Why We Like Single Malts (I Think)

So I'm back on a wine kick again (it happens every few months when I just booze too much and the brown goods begin to singe my gastrointestinal system).  Wine is what got me started in the liquor world and I always find that understanding more about it helps me to better understand the single malt world.  If you've ever wondered why people obsess about single malts and shun the blended malt, it is usually for the same reason that wine drinkers seek out different varietals - curiousity about a specific style and taste.  I've recently been intrigued by the idea of a 100% ploussard wine from the Jura so I bought the one we had in our store made by Jaques Puffeney.  The idea of unique regional wine interests me just as much as a single cask bottling from Ardbeg would.  Both are unique, singular expressions of purity that are rarely experienced.  The untainted taste of a definitive style is the secret to better understanding the world of booze and that excites us (or atleast me).  How many of you have been tempted to buy something you've never tasted just to know what it tasted like?

I find it very interesting (and not coincidental) that the same customers who are interested in smooth textures and tastes with red wine are the same people who ask for Walker Blue.  Some folks just want something that tastes good and are less interested in artisinal production that leads to a special flavor.  They don't care that Islay malts tend to be salty or that Highland malts tend to be oily.  As long as it tastes good they'll take it and that is the point of blended whisky.  The idea of the blend is to take whiskies and mix them until they make one solution that is absolutely delicious.  I like blended whiskey just like I enjoy blended wine.  Isn't the goal of eating and drinking to enjoy the flavor?  That being said, while blends make my mouth happy, but they do not satisfy my intellectual curiousity and that quest for more knowledge is what fires my passion for booze.

One of my favorite things to do to this day is read through my wine books in search a grape I have never tasted and then try to source a bottle through K&L.  Getting to taste a new grape is exciting, even if the the wine isn't any good.  Just knowing is enough for me.  While single malts aren't made from different grains, each distillery has a specific process that makes their whisky unique - be it the shape of the still, the source of the water, the drying process, or the aging in barrel.  Getting to know these names, these whiskies, these flavors is a wonderful journey and one that simply isn't possible with Chivas Regal because the origins are no longer decipherable.  It isn't just that each single malt tastes different than the next, it's that their difference has something to do with the production and the tradition of the distillery.  It's like cheese - it all comes from milk, but there are so many different ways of making it (hence why I also love cheese).

This all may seem obvious, but I'm surprised by the amount of people out there who keep drinking Glenlivet 12 over and over and over again.  Every week they come in, buy their one bottle, and move on.  That's like only eating sharp cheddar.  That's like only eating Hershey's chocolate.  That's like only drinking Budweiser.  The fun in drinking single malts comes from experiencing the myriad of possiblities and then learning what makes them just so.  Why does Ardbeg taste like iodine?  Why does Glenrothes taste so unctuous?  Why does Clynelish taste waxy?  These are the questions that drive us into bankruptcy as we spend every last dollar trying to figure it out.

-David Driscoll


David Driscoll