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  1. #1
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    Starter Kit for New Scotch Drinkers

    My impressions of Scotch (or is it "scotch"?) are based on very limited experience. I've probably had fewer than ten drinks of scotch in my 59 years, save for the time that I lost a bet trying to drink a bottle of Johnnie Walker red label in one sitting. (I still get a little queasy just thinking about that bit of youthful stupidity.)

    For those of you who know your way around the seemingly endless shelves of scotch, which moderately priced bottlings (say no more than five or six) would you recommend as an introduction to the range of styles and flavors available?

    Just to illustrate the idea, if it were bourbon, I might recommend the following:

    Wild Turkey 101 -- full bodied, with evident rye and strong barrel flavors

    Maker's Mark -- somewhat delicate, floral fragrance, typical wheat smoothness, moderate barrel flavors

    Old Grand Dad -- youngish, intense rye zest

    Elijah Craig 12 y/o -- full bodied, minty/spicey flavors, strong barrel flavors

    Old Taylor -- well-balanced, gentle flavors that preview what a full-bodied bourbon might taste like

    Virginia Gentleman 90* 6 y/o -- full bodied, yet without the overpowering intensity of others

    Should one limit the initial survey of scotch to blends? Or jump right into the single malts?

    Yours truly,
    Dave Morefield


  2. #2
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    Re: Starter Kit for New Scotch Drinkers

    Dave: First, keep in mind that "moderately priced" is a relative term and does not reflect the same price range for scotch as it does bourbon. You can get a pretty good bourbon for $15-$20, but a pretty good scotch (especially a single malt) would cost at least $30 (and usually more). That said, there are a couple of well-made blended scotches you can try that can be had for about $20 or so. I would recommend the following:

    BLENDS
    Teacher's Highland Cream (a favorite in Scotland, under $20)
    Famous Grouse (contains good portions of good malts, low $20's)
    Johnnie Walker Black Label (my favorite blend, upper $20's to $30)

    SINGLE MALTS
    Glenfarclas 12 (Speyside, good example of a "sherried" malt, upper $20's to low $30's)
    Auchentoshan 10 (Lowland, light, triple-distilled, around $30)
    Ardbeg 10 (Islay, peat monster with fruity notes, upper $30's)
    Glenlivet 12 (Speyside, top seller in US, mid to upper $20's)
    Highland Park 12 (Orkney Islands, lots of good stuff happening here, upper $30's)
    Glenmorangie 10 (Highland, malt and a bit of spice, low to mid $30's)

    Some, but not all of these, are personal favorites (I really like the Ardbeg and Highland Park). And, these are not necessarily the best scotch whiskies out there. But, (1) they are fairly easy to find, (2) they offer good value for your scotch dollar, and (3) they will acquaint you with a range of different styles. Depending on where you live, the prices could be a bit higher (or even a bit lower, hopefully).

    Enjoy your exploration!

    BTW, my first scotch-drinking experience was similar to yours. An 18-year-old college freshman trying to be suave and sophisticated at the annual fall formal. Grabbed me a bottle of Chivas Regal, drank over half the bottle, then deposited said half bottle--and most of what I had to eat that day--one my best suit pants and wingtips . I love scotch, but I still don't like Chivas Regal

    SpeedyJohn





  3. #3
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    Re: Starter Kit for New Scotch Drinkers

    Speedy John's list looks good though I cannot attest to all of them. My favorite line of the Sherry wood whiskys come from Macallan...I don't think you can go wrong with the 12 yr which keeps the cost to the $45-50 range...or spring for the 18 yr $65? A good priced island moderately peaty whisky is Isle of Jura...$20-25. Blends are fine, simply put they marry quality single malts for a repeatable taste profile, they are not junk by and large. I still enjoy good midrange Glenfiddich and Glenlivet. Also, give Irish Jameson Gold a try...honey notes..yummy. Other favorites, though above the $40 level are Oban, Talisker. You will quickly find, as with bourbon, that every whisky has its own unique flavor but within a regional style...peaty, smokey, fruity, sweet etc. Definitely taste a range at a good bar or find a friend who collects. Nothing like spending $45 on a bottle you don't like. Let me echo the first time horror story...party, age 19, Passport Scotch, ugh...that is probably why I waited almost 20 years! I always say, I think age 35 is the minimum for most people to start to enjoy whisky if they have graduated to darker beers.

  4. #4
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    Re: Starter Kit for New Scotch Drinkers

    I thank both you and Speedy John for your informative advice. In part, each of you confirmed what seems evident from examining the shelves at any liqour outlet; good scotch costs more than good bourbon. The prospect of having to pay Rare Breed/Kentucky Spirit prices to get into the meat of the single malt lineup is daunting to say the least. It's good to know that there are some lower priced options, as well.

    My local Trader Joe's, which has only a tiny selection of liqour, has several of the bottlings that you and Speedy John mentioned (no Famous Grouse, though ). However, the names (especially the "Glen.......s") all sound alike to me at this point; I'll have to print both of your responses to take along on a future shopping trip. (I don't think I have the nerve to take a shopping list into a bar. ) I think I recall McCallan 12 year, Dalmore 12 year, and a couple of the Glen......s at $29.99.

    I have an almost instinctive hankering to go looking for Famous Grouse. Not only do I have the bird thing going in both bourbon and microbrews , but their ads in Malt Advocate are so darned cute. I am really hoping that I enjoy drinking the product as much as I enjoy the ads.

    On the subject of scotch blends in general, do some of them contain neutral grain spirits, as is the case with some blended American and Canadian whiskies? Do any of them resemble a particular regional single malt style?

    ***
    Speaking of horror stories, I was a very slow learner. I've mentioned before that as a teenager I ruined my taste for bourbon (Old Grand Dad) the very first time I tasted hard liqour. Then came the aforementioned J.W. red binge while I was in the service. Later, with both bourbon and scotch on my no-no list I did it again with gin (don't recall the brand); by that time I was in my early 20's and should have known better.

    Taken together, such experiences soured me on hard liquor (except in mixed drinks where the liqour flavor was barely noticeable) for many years. I was in my early 40's when I visited the Jack Daniel distillery, and that experience was so homey that I was drawn to try their product on the rocks. I guess it was sufficiently different from bourbon to allow me to drink it without recalling my bad experience. As I've described in another thread, only in the past few months, now that I'm almost six decades old, have I renewed my acquaintance with bourbon.

    Recently at my son's behest I have sipped some of his discount-store scotch without triggering any old memories. However, I still dislike the smell of gin. Even a whiff of a drinking companion's nearby martini is enough to make me shudder.

    Yours truly,
    Dave Morefield

  5. #5
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    Re: Starter Kit for New Scotch Drinkers

    Bluesbassdad I can suggest some useful websites for these particular foreign products : Malt Advocate provides tasting notes on all American, scotch and Irish...no discussion board. Also, I searched under "blended whiskey" and found "Cocktail: single malts vs blended scotch which to order" by Paul Harrington (hotwired.com). It appears some "lowland" scotch whiskys may contain neutral grain spirits...hence the lower cost of blends. He gives a good history of the legal debate...ultimately, anything produced in Scotland can be called scotch (they use small s). Ok..now..provide us with a "starter kit of blues classics to listen to while sipping bourbon or whatever...I cannot say I have had much exposure..but living in the Chi-town area we have a lot of blues clubs...trendy with yuppies in the city. Do you get this way? Another idea...I would like to try a graduated drinking experience...starting with complementary beer then bourbon/scotch or vice versa...but all within a progressive tasting...not the same obviously..but compatible...impossible? Maybe. Definitely a home project..and not too much...to avoid any bad reactions. Now is this apostate or what?

  6. #6
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    Re: Starter Kit for New Scotch Drinkers

    One more thing...the Dalmore 12 yr is a nice choice too...Highland region...moderate body, not very peaty...a good midrange choice...and not too pricey, some higher range tasting notes..some oak..short finish..almost the Makers Mark of scotch!

  7. #7
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    Re: Starter Kit for New Scotch Drinkers

    Dave: It seems you're starting from scratch, so let's start with the basics. To learn what is and is not Scotch Whisky, go to Ulf Buxrud's links page at http://www2.sbbs.se/hp/buxrud/linklib.htm Go down the right-hand column to the General Whisky Information section and click on the link to "The Scotch Whisky Order 1990." Near the beginning, it gives a detailed description of what can be legally called Scotch whisky. Basically, (1) it must be distilled, aged and bottled in Scotland; (2) it must be aged for at least three years in oak casks; and (3) it may not have anything added to it other than water and caramel coloring.

    There are four basic types of Scotch whisky:
    (1) Blended whisky
    (2) Vatted whisky
    (3) Grain whisky
    (4) Single Malt Whisky

    BLENED whisky contains a combination of single malt whiskies from any number of distillers and grain whiskies. Examples: Dewar's, J&B, Chivas Regal, Famous Grouse, Johnnie Walker. VATTED whisky contains a combination of various single malt whiskies (no grain whisky). Chivas' Century of Malts is one of the few examples of vatted whisky available in the US. GRAIN whisky is made from grains other than barley. There are very few of these available, but in the last two years a little company called Compass Box has bottled some very nice grain whiskies. Very limited releases, but worth seeking out. SINGLE MALT whisky is made strictly from malted barley, must be produced by a single distillery and can not have anything added to it other than water and caramel coloring. Examples include Glenlivet, Glenfiddich, Macallan, etc., etc., etc.

    Where a single malt was produced used to have a great bearing on its flavor. But, those regional distinctions are growing less and less pronounced. Historically, there were four main whisky regions:

    (1) Highlands, in the northern half of the country, historically the most rounded in flavor, medium to full bodied, with malt, floral and fruit notes.
    (2) Lowlands, in the southern half, around Glasgow and Edinburgh, the lightest malts in body and flavor, due to traditional triple distilling.
    (3) Islay, a small island off the southern coast, produces some of the peatiest malts, especially along the Island's southern coast.
    (4) Campbeltown, a town on the southern tip of the mainland, once the home of 30+ distilleries, now down to two, can display hints of coconut and brine among the flavor profile.

    Within the Highlands region is an area containing almost half of Scotland's working distilleries, referred to as Speyside, since the river Spey flows through this area. Speyside is home to the most well-known distilleries: Glenlivet, Glenfiddich and Macallan.

    Some folks break down the regions even further. A category called "Island" malts includes those not found on the mainland or Islay. Some divide the Highlands into East, West and North. But, again, these days regional differences are becoming less important as distilleries experiment with peat levels and especially wood finishes.

    Clear as mud, right? Anyway, I hope this helps a bit. Key points to remember:
    (1) Single Malt whisky contains NO grain spirits and comes from ONE distillery;
    (2) Blended whisky contains malt whisky AND grain whisky from many distilleries.

    End of lesson.

    SpeedyJohn



  8. #8
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    Re: Starter Kit for New Scotch Drinkers

    Thanks for the nicely composed intro. I shall make good use of the information.

    Yours truly,
    Dave Morefield

  9. #9
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    Re: Starter Kit for New Scotch Drinkers

    SJ,
    Thanks for the great information. I am not a scotch drinker, but you have intrigued me to try some. What exactly do you mean when you say "peat" levels?

  10. #10
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    Re: Starter Kit for New Scotch Drinkers

    Throughout history, Scots have used peat as a source of heat, much like we use wooden logs. It was cheap and readily available from the many peat bogs around the country. In whisky making, peat was burned in large kilns and the resulting heat would dry the wet and germinating barley, thus stopping the germination process in preparation for mashing. The smoke from the peat fires would not only dry the malted barley, but infuse it with a distinctive earthy, smoky taste that would eventually wind up in the whisky. Peat "influence" could also come from the water used by the distillery, as some water sources would flow through or over peat bogs. Today, other sources of heat are used to dry the barley, and malt producers can control the "peatiness" of the malted barley by manipulating how much peat is used in the drying process. They measure the peat (or "phenolic") content in parts per million. The most heavily peated whiskies (like Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg) have phenolic levels of around 35-40 ppm. Some Ardbegs of the past have measured 50ppm. Bruichladdich, another Islay distillery, is experimenting with barley measuring 60ppm (but it may have actually been near 70ppm.) Bruichladdich also produces a malt whisky which is "zero rated" in that no peat is used in the drying process, but because of the water used has a phenolic contect of 2 to 3 ppm.

    BTW, this is one of the major differences between Scotch whisky and Irish Whiskey. The Irish use no peat in the drying procees (except for Connemara which uses malted barley from Scotland to make its whiskey).

    SpeedyJohn

 

 

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