I fucking love etymology. To me, studying the way that language evolves and flows and bleeds from one nation to another would be endlessly intriguing, but also, to a certain extent, an endless waste of time. After all, I’m pretty sure someone’s already named all the spiders.
That said, have you ever wondered why so many Scotch Whisky brands have names that start with Glen?
- Glen Albyn
- Glen Elgin
- Glen Flagler
- Glen Garioch
- Glen Grant
- Glen Keith
- Glen Mhor
- Glen Moray
- Glen Ord
- Glen Scotia
- Glen Spey
- Glenury Royal
You get the picture.
The history is simple really, but ‘simple’ doesn’t always translate to ‘obvious’.
The word Glen in geography, means a valley. Generally one that has water flowing through it. This word likely comes from the welsh word ‘glan’ (which means ‘clean’) or ‘gleindid’ (which means ‘purity’)
Thus, a name like Glenfiddich, means that the whisky is made in the valley of the River Fiddich, (and is likely made from the waters in that river).
Now, I’m not going to try and claim that I’m a connoisseur of scotch. I like the stuff, but I really haven’t swam very far out into those waters, enough to really tell you what is good or bad about particular kinds. But here is what I can say:
Older doesn’t always mean better and neither does cost.
Scotches tend to max out their maturity at around 18 years, and anything that’s been sitting in a an oak barrel much longer than that, is just going to start tasting like splinters.
Also, just because one scotch costs $400 and another costs $9, doesn’t mean that the $400 bottle lives up to the quality that the price tag implies.
A good example of this would be Johnny Walker Blue Label . While it is the top tier of the company’s products, and it’s various releases range in price from $165-$465, it is actually not rated that well among scotch enthusiasts. Comparatively, their Green Label gets much higher marks, even though its price point is in the $50 range.
What makes a scotch whisky different from any other kind of whisky? Basically, its location more than anything else. It must be:
- Produced at a distillery in Scotland from water and malted barley (to which only whole grains of other cereals may be added) all of which have been:
- Processed at that distillery into a mash
- Converted at that distillery to a fermentable substrate only by endogenous enzyme systems
- Fermented at that distillery only by adding yeast
- Distilled at an alcoholic strength by volume of more than 40% and less than 94.8%
- Wholly matured in an excise warehouse in Scotland in oak casks (no bigger than 700 litres) for at least three years
- Retains the colour, aroma, and taste of the raw materials used in, and the method of, its production and maturation
- Has no added substances, other than water and plain (E150A) caramel colouring
This is the part where I would talk about the difference between single malts and blended whiskys and how some drinkers think that single malt is far superior to blends, but I’m just not going to cover it right now. Mostly because it’s just so damn subjective. It’s similar to the Super Tuscans back in the Italian Wine TIP. Some people prefer purity, others like complexity. Neither side is more or less right.
The point is, drink what you like.
- If you like drinking scotch neat (no ice or water), drink it neat.
- If you like it with water, add some water.
- If you like it with ice, add a cube. (don’t get carried away with the ice, it’s easy to add so much that the melting water completely dilutes the flavor of the scotch, also, the cold itself neutralizes a lot of the flavor range you will get otherwise, so be gentle).
- If you like it with a splash of cola, you’re an asshole.