Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Well Stocked Bar VI

"Too much of anything is bad, but too much of good whiskey is barely enough."
Mark Twain

As the weather turns cooler many switch from the gin and vodka based drinks of summer to something a bit richer, smokier, warmer. For me it's time to pour a few fingers of Scotch or Bourbon. The last Well Stocked Bar post was dedicated to Bourbon, this is one is dedicated to it's older cousin Scotch, particularly blended Scotch. Future posts will be dedicated to the finer points of single malts.

Scotch has had a long history of regulation (most of it unwanted and imposed unilaterally by the English). Today's Scotch Whisky is regulated by the Scotch Whisky Order of 1990, but is currently under review for further regulation. The Whisky Order is fundamentally a definition of what it takes to be called Scotch whisky:

1. Must be distilled in Scotland from water and malted barley and fermented with yeast
2. Must be distilled to an alcoholic strength of less than 94.8% (189.6 proof)
3. Must be matured in Scotland in oak casks for no less than three years and a day
4. Must not contain any added substance other than water and caramel colouring
5. May not be bottled at less than 40% alcohol by volume

Blended Scotch is a mixture of single malt whisky and grain whisky, usually from multiple distilleries. These are the Scotch whiskies that became popular throughout the world at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, and include such brands as Dewar's White Label (the #1 selling Scotch in America), Cutty Sark, Chivas Regal, Johnny Walker, J&B, and Famous Grouse. One reason for their popularity is their consistent house style. Like a Champagne house, a Scotch Blender's job is to produce a consistent product from year to year. They accomplish this by combining single-malt whisky from multiple distilleries in various proportions to achieve a consistent taste and then add grain alcohol to lend a smoothness.

Blended Scotch whisky is a bar necessity for it can be drunk neat, with rocks, with water, with soda, and in a host of different cocktails. If you drink Scotch you probably started with a blend and have your favorite, if not pay attention to what your friends and family order to select the blend most preferred by your most frequent guests. If your budget and bar can accomodate more than one selection it's not a bad practice to have several different selections on hand.

For my bar the "house" is Dewar's 12, a smoother more elegant version of Dewar's White Label that benefits from a combination of single malts the youngest of which is 12 years old. (The age printed on a bottle of Scotch by law has to be the age of the youngest malt included, though the blend may contain malts much older). I also have bottles of Chivas Regal and Johnny Walker Black Label on hand as I have a number of friends who are fiercely loyal to these blends.

What's your blended scotch?

My favorite scotch cocktail is the Rob Roy, named after Robert Roy MacGregor, a Scottish folk hero also known as 'Red MacGregor'.

3 Parts Blended Scotch Whisky, I prefer Dewar's 12 or White Label
2-3 Parts Dry Vermouth (depending on taste)
2 Dashes Bitters, I use Angostura, but Orange Bitters are also nice
2 Dashes Simple Syrup (made by bringing to a boil than cooling equal parts water and sugar)
1 Cherry

Combine first 4 ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled half with ice. Shake vigorously for a few moments. Serve in a old fashioned or a highball depending on the crowd and garnish with a cherry.

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