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Help with Scotch shopping in the East Bay

a
ace Apr 22, 2009 06:50 PM

Hi All,

Let me preface this by saying I don't drink alcohol, so am excessively ignorant about it, but...my dilemma. My boyfriend's bday is coming up soon, and he loves to drink good Scotch (I have no idea what makes a Scotch "good" to him). He doesn't buy quality liquor for himself, so I'm thinking of getting him a really nice bottle of Scotch for his bday. Any suggestions about what I should get him, and where to buy it in the East Bay would be greatly appreciated. Money is not an object.

Thanks!

  1. Jumbo_Jack Apr 23, 2009 05:56 PM

    There are some solid suggestions already, but a lot of the Highland Parks and Macallan's are readily available by the glass at a bunch of local bars and restaurants.

    If you're getting a whole bottle for home, get something that you wont normally be served at a friend's home or bar... and try the Glenfiddich 21 Rum Cask finish (it's Kosher too). It's a recognizable brand name, with a different flavor profile because of the Rum Cask (versus french oak or sherry cask).

    I still remember my first taste: I sampled a few of their younger Scotches, with some cask strength pours for good measure. When I'd finally made my way to the 21 Rum Cask, it was familiar and surprisingly unique at the same time.

    Makes for a nice bottle to have at home and share with a few good friends, and a more memorable gift as well. Isn't that what you're really after?

    http://shop.glenfiddich.com/shop/prod...

    ----
    The owner at Ledgers in Berkeley is nice guy, who has a surprisingly great selection of products.
    ...

    3 Replies
    1. re: Jumbo_Jack
      lexdevil Apr 23, 2009 08:02 PM

      That's a nice bottle, but I think it's about $45 over budget.

      1. re: Jumbo_Jack
        Chuckles the Clone Apr 23, 2009 09:47 PM

        I'm going to third the suggestion for Ledgers (on University at, I think, Acton). It looks like your standard dicey urban corner liquor store but it's not. There's at least one guy in there who's really helpful with their extensive stock. And unfortunately, at least one guy who is not. And I couldn't tell you which was which. But the chances are much better of running into the good guy there than at bevmo. And I'd think going in with a list of kosher scotches could lead to an entertaining time.

        1. re: Chuckles the Clone
          lexdevil Apr 23, 2009 10:20 PM

          I agree, and I'd also recommend hitting K & L, but it's on the wrong side of the bay. I focused on BevMo because I could check their inventory on-line. Much of it should be at Ledgers as well.

      2. twocents Apr 23, 2009 12:38 PM

        The liquor store in Montclair village (on Mountain near the drugstore) has a good selection of unusual bottles (Signatory special bottlings, etc) though they are mostly more than $80. The owner/manager seemed quite knowledgable and enthusiastic, so it might be a good choice for on-site interactive help.

        2 Replies
        1. re: twocents
          s
          skwid Apr 23, 2009 12:44 PM

          If you mean Montclair Wines, Spirits, N Brews they are now closed, out of business and the location has a "for lease" sign on it.

          1. re: skwid
            twocents Apr 23, 2009 10:35 PM

            Thanks for the info. Seems to me I was there within the last two months. Oh well.

            Bevmo is good if they have what you're looking for, but maybe not so much if you need help. I agree Ledger's has an interesting selection. I got a Mackillop's Choice independent bottling there a couple years back. If you're willing to go out to Lafayette, there's a liquor store that also has a pretty interesting selection (Jackson's wine and spirits) though I am not sure if they are helpful or not. K&L in SF has a good selection, but Susan Parnell in the Redwood City store is their spirits buyer and very helpful when she is there.

            If you aren't sure exactly his tastes, I agree in particular with the Highland Park suggestions; I personally like Longmorn (15 yr bottling). I also agree on staying away from peaty whisky unless you are sure that's what he likes. Unfortunately, I am not enough of a Scotch nerd to know which bottlings are sherry/port/wine aged... my impression was actually that the majority of Scotch, at least, was aged in used barrels from one of these other beverages.

        2. d
          DavidT Apr 23, 2009 10:23 AM

          Not in the East Bay, the D&M Wines (Fillmore@Sacramento in SF) is selling the Glenrothes Special Reserve single-malt this week for $35. A very good price on a VERY good whisky.

          1. c
            ceekskat Apr 23, 2009 10:01 AM

            Agree with above post of one type being someone's favorite & another's meh. That said, my husband is a big fan of Macallan & I know many of his friends enjoy it too. Also, DH recently had me purchase a 10 yr. Laphroaig for $26.99 at Costco exclaiming "too good of a bargain to pass up".

            6 Replies
            1. re: ceekskat
              lexdevil Apr 23, 2009 10:21 AM

              Macallan is great, and a super gift option. It is heavily sherried, which some do not prefer, but few are offended by it the way they are put off by the iodine and peat in some of the Islays. The bummer on Macallan is just that it's expensive. Macallan 18 is outstanding, and an almost universally appreciated gift, but it runs in the $150 a bottle range, while the wonderful Highland Park 18 is around $100. The Macallan Fine Oak (less sherried) series is cheaper and still nice, but it is not what everyone thinks of when they think Macallan.

              1. re: lexdevil
                c
                ceekskat Apr 23, 2009 10:46 AM

                I only recommended Macallan as there are options under $75, namely cask, fine oak & 12 yrs. For someone who "doesn't buy quality liquor for himself", I believe these are great choices. I think DH appreciates all ages, of course the older the better* as I recently splurged for his milestone birthday with a 25 yr. bottle, gulp :)

                *Hmm, perfume marketing opportunity? LOL.

                1. re: lexdevil
                  a
                  ace Apr 23, 2009 12:28 PM

                  Thanks so much for all the recs, lexdevil. One more thing to throw into the mix, which I probably should've mentioned. My bf keeps kosher, although I do not. I asked him if scotch has to be kosher, and he said no, unless it's made in old wine barrels (because wine DOES have to be kosher). So I also think if the whiskey had sherry in it, it would not be kosher.

                  1. re: ace
                    wolfe Apr 23, 2009 12:33 PM

                    Ace more for you to read, a thread about kosher scotch.
                    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/303567?tag=search_results;results_list

                    And if you don't have time to read the whole thread here is the approved scotch list of the Chicago Rabbinical Council.
                    http://www.crcweb.org/kosher/consumer...

                    1. re: wolfe
                      lexdevil Apr 23, 2009 03:49 PM

                      This means that you'll have to avoid Scotches that are aged in used sherry casks (or port, or other wine casks). The upshot of this is absolutely no Macallan, and no Balvenie Double Wood, or Springbank 10. The Balvenie 15 I listed is okay because it is not sherry cask aged. When you look at Scotches on the shelf, look for pale golden ones and shy away from anything dark with redder tones (the result of sherry aging). The Lagavulin 16 on the Kosher list is a favorite of mine and it's in your price range, but it's a powerful Islay with loads of peat.

                      1. re: lexdevil
                        a
                        ace May 1, 2009 10:34 AM

                        Reporting back- I went to Ledger's. The guy who helped me was nice, but didn't know that some Scotches were kosher, and some weren't. He thought they were all aged in sherry casks. Anyway, I got the Balvenie 15, and the Lagavulin 16, and I'm giving him both, and we'll see which he likes better, which will help me with future Scotch shopping for him. Thanks again for all your help!

              2. wineguy7 Apr 22, 2009 08:53 PM

                Ledger's Liquors has a big selection. The owner seems to know his products, too.
                1399 University Avenue @ Acton
                Berkeley
                510-540-9243

                1. d
                  DavidT Apr 22, 2009 08:11 PM

                  Most BevMo stores carry a very large selection/inventory of single-malt Scotch whiskies Ask your b-friend what his favorite brands are. Generally the longer a whisky has been aged, the more refined it will taste (and more expensive it will be!).

                  Most single-malts are 10 to 12 years old when they are bottled and sold. You might want to buy a bottle of his favorite brand that has been aged somewhere between 15 and 20 years.

                  1. lexdevil Apr 22, 2009 07:57 PM

                    Totally depends on your budget and his preferences. Do you know if he prefers Highland malts? Islays with lots of peat and smoke? A spicy sherry cask finish? Are you looking to spend $35-50? $75? $150? Does it need to be unusual, or simply tasty? With a little information I'll recommend a few good options at the price point you want and include suggestions about where to buy them in the East Bay.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: lexdevil
                      a
                      ace Apr 22, 2009 09:49 PM

                      I really have no idea what he usually drinks, because he doesn't drink it around me. And I sort of don't want to ask him, because then he'll know what I'm getting him. He's not a fussy guy, and my guess is that he'd appreciate a wide variety of tastes, so simply tasty would be fine. He doesn't have a lot of $$, so I don't think he's been drinking expensive Scotch. I wouldn't want to spend more than $75 on a bottle. I live in N. Oakland, so although anywhere in Oak/Berk is fine, the more local the better. Thanks!

                      1. re: ace
                        lexdevil Apr 22, 2009 10:59 PM

                        In that case, though I love them, I would avoid Islays because they are a decidedly acquired taste. There are many Scotch lovers who dislike their sometimes extreme peatiness. Here is an assortment of generally pleasing whiskies at good price points.

                        Balvenie Double Wood 12 year old (Often at Trader Joe's from $30-35. Currently on sale at BevMo for $32.99). A well balanced, easy drinker with a mild spice from some time spent in sherry casks. A very good deal for a nice drink.

                        Macallan Fine Oak 10 year old (Under $35 at BevMo). The Fine Oak Macallans are less of the overwhelming sherry bombs that the distillery is known for. A nice, well balanced dram. You could even do two bottles, this and the Balvenie, and stay below your $75 goal.

                        Balvenie Single Barrel 15 year old (On sale for $58.99 at BevMo). Another really nice Balvenie at a very reasonable price for the quality.

                        Highland Park 15 year old ($62.99 at BevMo) This has the smoke and peat that Highland Park is known for, but not enough to offend those who don't swing that way. The 18 year old is really special, but more like $100.

                        Springbank 10 year old (Under $70 at BevMo). A reasonably priced bottle from one of the top cult whisky producers in Scotland. Not Springbank's best, but if you're looking for a label with a Scotch nerd following, this is it.

                        If I were choosing and I thought the recipient liked Scotch but didn't get to try enough because he doesn't buy it for himself, I'd get the two lowest priced bottles. They're both lovely, and getting him two bottles would allow him to try more. Additionally, if he doesn't like to spend big money on Scotch, he's more likely to be able to buy these for himself in the future if he likes them.

                        If, however, I knew that the recipient had lots of experience with a range of great Scotches, I'd try to get the most special bottle for the money. Rather than get one of Springbank's least collectible whiskies, I'd go with the Highland Park or Balvenie 15, both of which are excellent. The Balvenie would be the less potentially controversial pick, as it lacks the smoke and peat of the Highland Park. If, however, you can find out if he likes Johnny Walker Black Label, that would indicate that he might favor the Highland Park. You might be able to ask him this without giving away the game, as Black Label is the safe pick in any bar that doesn't have a good Scotch selection.

                        1. re: lexdevil
                          lexdevil Apr 22, 2009 11:26 PM

                          Oooh. You can buy something nicer! I just got an e-mail about a $10 discount on a $75 purchase at BevMo. You purchase on-line to pick up in store. Promotion code is TENSPR. Using that, I'd consider:

                          Glenrothes 1991 ($79.99 at BevMo, but $69.99 to you) or maybe stretch a bit and do BOTH of the Balvenies I mentioned above.

                          1. re: lexdevil
                            lexdevil Apr 23, 2009 10:38 AM

                            The Albany BevMo has a perfect in stock that is out of stock in Oakland.

                            Macallan Fine Oak 15 ($77.99, but $67.99 with the promo code above).

                    2. wolfe Apr 22, 2009 07:06 PM

                      Here are threads with many, many suggestions. However, one man's best is another man's meh. Single malts vs blends, area of origin etc,etc,etc all are personal taste.
                      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/503721?tag=search_results;results_list
                      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/590164

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: wolfe
                        a
                        ace Apr 22, 2009 07:55 PM

                        Thanks lots, Wolfe. Apparently I have a lot of reading to do.

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