Whisky, malt, single, preferably island
KRIPOTKIN - Alfred A. Yuson () - September 13, 2006 - 12:00am
In Scotland, men who are like priests perform a service better than do most priests. They make whisky – Uisge beatha to the original Scots, to mean "water of life." For centuries they’ve faithfully abided by the vocation and perfected the craft that miraculously transforms the waters of a brook, stream or river to single malt whisky.

It’s a specialty of sorts that’s begun to enjoy cult status as a preferred brew, over blended Scotch or cognac or brandy. The Japanese are going crazy over single malts, and have even come up with their own (KaruiZawa is excellent). Conducting the entire technology transfer from Scotland, inclusive of barley and peat. the sons of the red sun rely only on one indigenous ingredient, which is, of course, its own island water.

Blended whiskies (in the singular, it’s Scotch if spelled without the "e" – which is only added if it’s Irish or Kentucky whiskey) like the commonplace Johnnie Walker, Chivas Regal, Swing, Pinch, Ballantine’s and the lower-priced-thus-ranked J&B, Passport, Teachers and the like are made by blending different single malts produced by distilleries in four regions in Scotland: Highland, Lowland, Speyside (off the River Spey), and Island (mostly the isles collectively called the Hebrides).

Single malts offer a very wide range of individual character, so that they’re judged very much like vintage wines, with tasting notes and other preciously worded details on the particular nose, bouquet, flavor and finish.

The literature that accompanies each distinguished bottle, which may be aged from 10 to 30 years or more, often proves to be a delight, and spurs one on to dwell among the cognoscenti.

Scotslady Barbara Cumagon, who manages Kipling’s Cigar & Single Malt Bar at the Mandarin Hotel in Makati – one place where one can smoke socially in that uncivil town (others are Forth & Tay at New World Renaissance and the bar off the lobby at The Pen) – discloses, however, that anything beyond 25 years’ vintage isn’t really all that priceless when it comes to single malts.

I agree, having heartily imbibed Macallan 12 years and sipped a wee dram or two of Macallan 30. One might say that the only special characteristic of the latter is that it’s usually kept under lock and key at Kipling’s, since its price hits a hefty five digits. The 12-year malt fetches anywhere from a couple of grand in pesos to about three or more for bottle-keep at a bar.

I pick up my single malts at the NAIA Duty Free and other such shops whenever a foreign trip indulges me. It’s become an incentive, in fact, to go abroad. Before the "liquids scare" a month ago, I’d get two bottles, keep one as a Travelite package for picking up upon return, and the other to keep me company in hotel rooms, right beside a framed photo of my wife.

Of course I go for the cheaper stuff (not the picture frame; it’s gilded), especially since the NAIA 2 Duty Free shop likes to stock up on some of the most vintage and expensive single malts, anywhere from 80 to over 200 dollars. I used to pick up Macallan, Glenlivet, Bowmore, Balvenie, or even a Dalwhinnie, at a modest 10 to 12 years, for $30 to $32 a bottle. I suppose the spiraling aviation fuel cost and war tax have turned this treat into a thing of the past. Now the lesser-known brands I collect at airports, with the cheapest at $40 to $45, include Tormoray, Isle of Jura, Glengoyne...

A tip for homebound tipplers: Aberlour 10 years sells at Shopwise on C-5 for a little over P2,000. Last Christmas, it was at P1,800. But then we have to commemorate 9/11 every year, and you know how teetotaling terrorists have kept altering life as we know it.

Now thank me for being generous with such info, before Shopwise ratchets up its entrepreneurial view of the peso-dollar exchange rate. Good thing for you guys I’m no exclusivist backpacker who discovers a beach and keeps it to himself. Me, I write about it, even at the risk of soon spoiling a destination or newfound desideratum. (In Davao City five years back, I found a Cardhu 12 years selling at P800 at a supermarket. I kept the secret to myself. Months after, the last remaining bottle sold at P1,200. So pass anything forward if it ain’t sh*t.)

Besides, making a habit of single malt drinking makes one very mellow, and begin to appreciate the spiritual process involving copper vats and stills, which are a sure manifestation of humanitarian conduct. Especially when once in a while I can latch on to my favorite Lagavulin 16 years – oh, so smoky, peaty, brine-y, one can almost taste the seaweeds off the Isle of Islay in the heavenly Hebrides.

That time Prince Charles visited Manila, certainly not for its architecture, some years ago, ’twas said he requested a Laphroaig 20 years, his favorite. Well, Laphroaig is also another favorite of mine, but since I’m only a village prince, I’ll settle for the 10.

As I keep repeating to my Bedan buddies of the Fifties with whom I’ve lately been enjoying frequent camaraderie, it may be a waste to pick up a Glenlivet 18 or older when a 12 will do. We’re no connoisseurs anyway, I stress. A couple of doubles, neat, and no one will be able to tell if we’ve all slid down to the 12, or even down to Johnnie Green, which rivals the popular Glenfiddich as a pure malt whiskey, which is better than blended, but still isn’t quite single malt. Oh, don’t ask me to explain the nuances. Go see Barbara; she’ll tell you, with a Scottish accent pa man din.

In any case, balikbayan Bedans have picked up on the custom of coming home with a bottle or two of single malt. But now they have to be weaned away from the idea that the only acceptable single malt is a Glenlivet 18.

Last week in California, Delfin Amorsolo, son of the great painter Fernando, said he had tried to look for a Lagavulin per my suggestion, for when we meet up at Palos Verdes. But he still wound up with a Glenlivet 18. For the barkadahan back home, he made sure to tell me, before we drove away from my Days Inn digs in LA, together with Ady Dalton and Bobby Muldong (SBC HS Class 1960 both; in fact, all of us). Off we rendezvoused with the visiting Boy Gella at Buca di Beppo for an Italian dinner washed down with excellent Cavit Merlot and some, oops, Budweiser on tap, eow!

Just as they dropped me off Wilshire Blvd. at midnight, Dr. Boy Hilvano, another former schoolmate, texted from Manila that our Red Lions had just beaten the Knights a second time. Well, off went the cork from that Glenlivet. I just had to celebrate SBC’s impending dethronement of Letran in the NCCA.

Back home, on the very first night I did meet up with 25 other Bedans for Jun Aspillera’s despedida dinner at Shang Palace. Hah. You say Shang Palace, you’re sure to get over a score of attendees. Give away official Zidane tees and Shang mooncakes, and the reunion is something special.

So in I come, late, with Delfin’s deflowered Glenlivet, only to discover that the wild bunch had been downing the Peking Duck with 30-year-old Glenfiddich. Waah! But it could have been two to three bottles of Lagavulin, Laphroaig and/or Dalmore! Thank the Benedictine gods that Jun A., now back in San Fran, managed to placate me with a Zidane headbutter’s costume for Halloween.

In any case, only a little of the Glenlivet that made the Pacific crossing was consumed that night, which means I still get to steward it, while hoping the rest of its dwindling contents make it for a Final Four SBC game.

And in any case, that wasn’t the last single malt I’ve tasted. The quick trip out and in also landed me a Glengoyne 10 and an Isle of Jura Legacy 12. The Glengoyne is gone, thanks to Juaniyo Arcellana, who bogarted the bottle at PLAC’s (Philippine Literary Arts Council) 25th anniversary bash at Gémino and Mercy Abad’s place in Antipolo last Saturday.

Of course the former Jingle reviewer in Juaniyo took note of the literature that enhanced the label, identifying Glengoyne as a highland malt from "a quiet, secluded glen beneath the Hill of Dumgoyne," where the distillery "captures the essence of the soft air and cool Glengoyne stream that flows into Loch Lomond..." And that the distillery "takes its name from ‘Glen Guin’ or Glen of the Wild Geese and sits at the foot of a small waterfall..." More: "Hints of oak, apple and an exceptionally long, clean finish" mark the Glengoyne, which traditionally "dries its malted barley using only warm air, (ensuring) that there is no overwhelming peat smoke in the finished malt."

Of course, each single malt prides itself in having partaken of a unique facet of the distillation process to create distinctive character. A good find from a recent trip to Guam was The Six Isles (Islay, Jura, Skye, Mull, Orkney & Arran), said to be "bottled unchill-filtered." Whatever that means. Further: "The peaty and smoky character of the malts of Islay is balanced with the soft heather, honey and iodine notes of the Orcadian malts, and rounded off by the flavours from the other four islands."

Yes, yes. A wee dram more.

For its part, the Tormore 12 years, also from that Guam foray, is billed as "the pearl of Speyside – a deliciously smooth malt of character and complexity. The freshwater pearl mussels flourishing in the waters below the distillery are testament to the purity of the River Spey and its tributaries. Tasting notes: toasted almonds citrus and barley sugar." Ahh.

My Isle of Jura Legacy, 10 years, remains unopened. Its lovely bottle looks like an upright bass, with the same polished, tawny color of liquid inside, all of one full liter that’s been "distilled with water from the Bhaille Mharghaidh spring on the Isle of Jura since 1810." That was when the official distillery was built, but the island people are known to have engaged in illicit production since the 16th century, for certainly, "their passion for their craft is second to none."

One drinks history, tradition, heritage and legacy when one brings a tulip glass of single malt to one’s lips, and allows its taste to "drift gently onto the palate, revealing firm, distinguished, elegant tones, with just a hint of smoke..."

Is it the whisky or the words that celebrate this whatchamacallit that guides us to entrancement? Whatever. The wee dram opens up worlds medieval and moderne, and makes us recognize such masterful passion for the affairs of man.

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