A Lesson in Scotch

Several El Gaucho employees recently had the opportunity to invest in their scotch knowledge, by spending some time with international Macallan ambassador, Kieron Elliott. In addition to being a scotch master, Kieron is also a Scottish actor, host, and comedian, with most recent works including the film “How to Train Your Dragon,” TV show, “Deadliest Warrior,” a host of the show “Aftermath,” serves as a BBC Three continuity announcer, and much more. We knew we were in for a treat…and who doesn’t love a good accent?

Since time was short, we started right in with the basics and terminology. Whisky is a grain alcohol made anywhere in the world; scotch must be made on Scottish soil, aged for at least 3 years, and be 40% alcohol by volume. The next level is a single malt scotch; malt being 100% malted barley. The difference with rye whiskey is that the malt need only contain 51% rye grain to be called that; 49% can be anything else.

Macallan is one of the oldest licensed distilleries in Scotland, and has remained fundamentally unchanged for nearly 200 years. Their wood cask program is what sets Macallan apart from their competitors. In 2013, the company invested $34 million into their wood program. As a comparison, all of the other companies in the world combined invested $103 million.

Each Macallan cask is built by hand, and takes 2-3 years to “season,” even before the scotch sees the barrel. They are also lightly toasted – charred just enough to break down the wall in the wood to allow for liquid penetration. The other amazing element about Macallan scotch is that the color is 100% natural – many companies add a spirit caramel for additional color. Color in scotch whisky tells us nothing; however, consistency is obviously crucial, and difficult to maintain year after year when simply relying on charred wood for the result.

We started tasting with the Macallan 12 year, which is exclusively aged in sherry oak casks made from Spanish oak trees. Kieron walked the class through how to approach a scotch: slowly introduce it to the senses, smell it at least three times (bringing it closer to the nose each time), and opening the mouth slightly when breathing it in, before taking a sip and “chewing” it, at least five times, to let the taste envelop the mouth.

From there we went to the Macallan 15-year, which is considered the “fine oak range,” triple cask matured using a mix of European oak, and American oak ex-sherry, and ex-bourbon casks. It yields a lighter color, and flavor, which is why it’s a great entry-level scotch. Someone joked from the group it’s their “breakfast scotch.”

The Highland Park 18 year was next, a single malt scotch which has a gentle but aromatic smokiness to it. Highland Park is the most northern distillery in the world, and the peat comes from their moor, which is also a carefully managed bird sanctuary. This particular peat is from moss and heather, which is burned beneath the barley to help it dry, before cask-aging in 100% ex-Oloroso sherry casks.

Black Grouse was our final taste, a blend of single malts, and the #1 selling scotch in Scotland for 33 years. A combination of Highland Park and Macallan, Black Grouse is aged in unique, hand-selected oak sherry casks.

El Gaucho and AQUA by El Gaucho proudly offer Macallan 12, 18, and 25-year scotch, as well as Highland Park 18 year. Cutty Sark is soon to become our well scotch, and if you’re a true connoisseur with deep pockets, El Gaucho Bellevue proudly offers Macallan 55 year, which happens to be the only bottle in the state of Washington. You can try a shot for just $750.

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