Sunday, September 5, 2010

Scotch Whisky Recommendations for the Newcomer

Decisions, decisions, decisions . . .

When you first place your toe in the ocean of scotch whisky, you can be literally paralyzed with indecision.  Thoughts like: "Which one?  That's too much money!"  "Will it be too peaty?"  "I am looking for something smooth but not too smooth."

I received an email from a reader.  She was looking for suggestions of scotch to try as she was new to it all.  Here is her email followed by my response:

Evening Jason -

Hope you're doing well. I'm a mid to late 20 something that has been dabbling in scotch, and hoping to develop her palate. I made the decision to treat myself to my first bottle, rather on a whim. I walked in to my local LCBO after work yesterday and almost walked out with a Glenmorangie Nectar D'Or but the pressure of deciding on "my first bottle" without doing proper research was too much pressure. I didn't want to make the wrong call.

It was this quest for knowledge that led me to you. My googling for single malt reviews brought up your site, and I got lost in your musings and reviews on whiskey. In fact I covered the site from top to bottom. What I'm hoping for is a recommendation straight from the source (it would be very much appreciated!).

A bit of a background on my scotch dabblings, and normal liquor preferences (to give you a sense of my palate). My scotch drinking has been limited to night caps at family gatherings, the occasional dram with friends while sitting at the wood of a local bar, or a nip with the gents from the office after a tough week. I've had most of the basics, some Talisker, some better stuff from the Highlands, etc but have never had the wherewithal to actually log my samples. Not so helpful when it comes to selecting my first bottle. I've also never been to a formal tasting (though intend to attend Vancouver's scotch festival 'Hopscotch' this fall). I'm not at a level where I can enjoy my scotch neat yet. I generally have it with a rock (possibly two).

As for my normal liquor preferences, I'm a bit of a purist. I enjoy my liquor pretty simply. An absolute favourite is a dirty gin martini (with extra olives). I'm also a self proclaimed wino. This summer, I've been enjoying the mineraly, grassy sauv blanc's from the Marlborough region (a change from last summer where I was enjoying dry Rieslings and pino's - my palate evolves/rotates). In the winter, I alternate between soft and smooth Californian zinfandel's and bigger bolder Cab Franc's. I also enjoy a little port as a night cap. My beer of choice is either an amber ale or a nice spicy ginger beer.

So now for my short list (with much help from your site), as well as the price point from the BC Liquor store's (pricing is atrocious out here). I'm looking to spend roughly between $60 - $90. I don't think I could appreciate anything better as of yet. A question first though - do you have any Glenmorangie reviews?

Highland Park 12 - $64.95
Highland Park 15 - $94.95
Glenmorangie Nectar D'or - $87.95
Glenmorangie 10 - $69.95
Cragganmore 12 - $75.99
Dalwhinnie 15 - $84.99
Dalmore 12 - $69.99

Apologies for the short novel I've left you here! Any advice or recommends you can make for me would be hugely appreciated.

Many thanks in advance.


. . .
My response:
Hi! Sarah,

It was a pleasure to read your email.

I looked at your list and I think some of the choices on there are not ideal for someone who is new to scotch and looking to develop a palate for it. What I mean is that some of the selections are quite bold and strong which might turn you off completely, not something we want to happen. My standing offer to friends of mine where I live (New Brunswick) is that they should start with Cragganmore 12 yrs old, and if they don't like the bottle, I'll buy it. So far, I haven't had to buy a bottle yet. So, my anecdotal experience is that Cragganmore 12 yrs is nice place to start. It is soft, gentle, yet interesting. A real crowd pleaser. If you drink your scotch with ice, Cragganmore would be great for experimenting 'neat.' I like it best with a teaspoon of distilled water to a double pouring.

After Cragganmore, another that I highly recommend is Johnnie Walker Green Label. It is a blend of only single malts (Cragganmore, Talisker, Linkwood and some others). It is a little more complex than Cragganmore and challenging. There is more peat, but by saying that I do not mean a lot of peat, just a nice intro. Johnnie Walker is so common in the market place that people think it cannot be good but this is not true. The Green Label is outstanding.

After these two I would also recommend Glenfiddich 15 yrs (sometimes labeled 'Solera'). This is another honeyed, heather cinnamon scotch that is a crowd pleaser. It will not disappoint.

All of the above suggestions are of the family of flavor profiles that are honeyed, cinammon, heather, sweet yet drying on the finish and simply great. If you like a little more sherry flavors in your scotch consider the following:

GlenDronach 12
Balvenie 12 yr Doublewood
Macallan 12 yr

These are a little more challenging and heavier in flavor than the others.

Highland Park scotches are excellent. I think they can be a bit overwhelming for someone new to them. At least that was the case for me. If you want to venture into them, I think ideally spend a couple of months sampling Cragganmore, Johnnie Walker Green Label and Glenfiddich 15, and then step up to Highland Park 15 yrs. It is gentler than the 12 yrs which I find a little too sherried for my liking. Another one is Dalwhinnie 15.

If you find yourself in a bar with not much in the selection of scotch consider the following gentle drams:

Crown Royal
Jack Daniel's Ol No. 7 - Yes, it is gentle and nice.
Gibson's Finest 18yrs
Jim Beam Black
Johnnie Walker Black (might prefer with two ice cubes).

As for the Glenmorangie, they have many offerings.  I recommend starting with the Nectar D'Or.  Honeyed, heather and complexity.  Gentle but fun!  Lasanta is sherried and again most enjoyable.  Another is Quinta Ruban where the spirit was finished for a year or two in ex-port casks.  It is outstanding but very powerful.  Big cherries, plums and dark fruit.  A show-stopper!

Hope this helps!

Thanks for emailing and visiting the blog!


. . .
Agree? Disagree?  Please comment.  I will publish all responses.
Take care,
Jason Debly

Photo Credit: Stephs Photo Story
Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2012. All rights reserved except for photo which vests with photographer.


  1. I started my Scotch Odyssey with bottle of Johnnie Walker Black and it still has a permanent place on my shelf.

    I agree that the smoke in the Highland Park might be a little aggressive for the beginner.

    I have been recently fascinated by the The Dalmore 12. It is a lovely subtle dram with this amazing taste of cream.

  2. Kent, I have read many good things about The Dalmore 12. Unfortunately, it is not available where I live. Accordingly, I am not well acquainted with it and so could not include it in the list of whiskies for the newbie to consider.

    A couple of months ago, a marketing representative for The Dalmore offered to supply me with a complimentary bottle, but I declined as it would create a conflict of interest. Kinda hard to give a true/honest review that might not be positive if you receive your bottle for free.

    Any how, thanks for posting!

    1. hey man, i understand the moral implications of accepting a gift and then reviewing it but life is short and maybe we could just give thanks to the small stuff we experience in life (like complimentary bottles) and then give a closet-to-possible "honest" review. this is after all, for the benefit of your readers. and i would place more weightage in your 'biased' review than some other 'honest' review in another site.cheers!


    2. haha, forgot to say that i'm enjoying a hakushu 12 yo with ice! it is a wonderful whiskey (i'm 44 and i started enjoying whiskey 1 month ago so i guess i started late!). since i'm here, here's a quick review of the Hakushu 12:

      nose: smokey, then floral, some grass, fresh mountain air. can't compare the smokiness to islay stuff as i have not tried the latter, but i can say the smoke is gentle, not overpowering.

      palate: some of the same above but also some other more pronounced stuff.......i don't know what it is but it taste good :-) body is medium and oily, lovely...

      finish: slightly smokey, lingering grass, making you feel elegantly at peace with nature.


  3. Cragganmore and Johnnie Walker Green were your recommendations to me as well, and I have kept an eye out for them. Neither of my two normal liquor stops had either of them. The selections at both have very little mid range Scotch (all cheap or very pricey).

    I did however pick up a bottle of the Balvenie 12 yr Doublewood on the recommendation of the whiskey buyer. It was nearly 30% off so I said what the hell. It was a VERY nice evening sipper with just a splash of water after work. My latest trip I got a deal on the Glenfiddich and will give it a try soon.

    Keep up the writing and I'll keep reading.

  4. Hi Jason,

    I haven't tried the Cragganmore yet, but as for the rest, I would start with the glenmorangie. I find it's the "softest" of the mentioned single malts. I generaly give that to the occassional whisky drinker and they always aprove of it, as it's sweet and not too heavy. Another popular hit is Monkey Shoulder, which is in fact a blended malt, but also mostly fruity and very accesible.

    Though I would agree totally about the glenfiddich 15, I have tried serving it on two separate occassions to whisky newcomers (thinking the same thing) and they all found it too heavy...

    Bought a bottle of green label two weeks ago (more on that in your revue) and would have to agree it's also an excellent choice to start if you like peat.



  5. Glenmorangie really depends on the finish, I find they are releasing far too many these days making it difficult to keep up. The original malt is still the most enjoyable, if you really wanted a treat then the limited managers runs are often exceptional. Still the original is a good starter malt alongside Dalwhinnie.

    Speaking of black, I recently tried the Black Grouse. Barely ok, better than some blends, nothing more and the fact that its specially blended to be mixed with coke says it all really.

    1. Black grouse is definitely one of the worst bottlings from that distillery, get yourself a bottle of the original famous grouse and give your taste buds a much deserved reprieve...

    2. Black Grouse when first launched in 2007 was pretty weak but more recently it has gotten a lot better. It has deemphasized the Islay influence and now is more like a peated standard bottling. It is getting better.

  6. I forgot to add that many of the qualities Sarah is looking for are to be found in Balblair, my own favourite malt. Distribution is not great, even here in Scotland but it is well worth obtaining. The new casks are out now as well and their website has had a refresh. I'm not sure how accessible miniatures are abroad but Balblair do offer these and I have seen them.

  7. Hello Boris! Nice to hear from you again. Yes, Monkey Shoulder probably is an excellent scotch whisky for the newbie. I say 'probably' just because I have not yet tried it. It is another that is not available where I live. So, it is on my list to buy when traveling. I have read great things about that vatted blend.

    Raithrover: What you say of Glenmorangie is also true of Bruichladdich. I think the latter puts out a new bottling almost every two weeks. Ok, I exaggerate but they put out some splendid stuff and at the same time some bottlings that are just not firing on all cylinders.

    Balblair? I had it last year at a scotch whisky tasting and thought it was pretty good, but without having owned a bottle I cant recommend it. But, you are probably right, a gentle single malt that the newcomer will enjoy.

    Thanks for your insights, they are always appreciated.

  8. Jason, I like your suggestions. They are pretty safe bets. But . . . if the person likes Islay whiskies your list misses the mark completely.

  9. As a newbie to scotch myself, I really enjoy the Glendronach 12 year. I took it to the lake this summer and the whole family was enjoying a dram after dinner. Not too expensive either if I recall correctly.
    I look forward to trying some of your suggestions soon. Great blog.

  10. Glendronach is great value for money. So too is the Glenfiddich 15 yrs. Just a couple dollars more. It is very interesting to sip.

  11. My first bottle of single malt was Glenlivet 12. Looking back, I think it was a good choice. I would recommend it to neophytes for its gentle floral character. Quite easy to drink neat. Price is quite reasonable (at least here in Dallas). I also agree that JW Black is a nice intro bottle.

    For my father's bo

  12. How about the Irish Whiskey ?
    Connemara -

  13. Joel, yes Glenlivet 12 is an excellent suggestion.

    Conny M, I totally forgot about Irish whiskey which is usually very popular with novices. Duly noted!

  14. Long time reader, first time comment. I would love to read your take on one of personal favorites... Aberlour 10 . I pick it up any chance I get and have noticed that it is quite hard to find at times unless one visits the right duty free shop! I think it would be a good intro for a beginner who knows they like a single malt scotch.

  15. Hello! Garth.

    I hear a lot of positive comments about Aberlour, especially considering the price. I'll try to pick it up soon and review it. I suspect you are right, would be a great starter single malt for the newbie and great for the price conscious veteran.

  16. sir for a newbie, i believe chivas regal 12 years would give one a pleasurable whisky experience. thanks! i am a fan of your reviews! great job! BBB

  17. Hi Jason, I'm a newbie to your blog, but find it very educational, thanks for taking the time! Question, are you familiar with Bruichladdich PC6? Can you give me your thoughts on it? Thanks much!

  18. Hello Jason,

    Love your blog and appreciate the time you spend writing.

    As a newbie, which Scotch would you recommend from each region that would be a good representation of the region? I would like to get an idea of the base differences between them.

    Thank you for your consideration.

  19. Bear, here's a quick list for the newbie:

    Speyside: Cragganmore 12, Tamdhu

    Highland: Oban 14, Dalwhinnie

    Islay: Caol Ila, Bowmore 12

    Island: Highland Park 12

    Lowland: Glenkinchie Distiller's edition

    Campbeltown: Glen Scotia

  20. You will not have to buy back my Cragganmore bottle :)

  21. Anonymous, so far, I haven't had to, and I am glad you are happy with it!

  22. I second the Balviene recommendation. Great for a beginner. I was a diehard bourbon guy until I had Balviene.

  23. I also have to second the Aberlour 10 mention. Really rich and creamy but not overly sweet. I even like it better than the Aberlour 12. Though I can't seem to find it in the US.

  24. I think if you look a bit you can find Aberlour 12 in the US. I found it in Maine.

  25. Hi Jason, great blog!

    I'm a newbie to your site, just got a bottle of Ballatine's 17 yr old and stumbled upon your website while looking up reviews for it. My intro to Scotch was the Dalwhinnie 15 and I found it great as an intro bottle. It's very affordable here in Southern California, going for about $43 each. I'm curious as to what you think of the Dalwhinnie 15 and/or 18?

    Best regards,


  26. I highly recommend Dalwhinnie 15 for the newbie, and frankly for the veteran too. It will not disappoint.

    Another couple of gentle suggestions are: Johnnie Walker Green Label; Cragganmore 12.


  27. how n and glen grant 10 yr
    will you rate singleton of dufftown

  28. So what blends would you suggest that are Islay-ish? The only scotch I ever had was a McClelland's Islay that I found tucked away in a corner of my fathers bar. He didn't remember where it came from. It was heaven. A delicious smoke that brought back memories of uncles long gone. The smoke lasted through washing out the glass and putting it away, through closing up the house for bed and all the way to bed to warm my dreams. Wow.

    The tricky part is that McClellands is only about $27 here in PA so maybe a blend isn't worth it. On the other hand, a dollar is a dollar and if I could find a nice blend for $20 I would be even happier.

    1. I've got a great suggestion for you: Black Bottle!! Cheaper price and better!

  29. For a floral/citrus I enjoy Oban. Any rating as to that?

    1. Yes, my rating is it is excellent! Love it! Reviewed it here:

      I also recommend GlenDronach 12, Highland Park 12 and Glenlivet 18 that are interesting motifs on the taste experience of Oban.

  30. This is a wonderful and useful thread. All the good questions, answers and suggestions have led me to a nice variety of single malts, and have helped me to educate my nose and palette while avoiding the "bow-wows" (to use a Jasonism). As a newbie I often find myself wondering: "am I ready for this one?" But in some cases I've surprised myself. While I loved Cragganmore 12, Dalwhinnie 15, Glenmorangie and Glenfiddich 15 right away, I also loved Talisker 10 and Highland Park 12 immediately. Maybe it's because they kind of reached up and slapped me in the face with flavor (in a good way!). I think perhaps the bolder island flavors were easier for me to wrap my head around, whereas the lovely, slightly more subtly complex ones, like Oban 14 (which I now love too) have taken a bit longer to reveal themselves to me. use an overly used phrase: "it's all good!!" Thanks for getting me off to a great start! Cheers everyone! - Bob from Vermont

    1. Hello VTBob!

      Welcome aboard the scotch whisky train. An adventure for life!

  31. So what ever happened to Sarah after your initial email exchange? -- Gary from Michigan

    1. I never heard from her again. Hopefully not a reflection of the recommendations.

  32. So given that you are not a newbie and some of your reviews for these are several years old, how would you rank these today, most to least favorite? I'm curious how your tastes align with mine and how your tastes have maybe changed over the years. I know mine have.

    The whiskys: HP12, HP15, Glenfiddich 15, Cragganmore 12, Dalwhinnie 15, Glenmorangie 10 and Quinta Ruban, Balvenie 12 Doublewood, Old Pulteny 12, and Glenlivet Nadurra 16 (not sure you reviewed this one).

    BTW, I'm fairly new to your site, but it is my favorite whisky site of the many I read. Thank you and keep up the great work.

    1. My tastes have certainly evolved over the years. In general, when I was a newbie I was really a big fan of blended scotch whisky because it was so smooth and approachable, yet delivering some interesting flavors. So, at that time I really liked Famous Grouse (standard bottling), Teacher's Highland Cream and Johnnie Walker Black. I didn't like Ballantine's.

      Today, I can't stand Famous Grouse. I find it far too sweet and grainy. As for Ballantine's, I still dislike it, but over time my dislike has only increased.

      With respect to Teacher's, Johnnie Black, Chivas and others, I still drink them regularly and enjoy them probably even more now.

      The other big evolution in my tastes has been the lack of use of ice. As a newbie, I added to big ice cubes to every drink. I just couldn't handle the blended scotch without some dilution. Over time I used ice less and less and started drinking scotch neat. Now I drink it neat nearly always. I do make an exception if I am at a festive party. Sometimes I like Johnnie Black with a little ice cube.

      The other big change in my tastes have gradually preferred single malts. I really like single malts. I still appreciate blends, but single malts do provide the most satisfying tasting experience when I am focused on the malt. If I am chilling out watching football, then Black Bottle is perfect.

      AS for the single malts you have listed I still like them all, except for Old Pultney 12. I have not had Glenmorangie 10 in a while but it was a rather weak entry that does not belong in the company of the others you have listed.

      Never was a fan, and still not. I still like HP 15 the most. If I had to rank them purely in a subjective manner it would be:

      HP 15
      Cragganmore 12
      Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban
      HP 12
      Glenlivet Nadurra 16
      Balvenie 12 Doublewood

      Hope this helps and thanks for taking the time to comment as other readers benefit from your input.


  33. Sarah,
    I would highly recommend Irish whiskey or blended Scotch. You're more likely to enjoy the flavor profiles found there. Fine Irish examples would be -- Redbreast 12,Tyrconnell Single Malt, and Powers Johns Lane Release 12. I would not focus on single malt Scotch initially. In my opinion you need to graduate to that point. Most palates would find Irish and blended Scotch more preferable. Examples for blended Scotch include Compass Box-Oak Cross, Johnnie Walker Gold. Equal complexity can be found in these too.

  34. Jason,
    Rookie questions: 1. How long will a decent bottle last in the pantry or should it be kept in the frig?

    1. If the pantry is dark and relatively cool, an unopened bottle can remain there for years. Heat and direct sunlight are the enemy of scotch whisky.

      Once opened, it is preferable to polish the bottle off within 6-8 weeks, but some can remain open longer and retain their flavor profile.

  35. Hi, Jason.
    Congratulations for such an interesting blog.
    I'm a back-comer rather than a new one.
    Years ago I used to drink Irish whiskey -Jameson, Powers - and Cardhu as my first Scotch malt.
    Lately I've had a whim of reenlisting the whisky army, which I've made through two
    single malts: first, the Glenmorangie Qinta Ruban -so sweet, thoroughly enjoyable- and later the much starker Ardbeg 10 -like drinking a cigar-.

  36. Hello Jason,

    I like post as well as the way you treat your visitors. Keep it up.

  37. Great suggestions, Jason. Nice blog you got going on here. I am more of a bourbon guy but I enjoy trying Scotch based on recommendations. If you haven't done so already, I recommend Mitcher's Bourbon - great stuff, plenty of that nice barrel taste, good proof. Cheers.

    1. I have never heard of Mitcher's Bourbon. I will have to try and find it.

      Thanks for dropping by. Hope to hear from you in the future.

  38. This post needs to be updated now that JWGL is no longer in production.

    On another note, I'm writing to you here because I've laboriously worked my way through your archives looking for such an article but haven't found one. Unfortunately most blog formats don't lend themselves to subjects that are not "newsy". I.e. your reviews from four years ago are as relevant as they are today, but you can't just go to a quick sitemap and find what you want. So my lack of being able to find what I want is nothing to do with you, just the problems of the blog format.

    Anyway, this is particular post of yours is the closest. So here goes. As a beginner, I've only tried the following whiskies so far:
    JW Black
    Glenfiddich 12
    Chivas 12
    Old Smuggler (I was 18 and price/standard drink was my only concern at the time.)
    Dimple 15
    Glen Grant I think?
    Talisker and Dalwhinnie (only 1 glass) and probably one other, I remember liking the Talisker most.
    Singleton Liberte (sampling)
    Monkey Shoulder
    (and Jameson's)

    I rate the Glenfiddich, the Chivas 12, the Dimple and the Teachers. Probably best value for money is either the Chivas, Monkey Shoulder or Teachers at their lowest price points when on sale (the only time I buy). And I like Jameson's isn't bad either, I obviously like it more than you do.

    My chosen methodology so far is to only buy at a liquor store, but to try and get a different bottle every time. Ideally I would like to buy 200ml bottles to get a better idea, but I will not go to a pub and spend way too much money for not very much grog that has been sitting who knows how long on a shelf. So this is a very slow, but economical way to navigate my way through whisky distilleries.

    What I would like is a kind of map, so that I can learn to distinguish flavours (e.g. peat), perhaps from different areas, or maybe just flavours. Are there any flavour maps that you think are accurate or would endorse? And if so, which whiskies would you recommend as a way to be able to put the tastes in a sort of mental framework to help narrow down which areas to mine first? When I say mine, I mean try each particular whisky fitting a similar flavour profile to rank them.

    Ideally one would like to be able to know which are the best, and which are the best value for money whiskies for your own personal tastes, so that after you have established that you might then just wait for the specials or buy in bulk to reduce your costs. So have a think about that, and maybe you might come up with something.

    BTW I tried Teachers and Monkey Shoulder after reading this blog, great suggestions! I also agree that Teachers feels like oil in the mouth (with a similar nose), but there is something about it that is compelling. It has really grown on me.

  39. Hi Jason, I had a google image search to try and find a good whisky flavour map, and came up with an interesting one here:

  40. I keep johnny walker black around as my well scotch, as well as balvinenie doublewood for when i want to have a neat glass. It is hood, but is still blended. I avoid speysides, unless i have a bottle of pepto to drink when i'm done. Other than that i always have another single malt that i have picked up along the way.

  41. I love your blog - keep up the good work! Just wanted to give you a big thanks for Glenmorangie Qunta Ruban - it is incredible. I am no aficionado, so at the risk of sounding like an idiot, I think it tastes like cognac. In any case, its wonderful, thanks again.

  42. am a new whisky drinker so tried cragganmore 12 luved it... what next...

  43. I read your comments about Glenfiddich Solera Reserve. And this one for newcomers. When I was in the military I drank Tequila, Jose Cuervo with the worm and another brand I can't recall I think it was 1800. I also drank Elijah Craig 12 year and 18. I like Coors beer, Millers genuine draft, Mickeys ale and thinking of trying Guinness. I don't like whiskey or wine that tastes like rubbing alcohol. I like smooth/sweet whiskeys. I have been reading about the Scotch that's aged in Sherry casks. Haven't tried Sherry, I know it's a desert wine and also have it on my list to try. I was leaning toward getting the Glenfiddich Solera Reserve for my first scotch. Or maybe Bushmills 16 year old single malt. Would you suggest Glenfiddich Solera for me given my palate or something else?

    1. Hi Ernie! I think you would definitely enjoy Glenfiddich 15yrs Solera. But, be careful when you pick up the bottle you don't make the mistake of grabbing the Glenfiddich 15 Distiller's Edition that is bottled at 51% abv. Definitely not what you are looking for.

      I do not like sherry on its own. But, when sherry casks are used to season the spirit that will one day be a an aged single malt, sherry can contribute great notes of berry, strawberry and cherry to a lesser extent. Great sherried single malts to consider that are very smooth, no burn and will not offend are Balvenie Doublewood 12 yrs and Macallan 12yrs.

      Thanks for commenting!

  44. Great blog, and good advice! Never a liquor drinker, decided to try scotch. A friend gave me Talisker (ugh!), and Laphroaig (ugh again!). Undaunted, I found your blog and the LA Whiskey Society.

    This particular thread gave me the confidence to go buy a bottle - of Highland Park 12. Loved it. A friend and I have been each buying different scotches and quickly have now tried (US dollar prices):

    Highland Park 12 - $43
    Highland Park 15 - $65
    Oban 14 - $70
    Clynelish 14 - $55
    Dalmore 12 - $48
    BenRiach 10 Curiositas - $48

    Glendronach (probably 12) - $46
    Balvenie Doublewood 12 - $46
    Bunnahabhain 12 - $50 (bunny hoppin)
    Aberlour a'bunadh $70 (60% abv, be careful)

    I was totally surprised by how different the scotches are, and how different a scotch can be from one time to the next (sometimes I drink them right after dinner, but sometimes I think they air in the bottle changes the scotch). Have not experimented with adding water, except to the 60% ABV scotch.

    I got a Glencairn glass, cheap at Bed Bath and Beyond, but widely available, and it is great for scotch. Smelling is half the fun!

    I cannot pick a favorite yet, but here are my thoughts:

    HP12 and HP15 - both very good, 15 smoother, both have nice smoke finish. Really like these. Great suggestions.

    Clynelish and Oban - some similarities, first try did not like the Clynelish, but second time I did. These are fruitier/nuttier than the HPs. Probably like Oban better.

    Ben Riach 10 Curiositas - found this while searching for a scotch close to HP in flavor. Maybe it is not, but it is as close as I came with good reviews. Really like this. Smoky smell, smoky taste - but not overwhelming. Going to have to drink more of this and the HPs to decide which is best. :)

    The Dalmore 12 was underwhelming initially. Probably the least favorite so far, but certainly not bad. Did not do side by side, but memory says the closest to this is Balvenie?

    My friend's scotches were all drinkable, but I have had less time with them.

    I like the idea of paired comparisons, to see what you prefer among two similar or somewhat similar scotches.

    Most interestingly, was about to clean the shot glass. Tilted it up to get the last drop. It hit my tongue and I clearly tasted chocolate. Can't recall which scotch, but a single drop gave me flavor I had not noted before.

    1. Hi! Once a bottle is open oxygen will affect the flavor in many malts but not all. I find that whiskies that are of a higher ABV 45% plus do tend to be much less affected by oxidation.

      I am glad you gave Scotch a chance. Many people dismiss it as tasting terrible, but they make the rookie mistakes of trying to take too big a sip. As you know, the flavors explode and with a great whisky they are magic.

      Welcome to the world of whisky!

  45. After I wrote the long post yesterday (unsigned), I decided the evening would have another comparison:

    Balvenie Caribbean Cask 14 - $60 vs Balvenie Doublewood 12 - $46 and Dalmore 12 - $48

    Caribbean Cask is nice and smooth, light, easily drinkable, and all preferred it to the Doublewood, though they have similarities. Would be a good scotch for a party. The Doublewood and Dalmore were indeed a similar pair, both rougher.

    Bob K

  46. Hi. Last winter at a Cuban resort my wife and I had unlimited access to the top shelf. As I enjoyed a dram of the Seleccion de Maestros rum, based on the Rumhowler's excellent rating, I mentioned to my wife the Macallan 12 was known to even a non scotch drinker like me to be both expensive in Canada and well regarded. And from there she proceeded to have her first experiences sipping ANY strong spirit neat, and quite enjoyed it.

    So with Christmas coming I've been spending time in the blogs and on Youtube searching for an alternative, given the withdrawal of the 12 yo from our market and the general distaste for the 1824 Gold and Amber.

    For some reason here in Saskatchewan the Quinta Ruban, Nectar D'or and Grenfarclas 15 are all excellently priced relative to the rest of Canada and the world. So I'm looking for a recommendation among those 3 for a newby, yes, but one who has already shown an inclination for a strong sherry influence. Thanks in advance for considering my question.

    1. Since you are a fan of Macallan 12, the closest in terms of flavor would be the Quinta Ruban, a true delight that was finished in port pipes.

      Nectar D'Or is not what I would call a sherried dram and therefore is quite a bit different than the Macallan flavors you like so much. The Nectar D'Or is a more honeyed, melon with lemon type of flavor profile. Still it is excellent too.

      Another alternative that would appeal to your Macallan enthusiast palate would be Balvenie 12 yrs Doublewood. Usually can be had at a reasonable price and is widely available.

      Hope this helps!


  47. So many choices.... Craggenmore 12 1st...then Highland Park 12 2nd. 3rd is difficult... Maybe islay to see if you're a smokey lover... one of the 10 yrs perhaps...
    This could go on forever Jason Ha Ha!!
    AL (from OZ)