Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Whisky - personal preference.

When I first came to Scotland I didn't like whisky. All I had experienced was Bells whisky and I thought, at that time, whisky was whisky.

Well, that changed, You can't live here very long before being offered whisky and I was offered The Famous Grouse (no, I'd never heard of him either). It was pretty good. They have since changed the blend and it's not to my liking any more, but it did set me on the road to whisky appreciation.

Whisky is a personal preference. Personally I don't like Bells but it's a popular one, so plenty of people obviously do. I like the heavily peated whiskies like Ardbeg or Bunnahabhain or Laphroaig, but one of the Smoky-Drinkers can't stand them. He prefers Speyside. A near-neighbour lives for the Macallan which is nice, but never my first choice.

I've recently experienced the Penderyn, a Welsh malt. I remember Welsh whisky from my young days, early attempts labelled 'chwysgi' and they were dreadful. Penderyn is very smooth indeed. They have a peated version - must get some.

Once you move into the malts, the blends seem harsh, almost like drinking acid in some cases. They are, however, much cheaper. For me, good ones are Stewart's Cream of the Barley, Whyte and Mackay's Glasgow Special, Black Bottle and JB's, among others. Those are guzzling whiskies for a Smoky-Drinky excess night but they don't hurt too hard in the morning and they don't make your arse feel like you've been practised on by Dyno-Rod trainees in your sleep.

Any discussion of whisky is subjective. The range of tastes is amazing, it is not one generic 'whisky' taste. Some burn, some don't burn at all. Glen Grant is dangerously easy to drink while Black Grouse is self-limiting because of the pain in your oesophagus. You know where that pain will be tomorrow. I prefer the non-pain ones myself.

I could write a book in several volumes on the subject and almost nobody would agree with all of it because it's all a matter of what you like. Once in a while, I'll put up ones I find and like or hate.

There used to be miniatures. If you saw a whisky you hadn't heard of, you could buy a one-shot bottle to try it before you splashed out the price of a small television on a bottle of something that ended up tasting like drain cleaner. Miniatures are scarce now. The best way to try a new one is in a pub - quick, before they all die - but don't try too many at one sitting or you will develop a taste for Toilet Duck. Which is, admittedly, cheaper but it gives you the hairy hands.

So, my recommendations will be based on what I like. I have no idea what you will like. Don't fork out thirty quid on a bottle until you've tested it. I'll talk about malts, grains and blends and try to remember to explain what that means but if I forget, pull me up on it.

In the meantime, if you know where to buy a bottle of Glenfarclas 105, let me know. I've only ever seen that one in pubs. Oh, it's very, very nice but not one I'd recommend starting with. It is not a learner-drinker's tipple.

And yes, it all definitely tastes better in a crystal glass. If you swig it from the bottle in my house, you're going under the patio.


Bill Sticker said...

May I recommend Talisker, an Islay Malt. Cardhu is a slightly cheaper alternative, as is Glenmorangie. If your pocket won't stretch to a decent single malt, try Black Bottle or one of the Irish Whiskies like Jamesons.

I'm not surprised you didn't like Bells, personally I wouldn't use it for cleaning brass.

Anonymous said...

A cheap but surprisingly pleasant blend is Charles House which I get at Makro & I think is the Makro inhouse brand

Anonymous said...

Try Highland Park

Like a very good Speyside and lightly, but perceptibly, peaty.

Many years ago I used to make the stuff but then changed to working in the technology of alcoholic fermentation.

You Welsh whisky will have had a lactic fermentation post alcoholic one to give a smother palate and ore fruity nose.

Been there too.

Timdog said...

Looks like you can buy it here: They also sell miniatures in case you want to introduce others to it, and the 40-year version which looks a bit pricey to me...

Am a whisky heathen, the hangovers are just too awful, more of a Grappa man, plenty of whisky buffs in the family though so will read with interest.


Man with Many Chins said...

I have to agree with Bill, Talisker is a nice drop. I quite like the Speyside's and the Macallan as well :-)

Conan the Librarian™ said...

I used to bottle Vat 69 and the Antiquary, the blender there once described Bell's as
"Rotgut vodka which has been filtered through the dottle of a pipe, then sweetened with burnt cork."
I like the Macallan myself.

The Merry Man said...


I was given a bottle of Oban a few years back as a Christmas gift.

Loved it!.

knirirr said...

Concerning Bells, I once asked for some in a proper Whisky shop and was asked, with disdain, why I might want such a product.

I told them (truthfully) that some pipers considered soaking in whisky to be an effective means of removing mould from chanter reeds, and that I would not waste proper whisky on such a task. They were much happier selling it after being told that.

For drinking, it's Talisker, Penderyn, Laphroaig and so on.

HeartAttackSurvivor said...

One I've come back to more often than others, if I can find it, is Knockando. All the good bits and none of the rough edges of many malts.

J said...

You should try visiting a few of the distilleries if haven't already. From what I remember, Glenmorangie has a good one well geared towards visitors with a tour, etc. Gives you a good insight into how it's all made and what brings out certain flavours. It also smells fantastic. Laphroaig is also worth mentioning.

Uncle Marvo said...

Antiquary, neat.

Johnnie Walker Black, with water.

And why can't you buy Cardhu anywhere in the UK (to my knowledge) although it is all over Spain?

Curmudgeon said...

I'd second the recommendation of Highland Park – combines the smoothness of Speyside whiskies with a hint of Island peatiness. It's not widely appreciated (and certainly something they gloss over on distillery tours) that whisky is basically a distillation of unhopped beer.

Anonymous said...

10-year-old Glenfarclas (the 40-year-old is £2,500!)

I like a good Hine cognac.

Looks like Brown's stolen another Cameroon policy - encouraging communities to buy up their pubs. Next, he'll be offering to subsidise them - or nationalise them. Not that he'd follow through, should the b@stard win the election.

woman on a raft said...

An interesting thing about the "Classic Malts" as the marketing calls them, is that they are Diageo properties. The first rule of the Malt Whisky Association is that you do not mention Diageo. It's there in the shareholder material and buried in the legals and t&cs, but they work very hard indeed to divert attention from it.

Diageo realized they had to leave the distilleries alone to do what they do best, and that the public wished to buy something which was to be distinguished from the Diageo mass-market brands, Johnnie Walker, J&B. ("Global Priority Brands" in marketing speak).

Classic Malts (currently):
Caol Ila
Glen Elgin
Royal Lochnagar
The Singleton of Dufftown

I've detected some hostility from the boutique whiskys over Diageo, but that's not completely fair. Twenty years ago Diageo built the stable by re-jigging brands they had acquired and settled in for a very long haul, positioning the distilleries as an association of independent manufacturers. They didn't know if it would pay off and, contrary to what some people think, shareholders are not there to shore up heritage brands with three customers. It's a business, not a charity.

Over the period it worked very well. Diageo promoted little whisky tasting sets - they still sell versions, but there seems to be a problem with distribution - and helped create the market for single malts. They didn't do it alone; the Macallan (Edrington Group) was particularly energetic in repositioning whisky as the authentic British drink to compete with French brandies etc.

None the less, the marketeers deserve credit for dragging whisky away from its image of a oldman's rotgut drinkable only with ginger ale, to a spectrum of subtle and beautiful distillates which show the perfumiers the way to go home. Stitch that, Pierre.

Despite the slightly higher price on the shelf, I maintain that a good bottle of whisky is a great value ladies' drink as a thimble full is all you need to set a meal off. The depth and complexity provide the enjoyment. If I wanted to swig teatree flavoured vodka, I'd go straight for the antibacterial hand gel.

Anonymous said...

Got to say I find whiskies far too harsh - much prefer brandy. Not any old brandy though, 'cos most of the stuff for sale is crap - got to be Remy Martin. Remy's damned fine stuff - with a decent brandy glass it doesn't have to be drunk ... can breathe it by getting your nose right into the glass. Someyimes I'll spend a whole day and night doing just that.

I'd like to try some of the other Remy products, but even Martin's £30/bottle (only 750 cl), and I certainly can't afford the £80+/bottle some of the other stuff costs.

Sir H.

Sir Henry Morgan said...

Not literally all day and night with my nose stuck in a brandy glass - but dips every couple of minutes.

I could have put that a bit better first time.

Sir H.

Sniper said...

Jamie Stuart - no longer with us.

Weekend Yachtsman said...

"They have since changed the blend and it's not to my liking any more"

Ha! Back in the 70's Grouse was a rare bird (!) and worth seeking out; we used to drive out from St.Andrews to Largoward because the pub there kept it. Then later it seemed to be just like all the others - it's good to know it was the whisky that changed, not me!

Bill Stickers, omg, Talisker is good stuff but it's from Skye, not Islay! Blimey, you're lucky there are no Skyemen on this blog.

Most of the Islays are wonderful - all seven of them - but some are too peaty for some peoples' taste. Bunnahabhain is the lightest and most approachable imho, but most of it goes for blending, it is not easy to find as a single.

Highland Park is excellent, so is the much less well-known Old Pulteney, if you can find it.

For me personally? Caol Ila first last, and every time. Get the single cask stuff. It's the nectar of the gods.

Cynarae said...

You can get miniatures in here

HeartAttackSurvivor said...

Sir Henry - Cognac's fine but a bit too full of the volatile aromatics for me. I much prefer a damn good Armagnac (Janneau's pisspoor these days, even the XO). I had a rather good Chateau Laubade XO recently, seek some out if you can.

Anonymous said...

I can strongly recommend BNJ as a top blended whisky; it's about 25% Glenmorangie malt. Problem is most of the big supermarkets don't sell it.

Unknown said...

Gotta say I'm a big fan of the whole Glenfarclas range - the 105 being the best, I shared a bottle with my father on Christmas day a few years back in Sri Lanka!

You can usually pick it up in most good specialist Whiskey shops (I know of a few round my way) or in the airports. Failing that plug it into google and there are a few websites that get it from time to time.

Oh, and one of my local pubs keeps a bottle of the 18year variety on its top shelf. It always makes me smile when I go in

Shug Niggurath said...

Blended am a Whyte & Mackay man; malted Glenmorangie, Highland Park and Talisker generally, but not averse to any really.

But this post really put me in mind of an old one a mate of mine done on whisky. Before you read you need to be aware that this guy is a third generation American.

Golden Usquebaugh, Bricht Spirit o th Glen

But I think you'll find it a good read.

Anonymous said...

Get yer arse over to Campbeltown and grab a 15 year old Springbank - you won't regret it!

Maturecheese said...

Jamesons,Tulemore Dew, Black Bush and Bushmills Single malt are the Whiskeys for me.

I'm not big on Scotch mainly as I know little about them. Had a bottle of Cardu once and that was nice as a once in a blue moon. I think Scottish whiskys are a bit too Peaty or smokey for me . I like Smooth.

Leg-iron said...

Bill Sticker - Talisker , yup. Cardhu has been mentioned before but I haven't found it yet. Black Bottle is a popular Smoky-Drinky tipple, especially the 130th anniversary version in a silver box.

Anon 4:15 - I had a Makro card in my last job, but not now I'm self-employed. It's a long way away so I haven't bothered. Some of the supermarket own-brand malts are okay but for Islay, I'd go for Morrisons before Tescos. Even then they taste watered down.

Leg-iron said...

bugger - Highland park, yup. The local shops sell it. It's a good compromise when drinking with those who don't like the peaty ones.

A lactic fermentation - so it's lactic acid that makes them smooth? So we are drinking whisky-flavoured yoghourt? It's bad for us and good for us at the same time.

Oh, that is going to send the health freaks straight to the loony bin...

Leg-iron said...

Because we're young - the worst hangover I ever had was from cider, it was like being hit in the head with a steel bar. That was at university, sharing a flat with a guy from Cornwall who brought an unlabelled plastic petrol can of cloudy stuff back with him...

Otherwise, I get hangunders if I overdo things. Sometimes I have to laugh at the company that calls themselves 'blackwater' because it means something different, and very unpleasant, to me.

Leg-iron said...

Conan - Vat 69 I haven't seen for years, and the Antiquary is a new name to me.

Merry Man - Oban is a new name too.

It's time I 'did some research' as trols like to say.

Leg-iron said...

HeartAttackSurvivor - that's another one for my 'research' list.

Leg-iron said...

Ἕκτωρ - Once there was a distillery visit where I was a supervisor and many of the students were Muslim. They could not dink their free drams and they all gave them to me. They all smiled when they did it and none of them threatened me in any way at all, before or since.

For this reason, I will not condemn anything Muslim. Except the MCB. They are not Muslim, they are Righteous.

Leg-iron said...

Fausty - brilliant!

It's cheaper than the Penderyn.

There is no point in local communities buying pubs as long as the government decides who is allowed in them.

If they get through the 'zero alcohol' limit then your perfume or aftershave will be enough to convict. Pubs are doomed under any main party.

Leg-iron said...

WOAR - I don't mind who controls them as long as they are good, and sold at a a sensible price. Diageo might claim the 'good' but they have no control over the price. Most of it goes into the Gorgon's big pockets.

Leg-iron said...

On brandy -

I like brandy but -

Rantin Rab has said before that whisky makes him combative. I have a friend who can drink whisky until he talks like Rowley Birkin and is harmless, but will pick a fight with his own brother if he's drinking vodka.

For me it's brandy. Several friends have told bar staff to refuse me brandy.

They always fail.

Leg-iron said...

Maturecheese - I once bought Bushmills single malt in Ayr from a shop who obviously had no idea what they were selling.

I'll never see that price again!

Bill Sticker said...

Quite right. Talisker is from Skye /facepalm. You know what's truly galling? I've got a bottle sitting in my drinks cupboard.

Back to Whiskey school.

Timdog said...

Hangunder, I know just what you mean, will incorporate that into my boozing lexicon.

Off-topic, just blogged this They are trying to ban major league baseball players from chewing tobacco while playing. Now even smokeless tobacco is verboten.

Anonymous said...

I developed their strain and a friend of mine had it written into the definition of Welsh whisky.

I lost touch some years ago when I left the company I was working for.

Their still ore resembled an armagnac one with a small rectifying head.

The LAB addition came from work on washbacks left over the week-end for the Monday distillation and the difference in spirit balance fro those distilled fresh.

Addition of LAB would be illegal in Scotland but not at that time in Wales where there was no legal definition of Welsh Whisky.

selsey.steve said...

Bowmore is beautiful.
I once had the heavenly pleasure of sharing a bottle of Black Bowmore. Nothing can ever come near that whisky, it's the best Islay.
Sadly none here could afford such a bottle of nectar.

geewiz said...

I prefer Bushmills, Jameson etc. Not such a big fan of scotch but Chivas and Glenfiddich are very drinkable. The first time I ever got shoelaced was on a bottle of Vat69 nicked from a friend's fathers cabinet, so that has fond memories.
I tried Ardbeg a few years ago, after reading that it was classed as the best in the world. Waaay to peaty for me.
I love the Jura bottle design.

Curmudgeon said...

I really respect the mega-peaty whiskies, but the likes of Oban and Highland Park are an ideal balance for me. I am also very partial to Bushmills in any of its incarnations.

Leg-iron said...

Jameson and Bushmills (and sometimes the Bushmills single malt) are available here, as is Old Pulteney, the Singleton and many others. I'm partial to an occasional drop of the Irish too.

We have an enlightened Morrison's store manager. Tesco tend to stick to the popular ones, but Morrison's will stock a few bottles of an oddity just to see if it sells. It usually does.

Usually to me.

Antipholus Papps said...

I don't care if it's made by Diageo, Cragganmore is delicious!

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