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chef koo

The Generic Whisk(e)y Topic

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Chef Koo, I don't think that anyone has suggested this -- apologies if I missed it -- but the solution to your dilemma exists on the shelves of your local hooch purveyor. There are at least two liquor stores near my house where I can go to taste whisk(e)ys, and I only know of those because I frequent them. For example, the best scotch store in RI, Town Wine and Spirits, has at least a dozen bottles open at any time so that customers can come in a try a wee dram.

Find a high-end liquor store with a good whisk(e)y selection and give 'em a call. I'll bet they'd be happy to set you up with a few tastes to get you started.

And, probably, hooked. :wink:

As for the ones I'd urge you to try, I'd say finding an Islay single malt (like Laphroaig), a sherry cask single malt (like Macallan), a solid Irish (I'm partial to Old Bushmills), a blend (Johnny Walker Black, say), a bourbon (Maker's Mark)... and avoid the Canadian stuff entirely. But, hey, one man's ceiling is another man's floor, eh?


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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This may have been true in the nineteenth century, but nowadays all but a tiny handful of distilleries buy their barley malt from one of the big maltings, where the amount of peat-smoke added, which varies from none at all (in a surprising number of cases) to quite a lot can be carefully controlled and adjusted to each customer's precise needs. Most of the highly smoky Scotches are that way because they used to be that way in the past, not because the conditions they're made under mean they have to be. The modern world, God bless it.

Springbank still does things completely the old-fashioned way, BTW.

I'm pretty sure that even Springbank only malts a very small percentage of their barley.

Almost all malt used in the production of Scotch comes from commercial maltsters and has its peat content specified by the master distiller. It makes for a much more consistant product when you specify in parts per million how much peat smoke you want. It certainly takes a bit of the romance out but I suppose it also takes out some of the commercial risk when you consider the majority of it will not see the light of day again for 10 years.

I'm going to visit one of the four or so working maltings at Balvenie when it starts back again in March. Not much peat involved there though.

Cheers

Ian

Ian:

Thanks to you and to Splificator for explaining this a bit better. Really does take a lot of the romance out of it though, doesn't it? If you have time to explain how the commercial maltsters work I'd be interested. Does this mean that many of the brands of single malt that are so vastly different are purchasing their raw materials from the same source? Is there a commercial maltster in each region that supplies all the Highlands distilleries, or all the Speyside distilleries or whatever, or do the maltsters ship product to other parts of Scotland? If they do, how do they ship it? In tankers like gasoline??? How does this enterprise work? I'm fascinated and full of questions now that the blinders have been pulled off.

The thought that some of these distillers are going completely against the "ancient formulae" and using no peat whatsoever seems akin to the shortcuts bad winemakers use (pumping over oak chips, suspending staves in old worn out barrels, etc.) to avoid spending money on newer oak barrels. :angry: I can understand their desire for consistency within their product, but to completely ignore the standard means of production seems counterintuitive to me.


Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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Does this mean that many of the brands of single malt that are so vastly different are purchasing their raw materials from the same source?

Yes they are...

Is there a commercial maltster in each region that supplies all the Highlands distilleries, or all the Speyside distilleries or whatever, or do the maltsters ship product to other parts of Scotland? If they do, how do they ship it?  In tankers like gasoline???

Afraid there isn't a cetain malster that supplies any one of the regions. I'll ask a couple of the whiskey reps I know which company they get their stuff from but I doubt they'll know off the top of their heads.

Check out this maltsters page for a glimpse of what is involved

Yes malt is shipped around Scotland in tankers. Most distillaries I have been to have large driveways for the trucks to pull in and drop the malt into building.

All thoroughly unromantic and as a Scot I feel like I'm blowing the lid on some sort of scandal. :unsure:

How does this enterprise work?  I'm fascinated and full of questions now that the blinders have been pulled off.

The thought that some of these distillers are going completely against the "ancient formulae" and using no peat whatsoever seems akin to the shortcuts bad winemakers use (pumping over oak chips, suspending staves in old worn out barrels, etc.) to avoid spending money on newer oak barrels. :angry: I can understand their desire for consistency within their product, but to completely ignore the standard means of production seems counterintuitive to me.

The demise of the maltings is not a new thing. Most of the iconic pagodas that you see on bottles and logos of Malt bottlings have been visitor centres for a while now. Indeed I ate lunch in what used to be the maltings at Cardu (home of Johnny Walker!!) not so long ago.

The use of peat is another matter however. Not only is peat a non renewable resource but also it is not naturally occuring around the areas that many distillaries are found. So to say that they are going against centurys of tradition is a bit of a red herring. I don't want to consider what malt whisky tasted like at its inception or even 100 years ago!! Some advances in technology are good and as far as I can see and there would be no Malt whisky industry if it weren't for the use of commercial maltsters. There is no way that the comparatively tiny groups of buildings that comprise the majority of distillaries could churn out enough raw materials to produce even 5% of what is currently sold worldwide.

So it is produced from barley that is not malted on the premises, so it is bottled in Glasgow or Kilmarnock, that is commercial detail that shouldn't detract from the fantastic liquids that get produced.

Cheers

Ian

PS. Hope your dram doesn't taste any different as a result of this thread :wink:


Edited by thebartrainer (log)

Vist Barbore to see the Scottish scene.

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for a very nice blended irish whiskey, i would try Powers, (the 12 year old if you can find it). The regular gold label is available widely even though it's not marketed because it's #1 in Ireland.

It's got a very smooth slight caramel flavour that makes it pleasant to drink neat. I think it's often overlooked because it's lower priced than most other irish imports, and so lacks prestige.

i usually keep some on hand, and have made quite a few very loyal converts.

edit to add: if anyone sees the 12 yr old in the nyc area, let me know, because i have been looking.


Edited by butterscotch (log)

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I'm pretty sure that even Springbank only malts a very small percentage of their barley. 

Almost all malt used in the production of Scotch comes from commercial maltsters and has its peat content specified by the master distiller. It makes for a much more consistant product when you specify in parts per million how much peat smoke you want.  It certainly takes a bit of the romance out but I suppose it also takes out some of the commercial risk when you consider the majority of it will not see the light of day again for 10 years.

I'm going to visit one of the four or so working maltings at Balvenie when it starts back again in March.  Not much peat involved there though.

Cheers

Ian

I recently watched a show on the Travel Channel about Scotch whisky. It showed the folks at Laphroaig malting barley on the floor of a large warehouse-type building - is that then just for show?

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I think it would be unkind to say that it is just for show (especially as I don't know a great deal about the case in point) as the malt you see being turned etc will definitely be used!!

You could class it as keeping old traditions alive or as passing on old methods rather than just hamming it up for the tourists (and the travel channel)


Vist Barbore to see the Scottish scene.

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so i know nothing of whiskey except that it's distilled like cognac. and even there i'm not entirely sure. but i'd like to start learning about it. so to start i'd like to know what the quintessential whiskey to start drinking would be. i want the no bullshit no gimmick whiskey. also i know that there are grades like single malt and in that there are different ages for them like 18years or 12 and such. is there a difference? money is not an issue with me for i'd be willing to save up a couple months to get a top notch whiskey.

edit: along my pursuit for information i've discovered that scotland is THE country for whiskey. and that to get the purest example of a whiskey that only a single malt should be consumed. can anyone confirm this?

The things that gives whiskey it's "whiskey" flavor (whether that is a bourbon whiskey flavor or an islay scotch flavor) are the distillation proof, barelling proof, and bottling proof of the whiskey.

The distillation proof is how strong it is coming off the still. If they distill it to a high strength and then cut it with water, the flavor will be lighter. This is why more flavorful whiskey is distilled to a lower alcoholic strength.

The barelling proof is how strong it is when it goes into the barrel. The lower this is, the more oak flavors from the barrel come through to the finished whiskey. (This tends to drive the price up because the distiller needs more barrels to age its whiskey) How much age a whiskey will take and still improve depends on the distillation proof, barrelling proof and some other things, but generally most whiskeys made today continue improving until at the minimum 10 years. Most agree on that. After that, it depends on the individual whiskey. (and whoever is championing it)

The bottling proof is how strong it is when they put it in the bottle. It should be as close to the barrelling proof as possible. (Granting of course that it should also be of a drinkable strength. Bacardi 151 is much closer to the barrel proof than ordinary Bacardi, but at that strength it is almost undrinkable without water, so most of the value is lost.)

A warning about "flavorful" whiskeys, however: They're only an advantage if you enjoy the flavor that's being concentrated. :) If you don't like the inherent flavor of Islay whiskey, for instance, you'll doubly dislike it in concentrated form.

I'd avoid blended whiskey for now. There are some arguments for it, but many whiskey makers simply use it as an excuse to stretch their supply of good whiskey with vodka. You can do that at home, if you want to. :)

Hope this helps.

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The things that gives whiskey it's "whiskey" flavor (whether that is a bourbon whiskey flavor or an islay scotch flavor) are the distillation proof, barelling proof, and bottling proof of the whiskey.

I think this is a touch simplistic when talking about scotch malt whisky. The raw ingredients do play an enormous part in the end flavour, especially on Islay!

When we talk about scotch it is important to remember that we are not talking about a continuous distillation process. The nature of the fact that it is batch distilled means that it is a spectrum of proof that is taken off (the middle cut or heart). This makes it a more complex product due to the comparatively high levels of congeners in the lower end of the cut.

generally most whiskeys made today continue improving until at the minimum 10 years. Most agree on that.

The people at Ardbeg are currently doing exciting things with young single malt and different levels of char in their barrels so whilst I'd probably agree with the broad statement every whisky is different.

The bottling proof is how strong it is when they put it in the bottle. It should be as close to the barrelling proof as possible.

Any alcoholic spirit will have trigger points in its alcoholic strength at which different flavours will be released. So it really depends what you want to get out of your glass as to how strong you want it to be.

I'd avoid blended whiskey for now. There are some arguments for it, but many whiskey makers simply use it as an excuse to stretch their supply of good whiskey with vodka. You can do that at home, if you want to. :)

Let's remember that unless your dram stipulates that it is single barrel or single cask on the label it is always blended. The main job of a distiller is to maintain the house style and that can only be achieved through blending. Blended whisky is not single malt cut with vodka, it is a blend of a variety of single malts with grain whisky, which is produced under the same laws as the malt. Granted it is produced in a column still but it must still be produced from malted barley and spend 3 years in an oak barrel. If you taste grain whisky, which is not likely unless you visit a distillery or find a rare bottling of Cameron Brig, it has a much lighter flavour but is still most definitely whisky. Sure there are good blends and not so good, but none of them are malt cut with vodka.

Drink blends, there is nothing wrong with them!...

Particularly try Monkey Shoulder which is a vatted malt from 3 distilleries... v.interesting

Cheers

Ian


Edited by thebartrainer (log)

Vist Barbore to see the Scottish scene.

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Blended whisky is not single malt cut with vodka, it is a blend of a variety of single malts with grain whisky, which is produced under the same laws as the malt.  Granted it is produced in a column still but it must still be produced from malted barley and spend 3 years in an oak barrel.

I think there's a little confusion here. Blended scotch is single malt scotches blended with grain whisky, and as you say, the grain whisky spends time in oak, just like the malts, but grain whisky doesn't have to be made from malted barley. It's usually made using corn as the primary grain.

Let's remember that unless your dram stipulates that it is single barrel or single cask on the label it is always blended.

This is almost correct, but any scotch labeled single malt, if "single barrel or single cask" isn't stipulated, is a blend of malts from the same distillery with no grain whisky added.

The subject can be a little confusing, and I believe the pwoers that be are working on new terms and definitions to make it a little easier on us, but hey, all this stuff is what makes it interesting, right? :smile:


“The practice is to commence with a brandy or gin ‘cocktail’ before breakfast, by way of an appetizer. Subsequently, a ‘digester’ will be needed. Then, in due course and at certain intervals, a ‘refresher,’ a ‘reposer,’ a ‘settler,’ a ‘cooler,’ an ‘invigorator,’ a ‘sparkler,’ and a ‘rouser,’ pending the final ‘nightcap,’ or midnight dram.” Life and Society in America by Samuel Phillips Day. Published by Newman and Co., 1880.

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Speaking of grain whisky, Compass Box makes an absolutely amazing blend called "Hedonism" that is nothing but grain whisky. No malt whisky at all! Definitely worth a try.


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The one that ruined my palate was Midleton Irish Whiskey. It was just like the first Montecristo cigar I had, no more cheap ones after one of those. For my palate Midleton is as good as I've ever had, Johnny Walker Blue is a close second. Price is about the same for both. Heard a story once at a liquor store that JWBlue is the stuff the family used to reserve for themselves and friends. Any truth to this?


A island in a lake, on a island in a lake, is where my house would be if I won the lottery.

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Speaking of grain whisky, Compass Box makes an absolutely amazing blend called "Hedonism" that is nothing but grain whisky.  No malt whisky at all!  Definitely worth a try.

I am a big fan of all the Compass Box products. He does four main scotch blends--one of which reminds me of Irish Whiskey (I believe it is the Hedonism), another is blended to be much more 'peaty" (the "Big Peaty Monster"), &c. He also does some thing called "Orangery" which is like Grand Marnier (but better) but made w/ scotch instead of brandy. It is exceptional.

If memory serves the man who started the company (& his name escapes me right now) was a former blender for Johnnie Walker.


in loving memory of Mr. Squirt (1998-2004)--

the best cat ever.

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I haven't tried Compass Box's Orangerie, but it sounds very interesting. It's too bad it's so expensive (around $35 for 375 ml) because it could make a very cool alternative to triple sec/orange curacao in cocktails.


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Blended whisky is not single malt cut with vodka, it is a blend of a variety of single malts with grain whisky, which is produced under the same laws as the malt.  Granted it is produced in a column still but it must still be produced from malted barley and spend 3 years in an oak barrel.

I think there's a little confusion here. Blended scotch is single malt scotches blended with grain whisky, and as you say, the grain whisky spends time in oak, just like the malts, but grain whisky doesn't have to be made from malted barley. It's usually made using corn as the primary grain.

ok... now i'm really confused about this whole "blended" business. for scotches, i see the above, but aren't there also blended malt scotches, a blend of a group of single malts?

and what about plain old "blended whiskey," the cheap stuff? it was my understanding that they're not blended with "grain whiskey," but "neutral grain spirits," which i thought was good ol' unaged, high-proof distilled, flavorless booze... essentially vodka. this stuff i try to avoid, but i'm i wrong about it? if that's the case, i think that stuff is giving the better "blended" a bad name.

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Let's first clarify that I'm talking about Scotch throughout this post and not whiskey of any other origin.

Malt whisky is a product produced at a single distillery. It is always, unless stated otherwise on the bottle, a blend from any number of casks from the distillery. The age statement on the bottle is the age of the youngest liquid in the bottle. It is Malted Barley, milled, washed and the resulting liquid fermented. This is then distilled, usually twice in pot stills and put in used oak barrels, usually from either the bourbon or sherry industries. It must stay in the barrel for a minimum of 3 yr to be called scotch whisky.

The casks are blended to maintain a house style hence the fact that every bottle of Glenmorangie 10yr tastes the same. The recipe is never the same and this is the value and skill of a master distiller. Think of it as a map where you are trying to get from A to B with an unlimited number of routes in between.

Grain whisky is any cereal used in the same way but distilled in a column still. It must also be aged in oak barrels for a minimum 3yr. Having said that it is legally any cereal (Mr Regan is correct!) 95% of grain whisky used in the production of scotch for consumption in well developed markets is made using malted barley (not usually maize). There are only about 4 grain distilleries in Scotland with Girvan being one of the biggest.

Blended scotch: (Johnny walker(all colours), J&B rare, Dewars White Label, etc....)

Is a blend of grain and malt whisky. The ratio of malt to grain will go up as the price rises with the ultra cheap own label bottles being 10% malt 90% and the better quality blends being somewhere nearer 40% Malt. A number of different Malts will be used to create the brand's style.

If there is an age statement on your bottle of blended scotch (eg. Johnny Walker Gold 18yr or Chivas Regal 12yr) then that is again the age of youngest whisky in the bottle. Those which do not carry an age statement can be as young as 3yr.

A very small niche in the Scotch market is the Vatted Malt bottlings. These are blends of malt whisky with no grain whisky added. Examples of this are Johnny walker Green label and Monkey Shoulder.

I hope this has cleared up any confusion.

Cheers

Ian

PS. None of the above catagories are 'better' than the other, try everything (even the cheap stuff) and make up your own mind!!


Edited by thebartrainer (log)

Vist Barbore to see the Scottish scene.

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thanks for the clarification with scotch! anyone esle want to chime in and give us the blended skinny on other types of whiskey?

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The things that gives whiskey it's "whiskey" flavor (whether that is a bourbon whiskey flavor or an islay scotch flavor) are the distillation proof, barelling proof, and bottling proof of the whiskey.

I think this is a touch simplistic when talking about scotch malt whisky. The raw ingredients do play an enormous part in the end flavour, especially on Islay!

True, the flavor depends on what it's distilled from, but the concentration of that flavor depends on the different proofs. :) This is true of all liquor.

I'd avoid blended whiskey for now. There are some arguments for it, but many whiskey makers simply use it as an excuse to stretch their supply of good whiskey with vodka. You can do that at home, if you want to. :)

Let's remember that unless your dram stipulates that it is single barrel or single cask on the label it is always blended. The main job of a distiller is to maintain the house style and that can only be achieved through blending. Blended whisky is not single malt cut with vodka, it is a blend of a variety of single malts with grain whisky, which is produced under the same laws as the malt. Granted it is produced in a column still but it must still be produced from malted barley and spend 3 years in an oak barrel. If you taste grain whisky, which is not likely unless you visit a distillery or find a rare bottling of Cameron Brig, it has a much lighter flavour but is still most definitely whisky. Sure there are good blends and not so good, but none of them are malt cut with vodka.

Drink blends, there is nothing wrong with them!...

Perhaps they are blending with rum, or aged rum-proof near-whiskey, but I still stand by the idea that you can dilute your whiskey at home, if all you want is good whiskey with a lighter flavor.

I agree with you that when someone who knows what they're doing blends together a bunch of different whiskeys with minor things wrong with them you can get a blended whiskey that has everything right, with a lower price than single malt. But I also still stand by the idea that many distillers don't do that sort of thing. A lot of them just stretch good whiskey, whatever the makeup of grain whiskey, and some of the ones that make quality blended whiskey charge single-malt prices, despite the fact that a good blended whiskey should be cheaper to produce than a good single malt.

Unless you know enough about whiskey to tell who is blending in a good way vs. who is blending in a bad way, I'd still say avoiding blended whiskey is a good idea, if possible.

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What might be a good reference is a quick list of each type of whisley and what it means to be that type of whiskey

We just need a volunteer to do it and get it all in one thread and possibly then get it pinned

For Example:

Bourbon - is an American form of whiskey made from at least 51% corn, or maize, (typically about 70%) with the remainder being wheat, rye, and malted barley

Single Malt Scotch Whiskey - is a type of Scotch whisky, distilled by a single distillery, using malted barley as the only grain ingredient

Blended Scotch Whisky -

Single Grain Scotch Whisky -

Single Cask Malt -

Pure Malt/Vatted Malt -

who can continue this for us? keeping them short and concise is key I think


Edited by Evangelos (log)

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Pure Malt- simply means that only malted barley was used.

"Single Malt Scotch Whiskey - is a type of Scotch whisky, distilled by a single distillery, using malted barley as the only grain ingredient"

Single Cask Malt - single malt whiskey with the added stipulation that it all came from the same cask.

Vatted Malt - malt whiskies come from more than one distillery to make up the end product.

Blended Whiskey - blend of (mostly) grain whiskey with some malt whiskey most often from a number of distilleries.

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I'll add to this list:

Bottled in Bond: American spirits produced according to the Bottled Bond Act of 1894. This is a way to avoid paying excise tax until the spirits are aged and ready for sale; also originally indended to ensure that the spirit was actually what it claimed to be. Bonded spirits are aged no less than four years in a government bonded warehouse and must be bottled at proof (50% abv).

Bourbon: Straight Whiskey where the primary grain is corn. Purists would argue that it is only made in Kentucky, although this is not a legal requirement. It is the official distilled spirit of the United States.

Canadian Whisky: By law, this is a blended whisky of cereal grains aged no less than three years.

Mash: A term used mostly by traditional American distillers. Refers to the fermenting mixture of water, grains, yeast and sometimes hops from which whiskey is made.

Rye Whiskey (American): Straight Whiskey made with rye as the primary grain.

Rye Whisky (Canadian): Another name for Canadian Whisky, most of which contain little if any rye.

Sour Mash: A technique used in the production of many straight whiskeys wherein a portion of the mash is held back and allowed to "sour" then added to the mash on a following day.

Straight Whiskey: By law, the grain bill must contain no less than 51% and no more than 79% of the primary grain. It must be distilled to no more than 160 proof (80% abv), aged for at least two years at no more than 125 proof (62.5% abv) in charred new oak barrels, and bottled at no less than 80 proof (40% abv). No neutral grain spirits or any other substances may be added.

Tennessee Whiskey: Straight Whiskey where the primary grain is corn, but where the raw distillate is treated with the Lincoln County Process (filtration through ten feet of maple charcoal) before being dumped into barrels for aging.


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Whisk(e)y is my favorite spirit, but it sounds crazy to save your money for months to buy one bottle of whisky you might hate. You can get delicious bottles of whiskey for $50.

Through good fortune, I have gone to dozens of open-bar receptions where I could try expensive pours of spirits. I found that Macallan is my favorite single malt scotch producer. I found that the 18 year old is slightly but noticeably better than the 12, and truth be told I couldn't discern the difference between the 25 and the 18. Now I never got to drink them side by side for a true comparison, but I'm saying there are major diminishing returns. The 25 is about $400, the 18 about $150, and the 12 about $45. I personally wouldn't buy the 25 unless I were a millionaire. Moreover, Macallan 12 is a great buy. The only single malt I thought to be in the same league as Macallan, of the ones I tried, was Talisker, but I'm less familiar with it.

Blended scotches can be fantastic too. By far the best I've had is Johnnie Walker Blue (~$300?). Here there's a big difference between the blue and the lesser Johnnie Walker blends, in my opinion.

I enjoy other whiskeys also, but I'm less familiar with them. Bourbon and scotch are totally different beasts, and it doesn't make sense to me to say scotch is better so I'm not going to drink bourbon.


Edited by eipi10 (log)

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Blended scotches can be fantastic too. By far the best I've had is Johnnie Walker Blue (~$300?). Here there's a big difference between the blue and the lesser Johnnie Walker blends, in my opinion.

Its about 150 a bottle. I prefer the gold as opposed to the blue, and red as opposed to the black, so call me backwards I guess. The green is also an interesting spirit, the version sold now does not taste the same as it did before it became highly available in the US.

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For the record I am a big fan of the speyside single malts and in particular, the Macallan range. Mac 25 IS one of the greatest single malts I have ever tasted. I liked it so much I went out and bought a bottle for $275. Mac 18 is very ncie as well, but I have tried Mac 18 and MAc 25 side by side and Mac 25 wins hands down. Don't get me wring, Mac 18 is a trully wonderful whiskey.

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Anyone wanting to try single malt scotch whisky should look no further than the Scotch Malt Whisky Society.

Founded in the early 80s by a group of friends who bought casks from distilleries and bottled it themselves, it is now an organisation with over 24000 members worldwide.

They still do the same thing, buying casks and bottling them under their own label, but there is now an enormous range to choose from. All of the bottlings are cask strength, not chill filtered and one of a kind.

The result is a collection of whiskies from well known distilleries (and some obscure ones) that will taste nothing like the commercial brands you see in stores.

As they are in competition with the distillers own brands they are not allowed to name the distilleries but can only refer to them by number. No list is available to decode the numbers but the descriptions in the tasting notes usually give some fairly heavy hints.

Check it out... you won't be disappointed!!

Scotch Malt Whisky Society

Cheers

Ian


Edited by thebartrainer (log)

Vist Barbore to see the Scottish scene.

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Sorry to resurrect such an old post, but didn't see a better place for my question.

Has anyone tried St. George's (Alameda, CA) Whiskey? If so, do you have any tasting notes/comments? I think their absinthe and vodkas are in the top of their classes, so I assume I'd like it, but I didn't want to buy a bottle completely blind.

Thanks!


True rye and true bourbon wake delight like any great wine...dignify man as possessing a palate that responds to them and ennoble his soul as shimmering with the response.

DeVoto, The Hour

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