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Battle at the Bar

Jack Bettridge
From the Print Edition:
10th Anniversary Issue, Nov/Dec 02

(continued from page 5)

Furthermore, whisky varies tremendously depending on where it ages. The country comprises five distinct whisky regions -- Speyside, Lowlands, Highlands, Campbeltown and Islay -- and within those even smaller microclimates impart their own flavors to whisky. It doesn't take much of a palate to discern the difference between a malt that came of age amongst the heather of a cunning little glen in the Highlands and one that had its formative years in the salt spray that washes over Islay on the western coast of Scotland.

Special finishing is a trend that introduces even more diversity to the mix. A whisky that spent 15 years in a Bourbon barrel might get a year or so in a Claret, Port or Madeira cask, all of which further adds to the possibilities of flavor, as well as the cigar-smoking combinations.

Some purists rail at the liberties currently being taken by Scotch makers, but I would argue that the sense of tradition to which they cleave does not exist. Before the 1820s, Scotch whisky was a largely illicit trade, practiced by moonshiners and marketed by smugglers. Any aging that was done was probably by accident. Even when legal changes made it easier to operate in the open, little market existed for Scotch whisky before news of the blends spread to the rest of the world. By this time much of Scotland's timber had been cleared, forcing makers to used discarded barrels from other uses. It wasn't until American Prohibition ended in the 1930s that the Bourbon barrel became the cask of choice. A global market for single-malts as opposed to blends didn't even exist until at least the 1960s. So much for hundreds of years of single-malt tradition.

It is not, however, production methods, but a tenacious character that defines Scotch's fiercest tradition. The Scots adapt their drink to the vicissitudes of history and thereby make a strong match for cigars. Distillers held on through centuries of legal repression. When opportunity knocked in the guise of a grape virus that temporarily wiped out Cognac production, they made hay by capturing the London market that also happens to be one of the most important cigar markets. It is hard to keep a spirit like that down. Taste the spirit.


THE DALMORE CIGAR MALT The Dalmore succeeds at creating a malt for cigars (medium to full body) with a whisky that shows plenty of yeast and peat on the nose, but honey and fruit on the tongue.

THE GLENLIVET ARCHIVE This 21-year-old from the Highland's oldest legal distillery is a crafty serpent of a malt that is all sweetness and flowers on the nose, then shows its wood, peat and cocoa on the tongue. Let it wind its way around a full-bodied smoke.

ARDBEG 10-YEAR-OLD Not chill-filtered like most Scotch, Ardbeg shows plenty of the smoke and iodine of a typical peaty, salt-sprayed Islay malt. Also look for honey and char. Needs a big cigar to stand up to it.

ABERLOUR 15-YEAR-OLD Bourbon casks meet Sherry in this Speyside malt and spin nuts and honey, sweetness and light. Mild- to medium-bodied; best enjoyed with a like-bodied cigar.

BOWMORE Bowmore of Islay is doing some of the most interesting work in the trend of alternative finishes. Dusk adds Claret aging, Voyage is Port-finished, Darkest rests in Sherry casks and Mariner is traditional Bourbon. Smoke with full-bodied.

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