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Help! Non-Drinker Needs to Buy Good Scotch!

Hi, I would like to pick up a nice bottle of Scotch in the $50 range for a gift - but I don't drink the stuff! What do you suggest? TIA!

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  1. You can definitely find dozens of choices in single-malt scotch once you go above $40, so you're in luck. I can't speak to the blended scotch.

    Unfortunately, now it gets down to personal taste, so you'll probably get a bunch of replies varying widely.

    That being said, my personal favorite is Lagavulin. It's running about $60-70 now so maybe above your range.

    Others that others may recommend include
    Glenfiddich (widely available)
    Glenlivet (widely available)

    1 Reply
    1. re: JugglerDave

      Nice selection JugglerDave!

      I actually just opened a bottle of Laphroaig Quarter Cask, very smoky, great scotch!

    2. Is single malt preferable to blended? I'm guessing yes?

      1 Reply
      1. re: Angel Food

        Is single malt preferable to blended? I'm guessing yes?

        Not necesarilly. There are some excellent blends out there, including anything by two new and particularly innovative companies: Compass Box and Jon, Mark and Robbo.

        If your friend is a real scoth enthusiast, you have many options, though it does depend on taste. The biggest taste difference is between peated (smokey) vs. non-peated. You can't go wrong with any of the following single malts, all of which shoud be avaiable in a good liquor store in the $50-70 range:


        Laphroig Quarter Cask or Cask Strength

        Non-Peated (or less peated)

        Highland Park

      2. One option, if you're buying for a confirmed Scotch drinker, might be to go with something unexpected, yet in the neighborhood; say, a Japanese whisky (e.g., Suntory Yamazaki 12 yr.). That way you're less likely either to duplicate or to guess badly, and you have a better chance of getting a real surprise reaction. (Caveat: a CONFIRMED Scotch drinker may not be amused . . .)

        1. Yamazaki 12 yo is a great malt whisky and is done in the scotch style. Good suggestion.

          1. For me, the benchmark is always Highland Park, whose 12 y-o variety ought to be in your price range. I concur with the British golf announcer Renton Laidlaw who stated last year during a broadcast of the Johnnie Walker tournament, ironically enough, that Highland Park was "the best whisky -- goes down like glycerin then explodes in your stomach". I imagine the sponsors were not pleased.

            However, in that range there are a number of other good choices -- Longmorn, Dalmore, Laphroig (not for the faint of heart), Glenmorangie in their port wood finish, possibly (depending on the retailer's profit margin) a couple of under-appreciated ones, Old Pulteney and Bunnahabain. If you could find a Bruichladdich or a Lagavulin in that range, grab it -- those are my two favorites in the more expensive category.

            4 Replies
            1. re: Greg B

              To plagiarize Stefan Gabányi's _Whisk(e)y_ entry for Laphroaig®:
              "The most ridiculous substances have been invoked in attempts
              to describe the taste of this overpowering whisky; disinfectants,
              diesel fuel, tar, seaweed, and Lord knows what else. In vain
              I'm afraid, for you simply have to taste it for yourself. You
              will either be blown away or you'll never want to touch the
              stuff again."

              My experience was it opened with an overbearing stench of turpentine-based tar only to finish cudgeling my tongue with day-old seaweed. It should only be used as a disinfectant in hospitals where super-strains are designed.

              My five favorite are:
              Balvanie 12-yo Double Wood
              Auchentoshan Three Wood
              Bowmore 17-yo
              Aberlour 15-yo

              1. re: The Ranger

                I love Laphroaig. I'm drinking the 10 y.o. cask-strength as I type. Mmmm.

                1. re: Josh

                  That's so twisted... For the price you of that CS, you could easily afford so much better.

                2. re: The Ranger

                  Many whiskies need some water to make the flavour reasonable. I keep Dasani water in the fridge, because the stuff is almost flavourless. 16-year-old Lagavulin with one-third chilled water is my mix.

              2. Thanks for the suggestions everyone! I found Lagavulin for just under $50. If you are in the Boston area, I picked it up at Upper Falls Liquors on Needham Street in Newton - apparently single malts have been 20% off since the holidays........

                1. My choice scotch is Laphroig- unique and smoky and an excellent gift.

                  1. While you already have some excellent choices here, I would add "Oban 14." Often in the US$60 range, it's a memorable treat.

                    1. Dalwinnie is always a great one. I also would recommend the Laguvilin and Oban. I thing they have Laguvilin at Costco.

                      Also, I'm not sure on the spelling, but Bruchladdich is excellent.

                      1. If you can spend $60-70, Aberlour's a'bunadh is an amazing cask strength Scotch. Really delicious.

                        1. $50 is actually plenty but if you want to stretch it to $60 though you can even open it up to several great bottles. Unfortunately I've never seen a decent scotch sold in anything smaller than a 750 ml, so that's the route, young single malts can be had in the 20 - 30 range and some I really quite enjoy as an everyday scotch (Bowmore Legend is an example, I don't mind sipping that stuff all day and it's just barely over 20)

                          Scotch like French wine breaks down into regions of Scotland which generally breaks down into the Highlands (which break down into sub regions as well), Lowlands, Speyside and Islay and each region brings different flavor notes to their scotches. Of course some Speyside scotches are more Highland like, and vice versa, but generally that's the rule. I'd have to say that many people who enjoy scotch generally enjoy the stuff coming from Speyside, such as Macallan (which is super sweet and fruity because they cask their scotch in sherry barrells), or Glenlevit, Glenfiddich, Highland Park etc. etc. They tend not to have as much peat and more delicate but also tend to be more complex as well. Me personally though, I've got a taste for Islay scotches. Bowmore, Lagavullin, Laphroaig (which really puts hair on your chest), Islay scotches are known for their ultra smokey and ultra salty almost iodine like characteristics. It's the difference between someone who enjoys a fine Belgium ale, and someone who drinks super hopped mouth puckering double IPAs . Both are full of flavor, but one is complex, the other is assertive and gives you a punch in the mouth, but in a good way.

                          If I had to pick a few of my favorites, Macallan Cask Strength (or for that matter anything from Macallan although I'm a bigger fan of their Sherried rather than their Fine Oak line) is a limited edition but fairly affordable sherried scotch that's extremely complex and sweet and can be had for under $60 if you look hard enough (generally it's in the 60 - 70 range though) is absolutely delicious, Lagavullin (a smokey Islay, but with a lot of complex characters because of it's 16 years in cask, lots of sweet notes that cut through the smoke) which goes generally for $59.99, Bowmore 12 or 17, (again very smokey, but the longer aging helps develop a smoothness and complexity that doesn't exist in the Legend which is only 5 years), the 12 is under $40 if I remember, the 17 is closer to $60 maybe $70. Bowmore also has an interesting line called Dusk, Dawn, Darkest where they take their whiskey and put it into different casks, such as sherry, port, or bordeaux wine, which brings a whole other level of complexity and sweetness to the scotch. I haven't tried any of them but it's on my list of things to buy next. When I'm out on the town and they don't have my first choices, a few bottles I also enjoy a glass of Oban (a very balanced scotch, nice smoke but not overwhelming, starts out sweet but finishes dry, lots of character) which is available in a lot of bars. I'm not a huge fan of Glenlivit or Glenfiddich although Glenfiddich is what got me hooked on scotch in the first place, but they're really just too delicate for my tastes.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: archer823

                            I'll STRONGLY second that Macallan Cask Strength! I think it's as good or better than the 18 year. It packs a punch so be sure and get some good filtered water to tame this beast ;-)

                            1. re: archer823

                              Bowmore Legend is my "everyday" scotch- I can get if for $18 a bottle here in RI. I've had the 17 year which was fantastic- haven't tried any of the Dusk line yet. I really liked the Laphroaig Quarter Cask when it was released (another young one) but it doesn't seem to be as widely available...

                              There's a scotch for every mood and occasion- I also tend to crave the peat and iodine. Lately I've been into the less peated but still briney Scapa 14 year.

                            2. Lots of info here already, so I'll just post my favorites:

                              Macallan 18
                              Balvanie 12
                              Glenmorangie Sherry Wood

                              1. Macallan and Talisker are my favorites. Macallan 12 and Talisker 10 are good values.

                                1. Johnny Walker Green Label is a great single malt.

                                  8 Replies
                                  1. re: netmover

                                    Really? My FIL likes it, too. He's one of the few I know that has the JW Rainbow (Red, Black, Green, Gold, Blue) in his cabinet for the any-and-all ocassions scotch drinkers that seem to find their way to his home. I've found the Green lacking in any memorable characteristics -- especially for the price -- and would rather a dram of his Black 12 or Gold 18.

                                    1. re: The Ranger

                                      What - he won't spring for a wee bit of the blue? Is he a Scot?

                                      1. re: applehome

                                        Well, yes, his family tree has a root or two touching Glasgow. ;)

                                        He has and does break out the Blue during Special Holidaze (Xmas and T-Day) but that's another one that I don't understand how the Juggernaut (aka JW marketing dept.) can generate so much off so little. What is it about that unflavored colored water that I'm missing?

                                        1. re: The Ranger

                                          Some of the individual whiskeys used are said to be 50-60 years old, although there is no age given for the blend. Is there such a thing as over-mellow?

                                    2. re: netmover

                                      I thought JW Green was a vatted malt, not a single-malt?

                                      I really like the JW Black and JW Gold. I have some JW Blue here and it is good stuff but overpriced for what it gives, in my view. As for the Red -- I better not say...

                                      1. re: Greg B

                                        Yes - you're right. Here's some good info from wiki:


                                        Vatted malts are mixes of only malt whisky. The term "blended" means that some grain alcohol is blended in. This includes all other JW whiskies, including Blue. Single malts, of course, are malt only and not mixed. JW also calls their green label a "pure malt".

                                      2. re: netmover

                                        Sorry, but all of the JW's are blends, not singles. That beingt said the Green, gold and Blue labels are wonderful examples of the blender's art. the green is made fom 15= y/o whiskies, the gold from 18=, and the blue from 20+. But they are definitely not singles

                                        1. re: netmover

                                          Johnny Walker Green Label is not a single malt. It is a blend.

                                        2. While all the scothes aforementioned are very good scotches, if you want the best, in my opinion,Bruichladdich. My store has personally done four whisky tastings with one of the primary owners, Andrew Gray. After the tastings, the concensus is always the same. Holy shite! These scotches were incredible! When is he coming back! If you can't find Bruichladdich in your area, e-mail me at rskelly@twcny.rr.com. I currently carry 9 vintages.
                                          My favorites are the 10yr, 15yr second edition, 20 yr, and the peaty (smokey) Infinity. I am licensed to ship.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: scotchman

                                            +1 (times a thousand)

                                            My two cents: Laphroig is not for the faint of heart - or anyone who doesn't need to compensate for... er... any "shortcomings." (Just kidding... kind of.) Macallan is great but gets overpriced after the 12 yr. Compass Box is the bees' knees AND the cats' pajamas (that's right - possessive plural).

                                            I should stop now... this could go on forever...

                                          2. Interesting that no one has mentioned The Glenrothes. The Select Reserve is a mellow medium bodied speyside single malt. Flavors of dried peaches, apricots, apples, honey, toasted almond....very clean sweet finish.

                                            1. here are some good ones for under and around $50 and in no particular order:

                                              Balvenie Doublewood 12 Year Old

                                              The Macallan 12 Years

                                              Highland Park 12 Year Old

                                              Bowmore 12 Years Old

                                              Aberlour: 10 year old, 12 year old

                                              Glenmorangie: Port wood finish, Sherry finish, Burgundy Wood Finish

                                              1. If you're looking for something out of the ordinary, and don't mind doing a little leg work, Glengoyne (sp?) is excellent. The 10-year goes for about $60 a bottle, but it's well worth it. If you can find the 17 or the 21, you're in for a real treat.