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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!

Scotch Around the Clock – Why The Macallan?

13 Aug

House hunting in the Washington, DC, area is nasty. Either you feel like you are paying too much for too little, or you are paying just the right amount but you are living waaaaay too far away from anything to enjoy where you live. Currently, I live in a mediocre condo in an area of Arlington, VA, known as Clarendon. The area rules. My condo does not.

So after an evening after work, my wife, Sara F., and I go house hunting. While house hunting, my friend Brian L. texted me regarding a dram of The Macallan 12-year he decided to partake in. He decided the 18-year version just was not worth the extra cash and guilt. I agree whole heartedly. The 18-year version is nice, but hardly worth the large amount of cash for the slight increase in enjoyment.
After our evening of stress and big decisions, Sara and I decided we need a drink. We stopped in at the Eat Bar (attached to Tallula’s). I immediately check out the single-malt selection behind the bar and I am pleased to note that although they have only five to six bottles, they consist of Laphroiag 10-year, Lagavulin 16-year, Talisker 10-year, Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban, a Balvenie (my eyes were not good enough to spot the type/age and I really did not care enough to ask), and Macallan 12-year.
Of the aforementioned bottles, my choice was The Macallan 12-year. Not because it was a favorite, but mainly because I had not had it in a while and maybe my “mediocre” personal rating was not fair to a single-malt that is highly regarded among scotch drinking freaks.
Upon first smelling, I was quite pleased. The oaky demeanor was quite pleasing to the nose and, actually, quite pleasing to the senses. Before tonight, I do not think that I was in the r
ight frame of mind to really grasp how good the drink was. The taste was medium bodied and extremely smooth. The finish was quite subtle and very satisfying.
Maybe I was wrong. The Macallan 12-year is quite decent. I would be rather interested to taste the cask strength version. Who knows, maybe the trip to Park Avenue Liquors shop will take me to an affordable version of The Macallan.
Affordable? Not likely. The Macallan prices tend to be outrageous for how common it is.

As soon as I got home, I went to straight to my bar and poured a small follow-up glass of Lagavulin 16-year. Sometimes you forget how much love a bottle until you have that special glass. If you enjoy smokey scotch whisky and still do not have Lagavulin 16-year, you have not had that which all others are compared. Go to Pearson’s right now and grab a bottle. Their price destroys all others for that bottle ($69.99, usually $90+)

Scotch Whisky Nosing 101

5 Aug
There are five wonderful features of drinking single-malt whisky:
  1. The color
  2. The smell (generally referred to as “the nose”)
  3. The feel in your mouth (the “body”)
  4. The taste (the “palate”)
  5. The after-taste (the “finish”)

Probably the hardest of the five for people to conquer is #2–the nose.

The first–and most overlooked–step is to use a proper glass. There are a few products on the market for you to consider, but they tend to be difficult to find and generally only available online. (See my previous posting on choosing glassware here.)

Once you have obtained a glass with some nosing potential, pour your glass.

I always recommend becoming comfortable with the smell of your whisky before sipping. I tend to almost tease myself with the aroma until I can no longer sense anything new coming from the scents. Personally, I swirl the whisky to agitate the liquor to fill the glass with a thick aroma now and then before re-administering my nose.

I go for several positions and inhalations, depending on the whisky. If the whisky is of a lighter nature (e.g. a lowland and some highlands), I will agitate the whisky thoroughly to make sure my nose has something to grab. I will then place my nose a little deeper into the glass than may seem appropriate looking to someone not sure as to what you are doing. “Is that guy trying to climb in that glass or is he trying to dip his nose into his drink?!

For an island-style whisky (e.g. Islay, Skye, Orkney, or Jura), I will place my nose more toward the tip of the glass as in the picture above in this posting.

Next, breathe in slowly and steady. Did you get a good read? If you struggle to capture any scent, move in a little closer. In contrast, if you become startled by the strength, cringe from the burn, cough, or snort whisky up your nose like an addict with issues–you may be too close. You will want to back off a little and find the sweet spot for you. Certain whiskies, such as Lagavulin 16-year, will do crazy things to your nose no matter where you place it to your nostrils. Lagavulin 16-year will sting the back of your nose the first time you have at it. Quite intriguing, really!

What do you smell? Flowers? Vanilla? Camp fire? Caramel or toffee? Dirt? Orange rinds? Car exhaust? I have heard some strange descriptions in my time. Everyone seems to pull something different and draw their own opinions, that’s for certain. One person may smell honey and heather while another may smell fruit. When you read certain reference materials from major connoisseurs, you will be amazed at the wacky things they put down as smells coming from scotch whisky.

Everyone has their own snout and you are the only one who knows how to use yours. If you have a giant honker like me, make sure you put it to good use! I could probably have my nose in a glass of my Glenmorangie 18-year Extra Rare for an entire day without taking a single sip. Delightful!

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.

My Current Stock 7/29/2009 & The Rusty Nail

29 Jul

You can never have too many single-malts in your bar (says the person who writes for a blog called “Scotch Finder)!” Here is a picture of my current stash:

Ardbeg – 10-year
Ardbeg – Uigeadail
Balvenie – Single Barrel – 15-year
Bowmore – Legend
Caol Ila – 18-year
Dalwhinnie – 15-year
Glenkinchie – 12-year
Glenmorangie – Extra Rare – 18-year
Highland Park – 18-year
Isle of Jura – Superstition
Lagavulin – 16-year
Springbank – 15-year
Talisker – 10-year

Yum! Yum! Yum!

I have a few blended scotches (not pictured) that I keep on hand for mixed drinks right beside my trusty bottle of Drambuie. My favorite scotch mixed drink is a Rusty Nail:

1 1/2 oz Scotch
3/4 oz Drambuie
Garnish with citrus wedge or twist

The flavor is extremely sweet and tastes quite similar to a scotch/Yeager/triple sec mix. Make sure you put it on lots of ice.

Rusty Nails are a very classic drink and not for the faint of heart–you will notice by the recipe that the drink is basically straight liquor. More than once I have been accused of drinking an “old man” drink when I make it. I recommend using a low-end blend (Dewars or Black/Red Johnnie Walker) and not damaging the integrity of a fine single-malt. I compare putting a fine single-malt in a cocktail like putting rare tequila into a margarita…

…what’s the point?