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Scotch help needed

Hi All, My husband is a big scotch fan, but since I'm not a scotch person myself, I can't really tell a good one from a bad one (they all taste too much of peat for me). I'd like to get him a fairly nice (no more than $125, I'd say) bottle for valentine's day. His tastes run to MacCallan (sp?) and Laphraiog (again, sp?), and I got him a bottle of Oban for Christmas which he says he likes (but ... could just be being nice?). Anything I'd be able to get in a state-run ABC store that would be interesting and tasty but somehow a little different that you can recommend? Thanks very much in advance for any help you can give.

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  1. Being in California, I don't know what they carry in state-run ABCs, but here are some suggestions in your price range:

    1. Laphroaig Quarter Cask
    2. Laphroaig 10 year old cask strength
    3. Highland Park 18 year old

    1. Spending more money on a bottle of scotch doesn't necessarily mean it's that much better
      or preferred by a scotch drinker. McCallan is from the Highlands Region which produces a
      softer and slightly sweeter style of Scotch. Laphroaig is from Islay, which in general gives us a style that is drier and peatier. Normally, most prefer one style or the other. To just throw names out there like SKU has is easy to do, but Laphroaig Cask Strength and the
      Highland 18 are as far apart in style as a steak cooked rare and one well-done. A brand
      that I've had sucess selling for many years is Springbank from Campbelltown and I've never
      had anyone ever not come back and not say they didn't love it. The 21 year old is in the $$$
      range you wanted to spent, and it has all the components nicely meshed together that I'm
      sure will make anyone happy.

      1 Reply
      1. re: jonathon

        Was it necessary to demean my response? I took it from the posting that the poster's husband was pretty open style-wise, since he likes both McCallan and Laphroaig. Since we know he likes Laphroaig, I threw out two that would likely please any Laphroaig fan. I added in the Highland Park because I think the 18yo is a superior whisky and I don't think I've ever head anyone say a bad word about it; my guess is someone who likes Laphroaig and Mac would enjoy an HP. Personally, I'm not a Springbank fan, I think it's overpriced, and I doubt I'd suggest it to someone who I wasn't sure about, but that's just a matter of opinion.

      2. Fantastic input, thank you both so much. I'm tossing on the baby and heading to the ABC store right now. I'll let you know what I end up with (and then maybe later how he reacts to it). I'd heard this business about Scotch's being very different from area to area, so it surprises me that my husband is splitting the difference this way (one would have tended to think he'd like one or the other). I will look for the Campbelltown as my first choice.

        1. I really appreciate the ideas/help from both of you. Unfortunately (feel me fuming) the ABC stores of NC are basically useless. They checked their books, and they not only don't have Campbelltown (and had never heard of it) but can only get me a bottle if I order an entire case. The in-store choices were pretty bleak. I ended up with a 15 year old fine-oak Macallan. But I've noted your suggestions, and next time I'm in duty free I will do my darndest to pick up a bottle of one of them for him. Thanks again, very very much, for your help.

          3 Replies
          1. re: LulusMom

            Your pick is a good, solid one. To go to some extremes, like Laphroaig, can be dangerous if he doesn't like it. For instance, once a year I really like that scotch, but that's it.

            1. re: LulusMom

              Ditto that you made a good choice. I think you might've been mistaken- Campbelltown is an area, Springbank is the actual distillery that was recommended. FWIW, I'm a big fan of Talisker and there are a couple of bottlings out in the 18-year-old range that are reasonable and should be very good (I"ve only tried the one that came out about a year ago, haven't had the one that's more recent).

              1. re: ted

                Thanks for clearing that up for me about Springbank/Campbelltown. You're exactly right - I must have misread it because I had down Campbelltown as the name of the scotch. Oops. My husband is a big Talisker fan too, so I'll keep that on the list. The good thing about this kind of present is ... you can keep giving the same sort of thing over and over again, and know it will be appreciated. Thanks to everyone for your help. I'll be passing through a duty-free shop before the end of the month, so he'll likely get something in addition to his v-day present.

            2. A particular favorite of mine is Abelour 15 - nicely priced and very good

              2 Replies
              1. re: weinstein5

                I'm drinking that now as my occasional nightcap, and enjoying it a lot.

                1. re: weinstein5

                  If you like Aberlour 15, buy all of it that you can find as they no longer make it. The produce a 16yr old instead. Have you tried 'abunadh' [sp?] also from Aberlour? Cask strength and wonderful. An attempt at re-creating a bottle from the mid 19th century found inside of a wall during renovations.

                2. See also recent comments on this forum:


                  Jonathan had a stellar recommendation in the Springbank 21 year which was fairly available a few years ago at about $125, I think in a Mitchell bottling (the in-house bottling?) They were not common in my region, and I was happy to score some. Before The Flood in New Orleans I knew one little French-qtr restaurant that kept it (others in the restaurant trade there noticed and envied this, they said they couldn't get it and speculated about how this one got it). I think some customers came in just for that. Its flavor goes on and on.

                  If you can find them, the Springbank specialty-wood agings (Port wood, Bourbon wood, rum wood) can be superb and moderate in price. (I bought one with Bourbon wood some years back and didn't open it for a couple of years whereupon it was amazing, and impossible to get more of. I found another -- one bottle! -- in central Vienna in a feisty old shop that sells teas and whiskys (?!) and I negotiated the price (still high!) because the proprietors, in the Vienna tradition, were fascinated to discuss politics and at the moment, a certain Austrian expat (from Styria) was running for governor in my state of California, and it was the talk of Austria; anyone connected to California was in demand. (It would have been a very fine place to be, right after his successful election. The Kurier, local tabloid, was full of it, instead of strikes and soccer as usual.) Anyway, quality Springbank offerings are among the most widely appreciated malts in my experience and they'll please many connoisseurs. (And I'm not even in the drinks business.


                  Aberlour (mentioned by weinstein5) has the "a'bunadh" label, a cask-strength Speyside, with rich, toffeish qualities and a spicy candied-apple note in the batches I've tried. About $60. (It makes me want to pour one right now, I may do so). Yes, more below.

                  Bruichladdich (Islay, various ages, 12yr is excellent, not rare, but US distribution uneven I think) is another in the complex, rich, multilayered class that goes on and on.

                  I agree with Dennis S that Laphroaig is not to all tastes. Some malts have strong smoke and/or, if coastal, iodine. One that I got in GB, North Port, makes you check the bottle -- is this a drink, or a first-aid antiseptic? (It would probably be effective.) Another, Pittyvaich, I haven't seen in the US -- that one is rich and complex, not smoky. Very popular with Scotch connoisseurs I've served it to. Yes, the a'bunadh is as I remembered it. That bottle was bought maybe six years ago and opened maybe two years ago, still mostly full.

                  These artisanal spirits are outstanding after-dinner drinks, underappreciated in the US I think. The aromas and flavors of those I recommended are so concentrated that one bottle goes very far, maybe 20 servings, and they are durable, unlike a bottle of wine. So even at these prices thay are not so expensive by the occasional glass.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: eatzalot

                    Springbank 21 is now upto $470 at the Van Nuys Wine and Liquor Depot here in the Los Angeles area. By far our favorite Islay whisky here at home is any Ardbeg.

                  2. I just wanted to thank everyone again for their help/input. My husband was thrilled with the 15 year old Macallan - had a bit after dinner last night. I've got a list now of your recommendations to take with me when I'm gift shopping at liquor stores.

                    1. Macallan 15 is a good choice. It's interesting that I've actually grown to appreciate the regular fine-oak 15 after picking up a single-cask Douglas Laing version of the 15 from Davidoff London. The blending of the barrels really helps refine and round out the finish - the bottling of the single-cask left lots of rough edges and don't think it was worth the ~70eu I paid. That can't be said for a recent tasting of a single-cask bottling of the 30 yr - I was left singing the praises of this scotch, which it's deep complexity and lingering finish. Something truly to behold if you get the chance to taste a dram.

                      1. How come my wife doesn't buy me 15 year Macallan??

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: abu applesauce

                          Well, he's letting me go on a long weekend in Italy on my own while he takes care of our 10 month old daughter ... that kinda makes a woman want to treat her husband EXTRA well.

                          1. Not a lot of choice at the Milan duty free - I was really hoping to find some of the Springban, but no. So I got him yet another Macallan - this time 18 year fine oak. Boringly similar, but it seemed like the best I could do.

                            1. Sorry to hear of the problems getting a selection. Springbank products are distributed fairly widely in North America so if you have opportunity to look around further you may well find them without too much trouble. (There are many finishings and bottlings. The Signatory firm with its short wide bottles, from many different distilleries; the J. and A. Mitchell or "distillery" bottlings of Springbank are widely found and much prized.)

                              Also there's a popular Malt Whisky club based in Scotland that sells to anyone by mail, various friends belong to it though I do not have direct experience. I THINK it is www.smws.com . The group sends out tutorial literature about Scotch Malt Whiskys, selects and buys by the cask, and bottles it. The organization my friends subscribe to is first-rate, it has quality products and serves the subscribers well. I believe though that you must pay a membership fee and/or buy a certain minimum number of bottles, so it is set up more for fans than for occasional gifts. (But then, maybe a membership would make a good gift??)

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: eatzalot

                                I liked this idea a lot, and given that my husband's birthday is next week, looked into it. In the end, the fact that I was giving him a chance to spend money on a monthly basis somehow didn't seem like as much of a gift as I was hoping (I thought maybe if I was willing to spend $100 a month or something, they'd pick out a scotch and send it). But man, the site looks amazing. Thanks for the tip.

                                1. re: LulusMom

                                  Highland Park, Highland park, Highland park ..... any vintage! The basic 10 year old is excellent. made in the Orkneys and is the northern most distillery in Scotland. Now the biggest seeling malt from Scotland - I can understand why ... nectar. Personally I find Argyll (where I live) whisky (Islay, Cambeltown and Oban) a bit rough but i can understand treir popularity. A really smooth malt is Caol Ila (pronounced Collella) is unusal for the island but with a really great taste. Hope you can find something interesting.

                                  1. re: elgordo

                                    Yes, Highland Park. D'accord. Here is a story about that.

                                    I did not like spirits much (fine wines were more my taste, for a long time) though there were certain novel ones and also it was helpful to keep a selection for entertaining. I did enjoy an occasionaly fine brandy but thought whiskys harsh and/or dull. Then good friends introduced Highland Park. (This was in the northeastern US, near Canada.) These friends had been educated (considerably) in England. This was a subtle and complex spirit, a personal revelation. (They said, no, don't mix it with soda water, just try it neat and see what you think.) But -- they said -- they couldn't find it in North America, they'd brought it from GB. I looked around our region and in Canada and couldn't find it either.

                                    Then I moved to another part of the US, near Stanford University. That university had an unusual, eclectic shopping center nearby with a tiny, amazing shop called Oakville Grocery. I asked (as usual) about Highland Park, expecting the usual disappointment. No problem, the dealer said -- and pointed to three different ages of it on the shelf.

                                    That was more than 15 years ago. (Later the shopping center changed hands, and some former shops that once made it a unique exotic-food destination have left.) One of those early bottles of HP (I'll call it) was recently finished, the distillation date was 1967 and it was very, very good, even recently. It was not all that expensive in the early 90s (though I later saw similar distillates, with some age though out of barrel for years, being trophy-marketed for hundreds of dollars US) but again if you watch for stuff that's good, rather than stuff that is put on pedestals, you can do very well. (Also: Hide it from those neighbors and relatives who drop in and drink anything in sight. They do not appreciate it. Word to the wise.)

                              2. I normally prefer the peaty Islays (e.g., Lagavulin, Laphoraig, and Bowmore), BUT I just had Tomintoul 16 for the first time the other night - excellent!

                                  1. re: abu applesauce

                                    Self-described as such, and I concur.

                                  2. Haven't had it in a while--delicious