Best Scotch for a Special Occasion

Credit: Herkie

Credit: Herkie

“What is the best scotch for a special occasion?”

A reader recently emailed me that question and I absolutely loved it. In Chinese culture (and many many others), alcohol features prominently in celebrations of any kind. Almost every family has a few bottles of something (usually Remy Martin XO, a cognac, for whatever reason) they reserve for a special occasion.

So I loved this question and here’s my stab at answering it.

First, special occasions come in all shapes and sizes. Is it an important business meeting? Celebration of a monumental achievement like a graduation or a wedding? Or perhaps it’s an old friend you haven’t seen in years coming over? Different occasions call for different things.

It’s important to remember that there is no right answer to this question. Celebrations are about the people in attendance, not what they’re drinking, and so you really can’t go wrong with the scotch if you’re right about the people.

Whatever You LOVE

I had the idea that you need to spend a ton of money in the name of a “celebration.” Just buy a bottle of whatever you absolutely love, that puts a smile on your face whenever a drop touches your lips, and keep that around for special occasions. Good scotch doesn’t have to cost thousands of dollars and chances are you’ve developed a love of something that doesn’t break the bank.

Buy that, pour it in a glencairn, sip and celebrate.

OK, now that I’m off the soapbox… :)

An Affordable Scotch for a Special Occasion

Credit: guzzphoto

Credit: guzzphoto

Some can spend $27,000 on a bottle of scotch and others find it difficult to spend $100, which is nearly fourteen hours of minimum wage work before you take out taxes.

I want to offer two options for a delicious affordable Scotch you can break out for a special occasion – the first is The Macallan 12. Macallan has a rich history and a pedigree that boosts it’s price tag by a few dollars, but it’s a history and pedigree that most are familiar with. For $50-60 a bottle (Glenlivet 12 is under $40), you bring that majesty to your celebration.

The next one is one I chose because it’s unique – Talisker 10 Year (~$50 also). It’s not difficult to find but I like it for special occasions because it’s so different. It’s the only distillery on Skye and the mix of the seaweed/seasalt and the smokiness make for a really intriguing single malt. It’s special in flavor and while I’d drink it more often than on special occasions, it does make for a distinctive experience.

A Less-Affordable Scotch

Credit: sentxd

Credit: sentxd

What if your price points jump higher – to say under $200?

At this point, I’d say go with Macallan 18 or Johnnie Walker Blue.

I enjoy Johnnie Walker Blue but I think it’s overpriced for what it is. It’s definitely marked up because of the brand name (to be fair, many are but JW Blue carries that luxury premium unlike any other) and so I mention it simply because it’s a good blended scotch that universally recognized. If you’re celebrating this with folks, they know you’re celebrating.

Macallan 18 is my pick for a $200 bottle celebratory scotch whisky. For many of the same non-Scotch reasons as the 12 but now you add the fact that Macallan 18 is delicious. You will find no argument on that score, the only arguments are typically around price as you can find other delicious scotch whiskies for less.

An “Extravagant” Scotch

For this, you could pick any number of whiskies that have big age statement numbers or high price tags, but I wanted to go in a different direction with this. Here are some ideas of extravagance that refer not to the price tag necessarily but to the emotion.

First, if you’ve ever traveled to a distillery and they offer a way to bottle your own – do it. My friend Rick went to Aberlour and was able to hand fill his own bottle of cask strength whisky. That’s pretty cool, unique, and it’s not that much more expensive (not counting airfare and lodging!).

Rick: It was exclusive to the tour and hand fill process. If I remember correctly, the bottle was around £50-75 which isn’t crazy for scotch, especially for 15-yr single barrel expression. My memory is of an A’bunadh like scotch, but cleaner, smoother, and nicer. A’bunadh goes for £40 retail and £32 on sale so a bit of markup on the hand fill for a similar bottle, but not too bad.

Plus it is in a nice wooden presentation case. If I paid 75 for a nice bottle right now retail I wouldn’t think as highly of it (the retail bottle) so there is an intrinsic value of the experience.

Reader David from Italy shared an idea in the Facebook group (free to join) about buying a bottle distilled in the year you were born (or a significant year). If you’re aiming to open the bottle for when your kid graduates college, buy it now when it’s cheaper and then wait to open it. Personally, being born in 1980, I can find one with that date and not have it be exorbitant.

Good luck you folks who have a few years on me. :)

Finally, next time you’re in duty free, buy something that looks sexy on the shelf. Maybe it’s something in a wooden case or some other accoutrement, but it just looks bad ass. It’s something that, when you look at it on the shelf, you’re reminded of what’s to come and what’s worth celebrating.

For me, I bought a bottle of Glenlivet Archive 21 because I love Glenlivet and it came in this beautiful box. I also bought it at a time when spending $180 on a bottle of anything was a huge stretch. It acts as a reminder of an earlier time and I love seeing it.

What scotch do you have saved up for a special occasion? (And what’s the occasion?)

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Highland Park Dark Origins Tasting Notes

Look how far north that is!

Look how far north that is!

I haven’t written many tasting notes from Highland Park, though I’ve had my fair share, and today I get a chance to remedy that with a look at Highland Park Dark Origins.

A little background on Highland Park, it’s the northern most distillery in Scotland and located in Kirkwall, Orkney. There it is on the right under the red location marker! The biggest confusion about it is that it’s not from the Highlands, which is the area that surrounds Speyside. The name comes from the local area being named “High Park” because it’s higher than the area around it. The confusion is significant because Highland uses locally cut peat and that imparts distinct flavors to the spirit, a flavor that is absent from traditional Highland and Speyside malts.

In terms of peatiness, it’s believed that Highland Park peats their malt to 20 ppm, which puts it well into the realm of Islays when it comes to peatiness (at least measured scientifically).

Highland Park Dark Origins 750mlWhere does Dark Origins fit it? The name Dark Origins refers to the illicit distillery run by founder Magnus “Mansie” Eunson that would later become Highland Park. What separates it from Highland Park 12 is that they used twice as many first fill sherry casks and so much of what is passed along to the spirit is more intense.

Dark Origins has no age statment (NAS) and the bottle looks awesome. I had mentioned that I thought Bruichladdich Octomore’s matte black bottle looked sexy as hell and it looks like HP took a page out of that book, going with a black matte bottle as well.

  • Color: A dark amber, not quite what I’d call mahogany (also, Highland Park does not use distiller’s caramel so the color is all from the cask)
  • Nose: Initial light smoke that’s familiar with HP with spice, sherried notes of dry fruit, and a hint of banana.
  • Palate: Nice body, smoke on the front and then many of flavors associated with a sherry maturation like spices, walnuts, almond, and some orange peel.
  • Finish: Dry, chocolatey, medium finish

Dark Origins is bottled at 46.8% ABV (non-chillfiltered, though it wouldn’t have to be) and I found it listed for $89.99 locally. It’s currently unavailable though.

That puts the price above the 15 YO ($88) but below the 18 YO ($140). General impressions is that the increased use of sherry gives his a lot more flavor, punch, and body; I’m a little hesitant about the price tag though, $90 for a NAS with its aged cousins so close by makes me pause. That said, if I knew nothing and purchased this on name alone, I wouldn’t be disappointed and I wouldn’t think I overpaid – it’s definitely worth it.

Update: For what it’s worth, the suggested retail price is only $79.99… the local store was marking it up by ten bucks! I retract my earlier hesitation. You might ask – “does $10 make a big difference?” The answer is no, not really, but when you’re in the store, $89.99 and $79.99 look very different.

If see Bowmore Darkest 15 YO at $79.99 and Highland Park Dark Origins at $89.99 (they are not the same but singing familiar tunes), maybe I pick up the cheaper one with the age statement. If they’re both similarly priced, I might go with HP Dark Origins simply because it’s new (FWIW, I am impartial to age statements… i.e. I’m not a snob about it).

And the bottle looks badass!

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What is chill filtering and why do they chill filter whisky?

Credit: laszlo-photo

Credit: laszlo-photo

Chill filtering is the practice of cooling the whisky all the way down to 0°C, or lower for blended whisky, so you can filter out potential sediments (fatty acids, proteins and esters) created in the distillation process or passed along by maturation in the casks. If you don’t chill filter, those particles can precipitate and make the whisky cloudy. They can also create a sediment at the bottom of a bottle if it sits for some time.

So the benefit to doing this is that you get a clearer whisky with no potential sediment… what’s the downside? When you take anything out of the whisky, you affect it’s taste!

Some people claim that it’s all cosmetic, that taking out those particles won’t have an impact but I find that difficult to believe. I might not be able to taste the difference because my palate isn’t refined enough, that’s I can buy, but to say the two are identical in every way is unbelievable.

Here’s another fun factoid, a chill filtered whisky is more expensive to produce because you have to go through the chill filtering process. Every extra step means more time, equipment, and person hours – all of which cost more money. It’s in the best interest of the distillery to NOT chill filter because it gets the product out the door faster.

Funny enough, if your alcohol by volume is greater than 46%, you don’t need to chill filter because the higher alcohol content prevents the cloudiness from forming. So anyone with a 46%+ abv will often advertise that they are “un-chill filtered” or “non-chill filtered” as a selling point even though they know that 1) they wouldn’t have needed to and, 2) it’s cheaper to produce!

What do you think about chill filtration?

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SIA Scotch Whisky Tasting Notes

SIA in good company

SIA in good company

It’s not often that you see a “new” scotch whisky.

Many scotch whisky distillers were “founded” in 1824, which is to really say they were officially recognized in 1824 when they paid for a legitimate license under the Excise Act of 1823 but SIA got its start more recently after a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for distribution at the end of 2012.

Most people look at Kickstarter as a way for companies to raise cash for projects not yet completed but I’ve noticed more and more companies are going on there to promote and spread awareness about their product. That said, the video on Kickstarter is a nice look into Carin’s mindset in creating SIA and what she hopes to do with it.

SIA is a blended scotch whisky with 40% malt and 60% grain, with a 50/40/10 blend of Speyside, Highlands and Islay. It also weighs in at 43% ABV.

  • Color: Pale gold yellow
  • Nose: A bit of fruit and grass and sea salt spray, a really interesting medley of aromas I’m not used to nosing. There’s definitely a hint of that Islay heather and peat, but not enough that you think it.
  • Palate: There’s definitely a bite to it on the onset with a strong grassiness but it mellows out, there’s vanilla and toffee/caramel and hazelnut flavors. A bare hint of florals followed by familiar spices like cloves and a minor citrus element that blends in with the spices.
  • Finish: Long, warm with a bit of peat smoke and honeycomb. Lingering aftertaste of honey and vanilla.

This blended scotch is fascinating. I don’t do a lot of tasting notes of blends but I wanted to do this one because it forces you to be more deliberate in your exploration. I’ve had Johnnie Walker and Chivas Regal and several other well known, well marketed blends… but I never did tasting notes of them.

I really enjoyed this because I felt like I was exploring a house. When I first took a sniff, I found the fruit and vanilla I know well from Speysides. I thought to myself, I don’t get a sense at all of the 10% Islay that’s supposed to be inside. So I went looking for it… and found it immediately. So I started looking even more and found that sea salt spray I love and most identify with Talisker.

On the palate, it was the same experience and what was novel for me was that the start and finish exhibited different characteristics. In the beginning it was vanilla and toffee but near the end, once I let it linger, I saw the Islay influence creep through.

Retail price of around $49.99 for 750mL puts it on the same price point as Chivas Regal 18yo and Compass Box Asyla and I think SIA more than holds its own in that company.

SIA Founder - Carin Luna-Ostaseski

SIA Founder – Carin Luna-Ostaseski

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Bowmore Small Batch Tasting Notes

Bowmore Single BatchI was sent a sample of Bowmore’s newest expression, Bowmore Small Batch, and as a fan of Bowmore (Percy in our Facebook group just picked up a first batch Bowmore – The Devil’s Casks… I can’t wait to hear how that is when he gets around to it!), I was eager to see their latest release.

The Small Batch is a mix of two Bowmores matured in two different bourbon casks, first-fill ex-bourbon and second-fill ex-bourbon casks. The logic behind this is that as you age the new make whisky in barrels, first-fill ex-bourbon barrels will impart a certain type of flavor and second-fill (and beyond) will impart a different set of characteristics. (as you use barrels more than once, they impart less of their character)

So the first fill is said to pass along the typical flavors you associate with a ex-bourbon barrel matured whisky – vanilla, sweetness, and some oak. The second fill passes more fruity flavors and honey. While it makes for a delicious dram, from the a business perspective it makes great sense to be able to use more barrels in a creative way. :)

Is it really an “accessible embodiment of Islay?”
Bowmore’s descriptions claim that it’s the “perfect and accessible embodiment of the Taste of Islay,” and while I don’t know if it’s perfect (a term that’s hard to define), it’s certainly accessible.

In terms of the smoky, peaty, iodine (band-aid) punch most Islays bring, this one is really just a gentle reminder of its origins. There’s a bit of peat smoke on the nose, a little on the finish, but nothing like the Islays you might be familiar with, especially if you love Islays.

If you have a bourbon friend who has heard of Islay but a little timid about peat smoke, this is a good way to gently introduce them to the wonders of Islay scotch. It has all the reminders of bourbon but its feet are still firmly in Scotland.

Tasting Notes

  • Color: Golden yellow
  • Nose: A vanilla-y sweetness with a fair amount of smoke, peat – enough to know it’s an Islay but not so assertive about it.
  • Palate: Citrus and saltiness, vanilla, with slight oak and honey
  • Finish: More characteristic vanilla and again the Islay roots peeks its head out, but not as much as on the nose

It weighs in at 40% ABV and priced at $39.99/750ml, very affordable and financially accessible as well.

Personally, I’m not quite sure if it’s for me. When it comes to food or drink, I like it when something is big and bold and assertive. I like my Islays to smell and taste like a campfire the next morning (ok ok, taste like the campfire smells… I’ve never tasted a campfire!).

I like my food to be really spicy when it’s spicy. I want my seafood to taste like it just came out of the sea. This one seems to be an Islay on training wheels and the bourbon influence isn’t distinct enough to make it really put forward a single assertive foot.

But that’s not what the Single Batch seems to be about. It’s trying to gently introduce someone to Islays, which Bowmore certainly is, and I think it’s trying to introduce themselves to a new market and show that Islays don’t have to be scary and smokey and peaty. On that score it succeeds.

Have you tried it? What do you think of it?

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Laphroaig Tasting Event at Binny’s Beverage Depot with Simon Brooking

Simon Brooking, North America Brand Ambassador for Laphroaig, with Gary & friends

Simon Brooking, North America Brand Ambassador for Laphroaig, with Gary & friends

Reader Gary recently went to a Laphroaig tasting being held at Binny’s Beverage Depot, a chain of liquor stores in Illinois. The event cost a mere $10 and was hosted by Simon Brooking, Laphroaig’s North American Whisky Ambassador.

It sounded like a fantastic event and they even had a chance to check out the 2014 Cairdeas – I absolutely fell in love with the 2013 Cairdeas and polished off several bottles (Triple Wood is delicious too!). I think they were made a little smaller because they disappeared fast. :)

Here’s more about the event from Gary himself:

We walked into the tasting room and the first thing that hits you is smoke. A lot of smoke. All the tasting were already poured, 6 per person.

This night we got to taste the Select, 10yo, Quarter cask, Triple wood, 18yo and finished with the Cairdeas from 2014.

Simon greeted us all and then started out with a song. Then he started in with the history of Laphroiag, and how they became a legal distillery in 1815, but they had been distilling illegally for a while. Simon did not say exactly how long the illegal part was going on, but it was for “some time”. Simon then went on to explain how to nose the whisky and how having your mouth open is important, as it allows you to get more aromas and not just the alcohol coming out of the glass.

We started with the Select, which I liked very much. The select is a blend of the 10yo, the Quarter cask,Triple wood, and PX. A good place to start since the select does not have the typical heavy smoke nose or antiseptic tastes that the 10yo has. Still some smoke on the nose, some fruit, smooth, not too much peat at the end. And Simon does a toast with every dram. Some toasts are in Gaelic, some in English and one in Spanish.

Simon then produced a piece of peat, nice big chunk. He explained how the peat was used to dry the barley, and how the peat smoke added that unique flavor to the barley. Simon also explained how they farmed the peat.

They go down 9 inches, put that to the side, then go 18 inches put that to the side, and then use the next 18 inches. Put the first two pieces back, which makes the whole process more sustainable, and you get a more consistant flavor of peat digging so deep.

Simon then proceed to start the peat to smoking and let us all get a good whiff of the smoke. It was also discussed that some people use the peat to smoke fish or meats, and that if you get some of the barley that has been dried it makes an excellent batter for food, get some nice smokey flavor.

We then went to the 10yo which I liked very much. Smoke just pouring out of the glass, taste of a camp fire in the mouth, then floral, antiseptic, then more smoke. Long finish but very enjoyable. With a bit of water the floral, fruity notes really pop out.
After the 10yo we tried the Quarter Cask.Not nearly as smokey as the 10yo. Still nice but the oak really comes into play. Many of the others liked this quite a bit, but not my favorite.

Then more information. Such as it can get very dry during the summer and the water supply for Laphroaig can dry up. So if you are planning a summer trip to see the distillery and see them actually making alcohol you probably should call first. They may be waiting for rain to fill up the lake.

Also the 18yo will not be offered next year. It seems that is already happening since many of the local stores here have no 18. Other than Costco. Laphroaig will be offering a 15yo in 2015. They just don’t have the stocks which makes sense due to the demand for single malts.

Okay so scotch, Triple wood was next on the tasting. Less smoke, alot more mouth feel, oak of course, and nice finish.

Then the 18yo. Where did all the smoke go? Not nearly as much peat in the nose or the palate. Much more of the floral fruity notes, easy to drink, medium finish. My sons like this one quite a bit.

Finished up with the Cairdeas. Wow nice scotch. Aged in oak and then finished for a year in Amontillado hoghead sherry cask. Not your typical Laphroaig. Smoke, sherry, complex for sure, very pleasant, smooth. Great way to finish the evening. A little tip from Simon, if you aren’t sure what year Cairdeas you have look at the ABV. Last year it was 51.3%, this year is 51.4% so next year should be 51.5%.

Laphroaig is 200 next year, (legally) and they plan on having a big celebration during Feis Ila, but are planning on a second celebration since they feel so many people are wanting to come to the distillery and take part in the anniversary.

Other note Laphroaig uses only Makers Mark barrels to age their alcohol. They feel Maker Mark fits the best with their alcohol.
we scored some nice swag from Laphroaig, and heavy duty pen, a stainless steel flask, plus a wonderful spread of bread, meats and cheeses during the tasting. Even have a photo with Simon and a few bottles he signed for us.

Laphroiag really does it up right. If there is a tasting in your area it really is worth checking out!

Sounds like a fun event worth way more than $10!

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Indiana’s 6th Annual Whisky & Fine Spirits Expo presented by Vine & Table

Reader Nancy recently went to the Indy’s 6th Annual Whisky & Fine Spirits Expo, presented by Vine & Table (a wine and spirits store in Indiana), and I asked her if she could share her experience at the event… and she happily obliged!

It sounds like a fantastic event, I’ll let her share what it was like.

Hosted by my favorite liquor (read “scotch”) and gourmet food store in Carmel, IN, it was held at a beautiful reception facility on the north side of Indy called the Montage from 5pm to 9 pm.

Tickets came in 3 varieties, VIP, Regular and Designated Driver. Doors opened to VIP’s and DD’s at 5, and an excellent buffet was available to them until 7. Doors opened to regular attendees at 7. Everyone was given an appropriate armband.

VIP’s and DD’s were given a “goodie bag” containing a booklet with maps, lists, and locations of spirits and a tasting glass etched with “Vine and Table”, a copy of “Whisky Advocate”, a voucher for a gift set of Glenmorangie, and a voucher for $30 off a ride home (if needed) from “Uber”. (DD’s did not get the glass, but had a wide free selection of soft drinks and water available to them.

There were 55 (54 spirits, one with cigars) tables in two rooms and the VIP wristband allowed for the tasting of most of the higher end offerings, and any of the lesser spirits. The emphasis and majority was whisky (of ALL types), but there was Cognac and Armagnac, a few vodkas, tequilas and mescals, grappa (and a couple of grappa/wine blends that I didn’t taste), and maybe some stuff I missed. All 389 selections available could be purchased at a discounted price for later pick-up at the store.

There were also two classes offered (neither of which we attended, as we had Gladys Knight tickets at 8 pm).

One was “Bourbon Straight Up: An Inside Look at America’s Spirit”, with Chuck Cowdery, author and whisky expert.

And “The Art and Science of Whisky Blending: Deconstructing Johnnie Walker Black”, with Kyle McHugh, Master of Whisky for Diageo.

It was a fabulous evening and we noticed car tags in the parking lot from 5 or 6 surrounding states.

I am now on the email list for Vine and Table, so will be happy to post a notice here when I get it information for the 7th annual.

[Here] is a photo of 2 sides of the 3 sided whisky room at Vine and Table.

vine-and-table-spirits-expo

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What’s in Munich Airport Duty Free?

My good friend and yours, Gary, has come through again with another wonderful set of photos from yet another duty free store – this time it’s the Munich Airport located to the north east of Munich, Germany. This is the second busiest airport in Germany behind Frankfurt Airport and handled nearly forty million passengers in 2013, according to Wikipedia.

It’s the duty free store in Terminal 2 by H gates 19-28 and it is HUGE with a very extensive selection of Scotch, as you’ll see in a moment..

Pretty much anything you could want, you can find in the Munich Duty Free!

Dalmore, Glenmorangie, Jura, & More

dalmore 1

dalmore 2

Top row: Dalmore 12yo, Valour, 15yo, 18yo, Cigar Malt,Monkey Shoulder, Glen Deveron 16,20,30; Glenmorangie Original, Lasanta, Quinta Ruban, Nectar D’or, 18yo
2nd row: Jura 10yo origin,Superstition,Diurachs own,21yo, Turas mara; Smokey peat, Glengoyne 18yo, distillers gold, Glenrothes, Aberfeldy, Glen Grant 16yo
3rd row: Glenfarclas, Aberlour 12 and 15, Scapa 16yo, Glenlivet 12, Ardmore, Old Pulteney Lighthouse series, Ancnoc, auchtenshan

Glenfiddich, Balvenie

glenfiddich1

glenfiddich2
Top row: Glenfiddich 19 yo Age of Discovery, 21 year old grand reserve
2nd row: New travel exclusives, the gold has quite a bit of peat for glenfiddich
3rd row: 18 yo and the 3 pack of minis
4th row: Balvenie 12yo triple cask, 30yo, 25yo, 16yo triple cask

Grouse, Blends & Islays, Oh My!

grouse 1

grouse 2
Top row: Famous Grouse gold reserve, famous grouse, Dewars 12yo, standard dewars,Bushmill 10yo,Black bush Bushmill Honey, Slyrs, Ardbeg ooigie, Ardbeg 10yo,Bunnahabhain
2nd row:Snow Grouse, Black Grouse, Teachers, Tullamore Dew, Octomore,Port Charlotte PC11, Bruchladdich, Bowmore Blackrock Goldreef, white sands
Bottom row: Grants, Jameson, Tullamore Dew,Laphroaig cuan, Laphroig PX and QA

Johnnie Walker & Macallan

johnny walker

macallan and hp
Left side: Macallans 1824 series, whiskey makers edition, select oak
Right side:HP Svein, Einar, harald, sigurd, dragon?

Thanks Gary!

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5 Scotch Whisky Groomsman Gifts

If you’re getting married and thinking about a gift for your groomsman, might I suggest one related to the finest drink in all of the land – scotch?

A friend of mine asked me what would make a good gift for groomsman and honestly I never thought about it. I went online and saw some really silly ideas, like blending kits and aging kits and engraved barrels.

C’mon… that’s ridiculous. It’s expensive and who wants to AGE whisky in their basement? I don’t. I want it aged in a warehouse by professionals and I’ll enjoy the product of their experience and expertise. :)

Here are five real suggestions for groomsman gifts if your groomsmen are all fans of whisky.

A Bottle of Scotch

Credit: Vacacion

Credit: Vacacion

Clearly, the best possible gift you could get is a bottle of scotch. Decide your budget for the gift and then select a bottle at the store that fits within your budget. It doesn’t get much easier than that and I guarantee your groomsman will love it. If they don’t, I’ll come to your wedding in their place.

Who would turn their nose up at a bottle of Scotch, right? Here’s a list of double gold medal winners under $100.

Depending on your budget, you could also go with a gift set, where you bestow not only a bottle but a few glasses as well to enjoy them. Gift sets can get pricey relative to the Scotch you get. You might see the gift set be 50-100% higher than the bottle alone, sometimes less if you’re lucky.

You can get bottles engraved too for some extra flair.

Decanter

whisky-decanterA decanter is a nice gift because decanters get displayed somewhere. A constant reminder of your friendship and of, hopefully, all the fun you’ll have at your wedding.

Whisky decanters are pretty easy to buy, just remember to avoid leaded decanters and get something nice. You can get a set if you want but even just a well designed decanter on its own is a fine gift. Here’s a list of decanters I like.

If you want bonus points, get it engraved.

Hip Flask

Visol Hunter Leather Hip Flask Gift SetHip flasks are great because everyone likes a flask and they’re generally inexpensive, which is great if you have a lot of groomsmen and a small budget. A simple metal one will suffice, the more expensive ones are just heavier, and you can really make it stand out by getting it engraved. The downside to a flask is that a lot of men already have flasks, so you’ll have to consider that.

If you do get it engraved, be a good groom by engraving it with their name/initials – not the date of your wedding. Your groomsman will remember where we got it, not need to put it on the flask. :)

Travel Bar

Picnic Time Manhattan Insulated Two Bottle Cocktail CaseBar Tool Kit, MahoganyWhat’s a travel bar you say? It’s simply a nice case that holds bottles and glassware. It’s a traveling bar!

Pictured to the right is a super high end travel bar, the Picnic Time Manhattan Insulated Two-Bottle Cocktail Case/Bar Tool Kit in Mahogany, it’s nearly $150. It also looks amazing. Not sure how often your groomsman will use it but chances are they’ll be wow’d – especially if you throw in two single malts and get rid of those silly martini glasses.

Engraved Glassware

Pick the perfect set of glasses and then get them engraved. It’s simple, you know he’ll use them, and it’s pretty easy to do. This is a good idea if your groomsmen like to drink spirits but not necessarily scotch, since glass is glass and he can put whatever hew ants in it.

Do you have any good ideas for groomsmen gifts I missed?

Posted in Barware | 4 Comments

A Whirlwind Tour of Speyside (Balvenie), Part Two with Reader Wayne

Balvenie4This is part two of a two part series from reader Wayne, who is a staple in our burgeoning Facebook Group. He shares with us his experience touring several Scotch whisky distilleries this past summer. I’ll sprinkle in a few of my thoughts through but this is an awesome recap with some amazing pictures guaranteed to make you jealous! Part one is available here.

Balvenie

Finally (Ta Da!), the Balvenie Distillery.

This was fun, and even a bit funny.

The first thing you see as you walk onto the grounds is a warning not to proceed if you don’t have a reservation. They only do tours on a reserved-space basis.

Balvenie1

We got there before the other 4 people in our tour and the VERY nice woman immediately asked me if I’d like to sip some whiskies “quickly, before the others arrived.”

I know this will be shocking to all of you, but I said “YES!”

Balvenie5 Grains come inThis was a 3-hour tour and we walked through the entire process, starting with the room where the grains come in.

Balvenie6 Grains get wetNext, the grains go into a container where they are wet to begin the germination process.

Balvenie7 Grains go to malting floorAfter that, they go onto a LARGE warehouse floor to germinate. They actually grow a little sprout out of the end of the grain and this is also where they need to be constantly turned so that they germinate evenly. The shovels are flat wooden tools, the handle of which is cut to the optimum length for the person using it. They are also now mechanized and there is a man-operated machine that turns the grain that reminded me of the old rotary push mowers, but the romance of men actually turning the grains to properly malt is irresistible!

After the grains malt properly, they are taken upstairs to the drying floor. This is not a solid floor – it has screening so that heat can flow through. It’s very smoky looking into this room from the fires below, and every distillery has a characteristic pagoda-shaped roof which serves as a vent to let the smoke out… but not too quickly.

Balvenie19 the Pagoda RoofLarger distilleries just have more of these pagoda-shaped vented roofs. The furnace below is filled with various types of things to burn that flavor the grains. Also, the little sprout falls off the grain at this point and is used for feeding animals. (EVERTHING is used – every by-product, every leftover, etc.)

Balvenie10 Heating kilnBalvenie was burning anthracite coal to dry the grains and they also had some local peat. It’s important to note that the peat in this area is NOT like the peat in Islay, so even though Balvenie uses peat at some point in the process, it doesn’t yield the smoky flavor that the peat in Islay does.

Balvenie11 Mash TunOnce the grains are dried, it’s time to add water, re-wet them and make them into an ugly looking broth. They then go to the mash-tuns where the yeast will be added and the fermentation begins. The product that is left at the end of this part is beer!!! Interesting!

Balvenie Wines SafeFinally, this liquid goes to the stills, and heated to a precise temperature to cause the alcohol to evaporate first (before the water), the steam is collected and sent to the Wines Safe. The final step of course is to put the whisky in whatever kind of cask is selected to begin aging.

To be called “Scotch Whisky” the brew has to be aged for a minimum of 3 years, although as we all know, very little (if any?) is ready that quickly.

Balvenie17 inside Warehouse 24

Finally, came the REALLY fun part. We got to go into Warehouse 24 – Balvenie’s double-super-secret storehouse with a lot of stuff they don’t sell.

How to get the scotch out? The casks are horizontal with the stopper on top. There is a device they call “the dog” which is a long copper cylinder on a long chain.

The cylinder is sealed at the bottom and you lower it into the cask to fill up, and pull it vertically back out, filled with scotch. The tasting technique was totally unexpected – they poured the scotch into our cupped hands! No glasses. Because of the need to inhale while sipping so as not to waste too much before it leaks out through your fingers, you get an incredible nose. Very cool!!!

We tasted 3 different barrels in there as follows: One was a sherry cask, one was a bourbon barrel single fill, and one was a bourbon barrel refill. I have never tasted anything like the bourbon barrel refill – the most amazing distinct tones of chocolate I’ve ever had in a scotch. We had the option to bottle our own, which was only a small bottle (about 1/3 of the liquid of a US 5th) and it cost 25 pounds – about $42 bucks. Worth every penny as you cannot buy this on the market.

Jim: So jealous right now. OK, I was jealous before… but I’m so jealous now. :)

Balvenie18 the Tasting RoomAs if this weren’t enough, we then did a formal tasting, in a room with chairs & a table and glasses (!) of 5 different Balvenie products. There was the 12-year Doublewood, the 14-year Caribbean cask, the 17-year Doublewood, the new 15-year Sherry cask and the 21-year.

On a sad note for me, I did not like the new 15-year sherry cask as much as the discontinued 15-year single-cask. In general, I discovered through all of our distillery visits and tastings that I did not prefer the sherry-cask products as much as some of the others.

Of course, here, it’s all Balvenie and it’s all wonderful. Finishing that, we said our goodbyes and began our drive back to Edinburgh to fly home.

I hope you enjoyed this recount of our trip and I can tell you, I’d LOVE to go back. Feel free to send me messages through Scotch Addict, join the Facebook group and chat there, and let me know if you have any questions!

If you want to reach out to Wayne, you can always find him in our Facebook group!

All photos are courtesy of Wayne, thank you so so much for your generosity with the photos and this recap!

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