Scotch for Beginners

I've been a member of the Los Angeles Scotch Club since it was founded back in 2006, and in the past six months or so, we've noticed a marked uptick in interest and attendance. People everywhere seem to be increasingly interested in fine whiskeys and fine beers (despite the recession -- in fact, it's been said that rare whisky is a far sounder investment than the stock market), whereas the market share for fine wines is on a slight downswing. If you're just starting out and need a little guidance, our club's president, Andrew Smith, penned a nice beginner's guide, which with his permission I'm reprinting here.

So you're curious about Scotch, eh? The LA Scotch Club has written this little article to help explain what you really need to know about BEGINNING to enjoy good Scotch whisky. There are numerous books and magazine articles ready to preach about the whisky regions, the shape of potstills, and how some expert noticed a hint of elderberry in his $5000 Scotch (that he got for free). Now, I won't say that it's completely unimportant"¦ it's just not important to you right now, is it? What you need to know is: what to drink, how to enjoy it, and where to get your hands on it.

Let's start with "What do I want to drink?" We'll first separate the two important types of Scotch whisky: single malt and blended.

"¢ Blended Scotch

Blends are the bulk of Scotch sold worldwide and are allowed to take malt from many different distilleries, then "˜blend' them with inferior grain whisky. Blended Scotches (Johnny Walker, Chivas, and Dewars, etc.) strive for consistency and inoffensiveness, and sometimes achieve both. They have millions of casks to work with, with no two casks being exactly alike, leaving a hefty task of keeping the brands consistent year after year. Now, if your vision of a perfect evening is pouring Scotch into a big glass of ice and hoping for a familiar experience day in and day out, then blends are for you and you don't have to read another word. Cheers!

"¢ Single Malt Scotch

Excellent! You're still with us. I'll say this plainly: blends are inferior, mostly because they are bland and boring. They strive for it! A Johnny Walker Blue is popular because it's so smooth that you hardly notice that it's Scotch. Tap water is also smooth, and you'll hardly notice the Scotch. And it's cheaper! In single malts, however, you will find complexities of flavors you couldn't have imagined. Sometimes they won't suit your taste, I confess. But when you find the right malt"¦ well, you'll see.

Single Malt Scotch is by definition a malted-barley whisky produced in one (single) distillery. Scotch, which can only be made in Scotland, must be aged at least 3 years and be no less than 40% ABV (that goes for blends too.)


First, let me explain how I will categorize, in AN IMPORTANT WAY, Scotch for you. Major taste types (3 of them), and distribution type (2 of them). Let's start with the taste types:

1) Oak bourbon cask (most whisky)

2) Specialty casks (typically sherry casks)

3) Peaty (mostly from Islay)

Scotch is almost always aged in a used cask (pardon me, "˜pre-owned'), because the previous spirit strips away the harsh new-wood flavor and leaves a bit of itself that the Scotch will pick up.

Yes, there are complicated taste maps out there, but knowing these three types will get you pretty far. Whisky lovers will usually tell you whether they prefer or don't prefer sherried Scotch or Islays (they call themselves "˜Peat Freaks').

1) Oak bourbon cask

For lack of a better description, this is "normal" whisky. Used oak bourbon casks from America (bourbon is only allowed to use new casks) are cheap and plentiful, and the whisky may or may not inherit a small hint of bourbon. If your bottle doesn't specify what the whisky was aged in, this is usually it.

2) Specialty cask

Often, whisky is aged in casks that previously contained sherry, port, wine, rum, etc. Sherry has been historically popular, with distilleries such as Macallan and Glenfarclas specializing in it, but the rising cost of spent Sherry casks has made sherried whisky more costly and less common. Occasionally, whisky that has been aged in bourbon casks will be "finished" for a short time in a specialty cask.

3) Peaty

Peat is grassy soil burned as fuel to dry the barley and is plentiful on the boggy islands west of Scotland. The flavor from this peat smoke follows the whisky all the way to your bottle and is often described as briny, medicinal, smoky, or grassy. First timers will often react with "What the @#%," but the peat tends to grow on you fast and is a favorite of experienced tipplers. Peat can be used on any whisky, but it's a signature of the Islay Scotches and that's where you should start. Hint: Laphroaig 10 is cheap, easy to find, and tasty.

Now on to the distribution types: Distillery and Independent

1) Distillery

Most single malts are bottled by the distillery that made them, often with merely an age description. The distillery bottlings may mix in any whisky they produce so long as it's at least the age on the label. Most bottling lines will try to stay consistent from year to year, but distilleries often change or replace the line every decade or so.

2) Independent

The mass production of blends and even single-malts occasionally produces casks that for many various reasons (like being too damned tasty) are not thrown into the mix. These individual casks are sold to independent bottlers who sell the whisky under their own name AND the distillery name. These are very limited because only one cask is typically involved (200- 600 bottles), and are often better or quirkier than distillery's old standbys. With independents you'll even get to experience distilleries that don't have their own single malts (i.e. they are only used in blends), and often at cask strength (no water added).


Hand it over and we'll show you. As for glassware, there are many nosing glasses such as Glencairn, CelticMalts, Riedel for your dram (a dram is a Scottish "shot".) Please avoid a big whisky tumbler. A large cognac snifter will work nicely too.

"¢ Nosing

It's a fancy word for sniffing. Start with your nose above the rim to avoid burning yourself. Great whisky will probably have a great nose.

"¢ Tasting

It's not wine, so don't swish it around aggressively. Let it coat every part of your tongue.

"¢ Add Water

A few drops of water should be added to a Scotch dram to help open it up. This creates a chemical reaction that rouses the aromas. For cask strength whiskies that are often above 50% or 60% ABV, you may want to add more to avoid burning your palate.

Hate Red M&M's? You Need a Candy Color-Sorting Machine

You don’t have to be a demanding rock star to live a life without brown M&M's or purple Skittles—all you need is some engineering know-how and a little bit of free time.

Mechanical engineering student Willem Pennings created a machine that can take small pieces of candy—like M&M's, Skittles, Reese’s Pieces, etc.—and sort them by color into individual piles. All Pennings needs to do is pour the candy into the top funnel; from there, the machine separates the candy—around two pieces per second—and dispenses all of it into smaller bowls at the bottom designated for each variety.

The color identification is performed with an RGB sensor that takes “optical measurements” of candy pieces of equal dimensions. There are limitations, though, as Pennings revealed in a Reddit Q&A: “I wouldn't be able to use this machine for peanut M&M's, since the sizes vary so much.”

The entire building process lasted from May through December 2016, and included the actual conceptualization, 3D printing (which was outsourced), and construction. The entire project was detailed on Pennings’s website and Reddit's DIY page.

With all of the motors, circuitry, and hardware that went into it, Pennings’s machine is likely too ambitious of a task for the average candy aficionado. So until a machine like this hits the open market, you're probably stuck buying bags of single-colored M&M’s in bulk online or sorting all of the candy out yourself the old fashioned way.

To see Pennings’s machine in action, check out the video below:

[h/t Refinery 29]

Universal Pictures
Pop Culture
The Strange Hidden Link Between Silent Hill and Kindergarten Cop
Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

by Ryan Lambie

At first glance, Kindergarten Cop and Silent Hill don't seem to have much in common—aside from both being products of the 1990s. At the beginning of the decade came Kindergarten Cop, the hit comedy directed by Ivan Reitman and starring larger-than-life action star Arnold Schwarzenegger. At the decade’s end came Silent Hill, Konami’s best-selling survival horror game that sent shivers down PlayStation owners’ spines.

As pop culture artifacts go, they’re as different as oil and water. Yet eagle-eyed players may have noticed a strange hidden link between the video game and the goofy family comedy.

In Silent Hill, you control Harry Mason, a father hunting for his daughter Cheryl in the eerily deserted town of the title. Needless to say, the things Mason uncovers are strange and very, very gruesome. Early on in the game, Harry stumbles on a school—Midwich Elementary School, to be precise—which might spark a hint of déjà vu as soon as you approach its stone steps. The building’s double doors and distinctive archway appear to have been taken directly from Kindergarten Cop’s Astoria Elementary School.

Could it be a coincidence?

Well, further clues can be found as you venture inside. As well as encountering creepy gray children and other horrors, you’ll notice that its walls are decorated with numerous posters. Some of those posters—including a particularly distinctive one with a dog on it—also decorated the halls of the school in Kindergarten Cop.

Do a bit more hunting, and you’ll eventually find a medicine cabinet clearly modeled on one glimpsed in the movie. Most creepily of all, you’ll even encounter a yellow school bus that looks remarkably similar to the one in the film (though this one has clearly seen better days).

Silent Hill's references to the movie are subtle—certainly subtle enough for them to pass the majority of players by—but far too numerous to be a coincidence. When word of the link between game and film began to emerge in 2012, some even joked that Konami’s Silent Hill was a sequel to Kindergarten Cop. So what’s really going on?

When Silent Hill was in early development back in 1996, director Keiichiro Toyama set out to make a game that was infused with influences from some of his favorite American films and TV shows. “What I am a fan of is occult stuff and UFO stories and so on; that and I had watched a lot of David Lynch films," he told Polygon in 2013. "So it was really a matter of me taking what was on my shelves and taking the more horror-oriented aspects of what I found.”

A scene from 'Silent Hill'
Divine Tokyoska, Flickr

In an interview with IGN much further back, in 2001, a member of Silent Hill’s staff also stated, “We draw our influences from all over—fiction, movies, manga, new and old.”

So while Kindergarten Cop is perhaps the most outlandish movie reference in Silent Hill, it’s by no means the only one. Cafe5to2, another prominent location in the game, is taken straight from Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers.

Elsewhere, you might spot a newspaper headline which references The Silence Of The Lambs (“Bill Skins Fifth”). Look carefully, and you'll also find nods to such films as The Shining, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Psycho, and 12 Monkeys.

Similarly, the town’s streets are all named after respected sci-fi and horror novelists, with Robert Bloch, Dean Koontz, Ray Bradbury, and Richard Matheson among the most obvious. Oh, and Midwich, the name of the school? That’s taken from the classic 1957 novel The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham, twice adapted for the screen as The Village Of The Damned in 1960 and 1995.

Arnold Schwarzenegger in 'Kindergarten Cop'
Universal Pictures

The reference to Kindergarten Cop could, therefore, have been a sly joke on the part of Silent Hill’s creators—because what could be stranger than modeling something in a horror game on a family-friendly comedy? But there could be an even more innocent explanation: that Kindergarten Cop spends so long inside an ordinary American school simply gave Toyama and his team plenty of material to reference when building their game.

Whatever the reasons, the Kindergarten Cop reference ranks highly among the most strange and unexpected film connections in the history of the video game medium. Incidentally, the original movie's exteriors used a real school, John Jacob Astor Elementary in Astoria, Oregon. According to a 1991 article in People Magazine, the school's 400 fourth grade students were paid $35 per day to appear in Kindergarten Cop as extras.

It’s worth pointing out that the school is far less scary a place than the video game location it unwittingly inspired, and to the best of our knowledge, doesn't have an undercover cop named John Kimble serving as a teacher there, either.


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