Dizzy Recap: Winter is for Whisky

Now that it's officially spring [despite the fact that I'm still wearing a sweater], I can say there was an overarching theme to my drink of choice this winter--a spicy, amber-hued theme. Considering that the winter of 2009-2010 has been more tenacious than in years past, I don't think it's too surprising that I've turned to Scotch whisky to keep warm and stay sane.

What is it about whisky that makes it so warming? All alcohol is warming--although in reality, alcohol increases bloodflow to the extremities, which lowers the core body temperature--but whisky/whiskey and bourbon in particular seem to heat the tongue and the body much faster than other spirits.  Curious, I posed this question to a few whisky enthusiasts, and got some interesting theories:

"It's a perception due to the complexity of the spirit," said Robin Robinson, brand ambassador for Compass Box Whisky. "The congeners present are full of fatty lipids. Our senses interpret these as we do all fats, essential to the energy engine of the body, translating to a sense of well-being. It's why we like comfort foods. We interpret that as 'warmth.'"

Dr. Bill Lumsden of Glenmorangie attributes the warming effect to the amount of time the whisky sits in wood casks, which he believes creates a chemical reaction in the body.

And then there were the more cryptic answers from Richard "The Nose" Paterson of The Dalmore: "only whisky is distilled with warmth and love;" and Sam "Dr. Whisky" Simmons of Balvenie: "Why does butter make life better? Why does music played on records sound better than on CDs or (eek!) MP3s? Why is the heart-warming feeling you get from receiving 100 birthday emails equivalent to receiving just one letter in the mail any other day of the year? Why can Nina Simone send more shivers than a bucket of ice water? If whisky be the water of life, drink on."

Hey, I'm with you there, Dr. Whisky, but if there's any reason to have a little whisky science experiment, I'll be a happy lab rat. If anyone wants to dig deeper into this "hot" mystery, let me know.

Earlier this year, I veered from a 10-day veggie detox straight into the arms of The Macallan at "Flight Through the Decades" at SoHo House. Graeme Russell, East Coast Brand Ambassador for The Macallan Single Malt Scotch, led a room packed with discerning bloggers (tweeting all the while) through drams ranging from fresh-off-the still new make spirit to 50- and 52-year old vintages. Each dish paired with the aged Scotch beautifully, and I had the added bonus of meeting NotCot, immaculate infatuation, cool hunting, and photographer cwhateyec (check out more photos from the event here). It was definitely a luscious (or is it lush-ous?) way to ring in a new year of drinking!

Then to kick off February, I sat in on "For Peat's Sake," a roundtable discussion at Beekman Bar & Books, listening to some whisky scholars (aka fanatics) discuss the finer points of peaty Scotch. Peat - dried bricks of decayed bog vegetation, historically used as fuel in Scotland, is roasted during the distillation process, leaving a smoky, spicy essence unique to the region. John Henry of Pipeline Brands moderated the meeting of minds, and speakers included Sam "Dr. Whisky" Simmons (brand ambassador for Balvenie), Jeffery Karlovich (Whisky Life magazine, Whisky Guild social network), Robin Robinson (brand ambassador for Compass Box), Peter Silver (Malt Maniacs), and Simon Brooking (brand ambassador, Ardmore and Laphroaig). It was a treat to sit by the fire and learn about peat's earthy flavors and hear how China and India are flooding the demand for peaty Scotch. To learn more about what we drank, head over to Teleport City  - Keith Allison took way better notes than I did.

And I can't believe I tasted $4,000 Scotch during the launch of Highland Park's limited edition 1968. Please show my Examiner page some love for the details on that one - let's just say it was one elegant evening that quickly took my mind off that evening's monsoon.

And just when it seemed like seasonal affective disorder might kick in, Glenmorangie came to the rescue with an "Inside the Whiskey Maker's Lab" tasting at Apotheke. Signet, Nectar D'Or, a fire show by Albert Trummer - if that doesn't take the edge off during winter in NYC, well I don't know what will. And unfortunately I missed the lovely "Women & Whisky" fundraiser earlier this month sponsored by Compass Box Whisky and LUPEC NYC at Astor Center, but I heard it was a smashing success. Check out Wine Mag for a roundup the drool-inducing whisky cocktails I missed out on - sad I couldn't make it.

So long as this cool weather lingers, I'll be reaching for that aged, amber dram... and I'm not complaining! Looking for a dram? Here's a list of some of the best whisky/whiskey bars in NYC.

Dizzy Recap: Compass Box Dinner at Parlor Steakhouse



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.