There's a wonderfully acerbic scene in Roman Polanski's claustrophobic new movie, The Ghost Writer, in which Ewan McGregor, dining alone with the prime minister's wife, discards his glass of white wine for a tumbler of Scotch. 'White wine -- I've never seen the point of it,' he says. It's meant to signal his gaucheness, but it also feels utterly cool and enticing. You leave the movie wanting to follow suit. Drinking whisky with dinner is not always a winning combo -- the big populist malts are too noisy for anything remotely subtle -- but subbed in as an aperitif, the right Scotch can be a revelation.
At Dry Dock, a small, beautifully edited wine and liquor store in Red Hook, Brooklyn, Ron Kyle and his spirits guru Elana Effrat have sourced several fine and largely overlooked Scotch whiskies that get the alchemy just right. Try the Black Bottle, a genial blend of seven Islay malt whiskies, or Old Pulteney, a briny, supple single-malt distilled in the far north of Scotland and pressed into service among cocktail bars in Edinburgh and Glasgow, where it works its charms on a younger crowd. A drop of water brings out creamy, vanilla tones that justify Kyle's description of Old Pulteney as a 'gateway' Scotch. Both are perfect on their own, but mixing either with ginger ale (in a 1:3 ratio with plenty of ice) turns it into a summer cooler that's a mean alternative to a Pimm's Cup. In a similar vein, Asyla, a small-batch blended whisky from Compass Box, is light and feathery on the throat, wonderfully balanced as an aperitif. You won't find these whiskies everywhere, but mainstream players like the Famous Grouse or Glenfiddich work just as well. Grouse has been touting its own summer cocktail, mixing a shot of whisky, sparkling apple juice, and a heavy squeeze of lime in a highball filled with ice. Sacrilege yes, but rules are made to be broken.
Whisky Business: Four of Our Favorites
1. Old Pulteney
Fresh and briny, with a faint hint of smoke and orange, this lovely retiring gem from the northern tip of mainland Scotland is an all-rounder, as good before dinner as after, and the best value of the lot.
2. Highland Park 15-year-old
A grand mouthful of toffee and honey, with a lovely hit of smoke at the back. Try it in place of rum in a Dark 'n' Stormy or neat, with a drop of water to bring out its full glory.
3. Glenfiddich 15-year-old
Fruitier than the Old Pulteney, with notes of cinnamon, crowd-pleasing Glenfiddich always behaves well.
4. Asyla by Compass Box
Compass Box does interesting things, not all of them popular with Scotch purists (one of their whiskies is called Hedonism), but this light blended Scotch is the jewel of the pack. Great as an aperitif.