Binny’s Mailbag: Getting into Scotch

We answer a lot of questions from The Binny’s Mailbag, and it seems like a common theme is getting one’s foot in the door to the world of Scotch. For example:

 

Binny’s,

   I have always enjoyed bourbon but have recently been intrigued by single malt scotch. Admittedly I don’t have much knowledge about scotch. That being said I am hoping that you could give some background knowledge on scotch and give me a few ideas as where to start (i.e. what is a good beginner scotch and possibly some other single malts to start).

Thanks a lot,

M

 

Hi M,

   We always recommend starting a voyage through single malts with some whiskies from Speyside or the Highlands. You’ll find a great amount of variety in the flavor and profile of single malts depending on the region of Scotland that they come from. Generally malts from these regions won’t be peaty or smokey and will focus more on fruity, floral, and caramel/toffee flavors.

   Age matters with Scotch, but not as much as some people insist. You can find some great introductions to the style in Glenlivet 12 year, Glenfiddich 12 year, and Glenmorangie 10 year. Glenlivet is soft and floral, Glenfiddich is slightly fuller and finishes with some spice, and Glenmorangie is sweet and smooth.

   When you’re tasting whisky, try to take note of the specific flavors or characteristics you like, and those you don’t. Being aware of this will help you narrow down what you really like and guide you when you pick out your next bottle.

   Let us know how it goes! Cheers!

 - Binny’s Mailbag

6 thoughts on “Binny’s Mailbag: Getting into Scotch

  1. Happily, there’s tons of websites out there which are all very happy to educate you on the mass of malts out there (much moreso than, say, brandy). I highly recommend takin a few hours for maltmaniacs.org, whiskyfun.com, ralfy.com, and whisky-distilleries.info (which has a really useful map of every distillery in Scotland). After you spend some time there you should actually go and try a few drams. This can be expensive. While I’m sure Binnys would be happy to take your entire paycheck, think about going in with a few friends (start your own whisky club!) or even hitting one of the specialty whisky bars around Chi-town.As for which whiskies to try, first it’s helpful to get a sense of the massive range of character which single malts can have. In order to build your vocabulary, here are the styles you’re probably going to want to learn first:-Big Fat Honeyfied Speysider (Glenlivet 12 is the easiest to find and try out, but grab some Longmorn if you can find it as it’s is basically pure happy-juice. Speyburn 10 isn’t bad either for the price.)-Balanced Elegant Highlander (Here I’d take Old Pulteney 12 over the more famous Oban, which is just priced out of reach these days; Clynelish 14 is also a good huge value.)-Speyside Sherry Bomb (Macallan – the red bottlings, not the Fine Oak – is the standardbearer here, but for now I think you can do better for the money. Try Glendronach 12 or, for something really special, Aberlour A’Bunadh. Don’t go in expecting these to be sweet, though…)-Peat Bomb (I want to say Ardbeg 10, which is wonderful, but they keep jacking the price up. If cash is an issue and you just want to learn your peat then try the Bruichladdich Rocks or the Ardmore Traditional, which are both very well-priced.)After those four you’ll have your basic malt vocabulary in place. From there you can branch out to one of the hundred-ish other distilleries, or even give the whole thing up if you want. And if you’d like to expand your malt palate even further, find some of these:-Light Grassy Lowlander (Bladnoch, if you can find it; otherwise you’re gonna have to ask around for solid, affordable bottlings of Auchentoshan or Rosebank. Good Lowland whisky is sadly a bit rare.)-Orange-And-Ash Highlander (A lot of the Highland whiskies around Invergordon – Dalmore, Glenmorangie, a few others – have this signature. I highly recommend the Tomatin 18, which is shockingly cheap.)-Light, Complex Speysider (not every Speyside whisky is big and heavy; some are actually quite delicate and rather cerebral. Give Ancnoc, Glendullan, or Imperial a whirl.)-Islay (At some point, try all of them. Particularly if you like peat, but even if you’re indifferent. And even if you hate the stuff Bunnahabhain still deserves your attention.)-Non-Islay Island Whiskies (These all tend to be very distinctive, somewhat “coastal” in character, and with varying levels of smoke. Highland Park is the obvious one, but Jura, Springbank, and even the seriously odd Tobermory/Ledaig are all worth trying.)-Old-School Eastern Highlander (There aren’t too many of these left, but they’re personal favorites. Glen Garioch is the easiest to find, and it’s particularly magnificent at 15. Piney, herbal, slightly peaty, and very unusual, but hugely complex and rewarding.)Slainte!

  2. Greg,Other reasonably priced recommendations would be as follows:Dalmore 12yrMacallan 12yr/15yrHighland Park 12yrGlenlivet 15yrGlenrothes Alba ReserveThese are all unique flavors that will get you used to the different regions. If you feel adventurous, you could try a few Islay’s which are going to be shockingly smoky to your palette at first. (Laprhoaig, Ardbeg, Lagavulin)

  3. The Doublewood is actually quite “bourbonlike,” with a lot of oaky vanilla character, so it could be a good point of transition for someone who’s spent a lot of time in Kentucky! It’s quite a sweet, pleasant, drinkable whisky. That being said, like Glenfiddich (its partner in crime – they’re both owned by Grant & Sons), I find it a bit shallow. Which would be fine, except that it’s priced up there with lots of other malts (your entry-level Pulteney, Highland Park, Aberlour, Laphroaig, Strathisla, and – as Derek mentioned – the Glenlivet 15) that, I think, really outclass it.Anyhow, Mr. or Ms. M, whatever you happen to try out (and everything named so far is decent), I’d recommend that you not get into the habit of “picking a whisky” and buying the same thing over and over again (no matter how good it is). Much of the fun of single malts, far more than bourbon, is in taking the time to explore and learn. Kentucky has eight or ten distilleries (they produce almost all the bourbon you’ll find); Ireland only has three! But Scotland has well over a *hundred* sites producing malt whisky. They all do it a little different, most of them are available in some way or other, and many are worth the effort to try.

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