Because from among Mr. Henry’s myriad talents a grasp of computer application software is conspicuously absent, he only just now received the many kind messages sent by his reading public. One of the first e-mails came from a Japanese site called Sweets which judging by its pink background looks as though it may be devoted to matching up lonely Japanese girls with suitable salary-men. Since it is written in Japanese, however, its nuances have escaped even Mr. Henry’s subtle capacities for apprehension.
The e-mail below suggests that in a single week Mr. Henry has already become a voice of authority and experience, a veritable Rip Van Winkle of the information highway. Consequently he feels not merely a desire to help, therefore, but a positive obligation.
Let me first take a moment to cheer your new food blog under the auspices of the ever-benevolent Manolo. I come to you with a question that given your love of Scotch, should be easy to answer. My father’s birthday is next month, and he is a Scotch drinker. Since (unlike with wine) I do not like Scotch, I am forced to rely on the advice of others in procuring new and different Scotches as gifts for him. If you would let me know what you think are some good choices for his birthday. I’ve previously gotten him a Bowmore Port Casked scotch and Talisker. I’m intrigued by your mention of Oban.
Looking forward to your response,
With such a lilting Celtic name you must surely take the choice of Scotch with seriousness of purpose. Mr. Henry, therefore, will do no less.
Oban is indeed the right choice, or at least cannot be the wrong choice, but it is a choice ripely made only after a sail round all the others.
For Mr. Henry to assess this request he needs to conjure a profile of your Dad’s regular habits. Does he take his Scotch as an aperitif for its restorative qualities to both energy and appetite? Or does he retire for a post-prandial glass with feet up surrounded by his all-adoring family (or at least one daughter who does not disapprove of his drinking)? Does he excuse himself to the smoking room at the back of the house (or completely outside the house)? Or is he a reformed smoker who longs for a smokiness in the glass that recalls those freer days? Does he drink it neat, with a splash, or on the rocks?
To Mr. Henry’s ever-evolving palette, the salient question here is the choice of before-dinner or after-dinner. The Macallan, an excellent Speyside that became enormously popular in the 1980’s, is in his opinion exclusively an after-dinner drink. The lingering oak, honey, and brandy aromas imparted by long aging in sherry casks render The Macallan an ideal substitute for cognac, indeed an improvement on it or on any other after-dinner drink, but the same notes of sweetness feel more like an end to the evening repast than like a beginning.
Your previous two choices were quite different in character: Bowmore is an Islay — the region known for smoky, peaty, altogether salty tastes. Lagavulin is the fiercest of these; it hits you like a North Sea wave over the foredeck. Laphroaig is a paler and smoother distillation but with equal smoke and peat. If your Dad liked Bowmore, Mr. Henry suggests Caol Ila which, like Bowmore, is a milder Islay but one with slightly fewer floral qualities. But Caol Ila is hard to find in stores.
Talisker is an Island malt, and yet in color, tone and balance it closely resembles Oban, a Highland malt. Mr. Henry prefers Talisker to the other Island stills. It is equally satisfying before or after dinner. Curiously enough Mr. Henry discovered Talisker in (of all places) Paris where he got stuck staying in (of all places) a British hotel in the 16th arrondisement, the very last available hotel room in the whole Frog City. Forced by the upstairs presence of small, sleeping Henry offspring to stick close to the hotel at night, with a jaundiced eye he accepted the advice of a too, too young French sommelier who suggested Talisker from among a list of some 50 Scotches.
Through the advice of a wizened old downtown reprobate, a lowly writer by trade, some years later he sampled Oban and found his new Big Love, his first wife, his default choice for any occasion.
Similar in character to Talisker, Oban balances its amber, raisiny nose with hints of “sea breezes” that recall the salty Islay brands. Thus, if your father liked both Bowmore and Talisker, try a bottle of Oban because it combines the best elements of both.
In the ideal Henry liquor cabinet, a bottle of each would stand side by side. This is Mr. Henry’s vision of Big Love – a plural marriage characterized by sharing and harmony. However, Mrs. Henry does not seek such domestic arrangements. Moreover, lately Mrs. Henry has been watching the grocery money more carefully than usual and thus no $50 bottles of Scotch have gained recent admittance to the secret recesses of Mr. Henry’s cabinet.
Sea breezes remain in the air, not in the glass. Instead of sipping, Mr. Henry writes.