Friday, 4 January 2013

What can I do with this bottle of... Scotch?

Happy new year everybody! It’s a sad time around here – after 14 whole days off that went by in a supersonic alcohol-fuelled instant, it’s time to be getting back to work. Of course, returning to work is horrible any time you have more than a standard weekend off, it’s just that 14 days is a long time to have passed by so quickly. The best bit is the whole period from the beginning to the time when you realise there will actually be a day soon when you have to go back to work. Being able to forget about work altogether is wonderful, but it just makes it worse for those last few days when you start counting the minutes, and doing as little as possible, hoping that it will make time go slower. And now it’s back to the endless cycle of looking forward to every coming weekend.

I did have a whole new year’s eve themed post planned, but I barely even got near a computer in my time off, so while it was written, I never got around to posting it. It seems a bit irrelevant now, so I may just lift a few things from it for upcoming posts – or save it till next year.

Yes, the missus and I spent the entire holiday drunk and recovering from being drunk. It was certainly never the intention, but I think I ended up drinking every single day except New Year’s Day itself. I had planned to have a drink that evening, figuring it would be necessary to make me feel better, but by the time evening came, I felt so ill I could barely keep the Chinese takeaway down that I’d been looking forward to all fricking day. One day we even drank all day, from breakfast to bedtime, but more on that another time.

I’ll be going on a bit of a detox now then, I think. I’ve actually made myself sick of booze, which isn’t good news for you – assuming you like the blog. By the time you read this, a couple of days will have passed though, and I should be back to my booze-craving best. I wouldn’t worry too much; the festive period did provide a few more things for me to write about, but we’ll get to those later no doubt.

Without any further prevarication then, let’s get on to this week’s post.

It’s been a while since we’ve had a “What can I do with this bottle of…?” feature, so it’s about time I think, for a new one.

Now, in case I haven’t made it blatantly obvious in previous posts, I like scotch. But that doesn’t mean I have to like all scotch. In fact, I have come to the conclusion that some scotch is bad. I’ll bet you knew that already. Nevertheless, if you did happen to come into possession of a bottle of scotch that you can’t glean any enjoyment from on its own, what can you do with it, short of giving it to the red nosed old man at the bus stop? And I don’t mean Father Christmas. The one sitting by the pile of sick. That one.

Well, this post has been in construction for quite some time, so we’ll be meeting a few different brands in our experiments, and I’m actually going to structure this post by brand, just to make it a bit less messy. To be fair, most of these brands aren’t actually what I’d call bad scotch. Some are ok, some are even pretty good, but all were pretty much the worst scotch I had available at the time of each experiment. Let’s get started, shall we?

Glen Moray Classic

That bit I said before about some of the scotches not actually being bad: this is the one that actually is bad. Really bad. Sorry to my friend who bought me this as a birthday present. Your intentions were honourable, and I sure appreciate the effort, but this is the worst scotch I have ever tasted, and it’s a single malt at that. In fact, it’s the cheapest single malt I’ve seen in the shops so far (around £17), and it’s cheaper than two of the blends that are coming up later in the post.

Glen Moray is an insipid urine colour and has a prominent metallic taste that lingers long past its welcome. Some might call that a ‘finish’, but the only good place for a metallic finish is on a new car. Good points? It has a cork rather than a screw cap, so at least it sounds good when you open it. You should probably always be wary of single malt scotch that doesn’t carry an age statement – unless it’s cask strength, let’s say.

After a few attempts of drinking it on its own, I tried a couple of experiments. First, the Whisky Mac, which is simply scotch with a splash of ginger wine. You can read a little bit more about that drink here. I’m not massively into ginger I’m afraid, and despite it being a strong flavour, it couldn’t prevent that metallic taste from the Glen Moray cutting right through. This was the only occasion I can remember this year of actually throwing a drink down the sink, rather than have to finish it. If I’m only going to have one drink this evening, I said to myself, I don’t want it to be this one.

This next drink, I first tried with one of my other blends, but I’ll come to that shortly. It was successful with that one, so I thought I’d give it a try with Glen Moray, and surprisingly the results were pleasing here, too.

the soft touch family
The Soft Touch is 1 measure of whisky, half a measure of London dry gin and half a measure of triple sec, stirred with ice and topped up with soda. It’s not a strongly flavoured drink, but the gin adds a nice floral touch and the soda makes it satisfyingly refreshing. I got the recipe from the rumhowlerblog website. If you haven’t visited before, Rumhowler is well worth a look, both for researching bottles of all the various kinds of liquor, and also for serving suggestions for each one.

After that, the Glen Moray remained untouched until the drunken chess match that I played with Phil earlier this year. I took it along as something to neck rather than to enjoy – since I knew that would be the order of the day. I still wasn’t able to finish it that day, so a week or so later I just poured what was left into a glass, and did what had to be done.

bargain Whyte and MacKay
Whyte and Mackay Special

Whyte and Mackay was an impulse buy, when I saw it on offer for £12 in Tesco. I’d never tried it before, but judging by the blurb on the label, it looked like it was quite highly thought of. I don’t know how much credence you can give to that, mind; I’m sure Bell’s is highly thought of among their marketing department.

Both the malt whiskies and the grain whiskies that make up the blend are aged, though for an unspecified amount of time, and I would expect that is probably the case with all blends, isn’t it? Most, at least.  Scotchnoob suggests grain whiskies need to be aged for around 17 years before they start to taste good, but I’m fairly sure a blend at the lower end of the spectrum isn’t going to include any that are that old. Probably even grain whiskies start to get expensive at 17 years old.

I did buy it just to see what it was like, expectations low, and I wasn’t overawed by any means. I’d like to say it has a dark flavour, but I don’t see how you could have any inkling of what I mean by that. As you know, I’m woefully inadequate at describing whisky. With each passing glass though, my appreciation deepened. I didn’t mind using it to mix drinks (I think I had at least 3 other whiskies on the go at that point), but nor did I mind drinking it straight, when I didn’t feel like depleting the stocks of my more precious liquors.

The Godfather is a mix of amaretto and scotch. I found it on Wikipedia, and I’m afraid the relative quantities weren’t specified. I mixed at a ratio of 1:1. It was ok, but the Whyte and Mackay was preferable on its own.

I tried the Soft Touch with this one before trying it with the Glen Moray, and was impressed enough to try it with that one, as I said just before. It is nice, but if you like scotch, it’s hard to justify diluting its stronger flavours so much.

mint julep
The Rumhowler also suggests a drink called AlpineMeadows, which is one and a half measures of Glenfiddich 15 year old or Highland Park 12 year old with ¾ of a measure of gin and ¾ of a measure of triple sec, but without soda. That’s very specific, isn’t it? – all those fractions. Clearly Rumhowler has a far more sensitive palate than I do. He’s the drinking equivalent of a musician that insists on playing a ’74 Strat on a record instead of an ’86 one, because he can hear the difference. I certainly didn’t fancy giving any of my Highland Park over to such a mix, and had intended to try it with a cheaper scotch, but on reflection the HP is quite a fine, light-bodied malt, and no doubt that would be instrumental in the outcome of the drink. I just couldn’t see any point in trying it with a blended scotch. Perhaps my palate is developing after all…

My final experiment with Whyte and Mackay was the Mint Julep. Really you should be using bourbon, but I didn’t have any, and I couldn’t see any reason why it wouldn’t work with scotch anyway. And it did. It’s just the kind of cocktail I like; press some mint leaves in a glass with a tablespoon of sugar syrup, fill the glass with crushed ice, then pour three measures of whisky over it. Very nice.


what it should look like
Another impulse buy, because I saw on hotukdeals that ASDA were selling bottles for £11. It’s light bodied and light coloured, but again, pretty good for a blend. By the time I got to the stage that I wanted to finish it and make room in the cupboard for a new acquisition, I had gone off mixing drinks somewhat, so I drank nearly all of this straight. I did get around to trying the Bourbon Milk Punch, though.

BMP recipe
what it looked like
Obviously I used Grants instead of bourbon, and the results were satisfactory. Nice and sour, how I like it, but it turned out that the honey didn’t make it into the drink. I think it just went hard, and stayed in the shaker.

My gripe with this drink is the quantity. I don’t think the glass I used is much bigger than the one in the photo in the book, but on seeing that, you’d be expecting something fairly large, instead of the little dribble I got. You’re probably best doubling up on everything to make it worthwhile.

The Black Grouse

The saga of acquiring this bottle has been fully documented already. It is supposed to be the Famous Grouse’s interpretation of the Islay style, but I never quite came to appreciate that. I tasted a little bit of peat smoke… once. It never quite floated my boat, so I did try one drinks combination. Scotch on the rocks with a twist was suggested by an episode of Columbo (see also, the Drinks with convicted killers part 2 post for a full evaluation). It’s exactly what you’d think it is, and I don’t really have anything more to say about it.

Dewar’s 12 Years Old, Double Aged

Ah, the Dewar’s; a litre bottle that I purchased in Duty Free, thinking I was getting something special. But no, that would be the Special Reserve. This isn’t that bad though, actually. It took half a litre, but one day I really started enjoying it, and I was pleased that I still had half a litre left. At first I thought it had that dark flavour that I referred to in describing Whyte and Mackay, but that only lasts the duration of your first sip. After that it seemed to be grain whisky all the way, but it did benefit from holding it in my mouth a lot longer than you normally might. That way I seemed to get a little beyond the grain flavours, and at least to a hint of woodyness.

Now I think I must have been drinking it at the wrong time – like, on a Sunday when I’m coming off a heavy drinking session – because one day I came to appreciate a good deal more complexity in it than was immediately apparent. It’s actually quite delicate for a blend. Let that be a lesson to you; don’t trust your impressions of a spirit the day after a heavy session. And don’t bother drinking your special spirits until you’re fully compus mentus again.

My one experiment with this (so far) is whisky and beer, which was suggested by stupid underdog movie, Bad News Bears, Billy Bob Thornton. We couldn’t have gotten more than 10 minutes in before deciding we knew everything that was going to happen and that we didn’t want to watch the rest, but that was long enough to see the aforementioned Mr Thornton open a can of beer, pour a good quantity away, and then top up the can with whisky. I couldn’t tell you why he didn’t just drink the quantity that he wanted to remove from the can – I would – but he didn’t.

Mrs Cake asked if I’d ever tried that, and I said I thought I recalled doing that thing where you buy a pint of lager and a shot of whisky and drop the shot glass into the beer glass, then drink both. A friend of mine at university did it, and made himself ill. I’m not sure if I’d actually tried it, or if I just remembered him telling me about it, but I know it didn’t make me ill.

So the other Saturday I thought I’d try it as a warm up before going out. I poured myself a can of Holsten Pils and added two shots of Dewar’s 12 year old. I didn’t need to drink any of the lager to make room, as the can was 440ml and the glass was a full pint.

The taste of the Dewar’s permeated the whole of the lager, and in quite a pleasing way. I felt that what I keep referring to as Dewars’ ‘dark’ flavour complemented the lager quite nicely. It just caused me to wonder what the point in it is, though. Presumably it’s a good way of getting a buzz on quickly, but you could do that by downing a double whisky and chasing it with a lager. The taste of both combined isn’t preferable to each on its own, but as I say; the Dewars isn’t that bad a blend in the first place. Perhaps if you were to try this with the Glen Moray Classic, you might perceive more benefit.

I don’t know whether people tend to do this in real life, but the fact the character in the film does is no doubt supposed to communicate something about him, like, I don’t know, he’s a maverick redneck alcoholic.

Drinking out of a glass is a little classier than the beer can method in the film, but that’s not particularly important.

Well, that’s all there is for now. I’m sure I’ll be returning to this theme at some point in the future, so do check back. If you’re looking for more scotch based combinations, your best bet is the Rumhowler blog, as I said before. He suggests a drink for every bottle he reviews, so it’s a useful resource. Most of those whiskies are probably good enough to drink on their own, though.

Just a couple of notes before I go. First this Sunday is the anniversary of my first ever post. This one marks my 65th. I doubt I’ll be able to be so prolific next year, but I’ve enjoyed the journey, and will hopefully be motivated enough to keep the effort up, and keep on improving. So, thanks to everyone that’s read the blog, especially those that have visited regularly. Keep it up.

Finally, just a word on the approaching weekend, and what you can look forward to in the coming weeks. Being that we’ve just had Christmas, I’ve come into a couple of extra bottles of scotch, as you do if you’re the enviable member of your family who routinely gets scotch for Christmas. That brings my current whisky family to 5 members. After conducting an inpromtpu tasting with Paul last week (that will probably come up in this blog at some point), I thought it would be negligent of me not to put all five of these to the test, side by side. So that’s what I’m going to do tonight… after I’ve cleaned the car we’re selling, and taken it where it needs to go…

So it will be Dewar’s 12 year old blended scotch vs Green Spot single pot still Irish whisky, vs Caol Ila 18 year old single malt, vs Balvenie 12 year old “double wood”, vs Gordon and MacPhail Scapa 2001.

It should be interesting. Don’t expect the results straight away mind, I think I have some other posts to get out of the way before I reveal the results of the comparison.

Whatever you’re up to, I hope the new year blues aren’t hitting you too bad. Have a good un, and remember to check back next week for… something else.

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