I almost don’t want to tell you about the Scotch tasting I attended at Againn last night. It would be like telling someone about something spectacular, then telling them that it’s already over and very unlikely it will ever be the same. Wait, ok, this is just like that.
In any case, the Scotch tasting of four fabulous Balvenies was just perfect. It was less instructive than the tasting I attended at Little Miss Whiskey’s a while back, but it was more stylish. At Againn (ah-gwen), a semi-new English gastropub in Chinatown, we were invited to enjoy a Blood and Sand at the bar, then led into a private dining room. Each place at the table was laid with four empty snifters, a glass of water, and dry bready snacks of crackers and cheese.
Once we were seated and ready to be amazed, our Scottish whisky host, Andrew Weir (Balvenie Brand Ambassador), led us through each bottle. The first was a 14 year Caribbean Cask. Made in Speyside, the home of the most distilleries in Scotland, including Glenfiddich and Balvenie, this whisky was fruity, sweet and light in flavor but of course had that nice burning sensation. It had been aged in bourbon casks then in rum casks, a double-wood.
The next bottle was a 15 year Single Barrel. That’s right, only 350 bottles were made from that one barrel, and I drank some! This one, peppery and honey-sweet, was aged in bourbon casks. I usually would not ever add water, but on Andrew’s recomendation, I gave it two drops of water: perfection.
The third bottle was my favorite, and for good reason; it was the Portwood, 21 years. This one won the Spirits Challenge in 2009 for good reason. This was the best Scotch I’ve ever tasted (in my short Scotch career). For $170 a bottle, you too can experience the musky smell of a beach bonfire, the elegant and smooth finish, and the knowledge that this whisky aged for 21 years in sherry casks before finishing with 4 months in port casks.
Tasting these Scotches was like getting an entire story in one sip. And of course, any good tasting needs a Scottish joke: there are no lawyers in Scotland, no one knows how to pass a bar. But what most impressed me was the knowledge that real people made this drink. Vodka tastes so sterile, beer is just cheap. Scotch seems lovingly made. Made to be tasted.
Which brings me to the final bottle, The Balvenie Peated Cask. At $130 a bottle, this Scotch is so smooth, so rich, so smoky that it couldn’t be my favorite; it was too good. I could not relate to this Scotch!
Afterwards, I walked out into the cold night air and felt only warmth. I was walking around in my own personal Scotch sauna. I didn’t feel the cold, I only saw the Christmas lights.
Recipe for a Blood and Sand
1.5 oz Balvenie Doublewood (or Scotch)
3/4 oz cherry herring
3/4 oz sweet vermouth
3/4 oz orange juice
Shake with ice, strain into a glass, enjoy the color and the taste.