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The Scotch and How We’re Sold It: A Balvenie Tasting.

The Scotch and How We’re Sold It: A Balvenie Tasting.

Scotch can be served many ways; Aaron recomends with a splash of lukewarm water or neat.

Aaron Ayscough | Chef's Blade

I don’t like wearing suits to industry tastings. From top to toe the beverage industry is riddled with bro-deals and glad-handing; besides, sporting a suit makes me feel like a broker, when, ostensibly at least, I’ve come to assess and appreciate the aesthetic qualities of the subject at hand—the subject usually being wine. I stroll in with scuffed leather boots and jeans and the looks I get are endurable.

At a recent Scotch tasting, however, I stuck out like a zebra.

I was underdressed, for one thing. For another I was several generations younger than the other attendees. This was predictable: consumers of Scotch are of a higher average age than consumers of wine. (In 2002 the marketing manager for Glenfiddich averred in the Edinburgh Evening News that the average age of a malt whiskey drinker was 52 and rising.) So Scotch bars are regularly attached to luxury hotels, like the Willard in D.C. or the Omni Parker in Boston – places rarely frequented, let alone stocked, by young folks. Because, beyond the Dewar’s in your coke, Scotch can be really expensive.

Despite or because of this, Scotch whisky retains substantial mass appeal. There is something stoic and calming about the idea of Scotch in our minds: It’s the rare beverage whose complexity doesn’t undermine its comforting image. (Wine can frighten. Scotch beckons.) Almost everyone claims to have a favorite – a baseless predisposition towards one brand or another, a name one has been able to remember. We retrieve this bizarre Scottish name from our pocket whenever Scotch gets mentioned. Just saying it seems to guarantee acceptance into the I-Spend-Money Club. Somewhere in our heart we are anxious about its pronunciation.

I was in roughly this position last year when I began redesigning the beverage program at a bar in Boston. Through opportunistic sales reps and scarce buyer oversight, the bar already had an amusingly wide selection of odd Scotch bottlings in stock when I set to work. Triple distilled Lowland Single Malt Auchentoshan! Port-cask enhanced Glemorangie! (Rhymes with “orangey," I’m told.) Even predictable faceless overpriced Chivas Eighteen Year. This was in a bar the size of a shoebox that does not take credit cards, with zero nearby hotels. But since the owner had challenged me to raise the overall age-and-income bracket of the bar’s clientele, I figured I’d try to cultivate the bar’s already-baroque whisky stock into a full-fledged program, something we could market.

This is how I found myself at the aforementioned Balvenie tasting at the Omni Parker hotel in Boston, not wearing a suit and feeling it. I sought to broaden my palate.

Ordinarily, I avoid big-brand tastings, finding it misleading to learn from people who are trying to sell you the subject. Because Scotch is a distilled product, requiring quite a bit of industrial labor and licensing to produce, the larger brands are marketed a lot like other spirits (vodka, gin, etc): With an idea of supreme consistency, and impenetrably slick packaging. It’s the sort of thing you need a machete and some patience to hack through. So I arrived at the hotel determined to bring my geeky suspicious sommelier’s perspective to the tasting.