Stripes Spotlight: Marine indulges taste bud with fine spirits
November 1, 2004
STUTTGART, Germany — The Highland Park 18-year-old had earned the highest rating from one expert, the book said.
So Lt. Col. Aaron Potter, connoisseur of single malt Scotch whisky, had to test it for himself. He poured a little into a glass, added a few drops of water, raised the glass to his nose and sniffed deeply.
At $90 per bottle, it was a big moment. Potter took a sip and let the liquid wash over his tongue and gums before it slid down his throat like drops of silk. He weighed the different sensations from nose to finish and furrowed his brow.
“Maybe … lemon,” said the Marine, finally. “That’s the weirdest finish. It sort of hits in a different place.”
Potter — who assumes his new rank Monday — is not a rumpled barfly or highbrowed socialite. He’s just a guy who took his first sip of single malt Scotch whisky a little more than a year ago and was captivated by the distinctiveness of its smell and taste.
“It was weird,” Potter said of his first taste. “I always thought Scotch was for old guys and drunkards. But I thought, ‘That’s good. What kind is that?’
“I was curious enough, so I started to research single malts to find out why they taste better than anything else. The more I read, the more fascinated I was.”
Exploring the virtues of single malts — the nose, the taste, the “balance” between nose and taste and the aftertaste or “finish” — is now Potter’s hobby.
He has quite a collection of bottles. Some are aged for 10 years, some for 12 years, some for longer. They cost between $30 and $100 per bottle, but older doesn’t necessarily mean better, Potter said. Neither does the price.
After his first sip and 10 minutes or so of reflective thought, the jury was still out on the 18-year-old Highland Park.
“I’m going to have to spend a little more time with this one,” he said.
Single malts are Scotch whiskies made at one distillery that uses its own barley. Single malts vary in taste and character from year to year much like wine, as opposed to blended Scotch whiskies, such as Dewar’s White Label, which are blended from various spirits to achieve the same taste every time.
“[Single malts] all have their own little fingerprint,” Potter said. “You just can’t get that with a blend.”
When Potter has friends over for a tasting, he will put out five or six bottles along with tasting glasses that are narrow at the top to funnel the aroma up the nose.
At a recent tasting, he put out a 10-year-old Balvenie (it has a “big licorice finish”), a 10-year-old Ardbeg (“very smoky”), a 12-year-old Dalmore (“almost like grapefruit”) and Glenfiddich, an 18-year-old Ancient Reserve.
“It just fits,” he said of the Glenfiddich. “It’s not going to knock you down. It’s just a nice experience.”
Potter doesn’t get drunk. An entire tasting lasts an hour or so and includes five or six different whiskies. But the total amount consumed is perhaps just one ounce, or the equivalent of one small drink.
For him, the enjoyment comes from grading the virtues of the fine spirit as it dances on his pallet, and from learning about the science and craftsmanship it takes to make such an elixir.
“To me, the enjoyment is the discovery of it,” Potter said.
One of Potter’s recent dinner guests, Lloyd Miller, an “old retired jar head” who prefers beer, said he got a kick out of Potter’s scotch-tasting hospitality.
“You could appreciate the different tastes of it like you appreciated the company of the people,” Miller said. “It added flavor to the environment.”
Potter’s wife, April, said her parents, brother and sister have all been initiated during visits to Germany. Her husband, she said, doesn’t dabble in a hobby.
“He becomes an expert,” she said. “It’s enjoyable for me; not only is he enjoying it himself, but it’s fun watching him share it with others.”
At a recent tasting, another guest was initiated.
He took a big whiff and the aroma was absorbed deep into his sinuses.
He took a sip and his taste buds sprung to life, all corners of his mouth went on high alert. The beverage trickled down the guest’s throat and disappeared, leaving behind an aftertaste he tried to define.
As the guest smiled, Aaron Potter smiled back. Another enlightened soul.