This is the time of the year that spirits writers go all silly about cider this, mulled that, and cinnamon sticks (not to mention nutmeg, allspice, cloves) in everything. We plead guilty — not because these drinks are personal favorites but because there seems to be a kind of obligation to over-acknowledge the season. (The same holds true with champagne and New Year’s, of course, but that at least provides an excuse to chug bubbly.) This year OTR is going to do things a little differently.
We will stick to a brown beverage, however. But we’re going to sip the stuff straight — with maybe just the merest splash of spring water. The revolt all began at Mon Ami’s new bar alongside Mon Thai in Alamo Heights. A friend was not in the mood for any of Olaf Harmel’s über-creative cocktails, seasonal or otherwise, so a single malt Scotch was offered instead. This may be the time to admit that the entry-level 10-year Laphroig from Islay, an island flanking Scotland’s western coast, is normally way too smoky/peaty for me, and I find the seaweed/iodine component overpowering.
But this was the distillery’s 18-year product, and it was a different creature altogether. Yes, there was still a touch of peat smoke and a briny whiff of seaweed, but neither dominated the spirit’s toffee and floral sweetness. (The bar at Bohanan’s is another good place to sample single malts.) So I rushed right home and poured myself a wee snifter of Isle of Jura 16-year single malt — for comparison purposes, to be sure. Jura is just north of Islay, and this is the island’s only distillery. It has long been a personal favourite (just to stay in the Scottish mode) precisely because it speaks of its marine upbringing without inundating you with salt spray. Think honey, ginger, maybe even dried peach or apricot — all with a sturdy, gale-resistant backbone. If pairing straight Scotch with seasonal meals is now springing to mind (maybe leave the marshmallows off of the sweet potatoes this year), this is not accidental.
Another Islay single malt I used to keep at hand comes from Bruichladdich. The distillery was mothballed for a time in the ’90s but has come roaring back under the direction of mad-scientist distiller Jim McEwan, who is garnering rave reviews for breaking out of the cask — and in the case of the “Rocks” edition that cask is one that once held French red wine, leading to some fruity flavors seldom sensed in Scotches. The entry level Bruichladdich is now the smartly packaged “Waves,” and at around $50, it’s the one I’ll try when the next ship comes in.
Easier and cheaper than buying bottles without the benefit of tasting, is to attend a Scotch event such as the one produced every first Tuesday at Kirby’s Steakhouse. October’s iteration featured the whiskies of the Classic Malts Selection, a company that sources from all over Scotland. Four Scotches of different regions and temperaments were presented (the cost is usually $25 and includes appetizers), and though one of my favorites was the Glenkinchie Distiller’s Edition, there were examples of several styles, including a beautiful Speyside example, The Singleton of Glendullan. Classic malts will be featured again at Kirby’s, and perhaps they can be persuaded to bring some of their Islay product; there was talk about the Talisker 10 year being great with oysters. Any of the peatier offerings — of any distiller, for that matter — might pair beautifully with smoked salmon. No cider or cinnamon required. •
Kirby’s Steakhouse (every first Tuesday of the month)
123 N Loop 1604 E
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