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April 14, 2011 4:15 PM   Subscribe

Which of these scotches would you recommend?

Travel = duty-free shop, and relatively-cheap single-malts are too tempting to pass up.

The shop only has, unfortunately, a few specific kinds that sound interesting:

Ardbeg 10-year
Balvenie 12-year
Glenmorangie the Original
Laphroaig 10-year
The Macallan 1824 Collection Select Oak (apparently only available in duty-free shops according to Google?)

My favourite scotch is the lovely Talisker 10-year - the bite and pepperiness of it is what I like, but I don't mind a smoother, more mellow scotch to trade off on. I'm not a fan of any completely overwhelming flavour or lack of flavour - complexity is fantastic, though admittedly my palate is not very developed. I've not yet tried any of the strong Islays before and don't know what sherry tastes like, so the Ardbeg/Laphroaig/Macallan are kind of complete mysteries to me. I can only buy one before duty kicks in, so - hivemind, which would you recommend?
posted by zennish to Food & Drink (31 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Talisker 10 is my favorite readily-available distillery bottling, and Ardbeg 10 is my second-favorite, so I recommend the Argbeg. By the way, if you ever see it, there exists a 20 year old Talisker aged (or finished, can't recall) in sherry casks that is an absolute knockout.
posted by Mendl at 4:24 PM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Ardbeg and the Laphroaig are going to be very smoky, especially the Laphroaig. I like the 10, but I know a lot of smoky scotch fans who think it leapt the wall from smoky to charred and gross. The Ardbeg is delicious, but again, smoky!

I haven't had that particular Macallan, but I've had other oak-casked (is it a sherry cask?) whiskies and they tend to be lovely - buttery, smooth, a little sweet though not cloying. If you're not all about the smoke (and both the Islays are easily available here in the States, if that's where you're coming back to), go with the Macallan.
posted by rtha at 4:25 PM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've not had the Ardbeg, but out of the rest my favorite is the Glenmorangie.
posted by wuzandfuzz at 4:26 PM on April 14, 2011

Laphroaig, to me, also has a bite and feels like little firecrackers. Aberlour is smokier; MMV.
posted by jgirl at 4:32 PM on April 14, 2011

If I were in your shoes, I'd buy the Ardbeg.
posted by 2ghouls at 4:41 PM on April 14, 2011

Balvenie is the one you want; it's quite subtle, sweet, yet actually (unlike Macallan) has a flavour.
posted by scruss at 4:42 PM on April 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

I like Talisker, and I also like Laphroig and Glenmorangie. I think the Laphroig is more of a risk, as some people find it way too smoky.
posted by lollusc at 4:42 PM on April 14, 2011

I would say that you basically have two groups here;
Macallan/The Balvenie/Glenmorangie

The Laphroaig and Ardberg are going to smokey/peaty/more intense, so you may want to select from the other three. The Balvenie and Glenmorangie are super common, so my suggestion would be to go with the Macallan. All of the Macallans are good (and generally respected even amongst those with more refined palates) so I would take this opportunity to get the one you might not otherwise have the occasion to taste.
posted by nickjadlowe at 4:46 PM on April 14, 2011

I'm an Islay gal. I drink Ardbeg in the winter, Lagavulin in the summer and Laphroaig all year round. (Not forgetting Caol Isla).

Even though Talisker isn't for wimps (high phenol level), I wonder if you'd truly be happy with an Islay. But if you're game, I say Laphroig. You can always school your palate. Try adding a bit more water to your first taste than you'd normally use. Go from there.

(I only drink 12-year-old Macallan on roasting hot days in the summer - once or twice a year, where I live - it's light and refreshing.)
posted by likeso at 4:47 PM on April 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

My palate isn't sophisticated either, but I can tell you one thing with certainty:

If you don't like "completely overwhelming flavour", avoid the Laphroaig. They bill it as "the most distinctively flavored of Scotch whiskys", or some such, and I'd wager that they are correct. It is very peaty, and very medicinal—almost like drinking Chloraseptic. (And I like Islays.)
posted by ixohoxi at 5:05 PM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also recommending the Macallan based on the fact that the others are pretty distinctive, but not in the best manner of their style. I love Ardbeg but find the 10 to be a bit TOO raw, whereas the Uigadahl (sitting about 5' away right now) is even smokier but more pleasant since the complexity is fun and interesting and not challenging. Same idea with that particular Laphroaig.
posted by kcm at 5:13 PM on April 14, 2011

I've had all of those except for the funky Macallan (though the typical Macallan 12 is fantastic and the Macallan 18 is just about the best thing I've ever had). My choice of the ones I've had would be the Balvenie.

nickjadlowe probably has the most spot on advice. Laphroaig and Ardbeg are in a completely different class, one which I don't happen to like, but many sophisticated palates can't get enough of.

Talisker kind of rides the fence between the two, but I'd have to guess you might lean toward the Islay.
posted by mcstayinskool at 5:18 PM on April 14, 2011

+10 for the Ardbeg Uigeadail if they have it. So so good! (If you're a peat-head like me)

The bottles you've listed are pretty basic (not meant to be taken in a condescending way! I love all of those bottles!).
Just saying that depending on the airport/duty free store you may be able to pick up something a little less run of the mill for a very decent price. For example in London Heathrow I saw a bottle of the Laphroaig Triple Wood (18yo I believe), the Glenmorangie Sonnalta PX and some other ones which are all great. I also love the various non-standard Balvenies, especially the 17yo Madeira cask bottling.

Given what you've listed I would personally go for the Ardbeg or maybe the Laphroaig. The Balvenie is nice too though. The Glenmorangie is just fine but the least exciting to me.

It's Never Lurgi: likeso - we should totally hang out

Be careful what you wish for!!!! My wife discovered that she likes even the peatiest of peaty whiskies just fine. Now I have to constantly monitor and protect my collection of Port Charlottes, Octomores and Supernovas. I had her taste a few sips hoping she'd go "Eeewww!" and would never want to have another ever again... fail.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 5:29 PM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Laphroaig is an excellent scotch, and has what I think of as "the single malt taste" in abundance. It has an almost exaggerated smoky/boggy flavor, but is very smooth going down. I have also had the Balvenie, which is also great, but the taste was a bit mellower to me in flavor, and slightly more "bitey" going down. I would get the Laphroaig, but you'll enjoy any scotch on that list, they're all very good quality.
posted by EvilPRGuy at 6:41 PM on April 14, 2011

Ardbeg's a beast: the 10 is the (relatively) new standard after the transfer of ownership. But you can get it and all the other standard bottlings elsewhere, so I'd go for the Macallan too -- for novelty rather than rarity. And the Macallan is a pretty fine Speyside, even if it's considered a bit sedate for dyed-in-the-wool Islay fans.
posted by holgate at 7:12 PM on April 14, 2011

Macallan is extremely smooth, and Ardbeg has serious bite. Those two scotches really couldn't be more different. Most people who like Talisker also like Ardbeg. Macallan is very different, but it's worth if if you haven't tried it before. Although it sounds like this bottling is rare, Macallan is also easier to find in general. Just about any hotel bar has some version of it. Might be worth it to try it before you buy a bottle. Ardbeg is much less common and harder to find a place to taste it (at least in the U.S.).

I'd go with the Ardbeg, myself. However, if you're feeling chicken, the Macallan would not be a waste of your time (or money).
posted by yeolcoatl at 7:36 PM on April 14, 2011

If you are looking for a "strong Islay," Laphroaig is the way to go. I love it, but it is the peatiest of peaty Scotches. The Macallan probably has more universal appeal.

Scotch is a incredibly personal thing. For example, I don't doubt that those recommending Ardbeg are gentlemen of discrimination, but every time I try Ardbeg it tastes like toothpaste.
posted by paulg at 7:53 PM on April 14, 2011

@paulg. I prefer Laphroaig myself, which I why I have two bottles. However, for this poster I recommend Ardbeg, because it is more similar to Talisker, and the poster stated a preference for bite over flavor.
posted by yeolcoatl at 8:02 PM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ardbeg 10-year is excellent.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:23 PM on April 14, 2011

@paulg. I prefer Laphroaig myself, which I why I have two bottles. However, for this poster I recommend Ardbeg, because it is more similar to Talisker, and the poster stated a preference for bite over flavor.
posted by yeolcoatl at 23:02 on April 14 [+] [!]

Agreed...Ardberg is probably what will fit you best, but personally I'd buy the Laphroaig.
posted by schyler523 at 9:47 PM on April 14, 2011

If you like Talisker and milder whisky, stay away from Ardbeg and (especially) Laphroaig. They're both remarkable, wonderful, life-changing whiskies, but are also huge, brutal, peaty, uncivilized, remorseless.

Ardbeg is not like Talisker, btw. It's just not.

(right now my shelf is graced by the 10-year, an Uigeadaill, an Airigh Nam Beist, and a Corryvrecken, all from Ardbeg, and a Laphroaig 10 and Quarter-cask. Oh, and an unpeated Bruichladdich. Which is weird.)
posted by Joseph Gurl at 11:03 PM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

As an aside, Ardbeg is an excellent addition to sauces where you need a smoky kick. I've never seen the point of adding whisky to homemade BBQ sauce, for instance, until I put a splash of Ardbeg in it. And it really makes anything chipotle-flavoured sing.

Talisker is a lovely malt, and what I've always liked about it is the sea-water quality it has more than its peat (it's malted at the same place that Glen Ord do their barley, and has some similar peaty undertones because of that). Glenmorangie is a balanced all rounder, but has a touch of the sea about it. If you happen to like that, try some other Caithness whiskies like Old Pulteney or Clynelish.
posted by Cuppatea at 12:40 AM on April 15, 2011

On one hand, I'd probably enjoy any of those, but on the other hand--with the exception of the Macallan--they're all easily available at many outlets in my area. So, the price would have to be pretty low for me to consider lugging them around with bags and things while travelling.

Among those four, I'd go for the Ardbeg, but that's just a matter of taste. I usually only keep one scotch around at a time, usually an Islay, current selection is a Bruichladdich 15-yr.
posted by gimonca at 5:16 AM on April 15, 2011

Popping back in to revise my opinon. DO NOT GET THE LAPHROAIG. In fact, don't decide on anything, yet.

You say you've not yet tried the strong Islays. You say you don't know what sherry tastes like. You're asking us to guess, based on your liking of Talisker, which bottle you should buy. Impossible! This is life or death! YMWV! Inevitably, we've tried, but we all end up either projecting too much and/or recommending our own favorites.

Is there any way you could go to a whiskey bar before your trip and sample some of the options the duty-free store stocks? A liking for sherry is very unpredictable (me, I seldom partake of even Oban). And I worry that if you go straight for the Islay bullseye (Laphroaig in any version), you might traumatize yourself out of future enjoyment.

My very first taste of whiskey as a young lass was a Laphroaig. The experience convinced me I didn't like whiskey. I wasted years. Years, I tell you.
posted by likeso at 6:01 AM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Opposite happened to me, likeso:

I never thought I liked whisky until I tasted Laphroaig :)
posted by Joseph Gurl at 6:24 AM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

I agree with rtha's reasoning and conclusion: go with the Macallan. (I say this as a diehard Islay drinker who also loves the wonderful flavor of Macallan; you won't be able to get this particular variety elsewhere—why not try it?)
posted by languagehat at 9:11 AM on April 15, 2011

If you want to play safe go with The MacAllan or the Glenmorangie. If you want the big Islay peat and smoke go for Laphroaig. If you want the big Islay peat and smoke but with attack and a bit of spice, go for the Ardbeg.

Personally I'm not a big fan of Balvenie but it's also fairly safe, flavour-wise.
posted by Decani at 10:02 AM on April 15, 2011

i would go for the Ardbeg, there's a crispness to the Ardbeg 10, underlying a pleasantly complex taste that I would regard as pretty unusual, it doesn't pop up in other Ardbeg's i have had. It is still fairly distinct from a Talisker, not a whisky that would usually be regarded as very subtle. I think in your positon I might go for the Glenmorangie, easy and accessible and veyr pleasant drinking.
posted by biffa at 10:04 AM on April 15, 2011

Let me also add that if you decide to go the Islay route, I would recommend the Ardbeg Uigeadail rather than the 10, and the Laphroaig Quarter Cask rather than their ten. Quarter Cask is smooth and gorgeous; Uigeadail is incredibly complex and long on the finish. I picked up a bottle at "World Of Whiskies" in Heathrow recently for under 40 quid.
posted by Decani at 10:13 AM on April 15, 2011

I too, share your love of Talisker 10. Of the choices here, though, I'd look at which is least common in your hometown and get that. Where I live, Laphroaig, Ardbeg and Balvenie are all very common, as is Glenmorangie. The Macallan 1824 collection oak seems the most unique to me, at least from your description and without seeing a bottle.

All of them are drinkable, but I find the Balvenie is boring. There's nothing there that really distinguishes it from something generically decent. That said, none of these are shabby. If availability doesn't decide it for you, I'd give Ardbeg or Laphroaig a whirl. I've never had Ardbeg, but Laphroaig is a love-it-or-hate-it dram with a bit of smoke and lots of medicinal iodine flavor.
posted by Hylas at 11:41 AM on April 15, 2011

Response by poster: Yowza! Thanks for all the answers - much to ponder while waiting to get past security.

Mendl: I've not seen it! There's only the Talisker 10-year available where I am - if the duty-free had a Talisker available, I'd be all over that like cat hair on black jeans.

likeso: Ideally, I would be able to try before I buy, but with the prices of scotch plus the liquor tax where I am I'd be looking at around 70 USD if I tried one of each first, which makes me weep - it's more than 1L would cost at the duty-free! Injustice of it all, rending of clothes, etc.

You guys are awesome! It's probably going to come down to Ardbeg (which sounds like something I'd like) vs. Macallan (which sounds... smooth and exclusive?) - maybe I'll luck out and the airport bar or whatever will have some on shelf to try out first. Thanks!
posted by zennish at 4:03 PM on April 15, 2011

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