Recommend Some Good Whiskies
April 11, 2010 6:18 AM   Subscribe

I want to become a whiskey drinker, lover and aficionado. Over the past several months I have grown to enjoy whiskey very much. Can someone point be in the right direction of some good whiskies to start building a nice collection around? Any literature I can get my hands on to improve my whiskey knowledge?
posted by Tenacious.Me.Tokyo to Food & Drink (39 answers total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
I'm in love with the Islay whisky (it's a Scottish island), especially Ardbeg and Bruichladdich, but I keep Lagavulin, Bowmore, and Laphroaigs in my cabinet, too.

The Internet has a million whisky resources. Familiarize yourself with the varieties and regions and then the fun can begin: tasting, tasting, tasting, as you triangulate on styles you prefer!
posted by Joseph Gurl at 6:30 AM on April 11, 2010

for singlemalt Scotch, try some of the following:

Laphroaig - my personal favorite - full of smokey peaty goodness, heather overtones & an incredibly complex finish

Caol Ila - hard to find but so worth it - light & round in flavour with alot of floral notes, nice peppery finish

Oban - interesting for its almost briny flavor, which they achieve through leaving the oak barrels it is stored in exposed to the sea air

also, if you've got the $$$ it's worth exploring the differences between various agings - the difference even between a 10yr old and a 15 year old Laphroiag is quite noticeable

have fun!
posted by jammy at 6:32 AM on April 11, 2010

for literature, check out the work of Michael Jackson
posted by jammy at 6:34 AM on April 11, 2010

The best way, I've found, to build a collection is to find a tasting group in your region. You pay a marginal amount of money to sample 8-10 whiskeys at a time in an environment which allows you to learn as well as taste! Keep a journal at these groups and you will find that you'll have a great collection in no time!
posted by Hiker at 6:40 AM on April 11, 2010

As far as building a collection, my recommendation is to buy what's in your price-range that catches your eye. You'll find some stinkers and gems, but a haphazard approach avoids a lot of the preconceptions that interwebs research can bring. While I'm at it, I got the most enjoyment out of my malts by drinking one bottle from top to bottom, then moving on to the next. I do jump around if I'm at a scotch bar, or if someone else is paying, but for my dollar, I think I get the most enjoyment out of having the same thing for a while, learning its complexities, then moving on.
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 6:42 AM on April 11, 2010

Laphroaig is one of the more popular single malts from the Islay region of Scotland, and for very, very good reason. I love whiskey, but I would happily drink Laphroaig exclusively for the rest of my life.

You should also try Highland Park and Caol Ila.

Japan also makes interesting/good whiskeys; try the Suntory Yamazaki.

You should also get a proper tasting glass for your whiskey; most people recommend a tulip-shaped glass.
posted by nihraguk at 6:56 AM on April 11, 2010

It's a bit difficult to find unless you go through dealers who specialise in Whiskey, but I can recommend the Japanese Suntory. It has a strong and unique taste, and of course... there was the Bill Murray Ad from Lost in Translation.
posted by Biru at 6:59 AM on April 11, 2010

Laphroig is my first choice too but Glenmorangie can be a smoother alternate.

Single malts are the best.

I went to Scotland for my birthday a couple years back specifically to understand whiskey more and took the heritage tour and tasting service. Nothing like the expert guidance if you're serious and can make such a trip happen.
posted by infini at 7:06 AM on April 11, 2010

Laphroig Green Cask is worthy as well, jammy
posted by infini at 7:07 AM on April 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Laphroig is one of my favorites too.

However, Laphroig can also be a punch in the face for the uninitiated.

For Scotches anyway, most people would do well to start with something like The Macallan which is complex and wonderful without the challenge of a lot of smoke.
posted by DavidandConquer at 7:26 AM on April 11, 2010

Best answer: I follow those blogs:

- The Scotch Blog
- The Scotch Blog (another one)
- Dr. Whisky

There are a few resources within Diaego's Classic Malts website, such as:

- The Malt Matcher
- The Single Malt Flavour Map

These will help you learn about single malts, but they don't often cover other whiskies.

As far as single malts go, my favorites are:

- Talisker (12 years): a bit of smoke, a bit of iodine. I usually put a little water in it. Here in Québec, it's afordable.
- Oban (14 years): smoke, strong alcohol taste. The bottle is a bit expensive.

I also drink Famous Grouse (10 years), which is a blend (with lemon and apple notes).

Diaego also has tasting kits with three small bottles. I bought one with Oban, Dalwhinnie and Glenkinchie. I've also seen one with three different Talisker bottles. It's a nice starting point.

Have fun !
posted by agregoire at 7:33 AM on April 11, 2010

I know it is taboo to suggest, but a good introduction to the single malt world really is Glenfiddich. The 12 year variety is very smooth, easy to drink neat and fairly priced. It may not be as subtle and complex as some of the others mentioned, but it is a great starter scotch IMO. The Macallan is another pretty good starter scotch, but is a little more expensive.

It is all about your preference. I prefer highlands scotch, it seems like the Islay region is well represented as well. See if you can find a gentlemen's club like a moose lodge or something - IMO this is the best place to learn about liquor, cigars and other manly things.
posted by I_am_jesus at 7:56 AM on April 11, 2010

My friends and I have a gathering from time to time called "neat". Each person is responsable for bringing a nice bottle, and then we sample each. The tasting is done neat (that is without ice or mixers or whatnot), hence the name. Everybody gets to take home what is left of their bottle, which ought to be more than half unless you have some hard drinking friends.

It is a win-win, because everyone gets to try a number of fancy bottles of booze for the price of one, and they get to take something home too!

These gatherings usually work best with about ten people and six bottles. Much more, and the tasting gets lost in the chaos. Though those neats are fun too...

This also allows you to explore and find what you like. For example, I love Ardbeg and Lagavulin, while my girlfriend can't stand them and likes a Bookers or Knob Creek.
posted by cjemmott at 8:03 AM on April 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

Be sure to also check out these previous AskMe threads:
Scotch, an acquired taste?

posted by ericb at 8:04 AM on April 11, 2010

I notice that the previous comments all focus on Scotch whisky, but you, the OP, don't tell us what, er, nationality of whiskeys you've been enjoying, which plays a big role in this. If you're into bourbons, I'm going to suggest Knob Creek and if you're trying rye whiskeys, I'll suggest Sazerac Rye.
posted by knile at 8:13 AM on April 11, 2010

My husband started drinking scotch after we went to a Macallan tasting - very accessible and quite tasty.
posted by echo0720 at 8:18 AM on April 11, 2010

Sazerac is decent, but one, it's too sweet for making sazeracs with, and two, Old Overholt is a superior rye for a third of the price. Plus, you get to call it Old Overcoat and watch the clerk roll his or her eyes.

Wild Turkey rye is pretty decent (the only decent whiskey they make), Rittenhouse and Pikesville are both far less flaverful than Old Overholt for about the same price. (R1), Jim Beam's fancy-pants rye (theoretically pronounced Rye One), is really smooth, but a very simple flavor profile and not worth the money. When I was in Vancouver, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of both Alberta Premium and Alberta Springs, and kind of wish I could give them another taste. Michters and Hudson Manhattan rye are both excellent, though I've only ever had them in Manhattans, so I don't have a clear sample of their taste alone. Hudson Manhattan is, at least around here, insanely expensive, costing about $50 for 375ml.
posted by klangklangston at 8:26 AM on April 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Since Rye came up, I have to mention Templeton Rye. (Warning, knocking sound on first page of website.)

Unfortunately, it can only be purchased in Iowa or Illinois and it tends to be rather scarce, but it's delicious and worth looking for. Some of the best American whiskey I've ever had.
posted by TrialByMedia at 8:33 AM on April 11, 2010

Templeton is great stuff.

Also, there was this thread from December. And this one from October.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 8:40 AM on April 11, 2010

Laphroig is one of my favorites too.

However, Laphroig can also be a punch in the face for the uninitiated.

For Scotches anyway, most people would do well to start with something like The Macallan which is complex and wonderful without the challenge of a lot of smoke.


People are giving you a lot of terrible advice in this thread. Not that Laphroaig and Oban aren't excellent, but they are TERRIBLE for someone new to scotch/whiskey. Laproaig is actually one of my favorites, but I would NEVER recommend it to a new scotch drinker.

Macallan and Glenfiddich are excellent scotches to start with. Dalmore 12 is also excellent, if a bit different, though harder to find.
posted by thekiltedwonder at 8:41 AM on April 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

First things first.

There's no "e" in "Whisky"
posted by notyou at 8:52 AM on April 11, 2010

Johnnie Walker, a seller of blended whiskey, does free group tastings during which they provide several samples of their blends and the constituent single malts whiskeys in their blend. They won't identify the single malts, but the hosts will describe their characteristics, helping you identify your favorite characteristics.

Macallan also does free tastings of their various single malts, and they have the same corporate ownership as Highland Park, Glenrothes, Glenturret and Tamdhu, so I wouldn't be surprised if they offer them, too. Visit their websites and sign up for whatever clubs or promotional stuff they offer to get invited to the tastings.
posted by NortonDC at 9:01 AM on April 11, 2010

DavidandConquer and thekiltedwonder's advice is wise - Islay whiskey's are pungent and some people find them offputting - if you haven't already and you're curious drink a few at a good bar.

With single malts it's all a matter of taste, you very rarely hear, if ever, 'stay well clear of at all costs' (and I would appreciate if anyone had any such advice about a particular distillery).

Also there are some great blends out there, but you pay through the teeth for the remarkable ones.
posted by einekleine at 9:09 AM on April 11, 2010

Thank you notyou - important correction... Islay whisky. And of course there are fine whiskey's too.
posted by einekleine at 9:10 AM on April 11, 2010

As a Kentucky girl, I'd like to put in a recommendation for a few Kentucky bourbons: Four Roses, Woodford Reserve, Maker's Mark, Buffalo Trace and another I personally really enjoy, Bulleit (pronounced Bullet 'round here).

Outside Kentucky, I absolutely love Suntory Yamazaki 18 year, but it costs a hundred dollars a bottle and I haven't had it since I left Chicago, where dashing rich men seem to consider it their duty to compete with each other to buy single women in bars the most expensive alcohol on the shelves *sigh*.
posted by sunnichka at 9:18 AM on April 11, 2010

You've got a bunch of great recommendations for drams to try, so I won't add my own - they're all already listed. You also asked for literature - I highly recommend Iain Banks Raw Spirit: in Search of the Perfect Dram. He's basically commissioned by his publisher to travel all over the whisky producing regions of Scotland in search of, well, the perfect dram.

As one of Banks' friends puts it in one chapter when asking what he was working on - "...and they're paying you for this." When told they in fact already have paid, the friend remarks "you'll need help, then." Not an exact quote, but from memory.

It's a really entertaining look at the single malt industry, which will also teach you quite a bit and have you scribbling down the names of whiskys to try and find.

I'm not a big fan of his fiction, but thoroughly enjoyed this book, which is now going on my re-read list.
posted by Expat at 9:54 AM on April 11, 2010

I am a big fan of the Speysides. Two on my shelf right now are Macallan, which has a caramel-hint, and Cragganmore which is somewhat smoky.
posted by molecicco at 10:09 AM on April 11, 2010

Best answer: Two of my favorite scotches that haven't gotten mentioned so far are Cragganmore, which has a slight spiciness to it that I enjoy a great deal, and Balvenie Doublewood, which is a nicely interesting and well-rounded scotch. Neither is particularly smoky/peaty and so they don't have much of the danger of being shocking as some of the stuff like Laphroiag that folks have warned about.

Beyond that and the other specific suggestions in this thread, there's really such a wealth of nice single malts out there that you can't go too wrong just making the occasional adventurous pick off the shelf (or asking the clerk for a suggestion along those lines). Above the $30 line there's really not much room for a bad scotch, it's more as folks have said a matter of learning what sort of thing you particularly like. I've been enjoying hiking out in every direction, personally, though I do come back to my favorites.

Seconding Old Overholt as a nice affordable rye. Makes a nice sort of, I dunno, rustic bite compared to smoother scotches, which can be a nice change of pace.

And seconding Bulleit and Buffalo Trace as very nice and very affordable bourbons. You'll find them, like most bourbons, to be significantly sweeter than a typical scotch, but neither are overly sweet as bourbons go.

There's no "e" in "Whisky"

However, there is one in "whiskey", and the distinction is a conventional/regional one not worth giving anyone real trouble about. Whisky for the scotch family (and perhaps a few others?) vs. whiskey for ryes, bourbons, Irish whiskey, etc seems to be the main dividing line, but it's hardly worth giving someone trouble about outside of the narrow confines of an argument about that distinction.
posted by cortex at 10:09 AM on April 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Dalwhinnie is good - peaty and smoky - but i guess that's a given since I like Laphroig

I find Caol Ila hard to swallow and need to splash water into it

btw, the whisky spelling needs fixing in the spellcheck then as it auto corrects it with an 'e'
posted by infini at 11:02 AM on April 11, 2010

Yeah, not really worth arguing about, but perhaps worth knowing:
At one time, all whiskey was spelled without an e, as "whisky". In around 1870, the reputation of Scottish whisky was very poor as Scottish distilleries flooded the market with cheaper spirits produced using the Coffey still. The Irish and American distilleries adopted the spelling "whiskey", with the extra "e", to distinguish their higher quality product. Today, the spelling whisky (plural whiskies) is generally used for whiskies distilled in Scotland, Wales, Canada, Australia, and Japan, while whiskey is used for the spirits distilled in Ireland and the United States.*
posted by mjg123 at 11:46 AM on April 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

People are giving you a lot of terrible advice in this thread... Laproaig is actually one of my favorites, but I would NEVER recommend it to a new scotch drinker.

this was the first scotch I ever had & it won me for life - sometimes it can be a great thing to be blown away - we don't all take the lowland road first ;)

that said, i second the recommendation of Macallan highly (my clan actually - can't believe i didn't mention it earlier - my ancestors probably hate me now) - and the Balvenie Doublewood that cortex mentioned is also super yum

i also wanted to recommend that as part of your whisky appreciation you take a good amount of time simply sitting & breathing the whisky in through your nose & mouth - the tulip shaped glasses that nihraguk mentioned are useful for this

and too: letting the first sip sit quietly on the tongue, slowly letting it fill the rest of your mouth and then a smooth swallow - open your mouth now & breath slowly - there's so much to experience in this moment it's not even funny

again, have fun
posted by jammy at 2:40 PM on April 11, 2010

I'm no expert, but I'll nth the Balvenie Doublewood. Absolutely delicious, completely smooth, smells wonderful. Tastes strongly of honey with notes of vanilla and toffee. It's my favorite scotch so far (actually I'm on a mission like you, OP). I also have a Balvenie Signature on the shelf at the moment, and it's also very good though quite different (more harsh and... acidic? I guess). I invariably always find myself wanting the Doublewood.

I have a bottle of the Suntory Yamazaki 12 year mentioned upthread too. Very nice, but very "woody" (I don't know what the real word to describe that taste is). Best enjoyed with a single cube of ice, I find.
posted by tracert at 3:49 PM on April 11, 2010

I like Glenrothes.

What I have found is that over time, the thing to do is taste all that you can, and then hope to find a region you like especially much. Within that region you will find lots of variety and it will be more fun to explore a smaller area.
posted by cell divide at 6:48 PM on April 11, 2010

I Would highly recommend you check out and in particular his Youtube channel.
posted by theCroft at 2:31 AM on April 12, 2010

jammy, cortex, you have good taste. jammy is right to mention drinking methods. I would also add in that I drink whisky the opposite way as I do wine. That is, when I take a sip of whisky I take in absolutely no air. Breathe after swallowing, and breathe slowly to take in all the fire that the whisky gives. Fire with the sip tends to overpower all the flavours, but fire afterwards is an enjoyable part of the experience, where other flavours also come out.
posted by molecicco at 3:30 AM on April 12, 2010

I would recommend picking up a copy of Jim Murray's Whisky Bible. Although it seems like just a compendium of ratings for various brands and bottlings, it's really a startlingly deep resource of whisky knowledge from around the world. The reviews are succinct, colorful, evocative and entertaining. Mr. Murray is both opinionated and refreshingly non-dogmatic. One mid-2000s edition of the Whisky Bible contained an enlightening screed against those who make a fetish of the single malt, and opened my eyes to the gorgeous balance of many superior blends like Ballantine's 17, and even the very reasonably priced Teacher's. The book also leaves no variety untasted - it breaks out sections not just for single malt and blended scotches, but pure malts, Acottish grain whisky, irish whisky, bourbon, tennessee whiskey, corn whiskey, rye whiskey, wheat whiskey, American straight whiskey, Canadian whiskey, Japanese malt whisky, and many exotic drams from Continental Europe, India, and elsewhere.

It also guided me towards what are now the best bottles in my collection, including the Ballantine's mentioned above, a 25 year old independent bottling of Scapa, a 33 year old independent bottling of Caperdonich, and plastic handle of Ancient Age Ten Year Old.
posted by Mendl at 5:41 PM on April 12, 2010

Acottish = Scottish
posted by Mendl at 5:42 PM on April 12, 2010

thekiltedwonder: that review was awesome!
posted by jammy at 2:37 PM on April 19, 2010

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