Good Beer Hunting

Whisky without the "e" — And other key learnings about Scotch at GBH Studio

Georgina from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society embarked on her second national tour of the US recently, and although I wasn't quite ready to open the doors of the GBH Studio, I wasn't going to miss a chance to host her and her wonderful Scotches again. Last time we paired some of her heftier, smokier scotches alongside beers from Solemn Oath Brewery and selections from the Vandberg & deWulf portfolio, including their new Lava smoked imperial stout. Catch up on that night here >>




But this visit included some really interesting, and unusual scotches, some fruity, some funky, so to keep it light and brunchy, we decided to do a midday scotch and dessert pairing on a Sunday. And that's here the ladies of Offbeat & Inspired came in. Tiffany Mitchell is from Lexington, Kentucky, where she produces beautiful baking, soap-making, and foodie content alongside her collaborator Sarah Hauser. Tiffany's photography is stunning (some are seen here!), and it's been at the top of my blog feed for some time now. We got tasting notes from Georgina about the four unique, single malt, single barrel scotches we'd be getting, and Tiffany went to work pairing recipes to fit. Every one of them landed. 


The SMWS has a peculiar perspective on Scotch. Over hundreds of years of scotch-making, the drinking public has become brand loyal to just a few famous houses, making it nearly impossible for new brands and distilleries to gain audiences or push the craft in interesting directions. Rather than try and promote these smaller companies outright, the SMWS goes after the drinker herself, educating her on flavors and smells, and tries to inspire exploration in scotch instead of loyalty. Sound familiar? It's what we've done in craft beer over the past ten years!

The SMWS sources single barrels from all around Scotland, large and small houses alike, and offers them as coded bottles for as long as they last (not long). Because these are unblended, they're quite strong, up to 65% alcohol or more, and the flavors tend to be more pointed and interesting. You learn through tasting. And no, you never find out who made it, that's the big idea. You let your senses be your guide. 

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First we tasted bottle 77.28 known as Tropical Nights — a juicy, punchy, 25-year-old scotch aged in a new charred oak barrel, with a citra-hop-like quality and a light-colored, golden body. Mango, papaya, pineapple — it was an incredible bouquet and the flavor backed it up, dissipating to a rounded cardamom note and a waxy finish. The Offbeat gals paired a chocolate cupcake with lemon curd and cardamom buttercream that burst with a great, cleansing tartness. 

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Second was bottle G5.7 All Day Breakfast — a deep tangerine and toffee flavor, also balanced by some cardamom and fennel-like qualities. The finish of caraway bread evoked a dry toast and maple syrup moment, with just a hint of jalapeño. The former bourbon barrel it was aged in provided some light vanilla and char tot his 19-year-old scotch as well. Offbeat's candied orange and maple madeleine pairing made this one sing. 

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Third was 66.44 New Balls Please — perhaps the most unique scotch of the day. Evoking the scent of a new sleeve of tennis balls, the musty, funky, and gamey quality of this scotch won over some surprised tasters. With a drop of water, this scotch opened up with bready notes, olives and herbs, with just a bit of the sweet sherry barrel flavors coming through. Paired with dark chocolate, maple bacon and sea salt, the meaty flavors of this pairing really came through into an experience of its own.  

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And finally, bottle 29.139 Why Do Fools Fall in Love? — a smoky one, with notes of coal, tar, and bonfire cinders, this scotch is a sobering finish to the day. A drop of water brings out the honey side, but will a sustaining medicinal quality. Apple toffee blondies offered some sweet to these flavors, creating a nice contrast between the smoky fire and sweet butter crust.

What a lovely way to kill a Sunday afternoon. 

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Thanks again to Georgina of the SMWS and Offbeat & Inspired for giving me reason enough to kick open the doors of the new GBH Studio. I'm excited to announce some upcoming events and tastings soon. Special shoutouts to my wife, Hillary Schuster for her hand lettering of the menu and help in planning, and to Andrew R. Wright, who's "Perfect Pint" prints lined the walls of the event (and are for sale in the shop as always!). I might never take them down. 

Michael Kiser