“It’s an acquired taste.”
That’s what my father told me every time during my childhood when I tasted the Scotch he was sipping and made a screwed-up face to express my disgust. When you’re a child, there are a lot of acquired tastes, from Brussels sprouts to wine to beer. As the years passed, I acquired nearly all of them. Except Scotch. So I really do wish my father had lived long enough to hear about my adventures sipping 50-year-old single-malt whisky from Scotland priced at $38,000 a bottle.
Now that’s what I’d call an “acquired taste.”
The opportunity arose thanks to Cullen’s American Grille, a mammoth and glitzy restaurant, nightclub and event space on the outskirts of Houston. The folks there, led by Ryan Roberts of General Motors, Co. wearing a kilt, invited me to a 12-person dinner with a gracefully accented Scotsman named David Stewart, the longest serving “malt master” in the history of Scotch whisky. Stewart had been brand new to the Balvenie Distilling Co. a half-century ago, when the whisky we were tasting (only a few drops, mind you, as part of a dinner of somewhat younger Scotches, costing $2,900 per person) was set aside to age in oak barrels.
I was more than a little intrigued to find out that more than $50,000 worth of Balvenie’s finest was poured out for our table of 12 during the dinner—including not just the much-ballyhooed Fifty from 1963. These included whiskys (the Scots spell their favorite word without the common “e,” just to be ornery, I suppose) aged 30 and 40 years, plus a couple of delicious extras called Tun 1401 and Tun 1509.
I did enjoy my efforts learning about Scotch. And I now do believe in the basic concept of a Scotch dinner. Like wine and beer, Scotch is willing and able to “dance” with the flavors of food, rather than—like drinks at a cocktail dinner—stand on the sidelines and scream “Me, me, me!” Many of the pairings were fascinating, with the smoke-kissed flavor of toasted oak and the refined sizzle of alcohol making something wonderful happen in my mouth. I really could sip on this stuff by a fireplace on a chilly night, just like I love to do with anejo tequilas, small-batch bourbons, very old Caribbean rums and, perhaps my favorite, cognacs and armagnacs. The next time I’m offered a taste of whisky from Scotland, I’ll know how to spell it and how to drink it—thanks to lessons from David Stewart of the Balvenie.
Everybody asks me: Was the taste inside that bottle worth $38,000? Well, not to me personally, since I couldn’t drive it or live in it. But as I remembered all my screwed-up faces looking up at my dad and then knowing I’d finally acquired a taste for one of his favorite things—that moment poured me a “wee dram” of priceless.
Courtesy of The Balvenie Brand Ambassador Jonathan Wingo
These two jewels are very old whiskies but also very potent—both are natural strength. Tun 1401 has a nice deep, rich spiciness and will cut through any heavy protein like steak. Tun 1509 is very bright and creamy. It will work well with a creamy pasta dish or sauce.