Let’s take a ride. Holy fuck. Etymology. Cool shit. Knowing the origin of a vocabulary is to know the history of humanity. The amount of influence one country has on another can be measured in words.
For a moment, let’s talk about the word strath. The word is an anglicised version of the gaelic srath, both are the name for a valley, generally involved with a river, and a valley that is generally wide and shallow.
This is opposed to a glen, also a gaelic word, which describes a much narrower and deeper geographic formation.
So, if I were on the River Spey and I came upon a valley that was wide and shallow, I would likely call it 'Strathspey'.
This is the point in which we can start delving in the nuances of language and dig into it's controversies.
You’re reading this. I’m writing in English, or perhaps you might call it American English, since I use a few less U’s in my favorite colors. Regardless, the way that I have to describe what a strath or a glen is, is in reference to another word you perhaps know better, valley. What is a valley? Most english dictionaries would define it as a low area of land between hills or mountains, typically with a river or stream flowing through it………
That’s just the same fucking definition of the other two, but we didn’t use the word valley to describe it.
This long clumsy explanation was my way of illustrating an example of anglicisation, or, the process of converting things to more “English” norms.
The reason I’m using gaelic words in this example, is because I get the impression that if anyone fucking loathes anglicisation more than anyone else on the planet, it’s the goddamn Scots.
I don’t know exactly what the English did to the Scots over the centuries, but I will go ahead and assume that it wasn’t good.
I’m also driving at another point. The word side is an English word, it derives from many old english and germanic influences, but the word generally was meant to describe flanks of a person, the long part or aspect of anything. Thus to say countryside, is to say that the land is a "tract of land having a natural unity".
- Speyside. This is an English word.
- Strathspey. This is a gaelic word.
This week, we’re drinking Scotch. Scotch from Strathspey.
Speyside and Strathspey do not describe the same place exactly. Speyside describes all the land around the River Spey. Strathspey is a specific section of the river (Go figure, it’s the part near this 'strath' thing) which is from the source of the river (in the south) and extending north to about Granton-on-Spey, which is some place that Scottish people know about maybe?
We’ve talked briefly about Speyside Scotches last season. They are one of the 5 distinct whisky regions in Scotland. Once simply a part of the Highlands Region, Speyside now is home to more than half of all distilleries in Scotland, thus has it’s own regional distinction. If you’re an American reading this, think of Speyside like Kentucky is to Bourbon. You can make bourbon anywhere in the U.S. but most people make it in Kentucky.
If I were to describe any region as a good one to introduce you to Scotch, it would be Speyside. Speyside whiskies are typically sweeter than other regions and have a much more subtle smoke contribution. If you’re used to irish whisky, or bourbon for that matter, Speyside Scotches will be the easiest stepping stone into the land of peat.
That is the general overview of Speyside, but like I said, we’re drinking from Strathspey. Even more specific. We’re drinking Glenfiddich. (The name meaning in the Glen of the River Fiddich, which is a tributary of the River Spey.)
Archer does not exactly drink Glenfiddich. He drinks a fictional brand, Glengoolie. BUT, if you look closely on the bottle of Glengoolie, you’ll notice that the labels are strikingly similar.
Strikingly, is putting it lightly.
One important feature of both brands, is that they are Single Malt Scotch. As we discussed previously, this means that they are made from a single batch of whisky, made with 100% barley, and no other grains. Several barrels from the batch may or may not get mixed together when bottling time comes, but generally speaking, single malts offer a very pure taste of the region, and distillery that the whisky comes from.
If you don’t have any Glenfiddich, some other great Strathspey whiskies are Balvenie, The Glenlivet, or Glen Grant.
NOTES ON HOW TO “BEST” DRINK SCOTCH
Disclaimer: To the best of my knowledge, I’m not Scottish. Even if I did have some Scotch blood in me, it surely wouldn’t come with instructions on how to PROPERLY drink Scotch like a Scot. The most it would do is instruct me to drink it, which is does, but that’s beside the point. All I’m saying is that if you’re from Scotland, and I get this wrong, please correct me.
- If you were to order the drink in Scotland, you’d start by ordering a double. A normal pour is called a dram, and is equal to about 2.5 grams. You want more than that. You want at least a double dram.
- If you like drinking it neat, that’s fine, no one is going to hate you, but if your aim is to appreciate the flavors of the scotch, then you don’t want to drink it totally neat, and you also don’t want to put it on ice. On one end you have too strong of a burn which doesn’t allow you to get to the subtleties. On the other end, you get the whisky too cold, and your tongue will again find it hard to taste with any distinction.
- What you really want to do is mix it with a little bit of water. The water opens up the flavors, without freezing the nuances. Never drink scotch without water. Never drink water without scotch.
Bourbon on the rocks.
Cuban sandwiches. Maybe even a cuban cigar, or any cigar, but probably a cuban.