By Ashleigh VanHouten
Scotch is a man’s drink, or so they say—“they” being, undoubtedly, whoever is shilling those awful skinny-branded drinks to women with low self-esteem, or the Mad Men-esque advertisers who wanted to convince men they’d get laid and get rich if only they drank Scotch. It wasn’t always this way, though, and the tides are turning once again for women to learn about and enjoy this complex, sophisticated spirit.
While Scotch may be incorrectly labeled a “man’s drink,” it may be more accurately labeled “a drinker’s drink.” On its own, this often malty, vegetal tasting spirit is not for the faint-hearted, and certainly not for the type who prefers to drown their alcohol in sweet mixes to the point where the alcohol is no longer detectable. Scotch is a drink with as much subtle nuance and versatility as wine, and one that conveys a message to the people around you: this chick knows what she’s doing.
If you don’t drink to impress, there are many other reasons why Scotch is a great choice. First of all, women have a better sense of smell, and are thus better suited to detecting the subtle aromas of a Scotch—trust me, trying to detect those subtle notes of citrus, flowers, and even burnt rubber may seem crazy at first, but practice makes perfect! And hey, if you want to get all stereotypical about it, Scotch has no added sugar (low calorie drinking!) and pairs really well with dark chocolate.
Now for the technical stuff: Scotch is a type of whisky, which is made from fermented grain mash. Scotch is much more specific and rule-bound: it must be made in Scotland, from water and malted barley; fermented only with yeast; and must be matured in oak casks for no less than three years—among other rules. There’s single malt Scotch (made only from barley), and blended Scotch, which can include up to 40 or 50 different malt and grain whiskies, each chosen to provide a certain character or flavor to the blend. For example, sweet and floral malts might be blended with malts that are earthy and mildly smoky. A good Scotch should be balanced and smooth, despite the high alcohol content.
You can be a Scotch snob all you want—by all means, go ahead and drink only the finest single malts, the Macallans and the Glenfiddichs. But some of the blends out there, Johnnie Walker and Buchanan’s, are delicious and interesting in their own right (you could do a lot worse than a Johnnie Walker on the rocks).
And, you don’t have to stick to Scotland-based product, either. Irish whiskey (note the different spelling) is made with unmalted barley and has a lighter, smoother flavor than most Scotches. The Japanese have been making malts for close to 100 years; Tasmania, surprisingly, has made a name for itself with its Scotch-like whiskies, and even at home in the U.S. we have great brands like Corsair’s Triple Smoke and Tuthilltown Spirits’ Hudson Single Malt.
Most Scotch aficionados recommend trying your Scotch with some water to start; it’s an intense taste that takes time to manage on its own. And if you’re not too concerned with being a purist, you can make your own Scotch cocktails. Try out classics like the Rob Roy, essentially a Scotch-based Manhattan; it’s easy to make and easy to drink. The Rusty Nail, once seen as an “old person’s drink” is popping up in sexy watering holes around the city—this one’s a mix of Scotch and Drambuie, itself a mix of whisky, honey, herbs and spice. The Modern Number 2 is for the more adventurous: it calls for Scotch, sloe gin, and a dash of absinthe along with some orange bitters and pomegranate grenadine. Trust me, what sounds like a nightmare tastes like a dream—at least in this case.
If you’d rather go out to drink, you can find many places to wet your whistle in New York: the Highlands, Rye House, and 1534 are all good options. PDT, although a bit trendier than you’d like, makes amazing cocktails that never let you down. Death & Company, The Rum House, and Dutch Kills in Long Island City are all amazing ways to appreciate Scotch in New York.
But my personal favorite: a cocktail called The Wildest Redhead, a 70’s-era concoction reimaged by a real-life redheaded bartender at Raines Lawroom. This one is comprised of allspice dram, a blended Scotch, and a splash of dark cherry liqueur, the allspice giving undercurrents of honey, cinnamon and clove. It’s sexy, sophisticated, and very drinkable—just like Scotch itself.
Try it and see if it doesn’t become your drink of choice.
Scotch, a man’s drink?