The Best Scotch, According to American Whiskey Producers
Even today, our best distillers are still taking lessons from Scotland
“There is more to whiskey than corn and rye,” Heaven’s Door Master Blender Ryan Perry reminds us.
Chances are if you’re a whisky/whiskey fan, you know a decent amount about Scotch. But if you’re primarily an American whiskey drinker, now’s a good time to reacquaint yourself with Scotland’s finest export, which offers multiple flavors and styles, along with its own set of rules (aging minimum in oak casks for 3+ years, malted barley as the core ingredient, etc.).
Reminder: most Scotch isn’t peaty, and the spirit’s less-restrictive rules around what those oak barrels can contain (sherry, port, etc.) means you can find an abundance of flavors that, say, a bourbon can’t recreate. Plus, blending is far more prevalent as a skill in Scotland than with American whiskies, which adds in its own unique component to the final product.
To bridge the gap between our two worlds — and to celebrate the oddly timed National Scotch Day, which is this week (July 27th) — we asked some pros at a few up-and-coming American whiskey brands to tell us what they love about their Scottish peers. Beelow, Greg Metze (Master Distiller, Old Elk), Christian Krogstad (Master Distiller, Westward Whiskey), Ryan Perry (Master Blender, Heaven’s Door) and Sean Josephs (Owner/Master Taster, Pinhook) tell us about their favorite cross-pond tipples.
InsideHook: What do you appreciate about Scotch?
Greg Metze: I’ve always had a deep respect for the traits of heritage, tradition and craftsmanship that Scotch distillers evoke in their passion to produce world class spirits. These values have always been part of my training and career as a Master Distiller. There is simply no room for short cuts or sacrificing product integrity for cost.
Christian Krogstad: I really appreciate the sense of tradition and heritage found in their distilleries.
Ryan Perry: Too many to pick, but the two that jump out to me are the art of blending and distinction of taste by region. With so many unique distilling styles, barrel types and climate variances, the ability of Scotch blenders to create uniformity over decades of a product’s life is truly amazing. And I can’t appreciate the commitment of their craft more than when you can raise a glass and immediately know the heavy peat came from Islay (which is my daughter’s namesake) or the grit of the Highlands.
Sean Josephs: There’s such tremendous variety in Scotch between single malts, vatted malts, blends and the like. Between that and the regional differences, the multitude of finishes, and, of course, peat, there is endless exploration.
What’s something American whiskey producers could learn from their Scotch counterparts?
Greg Metze: High-malt-content mash bills intrigue me. At Old Elk, we actually took a page from the Scotch makers playbook with our 34% malted barley bourbon whiskey. Lowering the corn content and raising the malted barley content in a bourbon mash bill unmask smooth and delicate congeners that are hidden behind those attributed to high-corn content recipes.
Christian Krogstad: American distillers can learn a lot from the subtlety and diverse flavors that you can get from a single malt.
Ryan Perry: There is more to whiskey than corn and rye. The American single malt category already has a few winners, but there is a long road ahead which I couldn’t be more excited about.
Sean Josephs: When I first opened my American Whiskey bar, Char No. 4 in 2008 (New York), the bourbon category was very narrow and we also carried a good number of Scotches as well. While the bourbon industry has evolved a lot since then, at the time I felt that bourbon needed to take a page out of Scotch’s book and experiment with a variety of elements to create the breadth and depth of Scotch in order to move American whiskey forward and bring in a new audience.
What’s your go-to Scotch, and why?
Greg Metze: I really like 12-year-old Bunnahabhain. It’s a moderately peated single malt Scotch Whisky that was produced by Burn Stewart Distillery and Master Distiller Ian MacMillan, who were former work affiliates of mine several years ago.
Christian Krogstad: My go-to Scotch is Talisker: It’s balanced, rich and packed with great flavor.
Ryan Perry: Right now, The Glenrothes Whiskey Makers Cut. It’s a no-age statement (NAS) Scotch, which is untraditional to the brand, but it doesn’t need to be since it is aged in first-fill Sherry casks. It’s fruit forward and bordering on a “Sherry bomb,” but so damn good!
Sean Josephs: I will never forget the first time I drank Lagavulin 16 over 20 years ago. I love sitting by a campfire and the whiskey made me feel like I was both next to a fire and drinking in the woodsy smoke. It’s one of my favorite taste memories and I will always have a soft spot for it.
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