On the Menu

Matt Russell

hope that my beloved bourbon is not getting a complex, but this time of year it’s the scotch that seems to be more frequently earning my favor.

Perhaps it’s the comforting smokiness of the peat that goes so well with a comfortable pair of slippers and a roaring fire. Maybe it’s the vision of that age-old distilling process, where the malted barley is heated shortly after it starts to germinate.

Call it what you will, but the single malt is a seasonal expression for me, and this is the season when it sings.

But with several thousand brands sold all over the world, how is one to know one scotch from the other?

Rather than book a trip to Edinburgh for answers, I simply scheduled an appointment with Aaron DeFeo, resort mixologist at the Casino del Sol Resort, who has curated an impressive 120-selection scotch menu at the resort’s PY Steakhouse, 5655 W. Valencia Road.

DeFeo says that differences among scotches are as stark as the regions in Scotland where they’re produced, and he took me on a tasting tour to better understand their unique characteristics.

Our journey started in the Lowlands, the southern region of Scotland, with a selection called Auchentoshan, a classic representative of the region’s relatively lighter malts.

“What’s really interesting about this whisky is that they triple distill it, which produces a delicate malt,” he said. “Lowlands tend to be more floral and light, and they make really great mixing scotches; they do a lot with this scotch in the cocktail community, across the nation and across the world.”

We then hopped over to the Speyside region in northeast Scotland, which DeFeo tells me is the predominant scotch producing region, with the Glenfiddich 12 Year getting his nod for the tasting.

“The Glenfiddich really exemplifies some of the cool fruit flavors that you get out of the Speyside malts,” he said. “This one has an unmistakable note of green apple, and the use of sherry in the aging process adds a little bit of nuttiness to it as well.”

We headed next to the north part of the mainland, the Highlands region, which is known for producing malts that are fuller in body. DeFeo chose the Glenmorangie 18 Year to represent the Highlands in our tasting.

“This one is going to give you some good body, and it’s in the Highlands that you get a lot of those really rich flavors,” said DeFeo. “This is chewy, and after 18 years you almost get some of that rancio character that you get with a Cognac.”

We wrapped up our tour on the southernmost island in Scotland’s Inner Hebrides, the Islay region, where the peat reportedly reigns. DeFeo chose the Coal Ila as the region’s representative on our tour.

“This is the bomb, where you get those intensified flavors and heavy peat smoke,” he said. “One of the things that I just love about scotches of this region is that you can almost smell and taste the sea air, like you’re standing on a cliff and feeling that sea spray.”

The PY Steakhouse offers a variety of scotch flights, paired together by region and flavor, to give you the opportunity to take a tasting tour of Scotland for yourself. With four of these beauties now under my belt, I only have 116 more to go.

Yes, the fall and winter months are my season for scotch. But don’t worry, dear bourbon, I’ll see you again in the spring.

(Editor’s Note: Contact Matt Russell, whose day job is CEO of Russell Public Communications, at mrussell@russellpublic.com. Russell is also the host of “On the Menu Live” that airs 4-5 p.m. Saturdays on KNST 790-AM, as well as the host of the Friday Weekend Watch segment on the “Buckmaster Show” on KVOI 1030-AM.)

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