My Three Favorite Scotches

Lagavulin 12-year-old. Single malt, Islay. Usually about 57% ABV, $75-100.

Lagavulin was my first single malt love. It’s really strong — and tall, dark, and seriously handsome — mysteriously smoky, peaty, wild. Makes you think of a flat moor on a cold day and everything is brown. Makes you want to drink it in front of a fireplace. People either love it or hate it. I think it’s magnificent. I wouldn’t call it smooth, yet it’s dangerously drinkable — neat, of course.

In the 1990s, I lived on the shore of the Chesapeake Bay. We enjoyed 360-degree water views of the Bay, Tangier Sound, and Rumbley Harbor. The place was on an island called Frenchtown that was inhabited by 13 families, mostly fishermen and artists. In Maryland, Frenchtown was the island after the second or third bridge at the end of the peninsula between Crisfield and Cambridge.

That place was like Lagavulin: mysterious, wild; beautiful, wild; flat, brown; aromatic, attractive, wild. I did several oil paintings and pastel drawings when I lived there. I usually title my artworks after I finish them, and this one, a 30″x30″ oil painting, I named “Twilight Zone” for many reasons: the lone, old-school telephone pole at the very end of the gravel lane, such as the telephone poles that appeared in the credits at the beginning of the old TV show of the same name; the fact that obviously the time of day was twilight; and the synesthesia I felt while working on the painting — I could hear the sound of the wind rushing through the marsh grasses.

Ledaig 10-year-old. Single malt, Mull. Usually about 50% ABV, $50.

Another great Scotch akin to Lagavulin is Ledaig (pronounced led-chig). It’s still peaty, but not as extremely so — and it’s quite a bit smoother, with a touch of caramel, malt, and creaminess. This one’s my go-to for home consumption and serving to guests. Lagavulin I enjoy on rare occasions when it’s available on an after-dinner drinks menu — no more case purchases for me, as it has become too expensive.

But back to Ledaig. If Lagavulin went to he-man charm school, it would be turned out as Ledaig, all dressed up and ready for a Broadway performance. The maritime and moor roots are still there, but the refinement shows up from the taste to the clear, golden color.

Drambuie. Liqueur. Usually about 40% ABV, $35.

Drambuie is a delicious, syrupy, warming blend of aged Scotch with a proprietary combination of spices, heather honey, and herbs. Its origins can be traced to a secret recipe created for Bonnie Prince Charlie in the mid-1700s. Since 2014, it has been made by the makers of Glenfiddich, William Grant & Son.

I’d more or less forgotten about Drambuie until November 2017, when I went to the Wine Bloggers Conference in Santa Rosa. One night I was in the hotel bar with my conference roommate, Mary Mihaly, publisher of the blog, Big Sexy Reds. We were there just after the California fires had hit the area, and at that moment we were discussing the fallout with our bartender, who had lost her home, as had I two months before during Hurricane Irma. Drambuie popped into my mind, and so I ordered one — and then one more. It has to be one of the most satisfying drinks on the planet — SO flavorful and delicious. Here in Florida, I’ve enjoyed wild orange honey, which is unique and delicious, and Drambuie has heather honey as one of its ingredients, also unique and delicious.

 

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