As you’ll see below, I have my ever-growing scotch selection separated into three categories; swill, everyday and special occasion scotches. As it turns out, I grabbed a couple of new bottles of scotch this summer, and each will assume a place in one of the categories. So without further adieu, let’s review:
BLAIR ATHOL 12 YEAR SINGLE MALT SCOTCH WHISKY
A friend of mine who is a life-long lover of great scotch turned me on to this bottle, claiming it was light years ahead of any Macallan, Glenlevit, or Glenfiddich aged 18 years or younger. That’s pretty high praise, as it immediately places this bottle in the pretty-damn-good category of scotches; the kind you go to when you know you’ve earned a nice drink, but aren’t willing to drink the best of the best. Y’know, any Tuesday night at my house, for example. At first pour, drunk neat, this scotch is good but not great; sort of a shoulder shrug, if you will. Nice, to be sure, but hardly worth the praise I had been sold. Put over ice in the immediate, it gets worse. But here’s the crazy thing about Scotch that most snobs refuse to acknowledge; like with all great alcohols, each individual type, version, and blend has its own prime point; that moment in which the greatest characteristics of the drink come out. Anyone who tells you that Scotch can only be drunk neat (no ice) is a person to be ignored and never trusted, as demonstrated by Blair Athol. Once it became ice cold, it became amazingly smooth, with wonderful flavor. This is an excellent bottle of Scotch (when enjoyed properly) which is well worth the $55 price tag (and more). Which brings us to the “bad” news; it isn’t sold in America. You have to order it online from Europe, which means the total bottle cost is actually about $80 and it takes a good 10 days to arrive after going through customs. But it’s worth it, I promise.
THE BALVENIE AGED 21 YEARS
I stumbled on this $150 bottle recently while buying a present for a friend and fellow discerning alcoholic. Good friends never give gifts they aren’t sure of, so of course I had to buy a bottle for myself and try it out. While the price is admittedly steep, the quality matches it. It is consistent with the types of single malts I’ve come to enjoy and recommend; honey, vanilla, fruit, etc. Whether or not you pick up those flavors is not the points. Rather, don’t expect smoky or oaky from a scotch that I enjoy. The Balvenie 21 is perfectly enjoyed either neat or slowly settling into one ice cube. Smooth, easy to gulp if needed and with a great finish on the tongue that leaves you wanting another sip, this is a fine, fragrant and slightly sweet pour that deserves a place in your cabinet for those almost special occasions. Y’know, like an average Thursday night at my house.
THE GLENLIVET NADURRA 16 YEAR
This is a brand new and much heralded scotch from one of my favorite brands, The Glenlivet. Unlike most scotches today, this Nadurra (which is Gaelic for “natural) is non-chill filtered, which basically means you are tasting the scotch as it tastes in the cask. This means it will be stronger tasting and more potent, but also should deliver livelier flavors.I’ve read a lot of negative reviews about the Nadurra and the problem, it turns out, is with each writer, not the scotch. This Nadurra delivers exactly what it is supposed to deliver; a lot of alcohol taste and rough, biting flavors. Most negative reviews center on the “harsh” feel of the scotch, and some even recommend drinking it with water which is blasphemy and shows the ignorance of the reviewer.
This is a strong, fiercely alcoholic, biting scotch with flavors of smoke, butter, and vanilla if you can handle the acidic finish. A guess a wussy would need some water to allow him to enjoy the flavors. At the very worst, I would recommend filling a pint glass with ice, pouring 2 ounces of Nadurra over it and allowing the chill to soften the flavors before the ice melts.
This is a sipping scotch that will warm you up in a hurry this winter but is not for an amateur. At only $50 per bottle, a true connoisseur should add this to his day-to-day rotation and pull it out when he feels like a good old fashioned “belt” of a great scotch.
LAGAVULIN 16 YEAR
Holy Crap. If other scotches have “flavors of smoke,” this is a freaking forest fire. I have never smelled or tasted so much smoke flavor as in this scotch.
Any other flavors that may be in this Lagavulin are simply ambience and background compared to the overwhelming flavor of wood smoke that dominates this scotch. The alcohol is consistent with what you would expect and this scotch all comes down to whether or not you want to feel like you are drinking a chimney. I love this flavor at the right time, in the right place. This is a great scotch to enjoy a cigar with, it is also a fantastic sipping scotch accompanied by a handful of smoked almonds or any smoked meat.
Scotch, Whiskey and bourbon are not the same thing…at least not always, necessarily. Does that clear it up for you?
Scotch is simply whisky blended and/or distilled in Scotland. As such, it derives its flavor from peat fires, as opposed to Irish whisky, which is made without the fire and thus, is less smoky in flavor. Scotch is then aged for a variety of years, adding flavor and character. Scotch is widely acknowledged as the best whisky in the world.
American whiskey is also more commonly called bourbon and is made with at least 51% corn and aged for at least two years. Almost all bourbon is made in Kentucky.
After years of destroying my liver with shots of Jack Daniels (a fine product), I have graduated to the art of sipping on fine scotch. This page is designed to help you also enjoy the hobby (vice), while also answering your questions about why I drink it, how to drink it, what it costs and where to find it.
My scotch collection is divided into three categories:
This is my “low end” scotch. If I just need what they would call in TV-Land a “quick belt,” I reach for a bottle of Chivas 12 year or The Glenlevit, aged 12 or 18 years. These scotches are surprisingly smooth for their below $40 price tag and provide the needed punch for a quick taste of scotch.
#2. Pretty Damn Good
These bottles are all priced around $50-75 and provide a variety of flavors. Macallan makes a wonderful scotch aged in Sherry oak that delivers a unique, smooth scotch/sherry flavor that I enjoy. Glenmorangie has an entire line of scotches aged in different barrels that I am working my way through, and a recent find that has me captivated right now is the very smooth and smoky Dalwhinnie.
#3. Top Shelf
These are the bottles I break out only for special occasions. Each of these bottles starts at $200 and go to $400. The most impressive is the Macallan 1861 reserve which is a replica scotch of that amazing vintage. It is amazingly smooth and flavorful and should be for $350 per bottle. The Chivas 21 Salute, aged 21 years does quite well as a smooth, woody, smoky drink, as does the 25 year old Macallan and the Johnnie Walker Blue which is a blend of Walker’s best scotches.
I always drink Scotch “neat,” or “up” as opposed to “on the rocks,” or “over.” When ordering it in a restaurant, an order of a specific Scotch served “neat” will net you an inch of scotch in a glass and nothing else. This is the way Scotch should be drunk, at room temperature and with no foreign flavors corrupting the scotch taste.
Scotch can be served in a variety of glasses, including traditional after dinner snifters.
I prefer mine most commonly served in a traditional “bucket” glass.
Scotch should be sipped, not gulped, and the flavor enjoyed. As you drink more, you will find yourself recognizing flavors of wood, fire, tobacco, cream and a wide range of individual tastes.
One more note; Scotch is now as portable as ever. I have begun carrying small bottles of scotch in my golf bag because, well, golf is a maddening game and sometimes drives me to drink. If I’m going to drink on a golf course, I might as well drink well…personal and professional.