If you had told me a year ago that I would be drinking scotch whisky every now and then, I probably would have scoffed and continued slurping my dirty vodka martini--boy, am I glad those days are over. To me, scotch was always an old man drink, something only hardcore drinkers and Wall Streeters turned to. Well, at some point in the past year I grew some cojones, thanks in part to having a roommate who specializes in Japanese single malt. I started dabbling in scotch, usually either sipping a small amount neat, or having it mixed in a cocktail (yes, this is possible, if done right). I think it's been essential in expanding my taste for classic drinks and fine spirits. But until a Compass Box whisky pairing dinner at Parlor Steakhouse (90th St. & 3rd Ave.) earlier this week, I was not getting the most out of my tasting of scotch whisky. Thanks to brand ambassador Robin Robinson, I learned that scotch is best with a few splashes of bottled water, which helps open the aromas and flavors, as well as dilute the potency a bit. Robin took us through Compass Box's custom blending and aging process, as well as giving us a general introduction to what scotch is and which regions it comes from. Compass Box was founded in 2000 by John Glaser, who approaches whisky-making from a wine-maker's angle. Casks from different Scotland distilleries, such as those in the Speyside and Islay regions, are handpicked by Glaser, leading to an array of handcrafted, non-chill-filtered blended whiskies. Even the bottles are designed like wine bottles, signaling that Compass Box is offering something different. Following a cocktail reception featuring Gilles Bensabeur of St. Germain (I had a delicious Peat Monster scotch, St. Germain, and muddled pineapple cocktail), here's a rundown of what we tasted:
- Asyla: A blend of scotch and malt whisky, this was a really nice place to start--lightly fruity and oaky with prominent vanilla. This was by far my favorite, being a novice whisky drinker. I recommend this to anyone--be sure to let it swish over the top of your tongue and enjoy the delicate, spicy finish. Paired with mushroom risotto.
- Oak Cross: Whiskies aged in American and French oak casks offer a subtly spiced medium weight. There's hints of vanilla and clove, and it's soft and rich. Paired with a pile of deliciously rare prime porterhouse and sides.
- The Peat Monster: As the name insinuates, this a heavy, peaty Islay malt blended with Speyside malt. Smoky and bold, it's almost spicy. With a 46 percent ABV, this packs a punch. It paired with cheeses perfectly, but was a little too strong for me--I was definitely splashing in that water. Paired with Quickes Cheddar and Pyrenee Brebis.
- Hedonism: A rare style of 100 percent grain whisky, sweet toasty notes of toffee and vanilla. Considering this goes for about $80 a bottle, this was a treat. Paired with molten chocolate cake and butterscotch ice cream--pure heaven.
Following dinner, we dashed to Lexington Bar & Books (73rd St. & Lexington Ave.) to drink Plymouth Gin cocktails mixed by Jake Sher. I had a refreshing Southside (gin, mint, lime juice), a French 75 (gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, champagne), and a Ginger Cobbler (Domain de Canton, gin, muddled ginger, lemon juice). Ben's variation on the Martinez also went over well. Hell, I even puffed on a cigar for the first time--what can I say, the environment beckoned it. I must mention that I drank water constantly throughout the night. I was in bed by 1 a.m. and only slightly dizzy.