C: slightly lime green tinted, very faint yellow, clear. Sauvignon blanc.
I stayed up last night thinking a lot about this topic and how we’re kind of fooling ourselves. If you’re trying to find the worlds best whisky, sorry for the deceiving title, but you won’t find it here. What you will find, is the truth behind what will guide you, to find
the best whiskies of the world.
The three topics that kept me up last night were; Rating systems, Personal preference and Hype. I’ll soap box on each one of these separately.
Rating Systems: Rating systems are great aids for those who don’t know what they want and to potentially find the best versions of a certain whisky in a certain category. For example, using the 100 point scale that many reviews use, you could safely assume that a 95 point Islay whisky, like an Ardbeg Uigeadail, would be an exceptional example of a peated northern Islay whisky. What some may call a “Classic”. Without having tasted it, you can trust that the reviewers have or should have determined that the flavors present in the whisky should showcase that of an Islay whisky, to be at least 95% of the best of that style.
This may take into account the many factors of being a classic Islay whisky, BUT, what if you don’t like Islay whiskies?? What if peat makes you cringe? And even though this is one of the best peated Islay whiskies, you hate it. Then that 95 points means nothing to you.
One way to get a better idea of if your taste buds are on par with a reviewers, is to drink a lot of the same whisky that they have reviewed, to see if you agree with them. But the thing about drinking a lot of whisky is; 1. You could develop a serious drinking problem, 2. A serious loss of money problem or even more seriously, 3. Be able to determine your own personal preference. The industry would like it if they could continue to think for you, aka “Influence” you.
The best thing I’ve learned about tasting and reviewing a lot of whisky, is that you become better at tasting and reviewing whisky. Just like anything else, practice makes perfect. Or a better saying in this situation would be, practice makes you more educated. But it doesn’t roll of the tongue as easily. The more whisky you taste, the better ability you have to determine what you like and dislike. After gaining the knowledge of knowing what you like and dislike, e.g. Personal Preference, then you can determine for yourself what is the best, for you!
Many people have this idea that they know what’s best for you. Not just random people, but companies. “Our soap is the best for your shower”, “these crackers will cure indigestion” and “our toilet paper will wipe better for you than any other”. When companies do this, it’s called marketing. When randos do this, it’s called hype.
Both marketing and hype are used to increase the perception of the value for things, often to ridiculous heights. Case in point, the 2013 Yamazaki Sherry cask which was named Best Whiskey in the World by Jim Murray (a whisky reviewer). This rocketed the Japanese whiskey scene, calling for thousands of dollars for the 2013 Yamazaki Sherry Cask and even raising the rest of the Yamazaki expressions to crazy inflated prices. The 12 year expression used to cost $65, now if you can find it, will run you $125. The 18 year expression used to cost around $200 and is now hovering between $399 – $450. Is the whisky good? Sure! But is it $400 good for the 18 year or $125 good for the 12 year? Maybe. It really depends upon how much you’re willing to spend for something that is hard to get and if you enjoy it. I love the Hibiki 21 year. I started purchasing bottles at $199 when I first saw it and I continue to purchase bottles when I find it for $350. When is my stopping point? My wife says, now.
Bottom line, use resources like this blog, other blogs and other reviewers to form a general idea of what it is you want to try. We try to use very easy to understand descriptions in order to appeal to the vast majority. Then, use online sites that sell samples of various bottles of whisky, or go to different bars to try different pours without committing to a full bottle. Determine whether you like sweet, peat, salty, medicinal or any other types of whisky and then continue down those lanes until you find your grail. That is the only way to determine what the best whisky in the world is, for you. And that’s why we love this whisky journey that we’re on.
So, what’s YOUR world’s best whisky??
1.the regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something.
All of that said, today’s Scotch versus Scotch is a three way battle between some 18 year old offerings. In one corner we have a bottle from Costco, the Kirkland Highland 18 Sherry. In the second corner we have a bottle of Glenfiddich 18. And in the third corner of our triangle shaped ring, we have the Macallan 18. Two of these offerings are finished in sherry and the Macallan is aged in sherry alone so this should be an interesting comparison. The price differential between these three bottles is also extreme so we’ll get a great idea of the value of each of these bottles.
From two power houses with two very different offerings, we bring you one of the best tasting ScotchVSScotch tastings to date. The idea of comparing two chocolatey scotches had crossed my mind a few times but I was really craving some chocolate recently and decided to enjoy that cocoa-y sugar the best way we I know how.
The Signet is made with a blend of some of Glenmorangie’s older whisky (30+ years according to their website) and some younger whisky made from roasted “chocolate” barley malt. It’s called chocolate malt but it gets its nickname from the flavors brought out of the barley not so much the method by which its roasted and dried (which is the real defining factor for making chocolate malt).
Not to be a bore but the the Macallan 18 is made in typical Macallan fashion. Pour a spirit into some magically delicious Spanish oak and voila! Er, something like that. 🙂
The colors are an extremely similar shade of medium roasted caramel but the Mac 18 is ever so slightly darker. It’s almost like comparing two oranges in a bunch. They might differ slightly but they’re both orange! Let’s move onto the nose…
Wow. This is just another reason I’ve fallen in love with comparison tasting and really a reason I think tasting events are more enjoyable (sometimes) than just sitting down with a single glass at home. Both of these pours are rich with velvety chocolate when enjoyed alone but side by side the subtle nuances of flavor really rise to the top. The Macallan reeks of espresso and sherry. No surprise there! The Signet changes from its normally-chocolate-self to a refreshing orange and fruit medley with a mint and ginger overlay.
On the palate, the Signet is spice laden and packs a flavorful punch. Cinnamon and black pepper take the stage with fruit sugar waiting in the wing but never getting the spotlight. It finishes just as fresh as the nose. Minty, light,and refreshing.
The Mac 18 is velvet on the tongue and almost the polar opposite of the Signet on the tongue. Sherry spices usher almost-mandarin-sweet oranges to the front of your attention. The spices that commonly accompany sherry aged scotches are extremely well balanced against splashes of milk chocolate, apples, and just a bit of oak. The 18 finish seems to last and last. Fantastic!
So there you have it!! Have you tried either of these or both of these wonderful offerings? Which is your favorite? Let us know in the comments below!
Glenmorangie has done it again.
I’m not sure they set out to create a dessert scotch with the Nectar D’or but scotch lovers responded very well to the very sweet, finished-in-dessert-wine-casks offering. That was 2011.
Here we are five years later and Glenmorangie has just released its seventh annual private edition bottling, called the Milsean (pronounced “Meel-Shawn”, it’s Scot’s Gaelic for “sweet things”). This offering was “extra-finished” in re-toasted red wine casks and bottled to look like something out of a candy shop (or sweetshop as the bottle reads). The alternating red and white stripes of the box and bottle are reminiscent of peppermints and for good reason.
On to the tasting.
Color: Rich Honey.
Nose: Immediately your nose bombarded with a birthday-cake-icing level of sweetness with fruity overtones like those you’d take in smelling the syrup from a can of assorted fruit. (I’m quickly reminded of peach and plum sugar candies I ate as a kid in Korea.) Re-toasting the former red wine casks to impart such a level of sweetness might have been genius on the part of Dr. Lumsden.
Palate: Immediately the spice of oak makes it’s way to the front of your tongue and you’re left with a barrage of mixed emotions. Like smelling simple syrup while popping a handful of cinnamon red hot candy into your mouth, so it’s quite a bit spicier than a typical red and white striped peppermint. With a bit of coaxing around the tongue, the spice subsides and gives way to very luscious fruits. These are absolutely decadent candied fruits. Or fruit candy like the kind you’d find in a grandmother’s candy dish that are just slightly stuck together and very obviously, pure sugar.
Finish: A handful of fruit flavors wash over the tongue with the texture of canned peach juice in this medium length finish.
After adding a spot of water…
Nose: The saccharine sweet intensifies and has become ridiculous. It smells like the overwhelming presence of sugar that one can smell when wafting the air over southern sweet tea. That dissolved-in-water sugar that you know is excellent for making rock candy. The natural fruit sugar smells are just a ghost behind this pure candy sugar.
Palate: The spice of cinnamon and oak have been tamed with just a small hint to remind you that you’re not drinking candy. Just a touch of bitterness finds its way to your tongue like a ginger chew. Interesting.
Finish: The finish is just as tasty with delicate notes of tree fruits subtly making their way to your attention.
Wow. This expression, I have no doubt, will disappear from shelves as the Nectar D’Or does. People will fall in love with the sweetness and may forget their drinking scotch at all. It’s truly uncharacteristic of any typical highland scotches but that might not be a bad thing. Variety is indeed the spice of life. Or in this case, the sugar and spice of life.
So you’ve resolved to educate yourself about scotch this year and you’re not sure where to start?
Welcome! You’re in the right place!
We are [Scotch] and [Sniff] and we are here to help with your scotch education. 🙂
(In case you don’t know what scotch whisky IS (or why it’s spelled without an ‘e’), check out this earlier blog post about just that.)
This post is here to give you an idea of which whiskys you need to try to begin finding your own flavor profile which in turn, will help you to buy more scotch that you’ll enjoy and less you’ll give away to your friends.
Almost any major-brand-label tasting even you attend will include a time when you’ll smell some objects that will help you to differentiate between the four major nosing smells of whisk(e)y: fruity, floral, smokey, peaty. Here at ScotchNSniff, we’ve decided to follow suit and use those four major areas of smell and taste to help you find your own flavor profile. To actually taste these flavors that you’re smelling, don’t forget to taste scotch the proper way!
(other examples of fruity: The Dalmore, Glenmorangie, Speyburn)
(other examples of floral: Tullabardine, The Balvenie)
(other examples of smokey: Bunnahabhain, Glenkinchie, Bruichladdich)
(other examples of peaty: Caol Ila, Laphroig, Lagavulin)
Between those four samples, you should be able to get a great idea of which direction you need to head in your adventures for good scotch. That way, when your friends ask you, “What type of scotch do you enjoy the most?” or “What’s your flavor profile when it comes to whisky?” you can confidently answer with whatever you enjoy the most!
We try to keep most of what review around here under a hundred dollars. We understand that $100 is a lot of money for almost everyone so sticking to scotches that are easy to find on local shelves is always a plus. We do indulge from time to time 😉
Happy New Year and Slainte Mhath!!!
(Cheers! Kanpai! Salut! Prost!)
What a ton of fun!!
[Scotch] and I received our invites from Balvenie (for Warehouse 24 members) to join David Laird and the hosting crew from Momentum (lead by the lovely Jennifer Holm) for a night of tasting at the Landmark Theater in DC and we obliged!
Having never been to a Landmark Cinema, I had no idea there would be a full bar just inside the doors. They had a really great selection for a small bar attached to a movie theater and it’s probably part of the reason this venue was chosen to host the tasting. (or perhaps it was the leather seats and stadium seating? 🙂 )
The tickets for the event were actually hand made on a letter press by a boutique called Salt and Cedar (link: saltandcedar.com/). Everyone who made the RSVP for the tasting received one when their name was taken at the movie theater box office.
After checking-in and receiving your ticket, you walked down a hallway barely illuminated by Edison bulbs to a table where you were greeted with a hot cider mix. If we heard the ladies correctly, the glass you were handed came from a warmer full of apple cider and two and a half bottles of monkey shoulder. It was tasty but you had to close your nostrils to drink it. The steam from the drink would drive the alcohol into your nose to singe your nose hairs! 🙂
Right next to the hot-scotch-cider table was a table full of tasty appetizers… YUM!
50 people were essentially smooshed into a hallway outside of the theater while our hosts prepared the theater for the killer tasting.
I’m going to let a few pictures do the talking here…
Each seat in the theater had the classic Balvenie tasting tray with a bag of popcorn on it. The cup holders each held a Balvenie branded water dropper.
Candy was passed around to be paired with the samples:
And of course the samples:
David gave a great presentation hitting on a few familiar points from other Balvenie events but of course bringing up quite a number of new stories that we hadn’t heard before.
It was great to have such a small group for the tasting event. At other events, groups are typically herded from location to location so people can taste, listen, and get out. In a theater, it was much more intimate. There were a few questions asked by other guests and very awesome answers were given. I think the level of detail was much better at such a small event. We watched a few (3) of the rare craft videos with Anthony Bourdain but in between David spoke about the five rare crafts that Balvenie holds true to (Barley, floor maltings, coppersmiths, coopers, and the Malt master).
We got to hear about the trick-of-the-trade that Balvenie uses to maintain consistency in bottles like the Rum cask expressions. We learned why the 17 DoubleWood has a purple label instead of the classic white label. We even got to hear about the history of cask finishing. At one point, I raised my camera and David even posed for a picture lol:
After all of the videos, speaking, tasting, learning, and fun, I think the best part of the entire event was being able to talk to David one on one and ask him questions related to other parts of the scotch world and his job like how he got his job and what his favorite scotch is outside of the Balvenie. It’s this level of personal attention at Balvenie events that keep us coming back. It’s what Macallan and Glenlivet have both missed the mark on. I’ve got theories as to why the tastings are so different (different brand goals, distillery sizes, etc) but it’s interesting to see the difference so obviously.
Michel was a Belgian man, who purchased barrels of whisky from several different distilleries in Scotland. He then traveled to Spain to find the very best Sherry butts from Andalusia. Then finally, he assembled the two and housed the Scottish whisky filled Sherry casks in his caves dug out from a mountainside in Burgundy, France. Sadly Michel Couvreur passed away in 2013 but his well-known whisky’s will live on. His apprentice Jean-Arnaud, who had trained under him for a decade, carries on his legacy of blending spirits and the flavor continues.
We have for sample Michel Couvreur’s Overaged Malt Whisky, which is a single malt blend composed of whisky aged 12-27 years. The second offering is a Grain whisky, named Clearach, from malted barley matured in sherry completely. On to the tasting!
Color: Clearach is of a lighter color than the Overaged, but both exhibit a dark walnut color, with the Overaged leaning towards a dark oak color.
Nose: Clearach immediately explodes with a nose full of cereal, grains and nougat. Very light low-grade honey, as if it was pulled right out of the comb, raw. There’s a hint of white grape juice and a sour grassiness that comes out as well. A multilayered nose. The Overaged whisky is far more along the lines of what I love to drink when it comes to Scotch. Full of rich milk chocolate notes, caramel and toffee. Burnt sugars and sweet vanilla. I pick up the freshness of stone fruits like apricots and plums with a slight sourness that isn’t a bad thing.
Palate: Beginning with the Clearach the palate is full blown grain, barley and cereal rich. Biscuits come to mind with bran and saw dust. A lot of oak but not overpowering oak. And although there is a sawdust-like component, it’s not an astringent wood, just a little wood sour. Nutmeg is a predominant spice in the Clearach with a vanilla undertone. The Overage is nice and sweet. Coating, thick and rich as it rolls into your mouth. There’s an initial tobacco entry, but not like someone smoking next to you in the train station, but more like walking through a field in South Carolina growing tobacco. A sweet almost herbal tobacco without the smoke…Oh wait, I spoke too soon. There is a whiff of smoke but very light and near the end as I breathe out after I swallow. The flavor is full and rich and creamy. Both are 43% abv and perfectly suited to be sipped neat. Both have a very sweet syrupy texture and feel sticky on the lips.
Finish: The Clearach finishes lightly spiced, slightly floral with minuscule amounts of woody sweetness. Reminiscent of an Irish whisky to me. Good, but not Scotch. The Overaged on the other hand is a treasure. Although the finish is far too short, the ability to pour another glass more than makes up for it.
I purchased both of these bottles on sale for a low low price. The Overaged was $35 and the Clearach was $30. I spoke with the owner of the shop and he said that no one knew about “Michel Couvreur” so no one purchased them, hence the sale. I think the going rate for the Overaged is $75, well worth the price and could easily compete with, and beat, Glenfiddich 18, Glenlivet 15 and Dalmore 12. The Clearach on the other hand, I wouldn’t purchase again, not even for $30. Until next time.
This… has replaced my daily sipper! (Glenfiddich 19). It’s so well balanced it’s hard NOT to like. It’s an amalgam of flavors from all parts of Scotland that entertains the tongue without wearing it out. Fan-freakin-tastic dram!