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The Incurable Hobbyist Eight: Great Scotch!

Posted by Christine / January 24, 2012

IMG_0117.JPG The Incurable Hobbyist is a highly subjective monthly series that examines various hobbies and the areas of the city that offer means to facilitate their practice. The goal is to inspire curious readers to develop hobbies they'll grow to love dearly, filling their hearts with the singular joy that comes with learning something special, something new.

First, some basic information before we begin this month's column on scotch connoisseurship (where the distinction between hobby and habit becomes a necessary one).

Scotch or scotch whiskey differs only in that it is specifically brewed in Scotland and it is aged in oak barrels for a minimum of three years. Scotch whiskey is divided into five categories: single malt scotch whiskey, single grain scotch whiskey, blended malt scotch whiskey, blended grain scotch whiskey and blended scotch whiskey. The grain typically used is barley.

I've been casually interested in scotch for the past two or three years. It's hard to place the exact why of the matter. If pressed, I would likely say it's a blend of the taste itself, (the burnt flavor in particular) as well as the historical and mass media references that brew together in my mind to form a general aesthetic impression. See how I wove the word "brew" in there? Oh, I feel so cheap sometimes.

That general aesthetic impression is a whirl of shapes: black and white Humphrey Bogart, shoulders hunched with a scotch-in hand, elbow-to-elbow with Donald Francis' Don Draper, whose name itself bears a regality; he sits on his well-cushioned office throne, tight jawed, stiff necked and holding a glass of golden liquid, W.C. Fields is hatted with a bowler and slouched in a fur coat, but we won't talk about him.

If you're interested in tasting a vast array of scotches, I highly recommend Whiskey Cafe at 5800 Boulevard St. Laurent. It carries over 150 scotch whiskeys. Its website boasts that it is, "known to be the best first date bar and lounge in Montreal."

There is also an adjacent cigar lounge. For those keenly interested in re-creating a Mad Men moment, take care to bring along your pressed suits, business glib and.. oh I suppose, antiquated views on women in the workplace. What fun!

Whiskey Cafe also offers a fairly reasonably priced menu, consisting of smoked salmon, duck rillettes, mixed olives, Belgian chocolate and more.

Indeed, the interior is has enough mood lighting to set the optimal romantic tone for a first date, or perhaps, to rekindle some lost romance as you usher in your 203rd date with your partner. I, myself, went with a group of friends, boyfriend among them. And so, I imagine Whiskey Cafe fits the bill for a variety of contexts.

Pub L'Ile Noire is another option for scotch tasting and is located at 1649 St.Denis. It houses over 140 scotches, with prices that vary between $5 to $500 a glass.

This terrific pub also offers a variety of fun, engaging events, as well as drink specials. Every Sunday they host jive dancing.

The interior itself is a homage to relaxed, classic Scottish pubs, complete with stained glass windows and mahogany wood.

Indulge in the finer things in life by pairing your scotch with a fat Cuban at Stogies Cigar Lounge. It's located at 2015 Crescent.

You may also enjoy the tasting experience from home by purchasing a variety of bottles and hosting an evening of spirits with your high-spirited friends. You can procure your scotches from local specialty shops or simply, the SAQ.

If you opt for a quieter affair, you may pour modest fingers of scotch from your personal selection. A lovingly-curated home bar is a point of pride for all self-confessed scotch whiskey connoisseurs.

And, perhaps you have a way of eyeing over friends' liqueur cabinets in turn, or leafing through the book shelves of romantic interests. And, perhaps you like to imagine there's something telling about someone's collections and how they're displayed.

You may carefully observe a sleek crystal decanter filled with Talisker here, a table of sticky scotch glass rings there, a dog-eared wedge of Vonnegut novels on an over-stuffed shelf and an untouched copy of the latest Murakami. "Oh, me too, me too," you think to yourself.

I get it. If you're like me, you're always looking for an excuse to connect with someone else and if you ask me, there's nothing better to do. I've gone off topic of course.

A decanter and matching scotch glasses are always a nice touch to any home bar. My set is intricately cross-hatched and vintage-inspired. Being a fan of the film noire genre, this is no coincidence. Maybe the shadows in my apartment are a little longer than usual when I swirl my glass and imagine a more exciting world.

One may purchase like sets at Stokes, Vinum, Aux Plaisirs De Bacchus, Linen Chest and Birks for a more high-end selection.

I have a personal preference (or snobbery if you're feeling less charitable) about scotch on its own versus on the rocks. Water has a way of diluting the taste, and I don't mind warmer liqueur, so no ice for me, please and thank you. But, if you absolutely must have a chilled drink, whiskey stones are a wonderful alternative to ice. They are typically made from natural soapstone. These stones are flavorless and non-porous. Store them in freezer for a minimum of four hours and add to your whiskey glass. Easy!

You may purchase whiskey stones at specialty shops as well as Chapters, of all places!

So said the maestro:

"The proper drinking of Scotch whiskey is more than indulgence; it is a toast to civilization, a tribute to the continuity of culture, a manifesto of man's determination to use the resources of nature to refresh mind and body and enjoy to the full the senses with which he has been endowed."

-David Daiches

Photograph by yours truly



Pat / January 25, 2012 at 12:20 pm
Nice posting! I do have a few tweaks. Barley is the ONLY grain used to make single malt Scotch. And not all malts have the smokey or burnt taste you refer to. These are usually made in Islay. Some Highland ones can be smokey as well.
Christine / January 25, 2012 at 04:08 pm
Thanks for the input!
Absolutely. This guide is useful for how to go about tasting and includes a list of flavor notes involved in certain scotches.
Daniel / December 28, 2012 at 12:24 pm
I rather enjoyed reading that. As an inhabitant of Scotland for several years, it's nice to see the passion for fine whisky is alive and well in Montreal too.
Christine / December 29, 2012 at 10:27 am
I'm so happy you enjoyed the article, Daniel. I hope the new year brings you much joy and fine scotch.
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