A dram of Edradour Whisky on a table changes everything. No longer a horizontal surface where family gathers, which creates the family, no longer a resting place for animals and produce turned into meals, which creates the animals and vegetables, now table and room become taste and memory, where fellow travelers begin their journey and a place faraway draws near. I’m in Holly Springs, North Carolina opening a bottle of Edradour Single Malt Scotch Whisky Natural Cask Strength, which has travelled all the way from Edradour Distillery in Perthshire, Scotland. My brother-in-law and two nephews gather round as time slows and we note a dark copper color, thick rivers of scotch running down the sides of the nosing glass, a creamy feel in our mouths. We use a different language than we normally share–we talk of peat, water, minerals, fruitcake and Christmas. We transform because a dram of whisky waits on a table, and I speak of a burn.
Edradour Burn rises through a heather moorland. The burn flows southwest for four miles passing through the Edradour Distillery and falling over Black Spout waterfall in Black Spout Wood to join rivers rushing into the North Sea. Nature becomes because spring water and malted barley mix in a cast iron mash tun, creating a wort which is then run through cold water, the cooled wort moves into an Oregon Pine wash back where yeast is added and four days later water has become beer. The flow of the burn continues.
It’s pure alchemy in the copper pot stills. The alcohol now called wash heats to one hundred and seventy degrees Fahrenheit which vaporizes and travels up the still neck into a condenser immersed in cold water. Another transformati0n has taken place, and now the wash becomes low wine and goes through another still.
The Low Wine still or Spirit still refines and removes impurities, while also raising the alcohol content to about 70%. Now we have a New Make Spirit which on the way to the vat and oak barrels, runs through a spirit safe which allows a distiller to carefully control the exact quality of this breath of air, earth, fire and water.
And then the precious ghost fills three types of wood–ex-bourbon barrels, sherry and wine casks. Scotch gains most of its flavor from oak which is a strong wood suited to shaping into casks and does not contain resin as pine and rubber trees which could pass onto the whisky. The charring involved in White Oak bourbon barrels adds another flavor profile. Spanish Oak casks will contain traces of the sherry once stored in them, and Sessile Oak in its first incarnation houses wine. To drink a Scotch Whisky is to travel to a cooperage in Kentucky, to walk the Forest of Tronçais in France, to put a hand on the dark barrels of Oloroso sherry aging in warehouses at Jerez de la Frontera, Andalusia.
Standing in the Edradour Warehouses, I could smell the “angels’ share,” which is the amount of whisky evaporating during a long maturation. All the aromas of a single malt filled the air, as though I had walked into a fog on the moors rich in heather, honey, vanilla, peat, sherry, bourbon, marzipan, almonds, and every holiday known to humankind. For barrels aging twenty-five years or more, the evaporation could be as much as 25% of a cask quaffed by drunk angels falling off clouds. Yet, let’s return now to the table in Holly Springs, where Terry, Wes, Auggie and I sample the Edradour natural Cask Strength, by the way “cask strength” means no water has been added which is usually done to bring the alcohol content down and smooth out the whisky a bit. Not so here, from cask to glass. Distilled in March 2000 and bottled in November 2014, this Edradour rocks in at 56.3% ABV. We nose, taste, swirl, swallow and begin to talk of citrus, caramel, toffee, figs, dried apricots, sherry flavors. Rum on the nose. Melted rum butter on the tongue. Apples covered with caramel on the finish. In other words, a Bergman Christmas from Fanny and Alexander. Slàinte!