahan’s (super smooth) are practically re-inventing whiskey. Old Potrero and Sazerac are doing amazing things with rye. Just stick with high rye and long age, or you’re looking at glorified bourbon. And, by the way, have you ever tried a 12 year old George T Stagg bourbon? It’s as sweet as you expect bourbon to be, but the flavor explosion on top of that will blow your mind.

    Anyway, that’s my bit. The only thing I haven’t mentioned here is my love of Ardbeg special releases. Since you don’t love Islay, you should steer clear, but the best whiskey I’ve ever had was Ardbeg Corryvreckan. It was the most mature, peatiest, monster I’ve ever had, and I’ll never forget it (second only to Old Potrero Hotaling’s rye).

  29. kevinalexander says

    American law only allows new barrels and the thrifty Scots won’t spring for new ones when almost new not only is cheaper but adds to the flavour. Sometimes, when the bourbon note is very strong in a Scottish malt we call it Glen Campbell.

  30. Shaun says

    Richard,

    Have you tried Calvados apple brandy or Poire Williams? Superb! Other distilled wine spirits, cognac of course, or wine marc spirits Țuică, grappa, l’eau de vie, orujo etc.. they can be outstanding. Regards

  31. GrzeTor says

    Generally, as a rule, I don’t generally drink alcoholic drinks, refuse when proposed to drink, and sometimes even discourage others from drinking. But I’m not a fundamentalist about alcohol itself, eg. I sometimes (few times per few years) participate in toasts (or other symbolic or ceremonial use) by sipping one gulp of champanage or something light (never drink the flass fully though). I also don’t have problem eating dishes prepared with alcohol, eg. fried in wine like in French cuisine, or preserved with alcohol, like some seafood in wine, or herbal mixtures.

    When it comes to health effects of alcohol, especially the claimed mental benefits, my advice would be: first do everything right – withouth alcohol. Check your results after doing everything right without alcohol, then reintroduce alcohol and check your results again. I suspect after reintroducing alcohol they are going to be lower.

    By doing everything right on the cognitive side I mean something that includes, but is not limited to:
    1. Giving your brain a second source of energy other than glucose, in the form of ketones which you get by regular consumption of MCT oil (not alcohol).
    2. Avoiding brain-unhealthy foods, like refined carbohydrates, gluten and gluten likes (cerelas, especially wheat), MSG, aspartame, artificial colorants etc.
    3. Assure good sleep patterns and appropriate sleep time.
    4. Use some brain-friendly foods (eg. blueberries, eggs, brocolli, salomon etc.) and supplements (vitamin D, B12, magnesium in the evening, . Measure microelements and vitamin levels to assure appropriate levels.
    5. Do some quality neurofeedback sessions. A guy named Dave Asprey has some good advice here:
    http://40yearsofzen.com/
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sc7NNr8KnYs
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LX4yUzoKFxI&t=54m12s
    6. Practice brain excercises. There are comprehensive commercial excercise programs from multiple providers. eg:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UyPrL0cmJRs
    For some excercises like dual N-back there are free apps:
    http://brainworkshop.sourceforge.net/
    7. Do all other good stuff – Body By Science excercises, interminnet fasting etc.
    And only after all of this try alcohol – do you think it is going to improve or decrease your mental performance then, when everything in your body works perfectly?

    ———————-

    Here are some links about the effects of alcohol. These are from Daniel Amen, who runs health programs in churches, but of course it’s not the reason I’ve chosen him as a source to link to – it was because he prefers to publish lots of actual scans of brains, rather than just text:

    http://wholehealth4you.blogspot.com/2008/10/dr-amen-alcohol-shrinks-brains.html
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1177258/Are-wrecking-brain-Chilling-pictures-reveal-shocking-effects-alcohol-cigarettes-caffeine-mind.html
    http://www.danielplan.com/healthyhabits/alcohol/

    But that’s not all. Most alcoholic beverages – especially beer – increase estrogen levels, or even decrease testosterone! (source: Anti Estrogenic Diet by Ori Hofmekler).

    • says

      When it comes to health effects of alcohol, especially the claimed mental benefits, my advice would be: first do everything right – withouth alcohol. Check your results after doing everything right without alcohol, then reintroduce alcohol and check your results again. I suspect after reintroducing alcohol they are going to be lower.

      I think you’ve misunderstood. No one is claiming you perform better when inebriated. Rather, the science shows that you perform better when sober if you drink moderately. That is, moderate drinking improves overall cognitive function–long term.

      As for the rest, you need to be more critical in how you use data.

      As just one example (typical of the rest):

      The evidence of brain atrophy in men only occurs for heavy drinkers, not moderate drinkers (see here and here; and note that even the latter, the actual study itself, agrees “moderate alcohol consumption has been associated with improved cognitive functioning,” thus such small declines in brain volume as they found are not correlated with cognitive decline, but would actually be inversely correlated).

      Moreover, the measured difference is trivial. The amount of brain volume reduction is so small, barely 2% even for heavy drinkers, that it’s washed out by natural reduction from aging, which is an accumulative 2% every decade…which again is not correlated to cognitive decline, independent of age itself, since skills and memories increase as brain volume decreases during aging, and everyone experiences the age-induced reduction but not everyone experiences dementia–and there is no reported correlation between moderate alcohol use and dementia.

      Finally, the study itself notes “these results were observed in cross sectional data [so] we cannot relate alcohol consumption to decline in brain volume,” which means they failed to prove causation. Smaller brains might make greater alcohol consumption easier to tolerate and thus explain the correlation. It has been remarked in this thread, and it applies in my case: hangovers and other ill effects of alcohol decline with age…might this be due to the natural shrinking of brain volume already associated with age? One would have to check. The study authors suspect it may be the case, because they admit “another potential limitation [of our study] is the difficulty of disentangling effects of alcohol consumption from those of age on [brain volume],” a remark that entails they agree the effect might actually be, in whole or in part, a result of age and not alcohol consumption.

      So what do we conclude? Nothing of any relevance. No significant negative effects of any kind, even from heavy drinking, was shown by this study. It can’t even prove the effect it found existed, or that it correlated with any ill effect, and even at best all they found was an insignificant effect on brain size relative to aging, which produces far greater effects in that dimension without producing any strongly correlated cognitive decline (to the contrary, studies still show cognitive improvement from moderate consumption of alcohol).

      This is the problem with submitting to verification bias to support a narrative. Skepticism entails that one actually look more carefully and critically at any science one wants to use to support a preexisting bias. I find that very often when one does that, the support they thought they had dissolves.

    • GrzeTor says

      I think I haven’t explained my message well enough: you have various levels of optimality of the diets, behaviors, lifestyles etc. I expect that the the top ones (optimal ones) don’t include consuming alcohol even in moderation, but not driking or otherwise using alcohol is also a feature of the worst ones. So consuming moderate amounts of alcohol could show some positive effects for those who have very bad health habits (which includes a large portion of so called normal people), but when you introduce alcohol to those who have optimal livestyles then the results can would only go down (the mechanisms by which alcohol benefits being redundant, while bad effects still being there).

      Some possible mechanisms that alcohol might benefit:
      - Alcohol kills germs; which makes it beneficial for those who consume infected meat (eg. e-coli in beef) , while it’s redundant for those who either have a trusted supply of safe meat, or have already killed germs via some other mechanism (eg. using herbs and appropriate thermal preparation).
      - Alcohol can provide a secondary fuel source for the brain: those who previously fed their brain exclusively with glucose may get a benefit of diversified fuel. But this is not an optimal solution – the optimal solution is to provide a secondary fuel for the brain in a form of ketones, delivered thanks to consumption of MCT oil. By consuming MCT oil you get all the benefits of having a secondary fuel, without the negative effects of alcohol.
      - If calories from the consumption of alcohol don’t add up to the total calorie budget, but just replace calories from other bad stuff like excess sugar or refined PUFA oils, while keeping sum of calories constant, then such exchange may in fact turn out to be beneficial. Average person consumes former. A person practicing optimal diet consumes only good stuff, and exchanging good stuff for alcohol is harmful.

      Thus I proposed the experiment that is in essence doing everything right without alcohol, with a list of what it implies; then reintroducing alcohol and checking if the change is for better or for worse.

      When it comes to the list of negative effects of moderate alcohol consumption Emil Karlsson made one:

      http://debunkingdenialism.com/2013/07/27/richard-carrier-and-the-health-effects-of-alcohol-consumption/

    • GrzeTor says

      I have some better examples:
      - Many teas are contaminated with fluoride, while coffees are contaminated with mycotoxins. Tea bags also contain some carcinogenic components. Moderate consumption of alcohol, with total amount of water consumed staying constant, has thus a chance to decreases consumption of both contaminated tea and coffee. But this is a false sense of improvement, as teas low in fluoride or coffee low in mycotoxins are available on the market; while alcohol is alwas a slow poison (eg. via denaturation of proteins). You can also drink herbal teas – chamomile, passionflower are anti-estrocenic, as opposed to alcoholic drinks that increase estrogen levels in the body.
      This is not much related to risk. Risk typically implies probability < 1, while in case of slow poisoning you always get it deterministically. Moderate consumption of alcohol, fluoride, mycotoxins in food and drinks are a case of slow poison – there's no violent reaction after this, but the state of health sligthly decreases, some piece of damage is done. In case of fluoride poisoning it is even cumulative, there's no recovery it stays in the bones forever, and each additional portion adds up to the toxic load. Toxins or poisons avoidance leads to a better life by itself, with no risk.
      - Some alcoholic drinks, like wine, contain many beneficial substances from fruit (eg. polyphenols, antioxidants, resveratrol). Sych substances may be destroyed by heat or other procesing, eg in the proces of making industrial juices. This may lead to better health, which is later falsely attributed to alcohol (scientists say "alcohol consumption improves health", rather than "resveratrol consumption improves health"). Fortunately many such substances are available without alcohol – for example you can buy resveratrol supplements, or simply eat fresh fruit. So the worst solution would be not consuming such substances at all, the optimum solution would be to get non-alcoholic sources of such substances, while getting such substances with alcohol is somewhere in the middle.
      - Ethanol itself is protective against methanol poisoning. Some food sources contain methanol – eg. canned fruit, aspartame sweetener. Thus consuming them with ethanol is a better solution than consuming them without ethanol. But it's the not optimal solution – the optimal solution would be to not consume food or drinks that contain methanol, and such alternatives are available for basically every methanol containing products. For example instead of canned fruit you can eat fresh fruit in which methanol is bound to pectin.
      Basically for every "better life" scenario that includes alcohol, theres another "even better life" althernative that doesn't.
      An assumption that better health involves risks often turns out to be false when new inventions appear. Such was the case with excercise. It was believed that to achieve good health one needed to do violent, high intensity moves like rapid sprints etc. – so called High Intensity Interval Training like PACE, or Peak 8, or even more so CrossFit excercises. Such excercises are risky, as they can cause a serious mechanical injury. But a new invention called "Body By Science" program appeared that was designed partially to alleviate such problems – it involves very slow movement with large weights which leads to minimal risks, while keeping the benefits.
      When it comes to finding the contemporary dillema of high mental performance vs. some risks the one that stands out is using so called smart drugs. Some of them, like Modafinil (Provigil) are proven to increase alertness and allow more consisten mental output (constant, without switching between high/low performance states). To get them you need to undertake some risk – either lie to a doctor that you have sleep problems, or try to get it from not-fully legal source, and after consumption you risk having side effects. So if you desire better life – better mental performance – at the cost of some risk, then this may be the road to take.

  32. Rex Hound says

    Here we go again. One man’s (or woman’s) low budget scotch elixir is an another man’s (or woman’s) extravagance.

    So the debate rages on as to what makes a really decent dram.

    Still, a decent essay, Richard. Kudos.

    Personally, I like Highland Park. Unfortunately, I can’t afford to drink it on a regular basis.
    I’ve drank a lot of other stuff pursing the quest that I am ashamed to mention.

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