So there we were packed into the back storeroom of the Costco liquor store on Richmond, drinking high level Scotch that ranged in price from $130 to $1,400 a bottle, coming in some cases from distilleries in Scotland that aren't even in existence any more.
Who says life in Houston isn't surreal sometimes?
The proceedings were presided over by Glenfiddich Brand Ambassador Mitch Bechard, an amiable and knowledgeable host who took us through the differences among the single grain, single malt and single barrel offerings.
The rare Scotch tasting was offered to the media and very lucky Costco customers apparently chosen randomly from a Costco sign-up sheet. The scotches were poured in two flights of three samples each. With one exception every participant was male (which may or may not say something about Scotch drinkers or who is more likely to go into liquor stores on a regular basis.)
Cheese and crackers were provided as well as bottles of water for the usual palate cleansing. What was a bit unusual was that instead of going from least to most expensive, Bechard skipped around the menu.
First up was the Girvan Patent Still Single Grain 25 year. ($270). This was the lightest one tried using wheat instead of barley, with flavors of creme brule, toffee apple, nutmeg and citrus.
Then we went to the Balvenie Single Barrel 25 year ($400), which was sweeter and uses barley. Two people at our table thought this was the best of the lot, better than even some higher-priced ones.
Third up was the Ghosted Reserve 26 year ($350). This is a blended malt Scotch from two different distilleries. It was definitely creamier than the other Scotches, so if that's what you like, this is the one for you.
Any remaining Scotch samples were dumped and glasses rinsed with water for the second round which began with the Balvenie PortWood 21 year ($160). This Scotch has a faint pink tint to it, after having spent some time in sherry casks, Bechard said.
The Glenfiddich Single Malt 21 year ($130) was next and so impressed one tablemate that he bought one after the tasting. Finished off in rum casks, this Scotch is peppery with flavors of smoke, oak, lime, ginger and spices.
The crescendo ending was the Ladyburn Single Malt 42 year ($1,400) which seemed to several participants to represent the taste of more traditional Scotch, which perhaps might not appeal to everyone. Although the bragging rights to have a bottle of that in your bar or home would be considerable.
All in all, it was a mellow, educational experience and everyone from Glenfiddich and Costco were friendly and efficient. The gifting of any of these bottles of Scotch would make someone pretty happy over the holidays.
Special tips from Bechard:
Do you know why some bottles are triangular? So they won't roll out from under your bed.
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Scottish distillers had to redo their filtration processes when Scotch first came to the United States. Adding an ice cube to the glass would make the Scotch turn cloudy and people wouldn't drink it, sure that something was wrong with it. Distillers had to come up with something that would counter that reaction.
If you're going to pay $400 for a bottle of Scotch, please don't use it to make highballs.