Whiskey of the Week
A reader pointed out to me that for a blog that claimed to be about, among other things, Single Malt Whiskey, I haven't offered much advice about Single Malt Whiskey. So here's the occasional feature, to come out Thursday evenings or Fridays: Whiskey of the Week. I'll point out a bottle of single malt worth trying and try to weave in a bit of a lesson about whiskey as well. To wit:
was going on about the Rocky Top Brigade
, a junta of Tennessee bloggers who, among other things, want a good bottle of single malt for around twenty dollars. So I'll take as my text for today Bowmore's "The Legend" --- a whiskey without an age statement --- from Islay, the cultural center of whiskey. But first, let's ponder just what does it mean for a whiskey to be eight or twelve or twenty-five years old.
A lot of people I know, some related, think that a whiskey should be "old" to be good. Not so. While there is a correlation between quality and age, it's not a particularly strong one. The age statement on whiskey tells you only the age of the youngest drop of whiskey in the bottle, nothing more. It's sort of like finding the clearing price in a spot-pricing electricty auction, except in reverse. But not as expensive. And tastier.
Scottish Law provides two things regarding the age of a whiskey: First, if it's not aged for three years, it's not whiskey. Second, the youngest drop of whiskey in a bottle is the oldest age it can be called. So if a bottle is 95% 12 year old whiskey and 5% 5 year old whiskey, that bottle cannot (legally) be called anything older than 5 years old. I don't know if there is some economic calculus of reputational effects prevents this kind of doping or if it is, as I suspect, the Scots would prefer tyranny from Edinburgh to Jesus Christ himself ruling from London, but compliance with this law is universal.
Now, a 10-year old whiskey is very likely to have some whiskey in it older than 10 years. A whiskey blender, even with a single malt, will use whiskeys from different barrels to blend to reach a particular flavor (this does not
make it a blended whiskey, something we shall get to during our alphabetical review of whiskeys, hopefully before the overly long G's). A whiskey's end flavor is driven by so many variables, that to produce a fairly consistent product, one has to tinker. Older barrels and barrels with a particularly strong character are kept around for years to reinforce a particular flavor that might be missing from one year to the next.
Lately, as single malt drinkers have learned a bit more, whiskeys can be found which are made to highlight a particular use such as the Dalmore’s Cigar Malt
(although properly a 10 year old, it is blended from whiskeys up to 20 years old)), a particular interesting taste such as Aberlour's
delightful A Bunadh
or, in the case of the Bowmore, to present a sort of armed recon on your palate. Bowmore makes many amazing whiskeys, ranging from $35ish for their 12-year old to hundreds for their 30-year old. But since they want you to try something a bit different, and don't want to be forced to call it an 8-year old (since that's not "old enough" for people to give it a try) they leave the age off the bottle.
Which brings us to Bowmore’s The Legend
our Whiskey of the Week. It is peaty – if you really don’t like that dirt taste involved in whiskey, I’ll be offering another beginning whiskey next time – but it’s not overly so. It’s a lighter tasting whiskey, good as a stand-alone before dinner drink. The nicest thing about The Legend
, however, is its shocking affordability. Even at Beverages & More, which I think generally has obscene prices on single malts, you can often find The Legend
for $20 or $22. At my preferred liquor store, Jackson’s in Lafayette, CA, it’s usually $19.
And it’s a whiskey you can use to impress your friends. Either with your ability to drink something that tastes like dirt or, for those less familiar, to give them a lesson on whiskey yourself. The question “how old is it?” when enjoying a malt without an age statement (or for that matter, one with an age statement) should never be answered until your guest has had a moment to enjoy it and decide for themselves whether they like it or not. Then use the lack of age statement to teach them a thing or two about whiskey.
Buy a bottle, share it with your friends and neighbors. If you don’t like it, keep it on your shelf. It’ll keep about three or four years if the cork’s kept in place. If you do like it, or think you might like whiskey but something that's less peaty, come back next week and I’ll talk about the Macallan.
It’s not wine, whose truth is guarded and obscured by the high priests of taste. It’s just whiskey.
: Bowmore's official website can be found here
. Unfortunately, the website looks and sounds like pledge week featuring the bastard child of John Tesh and Kitaro.