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Duty Free Only Scotches… WTF?

20 Nov

I’ll make this quick today. What in the world is up with Duty Free only scotches?

Lead in story: My poor buddy, Leone, is a freak for Laphroiag. He overpaid for a bottle of Laphroiag 18-year several months ago only to find the price reduced to almost half of what he paid in the market right now. Is he upset? Sure. Would he probably still have overpaid a little to get it earlier? My gut screams to the affirmative.

Which brings me to the Duty Free tease. He recently learned of a neat-o bottle of Laphroiag which only available in the the Duty Free retail. BEHOLD…

Laphroaig Triple Wood

Laphroaig Triple Wood (click this link to read a review that makes me want to punch someone). Sound interesting? You’re darn tootin’ it does! Laphroaig does not play much with its time-tested recipe and flavor profiles. But if you want to try it, you are going to have to travel internationally and cross your fingers that you run into it in your international airport’s Duty Free. Maybe that is no big deal for some wealthier Brits who are flying to Paris for the weekend, but for us Scotch freaks in the U.S., you have more chance of finding a bottle of Black Bowmore on the street unopened than stumbling across this one in a local retailer.

Highland Park 21-Year

Where do you think I got my uber-weird bottle of Highland Park 21-year? Leone accidentally picked one up for me on his way back from England a year back. It is actually the only Highland Park flavor profile that I would put a slight step up from Highland Park 18-year, which I consider their sweet spot on the spectrum (Highland Park 25 and 30 are rather dull to me).

I cherish my 21-year because I know damn well that the chances of me being able to replace it are slim to none. That’s why the bottle looks like someone opened it, scooped out a very large dram, and then never touched it again. *Single Tear*

So my message to the distillers is to knock it off. We know that you are playing with the market to dip your new flavor profiles’ toes into the market to see how they do without making an ass out of yourself when the critics pan it, but it is really frustrating to huge fans that just want to get their hands on a bottle without paying $1,200 for a ticket to England for a £40 bottle of hooch.

Will they knock it off? No way. I am just a sore loser.

If you want to read a little more about Duty Free, this article is a great start: http://www.budgettravel.com/bt-dyn/content/article/2009/01/23/AR2009012301773.html

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Your Impressive Bottle for the Office – Part I (of II)

8 Oct

So you are an important person. You have people to impress. The Japanese CEO of the company that you are about to purchase is coming to your office next week and you need to have a nice bottle on hand to show this CEO who is sophisticated and someone not to second guess. This is a very common scenario, so not to worry, I have some advice to impress.

First, let me ask you this question: did Johnnie Walker Blue pop into your mind yet?

If it did, you need this post more than you think. Poser.


Age matters
Let’s face it. Age is a revered number value on a bottle of single malt scotch whisky. Age drives up the price of bottles. If you want to impress with age, then you should choose something over the age of 18 years.

A 25 year bottle will do nicely, but anything over the age of 30 years is going to be a large taste risk. Aging whisky for long periods of time can create an unwanted change in taste and flavor. If you go over the age of 40, it does not even matter what you are drinking and it will not matter what it tastes like. You will just be considered the man. Remember, a bottle of Glenmorangie 10-year-old that sits on your shelf for five years before you open it does not make it a Glenmorangie 15-year-old… it is now just a 15-year-old Glenmorangie 10-year-old. Mull that over for a moment, Lucas.

My budget recommendations:


Highland Park 25-Year $250-$300 range

Highland Park 25-Year-Old
(Current label style)

Pretty woody from the age, a little lighter on the smoke and peat, but a full body gentleness that is quite soothing. Not tremendously better than the 18-year version, but definitely a giant step up on the impress-me scale.

Talisker 25-Year$190-$250 range

Talisker 25-Year
(Current label style)
This thing is yummy. I would love to have one around just to impress myself with how cool I am. A little woody fullness, a high volume of alcohol that you probably would not notice if you did not see the alcohol volume on the bottle label. It has a gentle pepper with a sherry touch delight. You’ll pull all sorts of dried fruits from the palate.
What would you recommend for a budget impressive bottle?
NEXT UP: My No-Budget Recommendations

The Whiskies I Cannot Live Without

20 Sep

You can look to the right of this blog and see my current stash and recognize fairly quickly that I am not someone who just dabbles in scotch whisky. I can never seem to get to a place that makes me feel like I have experienced everything I want to experience with the Water of Life.

There are several bottles listed, however, that I am certainly glad to have experienced but would not feel any sort of impulse to replace them upon their certain bottle of emptiness doom. Much like humans in life, the end is inevitable!
On the other hand, there are several bottles and types of whisky that upon completion, I feel not only an empty space in the bar where one of my favorite single-malts were housed, but also an emptiness in my heart (or belly, whichever seems to make the most sense for you). The following list is not a ranking by any means; they all play an important roll in filling a special taste craving and appreciation that should last through the ages.
Ardbeg 10-year
Ardbeg 10-Year from Port Ellen on the Isle of Islay

The Ardbeg 10-Year shown above is an amazing blast of peat and smoke. The heavy earth flavor and taste of tabacco makes this an absolute gem. Put a $50 price tag on it and you get more bang for your buck than almost anything out there. See this one for under $50 and you would be a fool not to purchase it.

Talisker 10-year
Talisker 10-Year from the Isle of Skye
Ah Talisker 10-Year. This one holds a special place in my heart due to my first bottle arriving during my bachelor party weekend with my best of friends. Of course, none of my friends were into scotch at the time, so I mostly drank it alone that weekend. Since then, many of those same friends have fallen for this wonderful concoction from the Isle of Skye. It has so much peppery goodness wrapped in its delicate smoke, I just replaced it this week at random join in Baltimore that had it on sale for $45. You can’t buy this in Washington, DC for under $65. Welcome back, Talisker! You were sorely missed!
Highland Park 18-year
Highland Park 18-Year from OrkneyHighland Park 18-Year is nearly the most perfect scotch on the market. Sweet. Smokey. Well balanced. Even body. Almost simple in presentation with the most complicated of flavors for any scotch nut and any scotch beginner. It can get a little pricey and, from what vendors have been telling me, Highland Park is raising its prices and screwing things up. The bottles are not moving as fast and a once $85 bottle has now become a shelf duster at $100+. I have seen it on store shelves for $115 before. That makes me sad. This is too good to start hiking prices and thinking that you are The Macallan with your fancy schmancy name and history. Alas! This one is almost too good for me to drink sometimes. I nurse this bottle like it is the last one on earth.
Lagavulin 16-year
Lagavulin 16-Year from Islay

I am almost tired of writing about this guy. It is big. It is smokey. It has a wonderful brown color. It is always good. If you do not have it, put it on your shortlist. MRSP $69.99. If you see it for any more than that, keep looking. If you see it for under $60, buy the entire stock and let me know.
A Sherried Highland Speyside
The Macallan 12-Year Highland SpeysideI have a picture of The Macallan 12-year above as a representation ONLY. It may be one of the better and bigger sherried highland speyside out there, but it is also a cliche to me. Sure it is good. DAMN good, even. But when I see this sucker at every bar in America where the bartenders don’t even know what it is, it makes me sad. It is like the Heinz Ketchup of trash bars who want to look cool or have something decent on hand when Mr. Dad O’College Student stops in before taking their kid home for the summer. Other really nice sherried highland’s worth having on hand (and a matching nice price tag to boot!):
  • Abelour 16-Year Double Matured
  • Glenmorangie Lasanta
  • Balvenie 12-Year Double Wood

A Highland costal gem
Old Pulteney 17-Year distillery bottling from the northern highland coastal regionOld Pulteney 17-Year is pictured above because it is probably my favorite coastal highland. These tend to have a sea salt landscape with sweetness and ease of drink. Very relaxing, very tasty, very every-day-yes-please. Another wonderful example is Clynelish 14-year.

All of the ones I’ve mentioned I have been able to find for between $40-$100. The market demand is driving up prices and not making things very easy for the non-filthy rich so make sure you get some while you stil can!

What are your favorites?

Scotch Gifts 101 & 105

21 Aug

I am not going to lie. This post was entirely inspired by a friend of mine.

SCENARIO #1
So you want to get your friend a gift. You think it would be fun to get this friend a nice bottle of scotch because you remembered that they drank an entire bottle of your Dewar’s White Label–that had been in your liquor cabinet for 4 years–at your last party.

What a nice friend you are! I already respect your judgment.

But what do you choose? You don’t want to spend a fortune. You want something good. You want to make an impression… And you know very little about scotch besides that it is a liquor.

Highland Park 12-year is your no-fail very nice gift choice. Not only is it normally priced between $42 and $50, it is rated in the lower 90s by whisky connoisseurs. It is sweet, smokey, heathery, with honey notes. The finish is fantastic and has almost everything you could ever want in a perfectly price whisky. The only downside about starting your new journey down the scotch highway can really be tainted by this wonderfully balanced whisky. I compare starting with Highland Park whiskies like having your first car be a Porche.

SCENARIO #2
Your scotch-loving boss is having a special event and you want to get him a nice bottle of scotch of scotch as a gift that he’ll respect you for.

This one is a bit tougher. Do you know what he has in his stock? That knowledge would be quite helpful when making a decision.

Big scotch drinkers tend to lean towards the Islay malts: Laphroiag, Lagavulin, Bowmore, Bruichladdich, Bunnahabhain, and the extra-rare Port Ellen.

If you are looking to impress, I would highly recommend finding a Port Ellen of any age. The distillery was shut down in 1983 so each bottle is special by default. Also, your boss is less likely to have one. The only downside is the price. I have not seen one for less than $110, and that was by a bottler that I had never heard of and bottled at a very young age (around 11 years).

Okay. I understand. Port Ellen is a bit on the obscure side and you may not want to fork up that kind of money. So what now?

Lagavulin 16-year – This is your fail safe. If your boss is a cigar smoker, this is the perfect scotch. If you boss is snobby, this is the perfect scotch. If your boss is a discerning scotch drinker, they will really appreciate the thought. Not because they do not like it, but probably because they already has it in their stock. Having a second bottle on hand of Lagavulin 16-year never hurt anyone and now you are less likely to drink yours quite as sparingly. Everybody wins!

Now you are armed and dangerous. Go grab someone a bottle of something fun!

Do you have a favorite bottle that you would recommend as a gift? Let’s hear it! Drop a comment!

UPDATE 8/23/2009:
On a recent visit to Scotland, John from Mt. Clemens, MI met a few Scots who remmended: McIvor, Old Pultney, The McCallan, Glen Farclas and naturally, Highland Park. Thanks for the input, John! Your new friends have great taste!

New York City Trip – Summary – Awesome.

17 Aug

I would say the trip was exactly like we had planned, but I would be lying.

We arrived in Manhattan several hours earlier on Friday than we thought we would. What better utilization of time, but to go to a quick dinner and hit the Museum of Modern Art (aka “MoMA”) on Target Free Ticket Friday? We saw several amazing masterpieces.
Why would I tell you this on a Scotch blog?
The next day (Saturday morning), Mrs. Finder and I wake up and walk down the street to a local wine and liquor shop so I can peak in and look at a couple of bottles’ prices from the night before. You know, for comparison’s sake… uh…. Wait… Oh no…
The doors were locked. Panic starts to ensue. “Oh no. NO.”
I immediately call Park Avenue Liquor Shop (where my entire afternoon was planned to be spent) and I receive the answering machine, “We are open MONDAY through FRIDAY… We are CLOSED on Saturday and Sunday.”
*Sigh* So basically I make a trip to New York City to go to the fabled Scotch store only to find out that they are the only liquor store in the entire world that is closed on Saturdays and Sundays.
$*!&#^^!&!!!!@@@
As I sit there stewing in my own stupidity and on the brink of tears (I wish I was lying), Mrs. Finder begins looking up local shops to take me to to make my crushed little heart feel better. She has a great idea. Park Avenue Liquors may have an awesome selection, but with the plethora of local liquor stores scattering the city, I can probably find a better deal on something great at another shop. This is why she is Mrs. Finder. Rock n’ roll.
  1. Crush Wine and Spirits (I will discuss in a little more depth later this week).
  2. Astor Wines and Spirits – Their selection was not that fantastic or mind blowing, but nothing to shake a stick at either. Their prices, however, were phenomenal!

Here are the new additions to my scotch whisky single-malt family:

  1. Highland Park – 12 year old (an absolute steal at $31.99 USD!)
  2. Cragganmore 12-year old
  3. Clynelish 14-year old
  4. Old Pulteney 17-year old
and…
#5. Ardbeg Supernova! I did not even know about this malt until I spoke to the whisky pro at Crush Wines and Spirits on Saturday morning! From what I have read so far, this is an ultra-peated Ardbeg. Where the normally really peaty Ardbeg 10-year old’s smoke level is 25 ppm (parts per million), the Supernova is 100 ppm! I’m a little nervous it is going to be undrinkable, but I can’t wait to try it. I will definitely let you know when I pop it open.

Our first scotch tasting event!

4 Aug

On a balmy Sunday evening, we called to order our very first Single-Malt Scotch Whisky tasting held at Mark R.’s residence in Alexandria, VA. Guests in attendance? Mark R., Scotch F., Travis B., Matthew G., Sam L., and Andrew W.

The drinks on the menu were tasted as follows:

  1. Glenkinchie 12-year (Lowland)
  2. Dalwhinnie 15-year (Highland)
  3. Highland Park 18-year (Orkney)
  4. Talisker 10-year (Skye)
  5. Lagavulin 16-year (Islay)
  6. Balvenie 15-year single barrel (extra credit) (Highland – Speyside)

Mark R. was also gracious enough to prepare some excellent heavy appetizers:

  1. Reuben dip (get recipe here)
  2. Smoked salmon paté
  3. Crab dip
  4. Hummos

All were excellent and paired with each of the whiskies wonderfully. The smoked salmon in particular went with the smokier Talisker and Lagavulin.

Each guest was given a bottle of filtered water (see neat/water/ice discussion) to prepare their serving to their personal taste. We started with the gentler lowlands and worked our way through the highland and Orkney selections before hitting the palate smacking Islay malts. From the selections we chose, here is a chart showing how people rated each one (click graph to enlarge):

I was extremely interested in how each person reacted to each one and how different people’s tastes can be. Everyone found something that they really enjoyed where almost everyone really enjoyed the Talisker 10-year fairly evenly in comparison to the other malts. Lagavulin 16-year is always a strikingly powerful smokey Islay malt. My wife says it smells like a campfire and I could not agree more. Delicious.

My favorite comment of the evening came from Travis B. regarding my absolute favorite scotch whisky to date, Highland Park 18-year. “So what do you think, Travis?”

“It is terrible.”

“Really??”

“Yes. It takes like crap in a glass.”

Awesome. His comment is warming. A bear hug.

The Tale of Old Pulteney – 21-Year

31 Jul
Once upon a time, Scotch Finder received an e-mail from his trusty partner in crime regarding an excellent article she ran across while reading local newspapers online (see the article).

This magical article sparked interest in Scotch Finder and the Associate. The Associate decided that he MUST acquire all five single-malt scotch whiskies in the article (as described in the article by Garret M. Graff for The Washingtonian):

  1. Lagavulin 16-year-old—From Islay, it’s delicious, smoky, and full of peat. It pairs particularly well with cigars because of its strength.
  2. Highland Park 18-year-old—Rich and smooth with a deep amber color, full of honey with some caramel and salt.
  3. Glenmorangie Sherry Finish (aka “Lasanta”)—Hints of maple, toffee, and nuts fill this 12-year-old. Perfect for a lingering after-dinner sipping session with dessert or cheese.
  4. Old Pulteney 21-year-old—Hints of fruits and vanilla and just a touch of the sea in the finish of this Scotch from the old herring port of Wick.
  5. Ardbeg’s Uigeadail—So thick and flavorful, it’s almost chewy. This Islay whisky, its fans say, has an aftertaste measured in nuclear half-lifes. Add a few drops of water to open it up.

Let’s be honest, after reading such gushing reviews, what scotch whisky fan wouldn’t crave the experience? Plus, look how pretty the bottles are!

One little call across the river to Pearson’s Wine and Spirits in Washington, D.C. and a couple hundreds of dollars later, four of the five were obtained by my Associate without incident. Which of the four was unavailable? You guessed it…

…the elusive Old Pulteney 21-year! Dum dum dummmmm.

I make call after call and stop after stop at local Virginia ABCs, Pearson’s, and other random places I walk by that sells single-malts. Nothing. I ask each one if they could obtain this random spirit. All respond with “doesn’t look like it” or “I don’t even see that in any of my lists” or “never heard of that one. Nope not here.”

So a trip to Ohio for a wedding proves oddly lucky. A stop at an Ohio state-run Hyde Park Wine and Spirit near some friends of mine in Norwood, Ohio, resulted in the usual my becoming friends with the manager. (SIDE NOTE: I tend to stalk single-malt sections in stores and bars resulting in my becoming oddly close with proprietors, bartenders, and store managers.) After a few minutes of my inquiring about a few bottles–one being the Old Pulteney–she invites me into her office to check her computer’s stock list. Nothing shows up on the computer. “Have you tried The Party Source in Kentucky?”

1 minute later, she’s on the phone with The Party Source on my behalf. They have one last bottle in stock! They put it aside for me, I thank the HPW&S manager greatfully and head to Kentucky.

On the way down, I call my Associate and ask “Do you have $117 to blow?”

“On what?” he replies.

“The Old Pulteney 21-year.”

Without so much as a second to take a breath or thought of consideration, “Ohhhh yes.”

Fast forward to a few weeks later, we finally sit down and open the bottle for a little taste. We were expecting classic saltiness and a wonderfully complex whisky. Hard work to pay off…

*Sip sip*

We both look at each other in confusion. There were no whisky fireworks going off. There was no magical experience blowing any one’s mind. It sort of tasted like an old book.

The moral of this overblown and drawn out story is that you can search your rear off for a desirable whisky, obtain it under seemingly magical domino effect situations. But ultimately, one man’s whisky heaven can be a slap on the tongue with an old wet book for another.

Find your flavor. Once you do, your trusty buddy won’t let you down.