By Ben Adler
I’m not a fan of hard liquors. To me vodka, gin and their brethren taste like a cross between some dangerous acid from chemistry class and, well, that’s about it. My one exception is whiskey from Ireland or Scotland. Of course it’s got that bitter alcoholic burn, but it also has the complex, often oaky taste that, with a seltzer to wash it down, warms me up on a Washington winter night.
So when my fellow IFAers proposed going to a Scotch tasting, accompanied by a regional tasting menu, at Commonwealth, an over-hyped, over-priced American yuppified impression of a British gastro pub, I had to go try it.
In some ways the night was an unqualified success. The food, which was soggy, bland and heavy the last time I went to Commonwealth was surprisingly good. The “stuffed olives” were actually battered and fried olives. Who knew warm olives were so delicious? “Frogs in a puff,” is apparently British for pigs in a blanket, and I do love pigs in a blanket. The English cheddar was sharp but soft. The blood pudding was disgusting, but that’s not the restaurant’s fault. The risotto cake was surprisingly scrumptious. Normally I don’t much care for risotto, but when you bread and fry anything it is good, apparently. The main course, steak and oyster pie, was delightful. A puffy pastry on top, tender steak, seemingly fresh oysters and mashed potatoes at the bottom, what’s not to like?
But the scotch tasting itself was a disappointing revelation. We were supposed to be taught how each scotch’s flavor differs by locating it on a flavor matrix with light to rich as one measurement and smoky to delicate as the other. The problem is that I never would have correctly guessed what each one is. Even after asking the instructor I’m still not sure why smoky and delicate are even considered opposites. I did learn a little bit about which scotches I do and do not like. Oban tastes too much like straight alcohol to me, for instance.
The most perplexing part was when we were instructed to ruin our dessert — an extremely sweet lemon trifle — by drinking scotch with it still in our mouth. The sweet plus alcohol to me tasted like cough syrup. Objectively the $80 per person that it came to with tax and tip was a good deal, but I think I’ve learned my lesson: don’t invest in becoming a real scotch snob, because you’ll never really know what you’re talking about.