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Mar 12, 2012 01:24 AM

First time trying Scotch- am I crazy?

So a friend brought over a bottle of Glenlivet scotch tonight. It's the green bottle, I believe it's the 12yr. Until now, I've only tried bourbon and rye whiskey. Those two taste very different to me- the rye being spicier and hotter, while the bourbon is smoother and mellower. However, the scotch tasted very similar to my memory of bourbon. We had the scotch on the rocks (one big, round cube) and unfortunately by the time I brought out the bourbon and poured a sample the ice had watered down the scotch to the point that it was hard to determine whether they were really as similar as I thought- but I definitely didn't taste the unique characteristics that I was expecting of the scotch.

I was expecting scotch to be big and harsh and peaty (a smell I'm familiar with, but not a taste) but it really tasted pretty close to bourbon. Another (also female) friend agreed with me- the guy who brought over the bottle is new to scotch and whiskey in general and trying to learn to enjoy it for business purposes, so he couldn't offer much of an opinion on the comparison.

So is my palate terrible? Is Glenlivet not a good example of the kind of scotch I was expecting? If my palate is unsdiscerning, what should I do to improve it?


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  1. Glenlivet is probably aged in used bourbon barrels.

    Try Lagavulin 16. It's very big, but not harsh at all, more like Scotchy velvet.

    2 Replies
    1. re: jaykayen

      Lagavulin would be a pretty big (and expensive) intro it smoke and peat (and iodine). And its pretty expensive. I might try Bowmore Legend at around $30 for a more gentle intro.

      But first, you might return to that Glenlivet with a lighter touch on the water. Try it neat or neat with no more than 1 part water to 3 parts scotch. I think you'll find that the flavor stands out better when its warm. Add water until you feel that the alcohol heat is controlled to your liking, starting with none or just a little. You can do the same with your bourbon to compare. If they aren't both around 80 proof, you may need to add more water to the higher proof spirit to make the comparison fair.

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      1. re: jaykayen

        Almost all Scotch is aged primarily in ex-bourbon barrels.

        Glenlivet is more on the light and floral side, so you're not going to get that blast of peat smoke you were expecting.

        Doing a comparative tasting would be a good way to see the differences between the different whiskeys. If your friend still has some Glenlivet left, you could pick up a couple more bottles and have a little tasting. Inexpensive bottles are a good place to start. Glenmorangie Original 10, Highland Park 12, Ardmore Traditional Cask, Ardbeg 10 (might be TOO peaty), are some I would recommend that you might be able to find around the $40 mark in progressing order of peatiness.

        I agree with Dan's no ice suggestion. Make sure you take the time to notice the nuances. Use glasses that will let you appreciate the aromas. Something like a Glencairn glass or snifter work well.

        Starting from your belt, lift the glass up towards your nose while you inhale until you can smell the Scotch. Once you have gotten a good sniff, take a sip, roll it around your mouth, swallow and focus on the flavor until you stop tasting it. After a couple of sips straight, you can add a little water (about a half-teaspoon at a time), and see how the smell and flavor changes.

        Taste in order from lightest to peatiest. If you do it like this, starting with a Bourbon, then a couple Scotches, I think you will get a very good idea of the differences.

      2. The smokey, peaty taste you were expecting comes primarily from the single-malt whiskies that are distilled on the island of Islay, off the west coast of Scotland. Brands such as Lagavulin, Laphroig, Coal Ila, Arbeg, etc. are distilled there.

        Glenlivet is one of many distilleries located in the Spey River Valley. Scotch whiskies distilled in that region tend to have a much smoother taste and have little of the smokey taste found in the single-malts from Islay. Glenfiddich and Macallan are two other well-known Speyside whiskies.

        Single-malts distilled in other areas of Scotland can have different taste profiles.

        1. Which Bourbons have you had? I find most Bourbons to be more flavorful than a mild Scotch like Glenlivet 12. Of course water and ice are a great equalizer, and I find Glenlivet 12 does not hold up well to either, nor do many Bourbons hold up to ice.

          The one time I had it, I did mistake Basil Hayden's for a Speyside Scotch - but then the person who gave it to me thought it was a Scotch (they were doing a "George Thoroughgood" and he lost track of what he was drinking LOL.)

          15 Replies
          1. re: ncyankee101

            I've had Evan Williams, Jim Beam and Maker's Mark. The one I compared it to was Maker's but as I said above, the scotch had been well-watered down by that point.

            1. re: tinnywatty

              That makes sense, maker's mark is a mild sweet Bourbon. There are spicier ones such as Elijah Craig or Old Weller that wouldn't have much similarity in taste to a Speyside Scotch.

              1. re: ncyankee101

                I also have Old Overholt rye and didn't think the Glenlivet tasted anything like that. Very interesting, I didn't realize there were so many types of scotches.

                1. re: tinnywatty

                  Old Overholt is a very mild rye and not one I particularly like. I think it tastes more like a Canadian whisky, with sort of a cereal quality and very little of the spiciness associated with rye.

                  There is no reason a rye would taste anything like a Speyside Scotch, straight ryes and rye-heavy Bourbons usually have some spicy bite. Wild Turkey rye is a good example.

                  1. re: ncyankee101

                    Yes- I've heard a number of bad things about OO. Fortunately there's only about an ounce left in the bottle, so I will be buying a different rye soon.

                    1. re: tinnywatty

                      OO has changed distilleries more than once over the last few decades, apparently at one time was an outstanding rye, and the name became legendary - but today's version is supposed to be a pale shadow of what it used to be.

                      1. re: ncyankee101

                        I'm thinking of a bottle of Rittenhouse or Wild Turkey (whichever's cheaper) for my next rye; would you say those are a better example of what rye should be?

                        1. re: tinnywatty

                          They're similar, both have a fair amount of rye spice - I like the Wild Turkey product better but it is generally more expensive, regular price normally low-mid 20's (though I got a couple on sale in PA for $18). I have a source for Ritt 100 in Atlanta for $15, though I have seen / heard of it in other areas much higher.

                          1. re: ncyankee101

                            Managed to find a bottle of WT rye here in LA for $17, a few dollars cheaper than Rittenhouse. Looking forward to trying it out; thanks for the recommendation.

                            1. re: tinnywatty

                              Glad to hear, hope you enjoy it. There are a couple ryes I like better as sippers - namely, Sazerac 6 yr and Bulleit - but the WT holds up better in mixed drinks and is still a decent one to sip, slightly better in that respect than Ritt 100 IMO.

                              1. re: ncyankee101

                                Unfortunately, the Wild Turkey 101 rye will be leaving us soon, replaced by a Wild Turkey 81 rye. The company is being a bit cagey about whether they will bring 101 back (my guess is it will eventually come back at a higher price). Too bad because 101 was a great value rye.

                                1. re: sku

                                  You have ruined my day. Thanks.

                                  I was just concluding that the premium I'm paying for Rittenhouse 100 isn't worth it and returning to WT101 as my mixing rye. I have found that overproof ryes are easier to work into cocktails. I can always give a cocktail a long stir, but going the other direction requires forethought to prechill the ingredients.

                                  1. re: EvergreenDan

                                    Knob Creek is coming out with a 100 proof rye. It should be hitting shelves in the next few months, though as you may know, the Beam rye recipe (found in Jim Beam Rye and Old Overholt) tends to be much lighter in rye flavor.

                                    Sorry for the thread drift here. Maybe I'll start a new rye thread.

                                  2. re: sku

                                    Aww man I wish this was April 1 so there was a possibility you were yanking our chains.

                                  3. re: ncyankee101

                                    I looked at the Bulleit rye (it was also cheaper than Rittenhouse) but remembered hearing that it wasn't as spicy as the average rye, so I went with the WT. Can't wait to try it, and if I like it I guess I might have to stock up before it's discontinued.

              2. It's the ice. Ice is used to make things that don't taste good tasteless.

                1 Reply
                1. re: kagemusha49

                  I almost always drink better stuff neat, though I have had a couple Bourbons that have held up well to ice - off the top of my head, Old Weller 107 and Wild Turkey Rare Breed. I wouldn't say it improved the taste per se, rather just changed the flavor profile.