Scotch tasting and its connection to butterscotch

March 17, 2008


If any of you could see me as I write this post, you’d think me a totally decadent sloth: on the table I have my laptop, a finger print smudged Bordeaux glass containing a few saved sips of cabernet sauvignon, a sturdy silver dessert spoon and an open carton of Hagen Daaz dulce de leche ice cream. I think I should get up, put away the ice cream and go for a brisk walk. Instead, I’m going to keep sitting here and tell you about my recent butterscotch epiphany.

As you can see from the picture above, we decided that since winter wouldn’t leave us alone, we’d just embrace indoor activities and have a scotch tasting. Although I’ve been to Scotland, toured distilleries and been served great quality scotch many times, I really don’t know much about it except that it is strong and expensive. So, I was pretty jazzed when Martin brought home five bottles of Macallan scotch varying in age from 10 to 25 years and suggested we host an educational afternoon of scotch tasting for a mixed crowd of Pangaea staff and neighbours.

Martin purposely chose scotch from one distillery so that we could truthfully evaluate the effects of not only age on whisky but also aging whisky in different kinds of wood. It was a useful (albeit expensive!) experiment. We gathered 14 people, printed out the tasting notes and spider diagrams for each bottle (the Macallan website is amazing) and set out dozens of glasses.

Interestingly, many of our tasters preferred the 15-year old scotch aged in fine oak to the vastly more expensive 25-year old scotch aged in sherry washed oak. For me, there was no contest. While I could appreciate certain things about the younger whisky, I loved the 25-year old because it resonated with me as a chef and a lover of butterscotch.

After just a sniff and a couple of sips of this scotch, I understood where the word ‘butterscotch’ might come from. The 25-year old scotch may have been as dark as maple syrup but it definitely had to be the inspiration for one of my favourite dessert flavours: so smooth and jammy this drink was buttery textured and super smooth. The aged scotch notes had a lot in common with caramel so that at last, it was 100 per cent obvious that butterscotch, the candy, could be related to scotch the super potent potable.