My relationship to peated scotch was like a person you hate when you meet, then somehow you get to know them and they are now like family. In fact, several years ago, a great friend, Dan, bought me an expensive bottle of Laphroaig for my birthday. I felt bad not liking it because I know he put a lot of thought and research into the purchase. At the time, to me, it was medicinal swill that had no business in a glass.
It wasn’t until months later that I began to change. I started to really understand and now actually crave that intoxicating smoky sweetness. A small but memorable tipping point for me was a beautiful Lagavulin 16yr at a bar in Vegas over a cigar.
So, how did I change? At first, I learned how to nose a strong whisky by sometimes breathing through my mouth and nose together instead of just sticking my nose in and burning my sinuses. I then began to be able to visualize and have fun trying to associate what I was finding in the nose to things in nature. For example: a doused camp fire, dried grapefruit, fresh ginger, wet sea shell… Finally, I learned that it is not only OK to add a little water, THAT’S WHAT YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO DO! Which, I would argue, is something most Americans see as just wrong. But in fact, a tiny spoonful of water actually opens up the whisky and changes its complexity so you can identify its personality beyond the alcohol.
In short, as I now find myself on a journey through Scotland to the island of Islay (the epicenter of all of the world’s peated whiskies), I leave you this: peated whiskies are absolutely an acquired taste. Take your time with them, get to know them. Learn about where they come from and the people who make them. By doing so, you might just find a whole new world to explore.