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looking to buy my first GREAT scotch

Max D. Sep 4, 2010 10:03 PM

I was wondering if anyone on here could help me. I'm looking for a REALLY good scotch and, before I go and drop $50-$70 on a bottle, I thought I might get some recommendations from you guys.

For starters, the only single malt that I've tried is the Glenlivet 12. I really liked that one. but I was looking for something a little smokier/peatier, but not so much that it's overpowering. Something that stands out from the more common scotch.....something worthy of a special occasion. I have tried Grants and Dewar's white label and special reserve blended if that helps. I find that the Dewar's is lacking in sufficient depth and complexity for what I'm looking for in a scotch. I have kind of narrowed it down to a couple choices. I was looking at the Caol Ila, Lagavulin, and Talisker 10. based on the info that I have given, do you think that an Islay malt would be too strong? What are your recommendations, in about a 50-70 dollar range?


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  1. d
    DavidT RE: Max D. Sep 5, 2010 12:56 AM

    Unfortunately, single-malt prices have crept up over the past 2-3 years and $50-$70 does not buy quite what it used to.

    Review the prior threads shown below. I would also search this board for past threads on single-malts. This topic does get discussed several times each year.

    Try the 12-year old Highland Park. It is not as heavily peated as most of the single-malts from Islay.

    1 Reply
    1. re: DavidT
      DavidT RE: DavidT Sep 5, 2010 12:59 AM



    2. sku RE: Max D. Sep 5, 2010 08:37 AM

      Caol Ila, Lagavulin and Talisker are all great whiskies, but they are all quite peaty. The suggestion of Highland Park 12 is spot on. It's earthy, complex, with a bit of peat but nothing overwhelming. There are also some great whiskies without much in the way of peat. One of the best buys in single malt is Old Pulteney, the 12 year goes for about $40 and has great, complex flavor without the peat. Another great buy is Dalmore, the 12, 15 or Gran Reserve are all in your price range. Any of these are going to blow away the 'Livet and Dewar's in terms of complexity.

      2 Replies
      1. re: sku
        ted RE: sku Sep 5, 2010 04:48 PM

        I'm usually a peaty whisky drinker. I like Bunnahabhain for a rich but not overpowering dram. Haven't had Highland Park anytime recently as a point of reference.

        I also think of Famous Grouse 18 for a better blend. Honestly, the uptick in pricing has had me drinking mostly bourbon and rye for a couple years now.

        1. re: sku
          JMF RE: sku Sep 6, 2010 06:16 AM

          I think Highland Park may be the best bang for the buck in Single Malt Scotch. That said, I like a good American Bourbon or Rye more than Scotch.

          Scotch is actually a very dirty spirit that has to be aged many years to allow the heads to evaporate. I can't drink many scotches anymore because I can actually taste the more volatile components now that I have become attuned to them.

        2. jbyoga RE: Max D. Sep 6, 2010 06:39 AM

          IMHO I'd buy a 25 dollar bottle of Teachers or save up for a few weeks and go for the Johnny Walker Blue (150 +/-) Have fun either way!

          1 Reply
          1. re: jbyoga
            Brenda L RE: jbyoga Dec 6, 2010 06:05 PM

            Johnnie Walker Blue is really not worth the price. Dont' get me wrong, it's fabulous, but there are many other options at half to two-thirds the price with just as nice of a complex taste. I think the Balvenie is wonderful for around the $50 price point .

          2. c
            carts2 RE: Max D. Sep 6, 2010 07:26 AM

            I agree with your assessment; Glenlivet 12 is an outstanding scotch. The Islay scotches are indeed the peatiest. If Laphroaig is too intense for you, try the smoother Bowmore.

            But here’s my real recommendation: For a fine single-malt flavor at a lower price, try a peated Irish whiskey. Connemara is an excellent example. It is technically not a scotch, because it is made in Ireland; but Connemara is now one of favorites drams.

            3 Replies
            1. re: carts2
              Max D. RE: carts2 Sep 6, 2010 03:49 PM

              thanks for all the info everyone!! Guess I'll hold off on some of the Islay varieties. If I can find It I'll go for the Highland Park 12, if not, I'll see what else I can find in town that is similar.

              1. re: Max D.
                Strangewine RE: Max D. Sep 6, 2010 04:41 PM

                I would first offer up the Lagavulin 16 - a fine scotch that you would enjoy. I would also suggest Oban 14 for that price range.

                1. re: Max D.
                  EvergreenDan RE: Max D. Sep 6, 2010 04:49 PM

                  I have to agree with Strange. You want a great scotch, not a bargain scotch (according to your original post). It's not like peat is some mystery flavor that takes years to warm up to. I loved it from the get-go. Lagavulin is wonderful stuff. If you can afford to drink it regularly, why deny yourself the pleasure?

              2. n
                ncyankee101 RE: Max D. Sep 6, 2010 06:47 PM

                Highland Park 12 was the first single malt I purchased, and I think it was the best place to start - though my taste since then has tended toward peat monsters like Ardbeg and Laphroaig. have yet to try Lagavulin because where I live it is $90 which is a little rich for my taste.

                If you are lucky your area has the HP 12's with the free mini bottle of HP 18.

                12 Replies
                1. re: ncyankee101
                  Max D. RE: ncyankee101 Sep 6, 2010 10:09 PM

                  Finally checked all the liquor stores here in Juneau and couldn't find Highland Park. But I looked on the Malts.com flavor chart, and Talisker 10 was pretty close. So I took the plunge and got the Talisker...

                  As I type the warm peppery aftertaste is still lingering on my tongue from my previous sip. I do believe that, if price were no object, THIS is all I would ever drink! I actually wish that I hadn't tried this, cuz after this all other budget scotches now taste like Coors in comparison.

                  EDIT: after looking at the malts.com flavor chart again, I realized that I misspoke, it was the Talisker 18 that was close. Still, everything I said holds true!

                  1. re: Max D.
                    DavidT RE: Max D. Sep 7, 2010 07:30 AM

                    At some point, you should try some of the other Speyside single-malts (besides Glenlivet), just to see if you like them and how they compare. I would start with Macallan and branch out from there.

                    1. re: DavidT
                      Nocturnalbill RE: DavidT Sep 7, 2010 01:14 PM

                      Have also had good experiences with Glenmorangie and Glenfarclas from the Speyside region personally.

                      1. re: DavidT
                        e_bone RE: DavidT Sep 9, 2010 10:48 AM

                        Max- my boorish opinion... you will try tons of Highlands and Speyside scotches.. and enjoy a lot of them... and you'll end up sticking with Islay scotches at some point.

                        The smoke, the iodine, the seaweed, the salt.. there's just no substitute for those flavors and it was an epiphany when I first had one. I'm an Islay bigot and will drink them almost exclusively. However- there's times when a taste of something different is welcome. If I could afford it I would have in my cabinet at all times:

                        * Macallan 12
                        * Macallan 18 (3rd best scotch I've ever tasted)
                        * Talisker 10
                        * Talisker 18 (2nd best scotch I've ever tasted)
                        * Lagavulin 16
                        * Lagavulin Distiller's Edition (best scotch I've ever tasted)
                        * Laphroaig 10 (when maximum peat is needed!)

                        That's a pretty narrow list.. there are plenty of others I've tried and *liked*.. but not many I've truly LOVED. Okay.. Bruchlaiddaich 15.. <smacks lips> gotta have that too.

                        1. re: e_bone
                          ncyankee101 RE: e_bone Sep 9, 2010 11:05 PM

                          Great list e_bone.

                          I do love the Islay taste but am not always in the mood for a peat bomb assault on my palate a la Ardbeg 10 - and I don't always feel like burning through $50 a bottle scotch (which is what the cheapest goes for here in NC).

                          I have found a couple inexpensive Islays (one a blend) that have that flavor but in a lighter form - Bowmore Legend and The Black Grouse (which also adds an interesting sherry flavor to the mix.) Unfortunately neither of these is available in NC yet, I got them on a trip to FL - so when they are gone, for an inexpensive Islay fix I have to settle for McClellands (which is supposed to be 5 yr old Bowmore.) It is not bad, especially for $20 a bottle - though mainly brine and smoke with very little iodine flavor.

                          1. re: ncyankee101
                            DavidT RE: ncyankee101 Sep 10, 2010 10:11 AM

                            An option for those looking for an inexpensive Islay malt is Finlaggan, sold @ Trader Joe's for under $20.

                          2. re: e_bone
                            davis_sq_pro RE: e_bone Sep 10, 2010 10:22 AM

                            I also like a lot of the malts on your list, but for me the younger ones are usually more interesting. I prefer the Macallan and Talisker 12 and 10 over the 18 in both of those cases. Lagavulin in all its forms is great stuff--my favorite malt by far--but seems to have shot up in price significantly in the past year or so.

                            1. re: davis_sq_pro
                              Max D. RE: davis_sq_pro Sep 13, 2010 07:32 AM

                              thanks for all the continued help. I've also had a little time with the Speyburn 10 and have to say that is a very good budget dram. very nice flavors and not too bad at $28- liquor is expensive in AK.

                              @ e_bone,
                              thanks for the list. most of those are on my " when I got the money I will try it" list. I just wish that I could get Bruchlaiddaich here in Juneau

                              1. re: Max D.
                                ncyankee101 RE: Max D. Sep 13, 2010 11:16 AM


                                I've also had the Speyburn and though it was OK, maybe a little estery in the nose and hot in the finish. I thought Lismore is better and a little cheaper. If you have that one where you are I recommend you try it. It has a very distinct green apple taste I like when I am in the mood for it.

                            2. re: e_bone
                              ESNY RE: e_bone Sep 14, 2010 01:06 PM

                              Lagavulin Distillers is my favorite scotch as well. Recently got a bottle in NY at Astor Wine on sale for $60. Should've bought out the store. On the other hand, I'm not a big fan of Macallan. With the exception of the fine oak, I find them pretty bland.

                              1. re: e_bone
                                Gabatta RE: e_bone Nov 8, 2010 01:13 PM

                                You and I have similar preferences in scotch, though I might throw a recommendation for Oban 14 in there as well. I strongly 2nd the Lagavulin Distiller's Edition. That and the Talisker Distiller's Edition are the currently two active bottles in my liquor cabinet. Both are outstanding!

                                I can generally find the Talisker for around $70 locally, but recently paid over $90 for a bottle of the Lagavulin (yikes!).

                              2. re: DavidT
                                budnball RE: DavidT Dec 5, 2010 07:08 PM

                                I agree with The Speyside idea. Aberlour and Balvanie male some great single malts and I really love the 21 year port cask Balvanie as a treat!

                          3. TheDewster RE: Max D. Sep 14, 2010 01:31 PM

                            My favourite is Highland Park 25 but its $375 here in Toronto, Macallan 18 or 17 fine wood are also good. If heading through a duty free Macallan Distillers Select is supposed to be good. Oban is hard to find but very nice. Peat bombs like Ardbeg and Supernova are for people who like drinking cigarettes and campfires. Macallan 12 is the best bargain in terms of quality and consistency. If you like it sweet Glenmorangie sherry cask. Give Remy Martin XO a try lay the snifter on its side on top of a tea cup filled with hot water to heat the cognac. Then smell the result glorious stuff. Some people just rub their hands on the glass. Fun times

                            17 Replies
                            1. re: TheDewster
                              ncyankee101 RE: TheDewster Sep 24, 2010 10:43 AM

                              "Peat bombs like Ardbeg and Supernova are for people who like drinking cigarettes and campfires."

                              You forgot bandaids. It's amazing just how good liquid bandaids taste,

                              Ardbeg 10 is my favorite so far, but I haven't opened my Laphroaig Quarter cask yet.

                              I am going to have some Lagavulin 16 soon, can't wait.

                              1. re: ncyankee101
                                TheDewster RE: ncyankee101 Sep 24, 2010 12:17 PM

                                Isn't that epoxy based? Damn that's interesting truly a cheap buzz but the health effects geez. There is a peat bog near a school I taught at and the water was brown with peat not pleasant.

                                1. re: TheDewster
                                  ncyankee101 RE: TheDewster Sep 25, 2010 12:01 AM

                                  Don't you know iodine is good for you?

                                  1. re: ncyankee101
                                    TheDewster RE: ncyankee101 Oct 29, 2010 01:41 PM

                                    In parts per million in salt, that stuff I don't know
                                    I like a little smoke and peat like Highland Park but Lagavulin was too much.

                                    1. re: TheDewster
                                      ncyankee101 RE: TheDewster Oct 30, 2010 11:33 AM

                                      Have you tried Caol Ila 12? It has similar flavor characteristics to Lagavulin but significantly less. I just opened mine a few nights ago and I like it.

                                      1. re: ncyankee101
                                        TheDewster RE: ncyankee101 Dec 6, 2010 07:46 AM

                                        No haven't tried it sorry for late post didn't notice it was addressed to me. I have Macallan 18 which I like. Marzipan finish from the sherry cask I guess but not as good as the HP 25 I will try the HP18 next or maybe some of the rare Macallan bottlings for duty free.

                              2. re: TheDewster
                                JMF RE: TheDewster Oct 30, 2010 08:02 AM

                                The old warmed brandy snifter is the best way to bring out the worst in a brandy, or any spirit. The glass shape is all wrong. First, in the bowl, the surface area is so large that too much alcohol evaporates. Then with the narrow opening that is large enough to get your nose deep into the vapors, it concentrates the heat of the alcohol right at your nose.

                                A tulip shaped glass is much better for tasting spirits. The bowl is smaller and elongated, allowing some of the brandy aroma to vaporize, but not as much alcohol vapor, the opening concentrates this, then flares softly, so that the vapors don't go straight up the nose, but an inch or two away so that the vapors mix with outside air and open them up, allowing alcohol to be reduced and aromas released.

                                Also heating the brandy brings out harsh vapors and aromas and ruins the delicate nose. Even the heat from your hand in a snifter is too much heat. that's why a tulip shaped spirits glass has a long stem to hold.

                                Nowadays some of the fine glass makers are making special glasses designed to bring out the best in each spirit. Riedel seems to be the best at it. I have been to many spirits tastings where we used different shaped glasses and it was quickly obvious that the glass shape makes a enormous difference, and that the traditional brandy snifter is about the worst shape glass to use for spirits.


                                1. re: JMF
                                  invinotheresverde RE: JMF Oct 31, 2010 04:44 AM

                                  Thank you! I always cringe when someone asks me to heat their brandy snifter. Especially when they think it makes them look classy or knowledgeable, somehow. All it does it ruin your booze.

                                  1. re: invinotheresverde
                                    TheDewster RE: invinotheresverde Nov 5, 2010 06:06 AM

                                    I stand corrected.

                                  2. re: JMF
                                    phantomdoc RE: JMF Nov 10, 2010 06:19 AM

                                    At a Macallan scotch event they used and gifted Glencairn whiskey glasses. What is your opinion of these?


                                    1. re: phantomdoc
                                      sku RE: phantomdoc Nov 10, 2010 07:33 AM

                                      I always use glencairn glasses and think they are the best way to taste whiskey neat. They have a slight tulip shape, but are not as pronounced as a snifter. They are pretty much the standard tasting glass for serious whiskey drinkers.

                                      1. re: sku
                                        ncyankee101 RE: sku Nov 10, 2010 08:41 AM

                                        Lismore has a gift set with a nice Glencairn glass - and its a full sized one not a mini/half sized glass like those in the Glenlivet gift set (which also has 50 ml bottles of the 15 and 18 yo). It also appears to be a genuine Glencairn glass, it is etched in the bottom.

                                        Lismore is also a pretty decent Scotch for the price, $24 here in NC.

                                        1. re: ncyankee101
                                          phantomdoc RE: ncyankee101 Nov 10, 2010 10:29 AM

                                          The glasses have Glencairn etched on the bottom. Macallan etched on the side. They seem to be full sized. Macallan served water on the side to add to the glass, so it seems to be good for mixed as well as neat.

                                      2. re: phantomdoc
                                        JMF RE: phantomdoc Dec 5, 2010 07:45 PM

                                        I have quite a few of those glasses and they are a very good design. They are used at all the major whiskey events, so each is etched with a different event or brand. (I even have one from Makers Mark where I got to dip the bottom in wax, then turned it upside down to get the drips... looks great.)

                                        1. re: JMF
                                          comestible RE: JMF Dec 6, 2010 10:21 AM

                                          Does anyone care to compare the Glencairn glass against the Riedel whisky glass? Definitely a different shape. I might be in the market for one or the other. Here's the link to the Riedel:


                                          1. re: comestible
                                            sku RE: comestible Dec 6, 2010 11:33 AM

                                            Here's a comparison review:


                                            1. re: sku
                                              davis_sq_pro RE: sku Dec 6, 2010 12:34 PM

                                              I'll have to disagree with the "terrible" durability rating on the Riedel glasses, and downgrade it to "average." I have a set of them and have broken a couple over time but generally put them through their paces and they hold up. I've broken lots of other glasses, too, including thick pint glasses. Glasses break; it just happens. It seems like whomever wrote that comparison likes to really bash the glasses together when toasting.

                                  3. f
                                    Fimbul_Fambi RE: Max D. Dec 24, 2010 04:28 AM

                                    What I like most about Single Malts is that they are all so different - sometimes I'm in the mood for one, and sometimes I'm in the mood for another. If my parents were to buy a bottle to be able to offer me a glass when I come over, I think that I would want them to get a bottle of Lagavulin. I don't think that I would ever "not" be in the mood to drink Lagavulin. I've tried most of the scotches that people have mentioned in this list but one that is missing that I think particularly stands out is the Glenrothes.

                                    The first time I ever had it my sister had brought a bottle back for me from Scotland that had hints of vanilla. When I went to the store I saw that each years bottling had slightly different flavors. If you can't afford to buy a case, it makes it difficult to insure that you will always have a supply of a flavor that you like, but experimenting with different years has been a very enjoyable experience.

                                    1. tim irvine RE: Max D. Dec 26, 2010 06:32 PM

                                      I'd second the recommendation on Glenrothes. That said, if I were new to the wonderful world of single malt Scotch I'd not blow my budget on a single bottle but would instead get a couple of diverse good ones, like a Bowmore peaty but not so peaty as to be unapproachable and maybe a sherried one, like a Dalmore cigar malt or something very light and heathery, like a Dalwhinnie (although it has gotten kind of pricey).

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: tim irvine
                                        e_bone RE: tim irvine Jan 5, 2011 06:12 AM

                                        Perfect approach Tim

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