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