Photo by David Hammond

National Scotch Day is July 27. It is a holiday I strictly observe.

In the past, on this momentous day, I have enjoyed Scotch on ice; the frozen cubes help bring down the “heat” of Scotland’s signature sip. 

When I heard that the smokier expressions of the spirit make for a good Bloody Mary (!), I was more than a little dubious. The woodsy smoke flavors of peat in the Scotch seem at odds with the summer smells of a new-mown lawn, tomatoes ripening on the vine, and other cliched seasonal scents.

So I got a bottle of Bruichladdich Port Charlotte Scotch whisky, advertised as “heavily peated.” Here’s a thumbnail of how “peating” happens: to create Scotch, barley is first watered down; the grains sprout, sugars develop, and then the sprouted grains are subjected to heat (traditionally from peat fires) to arrest the sprouting; the now smoky-flavored grains are mashed up, watered down, and fermented, and the fermented liquid is distilled before going into barrels to age.

Bruichladdich Distillery is on Islay, the southernmost island of the Inner Hebrides, and the place is covered with peat, the compressed organic matter laid down over the millennia and traditionally dug out to warm homes, cook foods … and make Scotch whisky.

Peat gives Scotch whisky some of its characteristic flavors — including saltiness, iodine, and leather — and it creates a heaviness on the palate that many Scotch drinkers enjoy. I do.

But … in a Bloody Mary?

The cocktail for this year’s National Scotch Day festivities is a Scotch Bloody Mary, so with a good quality Bloody Mary mix, and my bottle of Bruichladdich, I made myself a Scotch Bloody Mary.

Every time you eat or drink something, there are inevitable expectations that come to mind. The spirit used in a Bloody Mary is usually vodka, considered a colorless, odorless, and somewhat flavorless spirit (not a 100% accurate characterization, but close). Scotch, especially peated Scotch, is on the other end of the flavor spectrum from vodka: dark in color, smelling of smoke and the sea, tasting of barley and the barrel it was aged within, Scotch has a lot of personality, with dominant notes of caramel, vanilla, and chocolate. 

Vodka and Scotch are very, very different spirits. So expectations must be adjusted.

The job of vodka in most drinks is to disappear into the mix; Scotch is not going to disappear. Strong in flavor on its own, the power of the Scotch matches the spicy power of the Bloody Mary mix, balancing smoke with acidity, slightly sweet flavors of the barrel-aging with the spice. It was by far the most complex Bloody Mary I’ve ever sipped.

Scotch in a Bloody Mary? Bloody well right! And right now, the cocktail *pairs* quite well with atmospheric smokiness wafting over from the Pacific Northwest.

David Hammond’s blog posts can be found in Oak Park Eats at oakpark.com.

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David Hammond

David Hammond, a corporate communications consultant and food journalist living in Oak Park, Illinois, is a founder and moderator of LTHForum.com, the 8,500 member Chicago-based culinary chat site. David...