Scotch: The Grand Scotch tour, a quick and dirty guide, Scotch cocktails


This Friday is the annual Grand Scotch Tour at The Willows, featuring 20 different Scotches from Chivas and Glenfiddich to the lesser known Aberfeldy and Caol Ila.

Scotch connoisseur? Go.

A newbie, like me? Go, still, to taste the breadth of Scotch. Prior to a recent tasting by Dewar's, my impression of Scotch was of fire and Band Aids (that's peat to scotch lovers). After a flight which included Dewar's 12 and Dewar's Signature, I was more convinced of Scotch's range, from sweet to smoky. To me, it still doesn't attain the sweet roundedness of bourbon, but I love a challenge.

A quick primer on Scotch whisky, as gleaned from the tasting.

First: Scotch whisky, everywhere else—whiskey, with an "e"

There are four major Scotch regions: Highland, which produces whisky with a honeyed character; Speyside, fruity; Lowland, vanilla notes and a dry finish; Islay, that distinct peatiness.

Single malts versus blends: single malts are made from only malted barley, water and yeast at a single distillery, whereas blends can source from various distilleries and incorporate other non-barley grain whisky.

Scotch purists may disagree, but I find trying Scotch in cocktails helps ease one into Scotch waters. In San Francisco, I tried a classic cocktail with Scotch: Blood and Sand, with an alluring mix of Scotch, cherry brandy, sweet vermouth and fresh orange juice. Brighter and refreshing was a drink with Scotch, sloe gin and honey, topped with bitter lemon soda.

Over at The Modern, Tim Rita makes poolside-worthy cocktails with Dewar's White Label, lemon juice, coconut, soda water and mint; and Dewar's White Label with ginger beer and an orange slice.

Grand Scotch Tour: $70 pre-sale/$80 at the door, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., Friday, March 23. Call The Willows (952-9200) for reservations.

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