…and what would we be walking off? Oh, I’m glad you asked. Pints is Pints Pub in Denver. It features a British theme, some terrific beers brewed on the premises, and claims to have the largest collection of single-malt scotch outside Scotland. I’m not sure if that’s true or not, but it may very well be — they have hundreds of single-malts, as well as plenty of folks on staff who know many of the malts intimately. (I didn’t ask.) They also have better-than-British food, and are conveniently located right across the street from the art museum, so after some sampling of many fine malts, one can quietly amuse onself in there until one can once again safely operate one’s motor vehicle. Hey, it’s a dignified buzz. Anyway, it’s become sort of a Cheap Fun Day tradition, and some folks show up just for this pairing.
This of course is the perfect occasion to mention how Pints educated me about one of the passions of my adult life: single-malt scotch. Occasionally, friends who are becoming interested in scotch will ask me what they should try. The answer is: I have no idea. It’s like asking someone else what kind of art you should get. It’s all about personal taste. Here’s a quickie primer, adapted from Bartending 101. I’m alarmed at how much misinformation is out there about good scotch, but this is pretty straightforward:
“Single malts are characterized by geographic origin, age, and barrel type used in aging (sherry casks, bourbon barrels, or plain wood). There are over 100 distilleries marketing Single Malts from Scotland, but they can be grouped into five regions. The descriptions are all according to Jackson:
The Lowlands area tends to produce whiskies in which the softness of the malt is evident, less tempered by Highland peatiness or coastal brine and seaweed. As for the Highlands, the western part produces scotches with rounded, firm, dry characters, with some peatiness, scotches from the far northern section have a notably heathery, spicy character, and the south highlands produce fruity whiskies. Speyside is the heartland of malt distillation. This area contains over half of Scotland’s distilleries and produces whiskeys noted for elegance, complexity, and often a refined smokiness. Campbeltown produces whiskies with a briny character. Islay, an island in the Hebrides, produces single malts noted for their seaweedy, iodine-like, phenolic character. These are bold, intensely flavored Scotches.”
The best way to figure out what you like is probably to start trying it out. I’m partial to highlands: there are a lot of different varieties available, and they’re complex, interesting, and very smooth. Islays are pretty good, too, but they’re not kidding about the intense flavor. If you’re not used to them, they can make your palate feel like it just got hit with a baseball bat. But hey, that’s just me.
I leave you with… Top Ten Ways to do Violence to Good Scotch: 10. Mistake it for bad scotch. That just hurts its feelings. It’s very proud. 9. Smash the bottle and attack your neighbor with the shards. Use the Everclear instead, dear. Good scotch is for drinking. 8. Leave it in the bottle and never, ever drink it. It wants to be loved. 7. Gulp it or shoot it. If your goal is to get wasted, there are more efficient ways. 6. Light it on fire. Again, this is a better use for Everclear than drinking it, so go with that. 5. Drink it out of a woman’s shoe or other novelty container. Feh! 4. Lick it off a surface that is not the outside of your glass (or, one might argue, a Scotsman). 3. Mix it with other scotch. Let Johnnie Walker ply his disturbing trade — you want the good stuff. 2. Mix it with water. Who are you, Lou Grant? (Exception: if it’s cask strength, a bit of spring water is permitted, to taste.) 1. Put ice in it. I actually broke up with someone because he put ice in my scotch. How could I let a barbarian like that touch me?