Yesterday, was the American Whiskey selection, today it’s Europe and Asia!
As mentioned in the previous article, duly noted that shopping for whisky can be a daunting task, but there are ways to hone it down a little if you take some factors into account. For some, that means budget first and foremost. For others, it comes down to personal preferences, favorite brands, and maybe trying to match that taste with something new. In others, no substitute will do. Yes, whisky can be a very personal thing indeed.
As was the case with the others, it’s impossible to name every whisk(e)y known and loved in one article, since there are so many that fit the bill for different situations. What is presented here is a tight selection that will hopefully please an array of palates and suit your needs, at a range of price points. These include many new releases or seasonal limited editions, as well as some old standbys. If anything is left off you feel strongly about, please do let us know in the comments!
For when you’re on the fence:
Old Pulteney 12 Yr (Silver Medalist in the 2013 NY International Spirits Competition): Known as the “Maritime Malt” for its long association with the sea, Old Pulteney is one of the perfect go-to single malt Scotches for its balance – slightly fruity, but with subtle notes of salt and earthy grip. It’s ever-so-slightly smoky, but more of a final punctuation than enough to offend delicate palates. A very versatile choice, and perfect sipper for dark, brooding weather. ($40)
To treat the Peat Lover:
Laphroiag 18 (Gold medal winner and Islay Distillery of the Year in the 2013 NY International Spirits Competition): On the sweet side of smoky, this one is a big favorite among peated Scotch lovers with a penchant for the Islays. Its maturity means less of that “licking a fireplace” or “burning rubber tires” funk some of the younger ones have. Instead, beautiful, harmonious deep chocolate, espresso, honey and slightly ‘baconesque’ notes are rounded out with sea salt and pipe tobacco. A gorgeous older dram. ($150)
Balblair Highland Single Malt: Balblair has the distinction of being the only distillery to work exclusively in vintages, running from the late 1970s to early 2000s. Each vintage differs according to how long the whisky spent in cask, and the finish of the casks themselves (i.e. Bourbon, Sherry, etc.) The whisky itself all has a house style, which is characteristic Highland - rich and approachable, non-peated, but with some rustic, dark notes. These flavors are enhanced depending on the cask. Another excellent crowd-pleaser and available in a variety of price points.
The tried and true (blue) Scotch splurge for the one who accepts no substitutions:
Brooks Brothers Limited Edition 1818 Johnnie Walker Blue Label: As if one of the prettiest blended Scotches in the world weren’t enough, in addition to their annual engraving service, they partnered with Brooks Brothers to offer a signature tie of the iconic Striding Man logo. But wait, there’s more! For the ultimate splurge, Brooks Brothers is also offering a “once-in-a-lifetime” Johnnie Walker Brooks Brothers Experience (SRP $10,000) that includes an exclusive at-home Scotch tasting led by a Johnnie Walker Master of Whisky. Both the host and guests will enjoy their very own engraved bottle of Brooks Brothers Limited Edition 1818 Johnnie Walker Blue Label and the Brooks Brothers Limited Edition Striding Man Tie (hey, did they not realize women love it too? How about a Striding Man silk scarf or something, huh?) A percentage of the proceeds will be donated to the nonprofit, Career Gear (which almost makes up for their negligence in addressing women as Scotch lovers.) Click here for details. Also, if you get the tasting, invite me over. You know, for pointing it out to you? (JW Blue by itself $150 – $200 depending on retailer.)
For the whisky novice, or those searching for a dram that’s lighter in style:
Bastille 1789 (Silver medal and French Whisky of the Year in the 2013 NY International Spirits Competition): a blended whisky (wheat and barley) aged in French limousin oak casks that can easily give some of its more famous Scotch cousins a courir for the money. Soft and approachable, but still enough flavor to satisfy a seasoned palate. Plus, fun conversation starter – it’s the delicate whisky named for a violent uprising! ($30)
Irish Whiskey that’s a step up:
Kilbeggan Reserve Malt: Made from 100% malted barley (though not a single malt, it should be pointed out), this one has smoother edges than their entry level blended release from different grains. It’s a fun, balanced sipper that’s in between an ‘every day’ whiskey and the one to save for special occasions. And like anything to love about the Irish, it has a good story: It’s produced from the oldest existing pot still in the world, dating back to 1830 (Kilbeggan itself dates back to 1757, making it arguably one of the oldest commercial distilleries ever.) It is also the first new release from this once moth-balled distillery since 1957. ($62)
Knappogue Castle 16 Yr Twin Wood: Single malt Irish Whiskey that spends time in both ex-Bourbon oak casks and former Sherry casks. The characteristic Knappogue Castle flavors go richer and deeper – with dark plums, dates, cashews, chocolate malt and pie spice. An Irish whiskey that plays like an unpeated Scotch, but still retains an Irish whiskey personality in its subtlety and triple distillation. ($90)
Precision, precision, precision:
Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt 21 Yrs: “Pure malt” is Nikka’s way of saying this is a blend of single malts (barley, as in Scotch) from different distilleries, the youngest being 21 years old. Although single malt purists will argue their cause, and they always will, (there is never any stopping them), this unpeated whisky is a splendid example of how sometimes, as with wine, the best flavors are layered from different sources. Simply a beautifully-made whisky, that’s intentional, chewy and deep, with flavor accents that feel like a pleasant fireworks display to your taste buds, blooming in different places, making you want to sip more to make it happen again and detect new tastes. ($160)
High end, mature, honest Scotch:
Bowmore 25 Years Old: An Islay single malt that has also been aged in both ex-Bourbon and Sherry casks, though not as dark in appearance as other “sherried” whiskies. Bowmore is indeed one of the peatier malts out there, however, the smoke is more subdued in this release, and gently wafts in and out of the palate instead of creating the base flavor. Delicately balanced, never musty and muted, as some older malts can become. An excellent choice to lavish a seasoned Scotch drinker. ($465)