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?)

The Glenlivet XXV vs. The Glenlivet 21

I’m a huge fan of Glenlivet, one of the reasons why I visited them only a week ago near Tomintoul, Scotland. The tour of their distillery was a lot of fun, more on that later, but my real treat of Glenlivet wasn’t until I visited the World Duty Free store in Heathrow Airport. I visited the store, which you can’t possibly miss, last year after a trip to England and picked up quite a few bottles of Scotch, many of which still sit on my shelves, and this time I wanted to get some more.

I started talking to one of the salespeople and we got to discussing The Glenlivet. I told him about how I had visited the distillery, something he wanted to do, and I told him I enjoyed the 18 when he asked if I was interested in trying out the XXV. I had been looking at their taster’s try earlier and didn’t really see anything I wanted to try (mostly younger maturities of brands I was already familiar with), so I was surprised when he opened up the cabinet and pulled out a bottle of the XXV.

Glenlivet XXV

Glenlivet XXV

The >Glenlivet XXV was silky smooth and spicy, reminiscent of their 18. You could tell it was finished in sherry casks because it had a definite sweetness. The tasting notes say it has raisins with a floral nose but I was lost in the nutty spiciness. Overall, it was a fantastic dram and what you would expect with a bottle priced at £175.00 retail. This would rank as the second most expensive dram I’ve ever sampled, second only to the Macallan Fine Oak 30 year, priced at £321 at the Macallan Distillery.

I enjoy scotch but the thought of spending £143, or about $236, on a single bottle was a bit much. I’m not against spending money for quality, but I don’t think I have the ability to truly appreciate and enjoy scotch of that caliber. With that being said, I think my money is better spent buying three or four bottles of more affordable scotch.

Glenlivet Archive 21 Year

Glenlivet Archive 21 Year

That’s when I took a look at The Glenlivet 21, which was a fraction of the price (£68.99 retail). The salesperson surprised me even more when he said that he has the 21 too, pulling it out from the secret compartment to let me try a bit. I enjoyed the 21 a lot, it lacked the spicy finish of the XXV and the nose had a lot more fruit and cinnamon. I’m glad I tried it because otherwise I would never have bought it! £68.99 (it was much less in duty-free) is a lot to spend on a brand you like when you don’t know what the scotch will be like, £68.99 is not a lot for a 21 year old scotch you know you’ll enjoy.

The real lesson here is that you should try before you buy and try it in duty free for free. 🙂