Drinking the Bottom Shelf: Clan MacGregor Scotch Whisky

Drinking the Bottom Shelf

Will Gordon drinks his way through the bottom shelf of the liquor store...so you don’t have to.


[Photo: Will Gordon]

The worst thing about April in Massachusetts is all of it except for Patriots' Day, a homemade half-holiday that ostensibly honors Tom Brady or one of the interchangeable abolitionist poets after whom we name ponds and dorms. The real reason for Patriots' Day is that we need to shut down the roads for the Boston Marathon.

With all the extra bitching required by the weather and the Red Sox this month, I haven't had time to keep up with the holiday schedule. I knew something was up last weekend, though, because there were a lot of phone calls twixt my girlfriend (Emily) and her mom and then we rented a car.

After confirming that neither of us were Jewish or born in April, I naturally assumed last Sunday was Easter, so I celebrated by eating two kinds of ham and 200 cans of beer. If I'd known Sunday was just the unholy day before Patriots' Day on Monday, I never would have made a bourbon and cream cheese nightcap. Well, I might have. But I wouldn't have been as angry when resurrected unawares at 7:00 a.m. with the news that it was time to head to Emily's parents' house to watch Kenyans exercise.

Distance running is an absolutely riveting spectator sport. I like to yell out strategy tips: "Left, right, left, right, left, left—no, just kidding, left, RIGHT!" and "Try going faster!" and "Good luck maintaining control of your bowels!" As it happens, Emily is a devoted follower of American marathoning. She is particularly fond of a dashing young fellow named Ryan Something, who seems to excel at arranging his hair and waving to the crowd after he loses marathons.

But I found it hard to root for this Ryan or for the female version of him who threatened to win before falling apart at the very end when she remembered that she was not, in fact, from the part of Michigan that is in East Africa. I like America and I'm glad I was born here, but I don't see any reason why we need to win marathons. If you're rooting for American marathoners, you're rooting for dozens of Kenyans to come all the way to miserable old Boston just to lose a race. What have the Kenyans ever done to you? This is their thing; our job is to host them and admire them and force them to eat pancakes in our elementary schools.

There is one part of life in which I'm just as patriotic as the next guy in a truck commercial, though, and that's booze. My favorite beer is Coniston Bluebird Bitter, which is English, but the next 20 on the list are big overhopped American tough-guy brews. And it seems like I never shut up about Old Crow and Eagle Rare, which is why it was disconcerting to discover that I like Scotch a lot more than I'd ever admitted to myself, and quite possibly more than I like bourbon. It will take months of rigorous research in other people's liquor cabinets to know for sure, but if the $12.99 liter of Clan MacGregor I picked up last week is any indication, the Scots might win this war.

I've always been vaguely aware that Scotch can be good for you in the same way Nantucket and cosmetic dentistry can be—when someone else is doing the planning and the paying—but I worried that it was too expensive and complicated to mess with here on the Bottom Shelf. My mistake.

Clan MacGregor tastes exceedingly Scotchy to me, so I was surprised that most reviewers call it simple and bland. It's a cheap blend and therefore more grainy than malty, but it's still got those weird fetid tobacco notes and maybe even a little maple syrup (though, full disclosure, I may be smelling that off my shirt).

I've had some excellent Scotch cocktails lately, but I've yet to make one myself. I've only tried once: MacGregor and grapefruit juice isn't as good as plain MacGregor or plain grapefruit juice, but I look forward to my next trip to the drawing board.

For now, cheap bourbon's still the preferred brown water in my parts because its charms are easier to harness; I like MacGregor but I haven't figured out what to do with it other than drink it neat or with soda, and there's a chance I just got lucky with my first bottle and all the other budget Clans are undrinkable.

But I take direction very well when being directed to drink, so if you'll help me out with Scotch suggestions, I'll coach your next marathon.