Beginner Scotch Drinker Wanting to Sample the Regions
I am relatively new to drinking Scotch. I've sampled various brands over the years at bars and from friends without too much interest, but last week I purchased a bottle of Bowmore 12 and was floored. It could be that I have never tasted an Islay before, but now I want to dive in head first. I am looking to purchase a single malt from every region to try and learn the differences. I was hoping I could get some suggestions. Preferably not too expensive, but I live in Oklahoma where booze is cheap so I can probably go a little higher than entry-level (probably around $50-$70 a bottle.) Cheers!
When sku answers, listen to him. He's the local authority on whisk(e)y.
In addition to listening to the Scotch expert at your local liquor store, I might consider:
Lowland: Auchentoshan. The "Three Wood" is luscious. Haven't had others.
Speyside: Balvenie (the double wood is often on sale), Glenlivet (usually quite affordable), or Macallan (maybe the best known -- and certainly a standard; expensive IMO)
Highland: Oban is a favorite of mine
Islay: You have Bowmore. Laphroaig 10 is something that everyone should know what it's like at some point, but it's not my favorite. Maybe order in a bar? Lagavulin (one of my most favorite bottles)
Extra credit: Talisker: from the Isle of Skye. Similar to Islay, but less intensely smokey. Also a favorite of mine.
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The smokey/peaty single-malts from Islay are certainly distinctive and very different from the Speyside single-malts. Caol Ila is another well regarded whisky from Islay.
Highland Park, from the Orkney Islands, certainly worth trying. It is sort of in-between the smokey/peaty taste of the Islay malts and the smoother/sweeter taste of the Speyside malts.
If you go to youtube.com and search for "Ralfy," you will find a large number of video reviews of a wide variety of whiskies. Many of them are worth watching.
The first thing you should know is that the Regions are pretty much meaningless. People use them to provide sort of a lazy shorthand for the styles, but the truth is, every Region makes different styles of whiskey and there isn't much regional consistency anymore, if there ever was. The most consistent Regions is probably Islay which makes mostly peated Scotch, but there is peated Scotch made in other Regions and other styles are made in Islay.
Instead of regions, I would concentrate on the three major styles of Scotch: Peated, Sherry Cask, Bourbon Cask.
If Bowmore is what you liked, try other peated whiskies: Laphroaig, Lagavulin, Talisker or Longrow.
For sherry casks: Glenfarclas, Glendronach, Macallan
Bourbon cask: Bladnoch (mostly), Old Pulteney
And then maybe try some combos, like peated malts aged in sherry casks: Lagavulin Distiller's Edition, Highland Park
And note that the suggestions above include at least one Scotch from every Region.
You might want to look into the Single Malt Whiskey Society of America- your initial membership gets you a set of really expressive tasters, and access to their insanely delicious single cask selections...
Locox: You may end up like me and just stop searching once you've found islay malts. I will still taste and enjoy other whiskies if you're buying / pouring but if I'm spending my money it's going to be peaty, salty and smell like iodine! If I never have anything but Lagavulin, Bowmore, Talisker or "The Laddie" again I won't be too upset.
Around my way (NJ) Total Wine & More has about the largest spirits selection. I just looked at their site and the only Ardmore they had was 46.99 5th (Ardmore Single Malt)
I did stumble upon a product called "Smokey Joe" $34.99. Couple reviews thought the base was Laph 10. Have you ever tried it?
Yes that is the Ardmore I was referring to, unfortunately that price is really high. The Total Wine in Atlanta (my usual source) has it for $33. NJ prices seem to be all over the place, really low on some items and high on others.
Never heard of Smokey Joe, but Sku seems to have liked it. Despite the huge difference in Ardmore price, this one costs the same in Atlanta and NJ.
I agree that the difference between sherried, peated, and straight bourbon cask styles are more useful to the beginner than the regions.
One of the beauties of single malt is the exploration, so there are many ways you can go.
For straight bourbon cask aged whiskies, I think Glenmorangie Original is a good starting point and a good value as one of the less expensive bottles out there.
Sherried whiskies, I enjoy Aberlour 12 a lot, as one that hasn't been mentioned yet. Balvenie 12 is also a classic, and Bruichladdich 10 is one I like a lot as well.
For peated whiskies, if you like that flavor, there are many worth trying, but Talisker 10 is one of my favorites. Ardbeg Uigeadail is another one I really like.