Celebrating Single Malt Scotch

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - October 27, 2006
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Around October every year I step up the number of whisky tastings I do, in response to lots of e-mails and calls from people keen to find out more about single malts and spirits. The holidays are the perfect time to invest in a special bottle as a gift to a boss or a business associate, or someone you just want to think of you kindly. And a bottle of single malt scotch, given as a gift, brings a little romance along with a hugely diverse range of flavors.

There are well-known names in the single malt world, but in my experience, those who are serious about gift-giving want to explore the various regions of the world’s most famous whisky producing country, and not just settle for something that’s been well-marketed. In fact, for me, the fun of sharing knowledge about my favorite spirits is that I really believe there is a malt to match every personality, as well as one for every occasion.

At a recent tasting at Tamura’s I had the following requests: A lady, taking a trip to Edinburgh with her daughter, felt guilty about leaving her husband behind and wanted to find something with special meaning for him. Easy. I recommended Glenkinchie - wonderfully smooth, lighter in flavor - from Edinburgh (well, a few miles outside). Another customer, a young man in his early 20s, wanted a gift to take to an elderly couple who’d been kind to him and treated him like their son. We went with Talisker 18-year-old, a beautiful whisky from the only distillery on the remote Northern Isle of Skye. It’s a unique single malt in that it carries the flavors and spices of an area in Scotland that produces almost nothing else.

The distillery workers are all crofters and farmers, and the tiny community has this distillery at its heart. We felt that the uniqueness of the whisky would show the couple how fondly he thought of them - not to mention the fact that a few sips on a special occasion would keep him in their memory for a very long time.

For first-time buyers, I recommend a variety of single malts, depending on their tastes - and we often get into discussions about what kind of wines they enjoy, when they typically drink a single malt and how often they imbibe.

This year, as I start the holiday rounds of tastings, I’ll be highly recommending Talisker 18-year-old as something that should be on everyone’s gift-giving list. Although this whisky was just launched in 2004, making it a newcomer to the spirit scene, it recently won the grandest spirit tasting of all at the International Wines and Spirits Competition. It was awarded the “Trophy for Single Malt Scotch over 15 years.” But even without an award, Talisker is one of the most perfect malts for the Hawaii drinker. In the 18-year-old, there’s an amazing amount of orangy, citrus fruit on the nose, followed by caramel and vanilla notes and then a rousing amount of smoke, a bit of salt and a distinct chili heat.

It is just about the perfect single malt to drink with seafood - and if you’re really looking to impress, then find some good smoked tako, some hand-smoked salmon or some poke, and pair them with Talisker. The result is phenomenal, and I enjoy this pairing particularly when I think of the distillers and their team in Scotland, looking out across the freezing waters, perhaps dreaming of warm and tropical Hawaii thousands of miles away.

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