What to Really Drink With Oysters

 

It’s a weirdly persistent myth that you should only eat oysters in months that have an “R” – in other words, avoiding summer (May-August) when the weather is warmer and seafood is more prone to spoiling. But while might have been true before refrigeration, technology means an oyster can stay as cool as, well, a cucumber, from ocean to plate. Typically, an oyster needs very little to be fully enjoyed—perhaps a squeeze of lemon or a dash of Tabasco, but how about the tipple that accompanies it?

Sparkling wine can create a nice textured contrast, and a glass of Chablis is a time-honored tradition in France, but how about something that brinier, with a quality of the ocean in which oysters live? Try the 12-year old Old Pulteney, from the historic Scottish fishing own of Wick, once the largest herring port in Europe. The pairing is spot-on, with the oceanic tang of Old Pulteney, and its citrus notes, perfectly complimenting the salty-sweetness of oysters.

 

Old Pulteney

 

If you’re feeling ambitious, Oysters are also great fried. Dip them in beer batter to make a crispy fritter, or bread them with cornmeal and pile them on a baguette with lettuce and tomato for a traditional New Orleans po’boy. And wash down with a tumbler of Old Pulteney on ice. Wick may have lost its herring industry, but it has kept its whisky, so much the better for us.

Once you’ve tried this at home, here are three New York stalwarts to let the experts show you how:

1: Upholstery Store Food & Wine, 713 Washington Street, NYC. Austrian chef Kurt Gutenbrunner casts magic on the half shell.

2: MP Taverna, 31-29 Ditmars Boulevard, Ditmas Park, Queens. This Greek taverna has a terrific happy hour, with oysters a dollar-a-piece.

3: Grand Central Oyster Bar, 89 E 42nd St, NYC. Because the classics never go out of fashion, and this is the king of them all.

 

Grand Central Oyster Bar

 

 

It’s Tartan Week! A Guide to the Six Rarest Scottish Whiskies

 

The Scots will always be given a special welcome in New York City – because let’s face it, how could we not love a people whose gents can rock a skirt while drinking us all under the bloody table?

So, as 2017’s New York Tartan Week once again sees the our Scottish friends throwing parties all over town (the Tartan Day Parade is Saturday, the 8th, this year lorded over by Sons of Anarchy star Tommy Flanagan; the official Tartan Day is tomorrow, the 6th), we consider one of our favorite subjects: whisky. After all, as we have come to know, a rare, exquisite Scotch, after a few sips, may actually bring on various stages of epiphany.

Here is our insider guide to the very best.

 


Highland Park 40 Year Old

Striking masculine design of both box and bottle, the latter adorned with a silver amulet, to decidedly elegant effect. Smokey, fruity and rich, with prominent tasting notes of sherry, chocolate and anise and a distinctly oaky finish.
Estimated price: $2,750

Scotch Whisky highlandpark40yearold


Leidag 42 Year Old Dúsgadh

Tobacco, leather, coal on the nose—so it’s particularly, uniquely stimulating to the senses. Indeed, you’ll get cinnamon, honey and ginger on the palette, with a long, dry finish. Different.
Estmated price: $3,800

Scottish Whisky Ledaig


The Macallan M 1824 Series

You know that when a distiller describes the nose with words like “velvet sateen,” you’re about to experience something ethereally life-altering. A palette of rich wood spices, cedar and violets leads to a long, rapturous finish. The crystal decanter is a work of art—much like what it holds.
Estimated price: $3,900

Scottish Whisky Macallan M m_gallery_06


The Last Drop 50 Year Old

It won’t win any prizes for bottle design. But the long maturation in sherry casks produces an incredibly refined smoothness. Just 1,347 bottles were made; and it’s meant for an exceptionally proficient palette, with its unusual pomegranate and cilantro nose, and tasting notes of malt, molasses and, of course, sherry.
Estimated price: $4,000

Scottish Whisky Last Drop tld-50-year-old-whisky


The Balvenie 40 Year Old Single Malt

Smokey but sweet, it has hints of honey and spice. Aged in both bourbon and sherry casks. Complex and creamy, with tasting notes of vanilla oak, cinnamon and nutmeg. There are supposedly only 150 bottles in the world, so figure at least $1,500 of the pricetag is pure bragging rights.
Estimated price: $4,500

Scotch Whisky Balvenie 40 image


The Glenfarclas 60 Year Old (Cask 1672)

Considered a pinnacle, and priced quite accordingly. Notes of espresso, treacle and complex spices. Aged in a single sherry cask. For aesthetes, an absolutely stunning bottle design.
Estimated price: $17,000

Scotch Whisky Glenfarclas60YOCloseUp-big


Post Holiday Travel: Drinking Scotch in Edinburgh

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society

For total immersion in the culture of Scottish whisky, this exclusive international club sources the finest and the rarest, which can be sipped in its elegant Members’ Rooms – as well as in one of its partner bars from Glasgow to London. Or just pop in to The Dining Room at 28 Queen Street, its highly regarded restaurant (open to non-members), where you can pair the best Scotch with lobster canneloni and twice baked Stilton soufflé.

The Balmoral Hotel

The veritable flagship of the incomparable Rocco Forte hotels group, The Balmoral has hosted everyone from The Stones to Sean Connery to J.K. Rowling. The best rooms have glorious views over Princes Street Gardens to the castle. But you’ll want to spend most of your time settled into a plush sofa in Scotch, the hotel’s classy, dedicated whisky bar with more than 500 on offer.

The-Balmoral-Edinburgh-Whisky-Ambassador-at-Scotch

 

 

A Few Observations on the Launch of Bunnahabhain 40-Year-Old Scotch

Last night, in a private room accessible through a secret door at The Lion on 9th Street in Manhattan, a bunch of whisky experts, cocktail enthusiasts, and one acoustic guitarist got together to celebrate the launch a very special new malt, the Bunnahabhain 40-Year-Old. This whisky is unique for several reasons, including but not limited to the fact that it sat in wooden casks for four decades in a warehouse on the northern shore of Islay, mellowing to perfection as it soaked up the essence of the air and sea.

This delicious whisky stands out from other very expensive Scotches–it will cost you $3,170 to get your hands on one of the 212 bottles released in the U.S.–because it’s from the only Islay distillery that doesn’t burn peat to dry its malted barley. That means that Bunnahabhain doesn’t have that peaty taste–more accurately described as a smokey taste–associated with other Islay malts like Laphroaig, Lagavulin, and Ardbeg.

It also has an interesting story behind it. It might not have made it the full four decades had it not been forgotten about for a very long time. Master blender Ian MacMillan, who was at last night’s event, found the casks listed on the distillery ledger and set out to find them in the warehouse. When he did, he sampled them and determined which ones had the flavor and strength to be bottled as a "prestige" release. There are a total of 750 bottles available around the world, and you can pick up yours at a retailer like Astor Wines, or enjoy a pour at an upscale whisky bar like the Flatiron Room.

Over the course of the evening I had a chance to chat with MacMillan, who was a font of whisky wisdom. Here are just a few pearls:

  • When he started working in distilleries 40 years ago, it was common for distillery workers to get a very generous dram of whisky at several intervals during the day, beginning at 8am. The first time MacMillan partook of his morning dram he fell asleep for several hours. (The distillery no longer provides a whisky ration to its employees during their shifts.)
  • Back in the ’70s, they siphoned whisky out of the barrels with a hose, and you had to start the process by sucking on the hose, inevitably getting a healthy drink of whisky in the process. There was one guy who would take massive gulps of whisky from the hose, acting like it just took a long time to get the flow going. His cheeks would get huge and his eyes would water. Sometimes he would deliberately mess up the flow just so he had to re-start the siphoning process. (They don’t use this method of siphoning anymore.)
  • Whisky ages differently depending on where the warehouse is located, and the brisk ocean air of Islay can impart a hint of saltiness to the spirit.
  • It’s possible for whisky barrels to "die" in the middle of the aging process, imparting no more flavor into the spirit and instead allowing it to oxidize, which damages the whisky. However, the whisky can be saved if it’s put in a fresh barrel. 
  • Bunnahabhain 40 was originally launched in Taiwan, where every single bottle on offer sold out immediately, making Bunnahabhain management wish they had charged more money for it.
  • Most people who buy the Bunnahabhain 40 buy it as an investment, with no plans to open the bottles. (I find this kind of sad. I drank the heck out of my glass, and somehow finagled a second pour.)
  • While Scotch whisky has a rich history going back hundreds of years, the whisky that people drank in the old days probably tasted pretty nasty, and had an oily consistency. Today’s production processes yield a superior spirit.
  • Whisky and beer are related because they’re both made with cereal grains like barley, but the barley used in beer is slightly different than the barley used in whisky. (I’d love to taste a beer made with whisky malt, and vice versa.)
  • The idea of deliberately aging whisky in wooden barrels happened by accident, and there are several competing stories for how it first came about. MacMillan’s favorite involves two whisky-making brothers who sampled a bit too much of their product before hiding the barrels in a cave. They forgot where they hid it, and it aged to perfection before they finally rediscovered it.
  • Single malts really weren’t a thing until the ’70s. Up until then, almost every malt was used to create blended whisky. But if you go way back more than a century, almost every whisky consumed was a single malt because of the trouble and expense of shipping whisky around for blending. So the recent fondness for single malt Scotch actually brings it back to its origins.
  • There are a bunch of Islay distilleries, but the Bunnahabhain distillery is located far away from them. There’s only one road that leads to it, and it stops at the distillery. In the beginning the distillery was accessible only by sea, and they built a dock long before the road was made.
  • At 25 miles long and 15 miles wide, Islay is very small. It’s also quite flat and has notoriously lousy weather, but after a nice glass of whisky you’ll forget about all that.

There were other observations, but the whisky was flowing and I gave up on taking notes. As for the Bunnahabhain 40, it’s one of the finest single malts I’ve ever had the pleasure to imbibe, with an aroma of grass and heather, flavors of chocolate, vanilla, and butterscotch, and subtle notes of mango and banana. It also has a finish that goes on forever.

If you’re not quite ready to part with the $3k required for a bottle, you can enjoy some of Bunnahabhain’s other expressions for much less. The 12-year-old, for example, is excellent: malty sweet with just a whiff of smoke, and it goes for less than fifty bucks a bottle. If you’re looking to splurge on something really great, but not quite at the 40-year level, the Bunnahabhain 25-year-old goes for around $325 and has an amazing melange of flavors, from berry and cream to caramel and spice. Buy a bottle and pour me a dram. 

[Related: BlackBook New York Guide; Listings for The Lion, Flatiron Room; Keep up on all the new openings and events by subscribing to the free BlackBook Happenings newsletter; Download the BlackBook app for iPhone and Android; More by Victor Ozols; Follow me on Twitter.]

Dewar’s Highlander Honey Whisky: Sweetening Up That Dry Scottish Edge

While American whiskeys are bold about experimenting with different flavors, Scotch producers have been reluctant to offer much in the way of brand extensions beyond different ages and cask types. Maybe it has something to do with America’s forgiving nature. You release new Coke, people scream like the world is ending, you bring back "Classic" Coke and everything’s hunky dory. So I don’t know how people in Scotland will react to Dewar’s Highlander Honey, the latest expression from Glasgow’s Dewar’s Scotch Whisky. After all, it takes Dewar’s White Label–a truly iconic blend if there ever was one–and infuses it with natural Scottish honey. They’re messing with a classic here. But I’d advise them to taste it before chucking it by the case into the nearest bog, even if it abandons that dignified austerity the Scotch category is known for, because it’s quite tasty.

Dewar’s isn’t the first to infuse whisky with honey. Jack Daniel’s did it two years ago with Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey, and other American whiskey makers followed. If you’ve got to add some kind of flavor to whiskey–and to survive and thrive in today’s spirit market, you pretty much do–you could do worse than honey. It’s an organic fit, with the natural sweetness of the honey complementing the spicy, oaky notes of the whiskey. People have been mixing honey and whiskey for years, so why not save them the trouble and stickiness of doing it themselves.

We had an impromptu tasting session of Dewar’s Highlander Honey in the office yesterday afternoon. I poured shots for seven people, and the returns were universally positive, ranging from "this is really good," to "it’s a lot smoother than I expected" to "when does this stuff come out?" As for my own thoughts, I’m a regular whisky guy, so I wouldn’t naturally gravitate to a flavored blend, but I enjoyed it. It’s smooth and velvety, and it keeps its Scottish backbone while adding the sweet, fruity notes of fresh Aberfeldy-area honey. We drank it at room temperature, but, owing to the sweetness, I’d advise adding a couple of ice cubes to your tumbler, or, better yet, shaking it and straining it into a shot glass. It would make a fine party starter.

Scotch may actually be a better fit for honey than bourbon, because I find bourbon sweet enough on its own. With the dryer taste of Scotch, there’s a bit of a yin and yang thing going. Plus it was created by Dewar’s master blender Stephanie Macleod, and she knows what she’s doing. She wouldn’t let some cloying swill escape her tasting lab. If that’s what you want, the whipped cream-flavored vodka is right this way. 

While Dewar’s Highlander Honey probably won’t replace Dewar’s White Label (or my personal favorite, Dewar’s 18) in my regular whisky repertoire, it’s a fine addition for those times when you need a sweet treat to lift your spirits. A bottle will cost you about $24, and it will be widely available later this month. 

Try Dewar’s and other great whiskies at bars like the Flatiron Room. For more great whisky bars, check out the BlackBook City Guides and download the BlackBook Guides apps for iPhone and Android. To keep up with all the great nightlife openings, subscribe to the free BlackBook Happenings newsletter. 

[Related: Interview with Dewar’s Master Blender Stephanie Macleod; Review of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey; More by Victor Ozols; Follow me on Twitter]

The Macallan Releases the World’s Toughest Flask and a Tasty 22-Year-Old Whisky to Put In It

"You’d better pull over for a minute, you’ve got about five cones stuck under the car," said Nick the racing instructor, after I’d just annihilated the last gate of the slalom course. It was embarrassing, but only a little. I wasn’t there for a leisurely drive. I was there, along with a handful of other journalists, to test out the new Porsche 911 Carrera 4S, and I figured I’d push the car’s limits, and my own. A ship in harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships are for, right? And so I threw that 400 horsepower beast into the course as hard as I could, and hung in there pretty well until the end, where those five poor cones told me where the limit was. After pulling them from the car’s undercarriage, I tried it again, ever-so-slightly slower, and holding a tighter line. This time, flawless. The purpose of the exercise was to demonstrate how the design of a new flask made by Oakley for Macallan scotch whisky parallels the design of the 911, and I came away armed with the knowledge that, well, they’re both pretty amazing.

That’s why I found myself in a massive parking lot at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey on the first full day of spring, putting these amazing cars through their paces. I knew our time was limited, and I don’t get many opportunities to drive $100,000 sports cars, so I decided to ball the jack from the start. I have no regrets, even after my first lap around the speed track, when my passenger, Alyson, insisted on getting out of the car and shivering in the cold rather than taking another lap with me. I didn’t take out any cones on that lap, either, though I did make the tires squeal around just about every turn. It’s all because I kept hearing the voice of a racing instructor from Mustang school last year, who told us that we were being too damn timid on the track. "You’ll run out of talent long before you run out of car," he said. And so I threw that baby into the curves like I was on the last lap at Le Mans. Why the hell not?

But the car was just a metaphor. This is really about a flask and some whisky, both of which figured into the picture after we’d left the cars behind. Driving first, then drinking. And so we headed to the Hotel Americano in Chelsea, where Neil Ferrier, an engineer from Oakley, explained what The Flask is about. It’s tough as nails, as the above video demonstrates. It’s made of a food-grade stainless steel inner flask wrapped in a carbon fiber composite shell, clad in black anodized 5-axis machined aerospace grade aluminum, which is the most bad-ass kind of aluminum. And it looks really cool, with perfect grips for your hand and a mouth near the corner, rather than in the center, which makes it easier to pour. It’s also a bit of a departure, stylistically, from what the Macallan brand has represented in the past, but it’s the same in spirit. As Ferrier explained, Macallan simply asked them to make the best, most amazing flask imaginable, a directive similar to the 189-year-old distillery’s approach to making whisky. (Scroll down.)

Macallan 22

As far as whisky goes, Macallan’s releasing a very special one to sell with The Flask. It’s a 22-year-old, single cask whisky, aged in American oak barrels that were seasoned with sherry in Spain before making the northward trip to the distillery in the village of Craigellachie in Scotland. It’s also quite delicious, with an aroma of citrus and leather and a note of pepper on the palate before mellowing into vanilla, butterscotch, and dried fruit flavors. Brand ambassador Charlie Whitfield took us through a tasting and had us all share our interpretations. We learned that there are no wrong answers. If you taste toffee, grass, or Funyuns, that’s just your palate. Nothing to feel bad about.

And so we sipped and smiled and bragged about our racing prowess before fading into the night. Hopefully I’ll get another chance to drive a Porsche like that 911, and if I do I’m going to be even more aggressive with it, orange cones be damned.

Vic Porsche

The Flask is sold as a set with the 22-year-old whisky for $1,500 at select retailers. You probably won’t find the whisky in too many bars, but places like the Brandy Library in New York have a few other great bottles you can try, including the Macallan 18-Year Sherry Cask and the elite Macallan 25-Year-Old Sherry Cask.

[Related: BlackBook New York Guide; Highland Park Releases Loki, a Scotch from Norse Mythology; More by Victor Ozols]

Highland Park Releases Loki, a Scotch From Norse Mythology

Single malt scotch has a reputation as a serious whisky for distinguished, tweed-jacketed men who sip it from crystal tumblers while sitting in leather armchairs in the library of some manor house as a gray-whiskered hound sleeps on the carpet beneath an oil painting of a fox hunt. This reputation has not been thrust upon it. Scotch producers have carefully cultivated it, likely on the assumption that such a scene represents the reality of a few scotch drinkers, and the aspiration of many. Yet now it seems they feel a bit chained to it. The scotch industry would love to nab some younger drinkers, but that stuffy scene just doesn’t play with the modern twenty-something set. What to do? Well, if you’re Highland Park, you take a look at where you’re from and adjust accordingly. The Highland Park distillery happens to be the northernmost distillery in Scotland, located in Kirkwall, the capital of the Orkney Islands. After being occupied by a number of different tribes, the Orkney Islands were annexed by Norway in 875 and settled by the Norse, who used the islands as a base for Viking raids until the Scottish Crown took over in 1472. So while the Orkney Islands are a part of modern Scotland, the area maintains a cultural duality, with vestiges of its Nordic past found in its dialect and cultural traditions. Thus, Highland Park has the luxury of choice: it can position its whiskies as traditional Scottish products, or it can tap into its Nordic side. Given the intense competition among traditional scotch producers, it’s hardly surprising that they’ve decided to go Viking.

And that’s how I found myself at an event space called the Foundry in Long Island City, New York on Tuesday night, entering a darkened chamber bathed in red light and accentuated with Norse iconography. Highland Park was releasing the second expression of its Valhalla series, a collection of four whiskies inspired by Norse mythology. The series began last year with the great warrior Thor, a strong (52.1% ABV) malt with vanilla, blackberry, and cinnamon flavors. It was delicious. This year we were being introduced to Loki, a crafty shape shifter with a command of fire, and the event was designed to underscore its mythical underpinnings.

As a sharply-dressed crowd of New York journalists, bar owners, and other assorted whisky lovers filled the room, waiters circulated with trays of mini shepherd’s pies, and a concealed kitchen produced salmon three ways. Put your hand in this hole for raw salmon. This hole gets you a tasty bite of smoked salmon. The third gets you torched salmon. Hope you like salmon. Pre-mixed Blood and Sand cocktails were offered, but since I don’t fancy them, I hit each of a pair of bars serving Highland Park’s traditional 12- and 15-year-old whiskies neat. Next to each bar was a water station complete with waterfall, where an attendant would happily add a few drops of mineral water to your dram so you could watch it squirm. I reached for a flask. "Please let me pour for you, sir," pleaded the attendant. "It’s my only job here." My F&B needs properly sorted, I made my way back into the crowd to enjoy the theatricality of it all.

After a half hour or so attempting to mingle, my group–I was somehow lumped in with a couple dozen other "impulsive" souls–was summoned into an adjacent chamber by the god Loki, whose commanding voice over the PA system somewhat resembled that of one of the female publicists I greeted on the way in. No matter, this was the moment we were here for, the grand unveiling of the Loki the whisky. Smoke machines set a misty scene around the T-shaped table arrangement, into the center of which strolled Highland Park brand ambassador Martin Daraz, who introduced the spirit and led us all in a toast.

Finally, amid the smoke, red lights, music, and thunder (I’m pretty sure there was thunder), I took my first sip of Loki. And then another. I liked it immediately. Loki is a 15-year-old single malt that shares the DNA of its more traditional cousins, but goes off the rails a bit with a few out-there flavors. At 48.7% ABV, it’s another elevated-strength whisky, but it’s smooth enough to take a generous sip without having to put your fist through a wall to get it down. It smells of bitter orange and has a complex yet pleasing flavor, with notes of apple, lemon, grapefruit, and a faint wisp of smokey chocolate. The essence of vanilla lingered on my palate for several minutes.

And so we made our way to the balcony of this magnificent space to spend the remainder of the evening relaxing with our whisky as visions of Vikings danced through our heads. Music played and laughter echoed off the brick walls as I chatted with strangers and ate savory and sweet hors d’oeuvres out of order. At one point I swear I saw a man in a Druid’s cloak wandering around, but then it was dark, and there was whisky.

Evaluated on its own, Highland Park Loki is an excellent whisky, bold and flavorful, but smooth enough to not overpower the senses. It’s fun to drink. If there ever was a whisky that’s truly the "water of life," it’s Loki. But will its market positioning amid the pantheon of Norse mythology help it gain traction with the hip set? Maybe. The party certainly was fun, and the historical connection seems to make sense, moreso than, say, a German tequila. Who knows, maybe over the next few years more distilleries from northern Scotland will identify with Viking regalia as a point of differentiation. There certainly seems to be a lot more latitude for creativity on that side. Marketing-wise, it’s all but a blank slate, waiting to be filled with a dramatic scene.

All too soon, it was time to leave Valhalla and return to Park Slope, a soft landing if there ever was one. I took the warming glow of the whisky with me all the way to my couch, where I plopped down and turned on the TV. Fumbling with the remote, I landed on a show that was all too perfect: Vikings.

Highland Park knows what it’s doing.

Highland Park Loki has a suggested retail price of $249, and is available at select whisky retailers. Check the website for more information. If you’re in New York and want to sample different scotches, drop by Highlands, St. Andrews, or the Brandy Library.

[Related Content: A Sample of This Season’s Most Scholarly Scotch; BlackBook New York Nightlife Guide; More by Victor Ozols; Follow me on Twitter]

Scotch Whisky Meets Italian Design With Chivas 18 by Pininfarina

Chivas 18 is one of the smoothest, most delicious blended Scotch whiskies on the market today. Pininfarina is one of the most celebrated and influential Italian design houses in history. Together, they’ve created Chivas 18 by Pininfarina, three of the most amazing Scotch whisky sets you’ll ever lay eyes on. Chivas and Pininfarina celebrated the launch of the sets at the Maserati dealership in lower Manhattan last night, and you can be sure that everything looked, and tasted, amazing.

I dropped by for what I thought would be a quick pop-in, but ended up lingering much longer than I’d planned, since I was having such a nice time sipping that delicious whisky, chatting with designers, and checking out all the beautiful things. It didn’t take long to realize that the two brands are on to something. The quality of Chivas 18 combined with the beauty of Pininfarina design makes a lot of sense, even before you’ve had anything to drink. I’ll explain. 

Chivas 18 by Pininfarina is the creation of Pininfarina chairman Paolo Trevisan and his team of artisans, and it’s much more than a cool box for a nice bottle of whisky: it’s a work of art. The only problem will be bringing yourself to actually open the bottle, but you can always replace it with a new one. As the impossibly stylish Trevisan told me last night, it all started with one drop of the liquid, which became the inspiration for more than two years of ideas, prototypes, and refinement. "Once we came up with the idea of the drop, we all knew we had it," he said. 

Pininfarina Chivas 1

The shape of the drop has been brought to life in three ways. The first, known simply as Limited Edition 1 (above), has a rich, blue, metallic outer case representing Pininfarina’s history of metalwork, and a wood veneer, echoing the oak barrels used to age whisky. Even sitting still, it appears to be in motion. There are 1,500 available in the U.S., at a price of $140. 

Pininfarina Chivas 2

Limited Edition 2 (above) takes those design cues and runs with them, with a solid wood inlay and space for two Pininfarina-designed tumblers that echo the drop design. It looks like it should have an iPod dock and speakers, but if you’ve got one of these, chances are your audio needs are all sorted out. Just 120 are available in the States, and they cost $495 apiece.

The third expression, called Chivas 18 Mascherone by Pininfarina (pictured at top), is the grandest by far. It’s inspired by the mascherone, which is the original wooden frame that was used to refine new automobile shapes, and it’s at once bold and fluid. At 7’4", it’s taller than Shaq, and features an oak internal structure clad in aluminum. It’s lit from below, giving it an ethereal presence that will no doubt stand out in the high-design living rooms and dens it ends up in. They’re made to order for $100,000.

And so we sipped Rob Roys (though I prefer my Chivas 18 neat), ogled the Pininfarina/Chivas sets, and dreamed about what it would be like to drive one of the Maseratis that filled the showrooms. At the prices they command, it’s no question that Chivas 18 by Pininfarina is a luxury product for the discerning few, but it’s an awful nice one, enough to launch dreams of sports cars, yachts, airplanes, and a life of beauty. But even if you don’t get your hands on one, the beautiful life can be found in that one delicious drop.

Check Chivas.com and facebook.com/Chivas for updates on how to order Chivas 18 by Pininfarina. 

[Follow Victor Ozols on Twitter; Drink Dewars 18 at bars like New York’s Brandy Library; Find other great bars in BlackBook’s New York Guide. Read Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna Make Cool Mini-Movie for Chivas Scotch]

What It’s Like To Drink Outrageously Expensive Scotch

I went to a fun event last night, a dinner at Colicchio & Sons in celebration of the release of the Balvenie 50 Year Old single malt Scotch whisky. At the same time, it was a celebration of Balvenie’s malt master David Stewart’s not-coincidental 50 years of working at the company. The guy’s a legend in the whisky world, and a lot of fun to talk to, as I had the pleasure of sitting next to him during our delicious dinner of an octopus appetizer, steak entrée, and some kind of fancy cake and sorbet dessert. As for the whisky, there are only 88 bottles released worldwide, with just 10 in the U.S. They are going for $30,000 each, which means we were not sent home with sample bottles, but that’s okay, because they did pour us a wee dram, and I drank the hell out of it.

So, what’s it like to drink 50-year-old Scotch? Well, my first thought when they set the glass in front of me was don’t be a dumbass and knock the thing over. As Stewart sagely observed, that’s a $1,000 glass of whisky, which means each mouthful was about $250. I was very careful. After Stewart gave a few words about his tenure as malt master and how the whisky was aged (it was put in a European oak sherry hogshead barrel in 1962 and essentially untouched since) we raised our glasses and said sláinte.

It was a special moment, not just because I was sipping outrageously expensive whisky, but because I was sitting next to the guy who made it, devoted his life to it, really. So I wanted to look at it, smell it, taste it, feel it. The color was deep and dark, and seemed to magnify the light, like Latvian amber. The aroma was floral and woody, like happening on a patch of wildflowers on a springtime walk through the forest after a light rain.

Finally I took a sip, closed my eyes, and held it in my mouth for a few seconds. I noticed a surprisingly spicy kick around the edges of my mouth, while flavors of citrus, honey, and oak danced on my tongue. The official tasting notes mention dried fruits, toasted almonds, cinnamon, and toffee, and I guess I agree with that, but it was difficult for me to isolate specific flavors because everything had such a long, harmonious marriage in the cask. Like a couple married for 50 years, there’s still some spice from the occasional argument, but generally there’s nothing but harmony.

Harmony and depth, that is. Depth is an overused word in spirits coverage, but it describes the Balvenie 50 perfectly. There’s so much depth to the flavors. As I held it in my mouth, I felt like I was going deeper and deeper, as if diving into the cask itself, falling, sinking, softly, slowly. It’s a heavenly whisky.

And then somebody spoke, and somebody else, and soon the whole room was yammering on about how good it was. I don’t remember exactly what they said, because I was resentful that their words pulled me out of my temporary whisky trance. I wanted to wanted to shout “Stop talking, I’m having a moment here!” but soon realized that they were as excited as I was about it, and couldn’t help themselves. The only person who remained silent was malt master Stewart himself, perhaps a kindred spirit.

In all likelihood, you’re not going to taste the Balvenie 50 Year Old. There’s so little of it, and it’s so expensive. Sure, you could win big at the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas and celebrate your windfall with a 1.5 ounce pour for $3,400. But what are the odds of that? And I’m not special because I got to taste it, I’m just a guy who works at a magazine who got invited to an event. But it’s nice to know it exists, that there is a pinnacle of whisky in the world. Because that’s what it is: the best.

Fortunately, the other Balvenie expressions are also excellent. There’s the Balvenie DoubleWood 12 Year Old ($50) with a nice warm honey note, and my personal favorite, the Balvenie DoubleWood 17 Year Old ($130), which has black cherry and vanilla flavors and tastes rich.

And keep in mind that price is more of a measure of the scarcity of a whisky than the quality. Yes, the 50 Year Old will blow your mind, but the 17 will too, in its own way. And it’s definitely not $29,870 worse, just $29,870 more affordable. If you’re a member of the 99%, knowing that you’ll still have a shot at sending your kids to college will make it all the sweeter.

Author Irvine Welsh Drinks Scotch and Discusses His New Novel, ‘Skagboys’

When I heard the sound of glass breaking, my first feeling wasn’t shock, or even sadness at the tragic loss of so much great whisky. The words I mouthed to nobody in particular after I watched the bottle of Highland Park 18-year-old Scotch slip from Irvine Welsh’s grasp and crash on the sidewalk were, “At least it wasn’t the 25.” I felt almost no emotion at all. It was as if its fate was written.

Welsh, the Edinburgh-born author whose latest book—Skagboys, a prequel to his classic 1993 novel, Trainspotting—was released today, had just left the office and was headed to a black Town Car waiting for him out front. I loved reading Skagboys as I loved reading Trainspotting nearly two decades earlier. I found both to be amazingly detailed and true-feeling stories of growing up, getting in trouble, looking for kicks, and trying to find some meaning in life, and I was thrilled to talk to Welsh about his work. So I’d arranged to meet with him in BlackBook’s second-floor conference room, which overlooks 19th Street. Since I also write about liquor, I thought it would be fun to combine the interview with a spirits tasting. Highland Park, the northernmost mainland distillery in Scotland, had sent me two bottles to taste, and I couldn’t think of a better drinking partner than Welsh, one of Scotland’s top contemporary writers.  He struck me as a man who would appreciate a wee dram after a day of media engagements. 
 
And so we started with Highland Park 18-year-old ($120). “Highland Park is my favorite,” Welsh told me. It’s one of my favorites too. In fact, the most expensive whisky I’ve ever had was Highland Park 50-year-old. The 18 is smooth, soft, and mildly sweet. After a half-hour, we moved on to the Highland Park 25, of which I only had a small sample bottle, owing to its $400 price tag. We sipped and talked, nothing crazy, nothing sloppy. “Oh I like that one,” he said, gesturing to his empty tumbler on the conference room table. (It’s a remarkable pour, a heavenly aroma followed by luxurious vanilla and caramel flavors and a finish that goes on forever.)
 
At the conclusion of our interview, I gave Welsh the nearly-full bottle of Highland Park 18, which I put back into its box, to take with him, along with a couple of magazines. As I tidied up the conference room, I glanced out the window, curious to see what kind of car he got into. The next 10 seconds seemed to unfold in slow motion. The driver, seeing Welsh and his publicist emerging from the building, got out and walked around the back of the car toward the right rear door, presumably to open it. Welsh arrived slightly before him, magazines and bottle tucked under his left arm. He made a move to open the door, the box tilted slightly downward, the metal lid popped off, the bottle slid out, and the angels claimed more than their share of his whisky. I couldn’t hear what he said, but Welsh’s body language portrayed both disappointment and resignation to this fate. You just can’t un-ring that bell. But here’s how we got there.
 
Hi Irvine. It’s great to meet you. One of the things I do at BlackBook is review spirits, so I thought I could combine this interview with a Scotch tasting. I have this big bottle of Highland Park 18-Year-Old to start with, and a smaller sample bottle of Highland Park 25, which we’ll try next. I know you have to do a reading at Barnes & Noble tonight so we won’t get so crazy that you slur your speech and people don’t understand you.  
Nobody will understand me anyway. When guys say "my wife doesn’t understand me" it’s usually the cliche they break out when they want to have an affair. But I live it. [Welsh’s wife is from Chicago.]
 
I was in on vacation in Edinburgh week before last. 
We were probably there at the same time . . . Oh look at this. Highland Park is my favorite. It’s the northernmost mainland distillery in Scotland.
 
We’ll start with the 18-year-old … When we were in Edinburgh we went to the Scotch Whisky Experience, which was touristy and fun. They explain the different whisky-producing regions of Scotland and how the flavors differ.
Slainte mhath! This is great. It’s incredibly smooth. One of the places to go the next time you’re in Edinburgh, go down to Leith to the Scottish Malt Whiskey Society. They have tastings there and it’s a beautiful little old stone building, right in the old part of Leith. You’ve got big housing projects on one side and the old town’s on the other side, and you’ve got this pretty incongruous old building, with the crusty guys. They do the tour, you can sit there and just taste. And they’ve got a bar there that’s very luxurious.
 
We went to Kitchin restaurant in Leith.
Yeah, it’s good. Tom Kitchin’s place on the shore. That whole strip is amazing. When I was growing up, those bars were all sailors and prostitutes. There’d be fights. One of them had a leopard in a cage, so if people would get drunk and put their arms in they were likely to lose them.  It was a bit like a Star Wars bar. Now that street where Tom Kitchin’s place is has one of the highest number of Michelin-starred restaurants in Europe. And right down to the shore there’s these beautiful old pubs that have been transformed into high-end dining places.
 
So it’s not a run-down Skagboys area anymore?
Well, not that part, which was the original run-down area. That was where all the hardcore junkies used to go. What happened was you had the gentrification and you had all these old mills and factories down there being chopped up and made into apartments, which is fair enough, because there was nothing there. Then the people who moved there would call the police to get rid of the prostitutes and junkies. The police pushed everything up to Junction Street, farther and farther. You have a lot of social tension there now. Now that side is more and more run down. You have mothers pushing their prams and trying to get to the stairs and junkies lying there blocking the way.
 
I enjoyed Skagboys, and now I’m seeing references to it everywhere. On the flight back from Scotland they showed The Iron Lady, that movie about Margaret Thatcher, and there’s a scene with protesting coal miners rioting with police, and the police really smashing people up, just like the opening of Skagboys. There’s history in there.
Think about what happened a couple of days ago. The Hillsborough thing. South Yorkshire police, basically, because they did this job for Thatcher, they got away with it. What happened was that Liverpool played Nottingham Forest [at neutral Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield on April 15, 1989], and there was a crush and 96 people died. Instead of admitting that security was bad and wrong, with the government officials’ help, the police basically smeared the dead. Fabricated evidence. It was one of the biggest coverups in British history, and was finally exposed a couple of days ago. The Prime Minister had to apologize to the families after 23 years. That kind of thing came about because the South Yorkshire police were given license by Thatcher, after they crushed the miners, to do what they wanted. So they vilified that whole city as a place of chaotic, deranged, savage heathens. Now it’s been exposed as a house of cards. So they’ve finally got justice, after all these people have been campaigning for it. One of the prominent people in the campaign is Pete Hooten, who was the lead singer of the band The Farm. Pete’s been one of the lead guys in the Hillsborough Justice Committee for years.
 
I wonder if that conviction would have gone through in America. 
Because America is such a big, diffuse country, it’s different. When cops get away with things here, it’s always kind of a local, municipal corruption thing. It’s not like a massive central government thing. Since Britain is a smaller country you do have that.
 
What was the idea for writing a prequel to Trainspotting?
I had some material. When I wrote Trainspotting I had 100,000 words at the start and 100,000 words at the end that I had just chopped. I didn’t know when to stop. Otherwise it would have kept going on and on and on. I thought, what is the story here? The story is I want to be in their world. So the preamble to getting to their world, and the bit that kept going on and on, I just chopped the middle out and sent the book away, just to get rid of it, basically. I didn’t really expect Trainspotting to be published, I didn’t expect all this to happen from it.
 
What did you do with it?
I had these two sections, one at the end and one at the start.  The section at the end was no problem. I just cannibalized some of the stories and put it into some short stories. The first 100,000 words I didn’t know what to do with, so I basically forgot about it and left it. Then I started getting older and thinking about what it was like, looking back, and it was all kind of abstract. I bought a proper house in Chicago, and I started to unpack things that had been in boxes for ages. I had all these disks that I got reformatted in Word and all that and I found all this stuff. I thought, “This is actually really good.” I thought it was just going to be a preamble to get into all the characters. But it had all the voices.
 
But I thought it can’t be like a what’s-going-to-happen type book, because you know what’s going to happen. You’ve read Trainspotting, presumably, you know what’s going to happen. The way to do this is to make this into a why-did-it-happen rather than a what-happened kind of book. So the thematic investigation of the book is to look into how people got into that kind of thing. You’ve got to break into their subculture and look at the world through their eyes. You can’t look at them through the world’s eyes. You’re looking at society and all the big changes that were happening [in early ‘80s Britain] there in terms of mass unemployment and boredom and not having money, and all the drugs flowing in at exactly that time, filling that kind of void, giving people something to do, basically, to get involved in.
 
Looking at the psychology of the individuals, looking at how somebody like Spud, for example, he’s got nothing to do. He’s got no qualifications or education. There’s no work that he can get, so he basically feels redundant in every way once he gets sacked from his job. So for him it’s just this idea of compelling adventure. Being part of a gang and part of a drug scene and having something to think about and orientate himself around. Which is an archetypal kind of thing, kind of a victim-of-society. Things change and you don’t have the skill set to adapt.
 
And with the Allison character, it’s about somebody reacting to bereavement. Being forced, because she’s basically now the woman of the house, she’s almost expected to kind of become the mother to her younger siblings, but she’s a party girl about town, she’s just not cut out for it. So that kind of pressure on her takes its toll and leads her somewhere else. And Renton and Sick Boy, to me, it’s not just this rebel persona, they’ve both got the existential anger and the rage about the world because it’s not like they want it to be. But also that folie à deux thing, the symbiotic relationship between them is very important. Probably neither of them would have been a heroin addict if they haven’t met each other. It’s almost that partner-in-crime thing. 
 
Every group of guys I know has a Francis Begbie, somebody who’s going to get you in trouble.
Yeah, it’s kind of that contained explosion. With people like him you’ve got to have the mindset that, I can’t be tentative, I’ve got to be gracious, if I’m tentative it will make him worse. To survive I’ve got to roll with this. 
 
Even though Begbie’s a drinker, he doesn’t reject his friends for being junkies. And I like the idea in the book that heroin doesn’t like alcohol. Heroin wants to be the only drug in your life. 
That’s the kind of resentment that Begbie has against the other guys. They get involved in this party that he can’t join. 
 
He chooses not to.
He wants to hit people, he doesn’t want to be stuck staring at walls. He wants to be out there and punching people and alcohol is a great drug to go with for that. Later on in things I’ve written about him, I’ve had him get heavily into cocaine, because that’s the drinking aid with alcohol that enables that kind of violence and arrogance. But he wouldn’t touch heroin for all sorts of reasons. He wouldn’t touch ecstacy. 
 
And Mark Renton’s disabled younger brother Wee Davie, Mark doesn’t outwardly feel bad for him but you know something is happening inside. 
He’s obviously upset and moved by him in ways he doesn’t understand. Until he starts to work through it and rationalize it it’s going to affect him. And then there’s Sick Boy, who’s all about hating his father and how he’s never going to be like him, yet they’re two peas in a pod. Sick Boy’s really a composite of three different people I knew back in Edinburgh. I remember, this girl one time was saying “I’ve got this friend, you’d really like her, you should go out sometime, she’s cool, she’s good-looking.” And my friend says “Does she have a decent job?” “Yes, she does.” “Does she have a lot of friends?” “Yes, she comes from a decent family.” “Then I’m not interested. Her self-esteem is too high. Give me something to work with. Give me a divorce, a history of some kind.” 
 
How much of your work is autobiographical? Were you ever on heroin? 
Yeah, yeah. It’s kind of strange. It’s hard to objectify your own experiences and put in any kind of framework. A lot of my old pals might say to me “You were a junkie for all of ten minutes, what the fuck are you doing writing that book?” And others might say “You were terrible, how did you ever get it together to write a book?” But I used heroin for a couple of years. There was really about a year I was very desperate. But I never felt like it was a permanent place for me to be. I wasn’t always in control, but I felt like I was learning things while I was doing it. When I felt like I wasn’t learning anything else I started to lose interest. Anybody can become a drug addict. Anybody can fall into that. I did because I thought it was cool, and I had a bereavement in the family that I had to come to terms with, a relationship breakdown with a first love that I had to come to terms with. But you have to have compelling reasons to stay. And these things are transient, you do get over them, and once I got over it there was nothing else fueling it. Nothing keeping it there. A lot of people from that era, they didn’t move on because there was nothing for them to move on to. It’s such a complicated thing. That’s what I was trying to get at through the characters was the complexity of it all. Not those simplistic nonsense like, “Oh, it’s because of Thatcher,” and like that. And it’s such a drug of association. You meet certain people at certain points of your life. If I had met another crowd of people I would have reacted much differently. 
 
For Mark Renton it’s almost a lifestyle choice.
Young people do strange things, and the older you get the more you forget that you were young yourself and did these strange things. You look at kids being willfully crazy and you ask “Why are you doing this?” but there’s a level of existential education going on, this just has to happen to me to make sense of what’s going on. Not even on an intellectual level but on an emotional level. 
 
The rehab part seems very real, especially the Big Lie. You don’t want to get off heroin completely, you just want to manage your habit. 
When you go to rehab, when you start off, not everybody wakes up with an epiphany like I’ve got to stop this, I’m never going to touch drugs again. Most people realize that their habit’s got their hand and what they want to do is detox. They just want a clean slate to start again, but feel rounded off so they can control it. Which is erroneous, but it’s quite natural that you would feel that way. If you’ve messed up something you think, I’m not going to make the same mistake again. I know my way around it this time. I still enjoy doing what I’m doing.
 
Maybe that is possible in places like Switzerland, where you can get your drugs in a clinic. 
In places like that, and, if you’re very wealthy in the U.K., you’d almost be silly not to become a heroin addict for at least six months. Why would you not want to do that? If you’re not getting attention from your family, you’re pressured into making all these career choices, just take a hiatus, go for six months, you’ll get looked after, you’re going to get clean needles, nothing’s going to happen to your body, it’ll be the best gear. You’ll have a wonderful time. And you’ll get the best attention in detox, and come out, and back to work after your little hiatus. 
 
And the strange things that men do together. The workers in the beginning, having their shitting contest? 
It’s the dullness of factory work. There’s no real barriers, it’s almost a race to the bottom. If the foreman’s a sleazebag in the factory, everybody’s a sleazebag in the factory. That was based on a factory I worked in where that was a morning ritual. Everybody had to shit into a newspaper. 
 
How long did this take to write? It’s more than 500 pages.
Because I had the 100,000 words first, I had to reread Trainspotting to get the film characters out of my head and put the book characters back in. Then I had to go through this again and work out how much of those 100,000 words I was going to use and how much I was going to jettison. It was a couple of years altogether. 
 
Did you actually want to do something on an epic scale? 
My original idea was to start off on a traditional model, like a Victorian novel, like a Dickens novel, or like John Irving would do nowadays. Write a lot of characters in and a lot of stories and think about how it’s going to be pulled together. Then, the second part, when they start to get into heroin, it becomes an episodic, chaotic kind of thing. Then give them a mission, like Trainspotting in the end, to pull it together. And I thought it has to have a bigger thematic feel. It has to be about a generation lost to industrialization. It starts off with a factory, trying to break into a factory, and the factory becomes a symbol as they try to stop the lorries from getting in. And at the end, it’s them trying to break into the heroin manufacturing plant. In the beginning they’re fighting for the right to work, fighting for employment and union solidarity. In the end they’re fighting for drugs.
 
And I was trying to keep Edinburgh the city as a character too. Edinburgh was the AIDS capital of Europe, and heroin could really happen there. These little vignettes throughout the book about the Scottish enlightenment, and the manufacture of the syringe and medical technology in Edinburgh and pharmaceutical manufacturing in Edinburgh. It was inevitable that the other side would happen too. 
 
It’s always about men adrift. The women in the story have a little more perspective on life. 
Because Scotland was like shipbuilding and mines and railways and stuff, it was always working class and tough guys who worked hard and got fucked up when they came home, and on weekends. It was all seen as a legitimate thing. You’ve earned it because you’ve done your work. But when there’s no more work to do, when the work culture left, the getting-fucked-up culture stayed. Women never had that thing to the same extent. But the next generation has seen a massive increase in the number of women addicts. Now you’ve got this big moral panic in Scotland about girl gangs, girls drinking much more heavily, doing more drugs. 
 
Are people really pushing it that much harder, looking for the edge? 
Until there’s opportunities for people to express themselves in different ways and do different things, people are always going to be questing until they find something that’s for them. In the west, there’s not enough work and not enough opportunity to go around. Nowadays, for people here in America, if they’re working, they’re pretty much fucked time-wise. You have to work loads and loads of hours. And other people haven’t got any work at all.