On May 11, the Men’s Club of Grosse Pointe met at The Ark at St Ambrose for a presentation on Single Malt Scotch Whiskies by Elliot MacFarlane, a Certified Whisky Ambassador and Bard of the St. Andrew’s Society of Detroit. Elliot has trained, studied, traveled, researched, and presented the World of Whiskies for many years, and is a consultant to a variety of distilleries and whisky groups.
MacFarlane has visited dozens of distilleries in North America and more than 100 in the rest of the world. He will be leading an exclusive tour to all five whisky regions of Scotland on his Whisky Dream Trip in September 2021.
According to MacFarlane, whisky goes back about 1000 years and has been made in Scotland since the late Middle-Ages. There are currently about 22 million barrels of whisky in Scotland and they export 42 bottles per second. Elliott feels life is too short to drink bad whisky, so he doesn’t bother with blends. Single-malt scotch is made in five regions of Scotland, with the most important being the Spey Valley. Others include the Highlands, the Lowlands, Cambeltown and the Isle of Islay. Scotch may only be made from water, yeast and malted barley. If the barley is dried over a peat fire, the smoky flavor infuses the Scotch, and it is referred to as “peated.” Whisky is a $5 billion a year industry in Scotland, but it doesn’t employ a large number of workers.
Single malts are made in the same distillery using the same barrels for aging. Barrels are made of oak and may have been previously used for wine or beer. A bottle of aged whisky must contain no whisky younger than the age stated on the bottle, but most also contain older batches as well. The age is determined by the amount of time in the barrel, not the bottle. Unlike wine, whisky does not improve while in the bottle. In good single malts, all of the color comes from the barrel, although some cheaper whiskies use a coloring agent. A certain amount of the whisky will evaporate from the barrel over time, which is known as the “angel’s share” The flavor of the whisky will depend on the barrel, where it came from , how large it is, and what it was used for previously, as well as the water that is used and where it comes from, how long the whisky was aged, and many other factors.
When tasting whisky, start with the smell, which may or may not be reflected in the taste. Leave the shot in your mouth for a while before swallowing and note the flavors and then the finish. Many good Scotch whiskies have a particularly long finish. Don’t bother adding water, because the single-malt maker diluted the whisky when it went into the bottle in an amount they determined would produce the best taste.
Elliot suggests that novice Scotch drinkers start with something like a Balvenie, a maker with a variety of different single malts. He answered a number of questions about Scotch, including how to cool Scotch without diluting it with ice.
Thank you, Elliot for your entertaining and illuminating presentation.