What is the Best Beginner Scotch Whisky?

Credit: petyosi

Credit: petyosi

When it comes to premium liquors, Scotch whisky is one of the more expensive categories.

That’s because Scotch whisky has to come from Scotland and is subject to a variety of duties and taxes as it enter the United States. It’s also aged, a minimum of three years, so when you combine the aging with the duties and taxes, it makes for a more expensive product. It’s hard to drop $35 on a bottle of Glenlivet and not be sure if you’ll like it. It’s more (financially) palatable to spend less than $20 on a bourbon (which is a whiskey made of corn, produced domestically, and no minimum aging period).

Scotch whisky also has the most character and variety. Scotch whiskies have more variety in their manufacturing processes, are aged for more than three years so the aging process can have a greater effect, and you can have two Scotch whiskies that are widely divergent in their flavor profiles. Islays and Speysides anyone?

Then throw in the fact that it’s 40%+ alcohol by volume and you can see that it gets to be quite intimidating for a new enthusiast.

It doesn’t have to be though. I tapped our Facebook group, a bunch of seasoned pros, to find out what they think is the best beginner scotch whisky. If you’re new, you’ll see a lot of names in the list below but if you fire up Google you can find tasting notes for them. A lot of them are Speyside/Highland malts too, which I think is the best way to introduce someone to Scotch.

Alright, onto what our group thinks!

Me: My choice is Glenmorangie 10 (Original) because it’s inexpensive, fairly representative of a crisp and clean Speyside, and it was one of my first so I’m biased in that regard.

I would’ve recommend Glenlivet 12, my actual first dram, but that spicy finish will confuse most beginners. They’ll probably be getting used to the alcohol and the bite of the finish might be too much.

Patrick J.: Macallan 12 is my vote. Glenlivet is a great Scotch, but Macallan 12 is what I use to introduce friends to Scotch since it is always a crowd pleaser. Easy to drink, great flavor, approachable, nice mouth feel, just a lovely dram. I don’t have any experience with Buchanan’s that I can truly recall back to, other than I know I had a glass some years ago and never sought it out again.
Daniel W: Jim, I agree with you 100% Glenmorangie 10 is a perfect dram for a beginner. The sweetness makes it very accessible.

Percy S: The OP 12 may take the throne for me after further tasting, but at the moment I have to give it to Glengoyne 12. I feel it represents the basics of scotch whisky as I think of it best. Good value and readily available.

Honorable mention to Highland Park 10, but it’s not widely available. I like it better than HP 12.

Ari C: I actually would recommend Glengoyne 10. No peat and not to over powering on the sweet.

For a beginners blend I would pick Monkey Shoulder.

Mike W: Another good one is Aberlour 10yr.

Bill M: For a beginners blend, I also like Dewars 12YO.

Clayton F: I often buy Balvenie 12yr double wood for anyone starting out, not to aggressive but not boring either. Fiddich 12yr is a pretty good starter also, easy to find too. Oh so many starters!!!

Gary W: For a beginner and in the price range you have mentioned, Dewars, Grants, Monkey shoulder, and Black bottle immediately come to mind. Not to much alcohol bite and really easy to drink. I think the lower aged “glens” are also a decent choice. All are low to no peats, smooth easy drinking, and really don’t challenge your palate.

David C: All great suggestions so far! I would like to throw Glenfarclas 12 into the mix. It’s less than $50 a bottle and a great introduction to the sherry cask finish style of single malt. A little bit spicy with nice fruit on the palate, it’s got a nice, well-balanced sherry-forward flavor profile.

Ray C: I shared a dram Saturday evening with several friends who were first time scotch drinkers. One had received as a gift a bottle of McClelland’s Lowland Single Malt so we tried it. I enjoyed it, but more importantly, they enjoyed it. Fairly mild but nice taste. We all are looking forward to the next time we have a chance to get together and share a dram!

Rob G: Auchentoshan 12. Easy drinking, inexpensive, range of flavours.

Brad L: I agree with Jim and some others. I always maintain a supply of (The Original) Glenmorangie. It’s a good “every day” whisky and is always well received by my guests who are not regular scotch drinkers.

Ray C: I agree with you guys about the Glenmorangie Original. It was the first single malt I purchased for myself and always keep one on hand. On bottle #4 now. Good stuff!

Randy H: Monkey Shoulder by far for a blend. I like Glenfiddich 15 for single since it’s not too expensive and easy to get.

David H: Highland Park twelve for those wanting to start with a bit of peat. For an inexpensive whisky great for beginners and long standing malt maniacs.

Wayne O: Hate to sound like a broken record, but Monkey Shoulder is a standout considering it’s very low price. Also love Glenmorangie original.

João B: Whyte Mackay Special . Not expensive , smooth taste, floral and sweet nose .

Aaron M: Will I be kicked out for suggesting a blend? Johnny Walker black is so easy to drink. That’s what got me hooked.

Anthony I: Highland park 12, though my buddy doesn’t usually like scotch and he really likes Laphroaigs Triple Wood…

Rogelio D: Monkey Shoulder and Glenmorangie 10 are great introductions for the price. As far as availability, Glenlivet and Glenfiddich 12 are everywhere so those are great to introduce to beginner’s also. Highland Park 12 is a great intro to smoke

Ken Feese Single malt to start Glenlivet 12 year, Blended to start would be Johnny Walker Black label. Both are economical examples of a basic Scotch and easy to enjoy. IMO
Yesterday at 6:48pm · Like

Arthur B: My first was Johnnie Walker Red Label and I’m not sure what brought me to seek Scotch but once I had decided on doing it I was attracted to the Red due to cost and liked the aesthetics of the bottle. After Red I went Black for a small price increase. I will be seeking out next a Glenlivet 12 for my first foray into the single malts.

Grant S: How about the glenrothes select inexpensive and very approachable.

William S: I started about 35 years ago with JW Black–and discovered single malts about 20 ago—For me Speyside and the highlands are great–I can’t handle Islay or Jura–but that is just me – Love everything Balvenie, MacCallan, Glenmorangie, Oban and Glenfarclas do

Michael D: Macallan 10 or 12.

I hope this list helps!

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Ever Mix Milk and Scotch? (Scotch Milk Punch Recipe)

Credit: woodenmask

Credit: woodenmask

Have you ever tried milk in your Scotch?

If it sounds absolutely crazy to you, you’re not alone. It sounds insane to me.

Of all the things to mix with Scotch, one of the last things I’d think of would be milk. (the first thing would be… nothing, keep it neat please)

That said… milk does a body good. Scotch does a body good. The two together must be good… right? Right? :)

So imagine my surprise when someone suggested mixing scotch with milk in our Facebook group. Rather than mix it at random, which sounds it would’ve been a HUGE mistake for me but a lot of fun for you to read about :), I found this recipe.

  • 2 oz. Scotch
  • 6 oz. Milk
  • 1 tsp. Powdered Sugar (or a drop or so of simple syrup)
  • Shake with ice, strain and garnish with nutmeg

I never made it though, I chickened out because the recipe’s author later updated his post to say he was nauseous afterwards.

Milk and booze are not new, we are all probably familiar with White Russians (vodka, Kahlua, and heavy cream), and there are milk punch recipes that are basically the above except replace Scotch with another liquor, like rum.

So, anyone out there brave enough to try it?

Posted in Cocktails | 10 Comments

What’s Caramel Coloring in Whisky? (E150a)

Credit: sashafatcat

Credit: sashafatcat

If I put two glasses in front of you, one the color of pale grass Bud Light and the other as dark as a Guinness Stout… which one do you think has more flavor? Which one has more punch and power?

The darker one.

It’s a natural bias. I know I have a bias when it comes to the color of my whisky.

The richer and darker the color, the more flavor I expect and, thus, perceive.

There’s a reason I used the analogy of Bud Light versus Guinness – I think my bias comes from my early days of drinking beer. You have your pale straw colored light beers, nearly devoid of flavor, and you have your dark porters and stouts, which pack a lot of malty goodness.

With whisky, I also associate the darker color with maturity. New make whisky is transparent and clear. It’s moonshine. Much of the color comes from the aging process inside a charred barrel. Presumably, the longer it’s aged and the darker the char of the barrel, the darker your whisky will be.

Would it surprise you to find out that companies have turned to artificial coloring to darken colors without having to age as long? They do it with caramel coloring, commercially known as E150a, and if you ask them, they do it for a variety of reasons.

Let’s knock out the basics of what it is and then go into the why.

What is this caramel coloring? It’s known as E150, which is a European designation, and it comes in four degrees of darkness (a through d, or class I to IV). It’s sometimes called spirit caramel.

How do they make Caramel E150? They caramelize commercially available food grade sweetners, like corn syrup and sucrose. In other words, they burn sugars. For Class I or A, there cannot be sulphites and ammonia compounds, which makes it the color additive of choice for whisky.

Can you taste the caramel sweetness? This is up for debate but the folks at Master of Malt did a blind taste test with 10 of their staff. Only one could pick out the glass of water with the caramel color additive (and they expected 1.66, since there were 10 participants and one of the six glasses had the caramel). While hardly a definitive study, at the very least it’s not going to obviously affect whisky.

Why do they use it? This is the billion dollar question right?

Companies will tell you that it’s for consistency. People expect a whisky to look a certain way and different batches will yield different colors, it’s just the nature of the maturing process. This is a legitimate argument and I buy it… however, I’m sure they also do it for branding.

Do you care if your whisky has caramel coloring? Do you avoid it? Ignore it? Had no idea? Don’t care?

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Reader Report: Arran Malt & Kilchoman Tasting Notes

Arran & Kilchoman TastingToday’s reader report comes from an event back in October of this year in which Gary, again at a $10 Binny’s Beverage Depot event, sampled Arran and Kilchoman.

Longtime readers of Scotch Addict are probably familiar with fellow reader Gary. He’s responsible for a bunch of fantastic reports on the site, including several duty free reports (Munich, Toronto, and LAX – just to name a few) and tasting events like a Laphroaig event in Binny’s.

I personally enjoyed this report because I’ve seen both distilleries at the local store but I’ve never tried either. I love the little stories that you get at these more intimate tastings, especially when you get a member of the family leading the event. For Kilchoman, James Wills, one of the three sons of Anthony and Kathy (founders), led the tasting of Kilchoman. James, according to Linkedin, is sales and marketing manager of Kilchoman Distillery.

Let’s let Gary take it away!
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Bowmore 15YO Darkest Tasting Notes

Bowmore 15yo DarkestIn my evolution as a Scotch aficionado, I discovered Bowmore far too late… but better late than never!

I believe my first introduction was a gift from my good friend Rick, whom you may remember from my post about scotches for a special occasion (he had the good fortune of filling his own Aberlour bottle), and he gifted me one of Bowmore’s travel retail gems – Bowmore Enigma (no longer available, they’ve revamped their travel retail lineup for 2014).

With Bowmore Enigma I had my doubts – it had kind of a hokey name. Enigma. Ok, it’s mysterious, ooooh big deal, your marketing won’t fool me!

But the moment hit my lips I realized how much I appreciated sherry matured whiskies. It was sweet but not bourbon sugary sweet, it was a rich sweetness and that’s something I found in Darkest, which is part of their regular lineup. Since then, I’ve been a huge fan of Bowmore.

Darkest is enjoyable if you aren’t expecting the smoky punch of your typical Islay.

Darkest iss matured in a combo of bourbon and sherry casks but then finished in Oloroso sherry casks in its final 3 years. I’m a sucker for finishes like port and Oloroso sherry and as a result, I’m a sucker for this. I like the rich flavors the finishing passes on and given a choice between the smokiness of Islay, which I love, and the rich sweetness of a port finish, I’ll go with a port finish (which is why a Laphroaig Cairdeas, which is an Islay finished in port, tops my list of favorites).

Tasting Notes

  • Color: Darkest. Ha just kidding, definitely a richer amber color similar to a Macallan 18 (I believe it has caramel coloring so take that for what it’s worth).
  • Nose: Dark chocolate, dry fruit/raisin, very little smoke on the fringe, little cherry
  • Palate: Toffee and raisins all day long, a big pow from the alcohol though (it is 43% abv), hint of spice and raspberry
  • Finish: Chocolate (mmm!) and long, spice and a little kick

It’s priced at $80 at my local store, which seems a little bit on the high side, but I did enjoy it because I’m a sucker for chocolate, dry fruit, and a reminder that it’s an Islay.

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