I grew up in Ohio, just south of the snow belt. My favorite home was a wood frame on a street without sidewalks. Drafts made their way in, and the single pane window near my bed got frost on the inside, which I like to scritch-scratch with my thumbnails. Sometimes we wore stocking caps to bed.
Which is to say that cold does not much bother me. Or, at least it didn’t when I was young. I went coatless and wore t-shirts no matter how low the Mercury went. As I have aged, I am a little less hot blooded. A little.
Chilly weather changes my appetite for drink. I’ll drink a cold lager in January, but my thirst for dark spirits is strong. The more powerful, the better. Harsh cold merits an intense spirit.
Scotch frequently fits the bill. I enjoy malts from the Lowlands to the Highlands, but my favorite whiskies tend to be the spirits made in the most weather-exposed parts of Scotland. Here are a handful of reasonable priced hearty Scotches I like, from mildest to the most beastly. All of them should be enjoyed neat, but add drops of water if you want to cut the intensity and open their flavors.
Old Pulteney 12-year: This is the gentlest of the lot. It is made in Wick at the northernmost distillery in Scotland. It is 86 proof and shows cream, citrus, and a bit of barrel. Very pleasant. ($35-$40)
Caol Ila 12-year: A beautiful single malt from Islay, an island I got to know many years ago. It has more sheep than people. Caol Ila (86 proof) is distilled on the shore in Port Askaig, with views of Jura across the water. It presents citrus notes upfront and follows with nut tastes. ($55)
The Peat Monster: Compass Box Whisky Company produces this hefty blend (92 proof). It is a combination of whiskies from Port Askaig, Isle of Mull, and Speyside. It oozes smoke and peat, but goes down softly on the swallow with a faint fruity aroma. Full-flavoured, but it is not a palate-buster. ($55)
Ardbeg 10-year: Watch out, this is a big Islay whisky. It is 92 proof and tastes salty and floods the sinuses with menthol and pepper and a little smoke. ($45)
Laphroaig 10-year: Dear lord, what a brute of a drink. This single malt is a modest 80 proof, yet this iconic Islay whisky floods the mouth and head with iodine and peat. Those new to it declare it medicinal. Perhaps, so. Laphroaig never fails to lift my soul and warm my body. ($45)
Kevin R. Kosar is vice president of policy at the R Street Institute and heads its alcohol policy reform program. He is the author of Moonshine: A Global History (2017) and Whiskey: A Global History (2010) and has blogged at AlcoholReviews.com since 1998.
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