Isn’t it amazing how easily you can incorporate the appreciation of adult beverages into almost any aspect of your life? Whether you’re traveling the world or reading a book at home, opportunities to learn about and enjoy beer, wine and spirits abound — and not just by getting sozzled.
I found such an opportunity recently at the Inaugural Fairhope Film Festival (7-10 Nov.), which featured a fine foreign flick on Scotch whisky: “The Angels’ Share.” The name refers to the small amount of Scotch that evaporates from the barrels as the whisky matures. (“Whisky” is, by the way, how the Scots spell it.)
“The Angels’ Share” tells the sometimes funny, sometimes hard-to-watch story of a young man growing up in a tough neighborhood in Glasgow — and how Scotch gets him a ticket out. The plot combines hope, despair, criminality (amazingly justifiable) and enough droppings of the “f-bomb” to require a virtual flack jacket. The accents are so heavy someone decided to add subtitles.
The action hinges on the acquisition of a very rare Scotch and if you don’t want wee dram (or a large tumbler) by the time the credits roll, I’d be surprised. I certainly wanted one, and my film-watcher helper wanted one, too, so what was there to do but open my own rare bottle?
I like peaty single-malt Scotches — although not those tasking like there’s a chunk of turf in the bottle. The question “How peaty is too peaty?” is a matter of personal taste, though, so folks who really like peat will think I’m a wimp — and those who like unpeated blends (like Dewars), may say “bleccch!” at my favorite. There’s no right or wrong; just some major differences in style.
But before I name names, let’s have one definition. What, after all, is a “peaty” Scotch? (Or, as the movie puts it: “Who the [bleep] is Pete?”)
Peat is a thick layer of decayed organic matter — largely moss — forming the soil covering vast tracts of bog-land in the British Isles; it has been dug, dried and burned as fuel for centuries. In making Scotch, peat is sometimes burned to dry the malted barley — giving the grain and then the whisky a smoky, earthy taste. Some folks say whisky from western Scotland will pick up peaty flavors (albeit not smoky ones) from the local water, which filters through the peat bogs.
Scotch from the isle of Islay is reputedly the peatiest in Scotland and, while I can’t guarantee it’s the peatiest, my favorite hails from there: Bruichladdich. The Bruichladdich (pronounced “Brook Laddie”) distillery opened in 1881 but was closed in 1994, reopened in 2001, and bought by Remy-Cointreau in 2012. Its Victorian equipment remains, however, and the whisky is crafted by real people, not computers. They now produce three styles — unpeaded, heavily peated and super-heavily peated — under three brand names — Bruichladdich, Port Charlotte and Octomore, respectively — but these are recent innovations.
My rare bottle was the Bruichladdich 14-year-old “WMD II – The Yellow Submarine,” bottled in 2005 after aging since 1991 in oak barrels previously used for wine. This whisky has a fantastic flavor, but possibly a better backstory: First, according to the staff at Milroy’s of Soho — my favorite whisky shop (3 Greek St., London) — the distillery found itself under surveillance in 2003 as a possible chemical weapons factory. Then, in 2005, an Islay fisherman saw a yellow object floating just beneath the surface of the water. After conversations with the coastguard and the Royal Navy, the Navy admitted it had lost HMS Penzance (a miniature mine-sweeping submarine) in a drill. To commemorate the sub’s discovery, Bruichladdich released 12,000 bottles of “WMD II – The Yellow Submarine.” (“WMD I – Missiles Galore” was a 1984-vintage Scotch released in 2003, after the distillery got a query from the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency acting, according to legend, on behalf of the CIA. “WMD” on both labels stands for Whisky of Mass Distinction, however, not Weapon of Mass Destruction.)
Anyway, Bruichladdich’s Yellow Submarine is outstanding, if a bit hard to find anymore. It’s strong and earthy, with roasted nut flavors and top notes of candied citrus peel and orange marmalade. The wine-cask aging gives it at tannic edge. You’ll want to drink this whisky in small sips, after dinner; it is excellent with dark chocolate. (At 46 percent ABV, and $600 per bottle, it’ll put hair on your chest for sure.) Newer styles of Bruichladdich are easier to find, with the 7-, 12- and 15-year-old bottlings being particularly enjoyable — although very different from one another, because each is aged casks previously containing libations ranging from Bourbon to Sauternes. ($50-$75, at better liquor stores.)
ESho beer lovin’
With or without a film fest, no trip to Fairhope would be complete without visiting the Fairhope Brewing Company (914 Nichols Avenue). My only concern about this brewery is its location — just slightly too far from downtown to be an easy walk. I can walk it, and most folks could, but I wish it was smack on Fairhope Avenue; I want this brewery to get all the business it can.
Fairhope’s Painted Black IPA — which I’ve written about before — continues to amaze. The dark, mild appearance is so different from the big hoppy taste you can’t quite believe what you’re drinking. (If you don’t go to the brewery, it’s also on tap at some downtown Fairhope restaurants, including the Pelican Patio on North Church Street, as well as on the western side of the bay.) Fairhope’s new French Quarter Porter is a real treat, with a chocolaty vibe and a reasonably low (5.4 percent) alcohol content, so you can enjoy it all night.
For future drafts, be sure to check out the “Repeal Day” celebrations at The Blind Mule on Thursday, Dec. 5. Not only is the repeal of Prohibition a fine reason to celebrate, but Southern Prohibition Brewing (Hattiesburg, Miss.) will be pouring their craft beers. Meet the folks of SoPro and enjoy their brews with four specially paired dishes whipped up by The Blind Mule’s culinary team. I’ll be there!