No one really knows by what magic a simple combination of barley, yeast and water produces a classic, complex single malt Scotch. We only know that the three ingredients combine to create a world class spirit.
The Scotch making process begins at a malting facility. There, the barleycorns, as they are called, steep in a warm wash to germinate, so that the starch in them will convert to malt sugar for fermentation.
Single malts get much of their character from the peat fire used to dry the malted barley, which is stoked in kilns (the n is silent) according to the specifications of the individual distillery. Peat is an organic form of moss found in the Scottish marshlands which produces a
smoky fire. It has a critical effect on the flavor profile of an expertly distilled Scotch.
After the barley is dried, it is trucked to a distillery, where it is fermented and distilled in copper pot stills, whose varied shapes also play a part in the taste of the final product. The type of yeast used is critical to the flavor profile, say Scotch aficionados, some of whom
are so experienced, they can identify a distillery, the spirit’s age, and even the wood finish of the aging barrel, simply by nosing and tasting.
At The Dalmore, possibly Scotland’s most revered distillery, Master Blender Richard Paterson, a distinguished, third generation distiller, is just such an expert. Paterson was in Vegas last week to ply his trade at the Ultimate Whisky Experience, an event held at the Wynn Encore
that is held to show off the finest Scotches and Bourbons.
I had the chance to sit down with Paterson, in the Wynn Encore bar, and discuss the mysteries of Scotch, as well as being privy to a small and exclusive tasting. Paterson, with his silver mane, yellow power tie, and untrammeled passion for his craft, is to Scotch what the oracle is
to Delphi. I was privileged to be the first American journalist to taste a bottle of their new Cigar Blend, a deliciously spicy spirit made to complement a fine cigar after dinner. (I’m told it will retail for around $80 when it arrives on the market.)
He also gave me a small taste of the rare, complex Aurora, a Scotch that sells for around $3600 per bottle. In this rarified world of Scotch tasting, the tasting technique is paramount. Paterson showed me his technique, and later that evening, I learned another altogether. I will
expand on that, presently.
First, a few words about The Dalmore, which produces among the finest I’ve tasted. The Dalmore first began producing Scotch in 1839, owned by the Mackenzie Clan. It is located on the Firth of Cromarty above the city of Inverness, in the Scottish Highlands, making it a Highland Malt.
Before tasting, he explained how he lays down the spirit in special casks from Jerez de la Frontera in Spain, often the rare Matusalem Sherry, but often Oloroso. Then, he demonstrated a nosing technique, nosing slowly, three times. “Hello, Hello, Hello.” “Hold the Scotch in
your mouth, under your tongue,” he advised, “the longer, the better.” I did so, and tasted elegant notes of citrus, spice and ginger.
The Cigar Blend is wonderful, but the Aurora had a finish so long, I felt its presence on my palate for fifteen minutes after our meeting. It’s an ineluctable feeling, this whisky, with hints of chocolate, tobacco and a host of other flavors. Paterson pointed out that the
dominant taste in a Scotch from his distillery is orange citrus. I did taste those flavors, but vanilla, ginger and so much more explode on the palate, it’s moot.
Later that evening, I took Adam Carmer’s C-STEM seminar during a tasting break at the Ultimate Whisky Experience. I’m planning to do an extensive tasting with Carmer at his Whisky Attic, located inside a bar he owns near the UNLV Campus, The Freakin’ Frog. The acronym is an
abbreviation for Carmer Spirit Tasting Enhancement Method.
But here’s the gist of his tasting technique. The nose suffers burnout easily, so he recommends letting the tongue, a more durable organ, to be the workhorse. Therefore, you don’t nose at all. Put a small amount of the spirit in the oral cavity, place it under your tongue, and then let it burn, baby, burn. Then slowly swallow, in small sips.
Carmer claims that subsequent tastes will be revelatory. We’ll explore this is depth in a later posting.
Now, please to and experience The Dalmore. Many Vegas restaurants, steak houses in particular, have collections of single malts. Craftsteak at the MGM Grand tops them all. Another place to find The Dalmore is Fix at Bellagio. Cigar Blend will be available soon at Casa Fuente, the cigar lounge at Forum Shoppes.
The place to buy The Dalmore in Las Vegas will be Lee’s Discount Liquors. Owner Kenny Lee is a Scotch drinker, and the stores already carry upwards of 75 different choices. The Dalmore 15 Year Old will sell for around $55. I can’t wait to stock a bottle in my cabinet.
According to Lee, Scotch began heating up in American around fifteen years ago, when Glenlivet and Glenfiddich, the industry giants, had an unbreakable hammer lock on the market. “The snob appeal factor has kicked in,” says Lee. We can be grateful.
Max Jacobson is the Vegas Seven food critic and writes at Unica World.