January is the month of Burns Night, an annual celebration of the famed Scottish poet commemorated by reciting poetry, eating haggis, and toasting with Scotch. Even if this holiday isn’t high on your list of winter festivities, drinking this spirit should be. Joe Kakos, co-owner and whiskey expert at Kakos Market, in Birmingham, agrees. “People associate Scotch with cooler weather,” he says. “It feels like a big, warm hug, when you drink a dram of Scotch.”
Scotch whisky is one of the progenitors of American whiskey, as early Scottish settlers in the U.S. brought their distilling knowledge with them. While many of the techniques are the same, the finished product is quite different. One of the reasons for this is the use of malted barley, rather than rye or corn, as Scotch’s chief grain. And even among Scots, individual producers vary tremendously, with different regions of the country producing quite different styles of whisky.
Laith Jarjosa, managing partner of Super Fine Wine & Liquor in Canton, says sometimes, people get scared of Scotch. “They might have had something from Islay [a rocky island off the southern coast of Scotland] that’s peaty and smoky, that they hated, and think every Scotch is like that. We make sure to guide them to a good starter Scotch they’ll enjoy.”
One of the best ways to explore Scotch is to go to a bar that specializes in it, offering a chance to try different styles, without having to invest in entire bottles. And one of the best places in metro Detroit to do that is the Butter Run Saloon, in St. Clair Shores, which boasts the largest selection of whiskey in Michigan.
David Harden opened the Butter Run Saloon in 2012, after noticing that metro Detroit didn’t have any whiskey bars. He started collecting different products and grabbing new bottles, as they came out, and his saloon currently boasts a menu with more than 400 different Scotches and around 1,300 whiskeys total. “To me, Scotch is a lot more fun than bourbon, because there are so many different profiles, where there’s just not as much difference between bourbons.”
Once you find a Scotch you like and want to own, that’s where stores like Kakos Market and Super Fine Wine & Liquor come in. Both pride themselves on offering not just an impressive selection, but also a knowledgeable staff. Kakos Market, which is coowned by Joe’s brother Giovanni and was founded by their parents 47 years ago, has seen many changes in the Scotch industry. “Right now, Scotch companies are trying hard to garner a younger demographic, through better price points, younger Scotches, and Scotches with interesting finishes,” says Kakos.
Much like Burns himself, who came from a humble background, some of the best Scotch selections and most knowledgeable Scotch salespeople are hidden away behind unassuming exteriors. “We just look like a regular wine shop, on the outside,” Jarjosa says.
3 Scotches to Try
Benriach Cask Edition Single Barrel
“The store hand-picked this cask-strength single barrel. It’s finished in a red muscatel wine barrel, giving it notes of chocolate cake, gooseberry, and cherry compote, layered with toasted honey nut brittle.” –Laith Jarjosa, Super Fine Wine & Liquor
Auchentoshan Three Wood
“This Lowland Scotch is my personal favorite right now. It’s triple distilled and aged in bourbon, oloroso, and Pedro Ximénez sherry barrels that give it a unique flavor profile.” –Joe Kakos, Kakos Market
Balvenie Caribbean Cask 14
“This rum barrel-finished Scotch is one of our most popular Scotches right now. It’s got vanilla and toffee and a fruity finish.” –David Harden, Butter Run Saloon