Five things I’ve Learned About…Single-Malt Scotch

The December 15, 2011 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine is out, and it includes (among other things) my review column on Single Malt Scotch.  You can pick up a copy at the newsstand, or view it in digital format on Zinio.  Here’s what I learned:

1. I now understand why people go bananas over the whiskey category, and Scotch in particular. It’s mind-blowing what can be accomplished with grain, water, and barrel wood…and nothing else.

2. This was the category that finally got me to spit during tastings. SO many of these are uber-aged, and have such high alcohol levels, that it became a necessity. It was a survival technique; otherwise I’d have been sozzled during every tasting session.

3. The scoring range was totally different from say, flavored vodkas — significantly more in the 90+ area, and very very few below 85. Although I think what I was sent generally was top of the line (in some cases I know it was), the takeaway is that there’s a surplus of excellence in the single-malt Scotch category.

4. I also had the opportunity to sample the most expensive spirit I’ve ever reviewed: $1300. It was a highly limited edition, but based purely on the blind tastings, much more reasonably-priced spirits were just as good or better. (sorry!)

5. The biggest surprise of all to me – I don’t hate peat!  It turns out, I just hate heavy-handed peat — that overpowering smokiness that I imagine must be like licking an ashtray.

Got a favorite single malt Scotch? I’d love to hear about it. Comment away…

5 thoughts on “Five things I’ve Learned About…Single-Malt Scotch

  1. Love to hear a woman’s perspective on one of my favorite beverages! It is truly wonderful stuff, and the diversity of flavor profiles is absolutely astounding. As far as favorites, I tend to lean towards smoky, but can enjoy many different styles. Here are some of my favorites:

    Talisker 10
    Lagavulin 16
    Laphroaig Quarter Cask
    Anything by The Balvenie
    Ardbeg 10
    Highland Park 18 and 25

    And the list goes on and on…


  2. I love a peaty single malt. I got to try Bruichladdich’s super-duper peated Octomore, which has some ridiculous amount more peat (measured in parts per million) than their typical peated scotches. I absolutely loved it.

    My favorite single malt for drinking is probably Highland Park. But I also enjoy a good Lowlands scotch, like Glenkinchie. That’s the exciting thing about single malts for me: there’s so much variability to be found in it.

    On the subject of disappointing uber-expensive spirits, when I went to a cognac tasting that culminated in a couple sips of the $2,000-a-bottle Remy Martin Louis XIII, I was pleasantly surprised to find I was happiest with a $200 cognac (it was the Bache-Gabrielsen Hors d’Age Grande Champagne). That Louis XIII, which I estimated cost about $50 per pour to all of us at the tasting, just didn’t seem that amazing. I fully admit it may be that somehting that grand is lost on my youthful palate.

    • Re the expensive sprits — I suspect that at some point, there’s a law of diminishing returns. The $200 spirit might trump the $20 spirit, but after that, does it really get 10 times more spectacular at the $2,000 level?

      With the $1,300 spirit I tried, I think a lot of the $$ was because it was a very, very, very limited edition. I scored two precious ounces, and I was glad to have it.

      • I agree on the diminishing returns. And rarity may equal high price, but it never guarantees good flavor.

        You know what really bugs me though? When you see a relatively epxensive bottle of booze and the bottle is super fancy. I always get suspicious that all the price of it went into the bottle, and not the juice.

        And hey, 2 ounces of that $1,300 scotch is damn good! I only got a half a mouthful of the cognac.

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