Premium Scotch: All About Single-Malt Scotch

Premium Scotch has proven to be recession-proof



There are some things we just won’t skimp on. The truth is, recession or no, we like our liquor—especially luxury liquors, like single-malt Scotch. In fact, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, single-malt sales increased nearly 12 percent, and super-premium whiskey sales increased more than 20 percent in 2010.

And the increase, says J.C. Iglesias, director of Scotch at Pernod Ricard, whose U.S. headquarters are in Purchase, is coming not from “fifty-five-year-old men with money,” but from younger people.

And it’s not just younger people who are drinking Scotch. More and more women are, too. “That gap has definitely closed over the years,” says Kathleen Donahue-Webb, sommelier/bar manager of The Willett House in Port Chester.

Scotch can be divided into two categories: blended, produced from blending different types of whiskeys along with additional colorings and flavorings; and single-malt, which is distilled from only one type of malted grain (usually barley). Blended whiskeys are lighter and more palatable for the novice. They are not necessarily of poorer quality, and some can be just as expensive as single malts.

In order to be considered a bona fide single-malt Scotch, the whiskey must be made entirely in Scotland using only malted barley. Malting is a process that causes the grain to germinate and begin sprouting, producing an enzyme that helps convert complex starches into simple sugars, a necessary ingredient for fermentation.

How the malted grain is dried profoundly influences the flavor of the whiskey. Sometimes it’s dried over peat—coal in its earliest form—which is what gives single-malt scotch its distinctive smoky, medicinal flavor. 

Single-malt Scotches must be aged three years, one day before release. However, most aficionados maintain it takes at least 10 years for the whiskey to truly blossom. Barrel type also affects the whiskey’s flavor and price. The flavors of used bourbon or sherry casks are generally the most preferred. Scotches that are aged in two types of wood generally are of a higher quality
and have more complexity.

Here’s a sampling of some of the better single-malt Scotch whiskies at varying price points available in Westchester, broken down by region:

Highland
(dipping your toe in the water)
• McClelland’s Single Malt (Suburban Wines & Spirits, Yorktown Heights; $23.99) One of the lower-priced single malts on the market, and a gentle introduction to this category.
• Glenmorangie 10 (Westchester Wine Warehouse; $39.99) Milder as well, with pretty floral and citrus notes dominating.
• Oban Distillers Edition (Zachys, Scarsdale; $81.99) An incomparable experience. Tightly wound and complex, yet smooth and delicate.


Speyside
(jumping off the diving board)
• Balvenie 12 DoubleWood (Varmax Liquor Pantry, Port Chester; $49.99) Intermingles tropical fruit and honey with subtle notes of smoke.
• Singleton 12 (Varmax Liquor Pantry, Port Chester; $42.99) More hefty, with smoke, grass, butter, and brine.
• The Glenlivet 18 (Rye Brook Wine & Spirit Shop, Port Chester; $64.28) A heavy hitter—toast, leather, apricot and tobacco.


Islay
(Polar Bear Swim on New Year’s Day)
• Highland Park 15 (Rye Brook Wine & Spirit Shop, Port Chester; $57.85) Notes of nuts, smoked meat, and brine— nothing subtle going on here.
• Lagavulin 16 (Westchester Wine Warehouse, White Plains; $56.99) Like falling face-first into a campfire (in the best way possible).