Holiday buying guide for those with a Scotch lover on the list

So, you have someone you know is ‘into’ Scotch and you want to buy a nice present. You don’t want to set a foot wrong, and certainly don’t want to see her writing about your present as “the Scotch I save for folks who don’t know Scotch, or drown it in Coke.” Yes, I’ve read that on many a Scotch blog. Rude, I think…but it happens — because A) The styles of Scotch vary wildly in their aroma and taste (why it’s a fascinating obsession, yo!) and B) Scotch drinkers are often quite partisan about their preferred style.

Prep: Single malt vs. blend, and U.S. availability

We’re going to focus mostly on single malt scotches — this refers to a whisky that is made totally from one distillery’s production. They can (and do) mix casks and even years of production for a single malt. But as soon as they mix casks from another distillery and add grain alcohol (mass-produced, typically), then it is a blend. Common blends are well-known, like Johnnie Walker, Chivas, Dewars, Whyte and MacKay. These are the province of the casual drinker, not the Scotch enthusiast. Single malts will have more character, as the peculiarities of water and still are not blended out — hence they appeal to folks looking for adventure. Note: my focus is on brands available in the U.S., as that’s where I live.

There is a bit more to learn, so let’s do this in steps. We’ll gather some intelligence, align that to some facts, and send you shopping with a budget and some suggestions.

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Whisky and Words Number 12: Glenmorangie 18

Glenmorangie 18 and glass
Glenmorangie 18 and glass

Many times, distillers will change up the finish on older releases. They’ll go with a peated version rather than the unpeated 10 or 12, or they’ll finish in sherry barrels, where the younger releases are not. The whisky under review today, the “Extremely Rare” 18-year-old Glenmorangie, is fairly true to its 10-year-old sibling. But they do decant a chunk of it (about 30%) and age it for the last three years in Oloroso sherry casks before the final blend.

The other changes are superficial. The bottles are similar, although not exact; the 18’s bottle is a bit stouter, more curvaceous, and a bit shorter as a result. The whisky is a bit darker than the 10, which could be the small amount of sherry finish or a bit of E-150; they don’t claim not to use it.

Continue reading “Whisky and Words Number 12: Glenmorangie 18”

Whisky and Words Number 11: Glenmorangie 10

Glenmorangie 10
Glenmorangie 10

While Glenmorangie (rhymes with ‘orange-y’) has a solid pedigree (see below) and great affirmation as “the most popular malt in Scotland” (according to DrinkBritain and others), they aren’t above a bit of marketing puffery. They boast “air-dried” bourbon casks. That’s good, as it’s difficult to dry casks underwater, for example. Though I suppose some new-age Gen-Z whisky maker will come out with vacuum-dried casks, just because they can. But no matter, what concerns this writer is the taste, and Glenmorangie is OK there.

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Whisky and Words Number 10: Cardhu 12

I usually have a bottle of a Speyside or Highland in my rather cramped liquor cabinet for those gentler souls who prefer a whisky that’s milder than my usual suspects—all Island malts. I’ve always been a guy who liked BBQ, spicy Thai and Szechuan, hoppy beers–you get the idea. I go for big taste. So when I started engaging with whisky, I blew quickly through the Glenlivet and Glenfiddich 12-year offerings. They did not exactly turn on my taste buds, and for the cost ($50-ish a bottle where I live), that just was not going to cut it. My buds gravitated to the bigger, smokier and peatier tastes of the Island malts.

Cardhu - you can imagine a lush grassy field when tasting this whisky.
Cardhu – you can imagine a lush grassy field when tasting this whisky.

However, I recognize quality and consider The Macallan 12 a benchmark for well-made whisky. That’s a Speysider I keep around for guests who recoil at my Laphroaig and Ardbeg. When I’m in a calm mood I like a dram of the Mac and when I received a bottle of the Cardhu as a birthday gift this year, I was well impressed. This is crass of me to admit, but being a bit obsessed with cataloging my experiences, I checked out the price. About $42 locally, vs. mid $50 range for Macallan. A nice surprise.

 

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Followup to W & W #9: Aberlour A’Bunadh

aberlour_dresser_cu_sm
Aberlour A’Bunadh and another magic bottle

I had sent some questions to Aberlour via their website and had an answer in a few days. I had asked about A’Bunadh:

  • Do you set aside certain casks intended for that expression?
  • Or do you always have some spirit from each year’s run set aside in Oloroso?
  • About how old are the whiskies chosen for the A’bunadh?
  • How many casks are usually used for a bottling?
  • Do you try to make each bottling a little different?

Continue reading “Followup to W & W #9: Aberlour A’Bunadh”