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Suggestions for Newcomers to Single Malts

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Suggestions for Newcomers to Single Malts

Postby Miandi » Wed Apr 19, 2006 5:29 am

Newcomers to single malt whiskies often ask for recommendations on which whisky's to try when they are just starting out. There have been several posts to this forum asking for and offering advice on this topic. As I've read them, I've compiled my own list of single malts that have been frequently recommended to newcomers. I thought it would be useful put all these recommendations into a single post to make it easier for other newcomers who may come here looking for suggestions.

I am a novice to single malt whisky's myself, so please consider these suggestions from one newcomer to another. Those more experienced than I can add their wisdom and experience.

HIGHLAND REGION
Clynelish 14 yr
Dalmore 12 yr
Dalwhinnie 15 yr
Glen Garioh 15 yr
Glengoyne 17 yr
*Glenmorangie 10 yr & 12 yr
Oban

ISLANDS
*Highland Park 12 yr & 18 yr
Scapa 12 yr & 14 yr
*Talisker 10 yr

ISLAY
Ardbeg 10 yr
Bruichladdich 15 yr
Bunnahabhain 12 yr
Lagavulin 16 yr
*Laphroig 10 yr

LOWLANDS
Glenkinchie
Rosebank 12 yr

SPEYSIDE
*Arbelour 10 yr & A'Bunadh
*Balvenie 12 yr (Doublewood & Portwood)
*Cragganmore 12 yr
Glenfarclas 15 yr
Glenfiddich 15 yr
*Glenlivet
Longmorn
Macallan

* Single Malts that I have tried.

The following suggestions are offered to my fellow newcomers:

1. Be patient with single malts. You will need time to calibrate your palate. The first time you take a sip, you'll probably be overwhelmed. Sometimes I need a couple of drams before I can really begin to taste the complexity of the whisky. Experienced drinkers state that they don't use much water anymore, but I find it necessary for now.

2. Check out stores in your area to see what is available. The single malts listed above are readily available in most decent liquor stores (at least in Southern California).

3. Take note of prices. You'll get to know what's a good value and what is not. For instance, Trader Joe's recently had a sale on the Balvenie, Glenmorangie, and Laphroig. All were available for about $30 US.


I hope these suggestions help any other newcomer who is looking to make the leap to single malts. In the meantime, I look forward to trying different and more sophisticated brands myself and sharing these experiences with others on this forum.


Enjoy
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Postby Choochoo » Wed Apr 19, 2006 2:21 pm

That's a very nice guide for any newcomers. Well done.

Another point for newcomers is sampling by the glass, checking out the single malt selections at local bars or reastaurants. It's a lot less expensive to have 2-3 glasses of different malts at a bar than it it is to buy 2-3- bottles of something you've never had, or may not care for.
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Postby ScotchBlog » Fri Apr 21, 2006 2:42 pm

Hi Miandi,

A couple of points.
The Islands are not a region. We need everyone to stop talking about them as if they were.
Also some of the expressiosn you've mentioned aren't always easy to get everywhere, so for "novice" purposes, I generally recomend things that ARE easy to get in numerous places.
Some things that aren't as common: (remember this is a big world, and there are a lot of places out side the U.S. - also there are a lot of places outside major U.S. markets - not everyone can get things that can be had in a major metro area like SoCal):
Clynelish, Glengoyne, Scapa, Rosebank, Longmorn
Somethings I wouldn't necessarily give to a novice:
    - Glenfarclas; I love it - but it's not a good introduction
    - Depending on the novice - I'd avoid all the Islays you mention that don't start with a "B", despite what people here say;
    - I would DEFINITELY put Bowmore on the novice list, as it is generally one of the best liked whiskies when I do a novice tasting.
    - A'Bunadh is DEFINITELY NOT for a novices' palate.
    - Oban and Talisker are maybes, leaning towards a "no".

I think the bottom line is that, despite all the helpful suggestions I've seen, asking a bunch of non-novices what they like may not help you compile a list that would interest novices.

Your suggestions (aside from #2) are good ones.

Also there is no "Glenmorangie 12", but there are a series of cask finishes that have been aged for 12 years - they are all different, and not something I would recommend to a novice. For a novice, stick with the 10.

ChooChoo's suggestion is a good one (though a bar is not always the best place to appreciate the subtleties of SMS - especially when served in a dirty rocks glass).

Another good idea is for the novice to pick up my book "The Instant Expert's Guide to Single Malt Scotch" ;)
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Postby Deactivated Member » Fri Apr 21, 2006 4:33 pm

My advice would be to try to persuade a novice that there is a range of styles and flavours. To do this, I would use a range of strongly flavoured whiskies (including the Laphroaigs or Ardbegs, Macallans, and Longmorns) as I suspect the novice would do better at picking the differences. The subtler whiskies may not give up their secrets to an untrained palate. I am convinced that novices tend to like the "monsters" best and then sometimes develop a taste for the rest - not vice versa.

Whilst I have followed the terroir debate with interest (and voted no), terroir can be a useful concept to engage with novices, even if they have to unlearn some of the rules later. Personally, I found the Classic Malts concept to be a great introduction.

I would opt for only 40% strength, and perhaps dilute further as the burn of strong alcohol can be a distraction for a novice.
I think it would also be helpful to guide a novice through how they should sample whisky - nosing and tasting techniques - and guide them through the various flavours.
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Postby Mr Fjeld » Fri Apr 21, 2006 4:39 pm

I'll second Nick's thoughts - judging from the forum I'd say that most novices seek out the extremes and judging everything between as boring or bland. I was brought back to the fold again by Ardbeg Ten and strangely enough I didn't really care about whisky before that - and guess what I drank prior to that? Glenfiddich - but that one never really turned me on! (I wouldn't be surprised if I like that even better now? )

Christian
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Postby Deactivated Member » Fri Apr 21, 2006 4:53 pm

Mr Fjeld wrote:I'll second Nick's thoughts - judging from the forum I'd say that most novices seek out the extremes and judging everything between as boring or bland. I was brought back to the fold again by Ardbeg Ten and strangely enough I didn't really care about whisky before that - and guess what I drank prior to that? Glenfiddich - but that one never really turned me on! (I wouldn't be surprised if I like that even better now? )

Christian


Snap. The first malt I drank was Glenfiddich because my father bought it for me. I tried to like it but I did find it both hot (couln't cope with the alcohol) and bland. I was first really turned on by Laphroaig. Thereafter, my local Oddbins (High St, Oxford) introduced me to the Classic Malts and by then I'd learned a bit how to sip and savour, although not really how to nose.
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Postby ScotchBlog » Fri Apr 21, 2006 5:00 pm

You guys have more adventurous novices than I tend to run across! :)

Smoky Islays overwhelm the vast majority of people for whom I conduct tastings - a more subtle Islay (like a Bowmore 12) is generally well accepted.

Also keep in mind, I'm not rolling out these whiskies after we've had dinner, dessert and wine with these folks, and their palates are already over-whelmed - I'm talking about tutored tastings.

Also PLEASE don't judge this forum for what a "novice" wants. Anyone who has taken the trouble to seek out a forum like this is past "novice" stage!

I'm also dealing with Americans who, for better or worse, generally have less developed palates. Think about the beers most Americans drink :)

By the Way I can say this as I am American - so no flames :)
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Postby Jan » Fri Apr 21, 2006 9:35 pm

I actually started out with Lagavulin 16 and this was the only malt I drank regularly for the first couple of years. But I actually think you'll find that you can divide novices into two camps: the ones who like extreme tastes including Islays and go from there to subtler malts, and the ones who start with the milder ones and progress to extreme malts. (And of course a lot of people in between.)

My advice to a newcomer would be:

- Remember that price/age and quality is not always the same: You will generally find the best price/quality ratio in the 10-18 year span; beyond 20 years prices rise steeply and while there is a lot of very good old malts out there, the heavy price tag is not always justified tastewise.

- Stick to OB's (Owners Bottlings or Official Bottlings) in the beginning. This will generally allow you to explore what the distillery think is their core expression. Independent bottlings, while often good, sometimes shows only a few facets and not the whole gem.

- Buy a glencairn glass or similar tasting glass to get the most out of your malt. Otherwise a brandy snifter is fine and does the same basic job of concentrating the aromas of the spirit.

- Do not be disheartened, if you can't find all the aromas and flavours you read about in reviews and tasting notes. Nosing and tasting is highly individual and there's no guarantee that what you experience is the same others experience. This is normal and one of the reasons single malts is such an exciting hobby. (Also, not everybody has equally keen senses, but training and experience helps. As you get more experience, you will find yourself able to nose and taste more flavours.)

- Enjoy your whisky as you sees fit. Don't let anybody tell you what is the right or wrong way to enjoy your purchase, but do yourself the favour to try out some of the advice from the more experienced aficionados.

Cheers
Jan
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Postby Frodo » Sat Apr 22, 2006 12:30 am

A couple of brief thought...

1) I like the idea of a broad range of whiskies being tasted. I've only led one of these in my life (so far) but I've introduced quite a few people individually to malts. Interestingly, people I've dealt with seem split about half and half between wanting something nice, soft, and non threatening vs wanting the peat monsters. It's amaizing how many people who weren't scotch drinkers tried Ardbeg 10 and became instant converts: "WOW - didn't know whisky tasted like THAT"!!

2) I like the idea of offering OB's primarily because they can be more easilly located and bought (generally).

ScotchBlog wrote:A couple of points.
The Islands are not a region. We need everyone to stop talking about them as if they were...

Also some of the expressios you've mentioned aren't always easy to get everywhere, so for "novice" purposes, I generally recomend things that ARE easy to get in numerous places...

- A'Bunadh is DEFINITELY NOT for a novices' palate....

Also there is no "Glenmorangie 12", but there are a series of cask finishes that have been aged for 12 years - they are all different, and not something I would recommend to a novice. For a novice, stick with the 10.


Hi Kevin:

I have a couple of respectful differances of opinion with some things in your post...

A) I'm under the impression that how many regions there are for classification of scotch depends on what theories you subscribe to. I've heard anywhere from 4 to 8 regions being talked about. My guess is that the "Island" region is one of those that get contracted when the theory calls for fewer regions. Please correct me if I'm wrong here.

B) Agree completely with your second point.

C) A'Bunadh and Glenmorangie finishes seem (to me) tailor-made as a non-threatening introduction to whiskies. Not really that complex, and barrellfulls of sweetness. Someone I know from work likes her wine and icewine, and hated the scotches I drank. I then let her try Abunadh and 'morangie Port Finish and she quite liked them!! And I don't mean to imply these are 'novice whiskies' as I Crieften and I quite like the 'morangie port finish, while legions of fans on this board seem to go for the Abunadh.

Cheers.
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Postby Richiyaado » Sat Apr 22, 2006 1:22 am

Very informative thread!

Speaking as a novice myself, I can certainly confirm what Frodo says about Ardbeg 10... exactly my reaction. And though it's distinctly different, I had an equally pleasurable experience the first time I sampled Highland Park 18yo.

As someone who has long enjoyed Bourbon, my adventure with Scotch has led to a few surprises. One of my favorite Bourbons is L&G Woodford Reserve, which I've always sipped neat... smooth, mildly sweet, never harsh. Last night, I measured out about an ounce or so, and it actually seemed so much stronger that I had to add a little water... something I'd never done before. Also, I'm beginning to understand what is meant by the "finish." Scotch lingers on the palate far longer than most Bourbons I know (with the possible exception of Elijah Craig, which is wonderfully robust and earthy).
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Postby ScotchBlog » Sat Apr 22, 2006 3:46 pm

Hi Frodo,
Differences of opinion are always welcome.
Re: Islands, and my opinions:
1. the Islands are not recognized by the SWA.
2. Here is a section from the 2nd edition of my book (still a work in progress), For this edition I've included a quote from Jim Murray:

Fairly recently, there has been a movement to define a new region called the “Islands.” The term refers to all of the whisky-producing islands (except Islay) of Scotland - Skye, Jura, Orkney, Arran, & Mull. These islands are geographically dispersed around the perimeter of Scotland and because of this, as well as the lack of an identifiable style among the distilleries, I will not treat them a separate region, but include them instead with the Highlands.
I asked Jim Murray (well-known whisky expert and author of Jim Murray’s Whiskey Bible) his views on the Islands:
“Islands. No, I have never regarded them as a region mainly because their styles do vary. No other island, for instance, produces the honey thread one finds in both Highland Park and Scapa. Some island whiskies produce recently peated drams, like on Jura and Mull; and historically like on Skye. And where does Arran fit in with those? Doesn’t really.”


By the way, I think the regions no longer serve much of a purpose anyway

Regarding "strong whisky" My girlfriend is not a big fan of Scotch, but LOVED the Laphroaig CS, So stong and novice are not mutually exclusive.

But speaking as a GENERAL rule I think the A' Bunadh is not a good introduction for a novice trying to develop a palate - too strong and too much going on, but for individuals, someone who can appreciate it.

I have seen lots of newbie/novices grimace at A'Bunadh at various events.

But that's one man's opinion. If someone tries A'Bunadh and that gets them hooked, I say "great" :)
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Postby ScotchBlog » Sat Apr 22, 2006 3:48 pm

And to clarify,
I think getting someone hooked by giving them something interesting, and then helping a novice deleveop their palate are two sometimes very different things, but that's just another opinion.
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Postby Deactivated Member » Sat Apr 22, 2006 5:27 pm

On the peat monster issue, it seems to me that if you offer a novice a Lagavulin 16 or Ardbeg 10, he or she will either love it, or will love the next dram you offer.

In any case, I think it's worthwhile for a beginner to try one of these, as long as you have the right attitude. If you get a strongly negative reaction, laugh and say, "That's not an uncommon reaction--this kind of stuff is love-it-or-hate-it. You may find you like it later, but let's leave it for now and try something else. There's plenty of variety."

Kevin, I'm ambivalent about your recommendation of Bowmore. It seems to me that it's a real love-it-or-hate-it malt--more people dislike it than dislike Ardbeg.

As for the Islands, no, they don't make much sense as a region, but then again, none of the regions makes much sense as regions, taste-wise (I haven't caught up on the terroir thread yet, will shortly.) But at one time I toyed with the idea of regions as a series of roughly concentric rings, with Speyside as the center and islands and other coastals as the fringe, so it fits in that regard. The theory is full of holes, as all regionalist ideas are, but it's as good as any.
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Postby ScotchBlog » Sat Apr 22, 2006 6:17 pm

I was originally surprised by Bowmore as well, but if you consider it generally comes between the lighter whiskies, and the heavier peaty ones - roughly the middle of the run, it makes (a little) more sense that people "like" it.
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Postby Frodo » Sat Apr 22, 2006 11:41 pm

ScotchBlog wrote:And to clarify,
I think getting someone hooked by giving them something interesting, and then helping a novice deleveop their palate are two sometimes very different things, but that's just another opinion.


True that!
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Postby Miandi » Sun Apr 23, 2006 4:39 am

ScotchBlog, I do consider myself an "adventurous" newcomer. I basically figure that anyone coming to this forum asking for advice on whiskies is adventurous; otherwise, they could just as well stick with their tried and true whisky and not ask for advice at all.

The "Islands" may not be a true region; that may be a subject for another thread. However, I would point out that the "Whisky Regions" link on this web site does list "Islands" as its own distinct region.

To me a newcomer is someone who has tried a single malt, likes it, and wants to try another one. I got started with single malts after receiving a bottle of Glenmorangie 18 year old as a Christmas gift. Not wanting to start off with what I thought was a higher end malt that I probably would not be able to appreciate, I wanted to start out with something a little more basic. That's what got me started looking.

The first three whiskies that I tasted were Glenlivet 12, Aberlour 10, and Balvenie Doublewood. While some of the more experienced drinkers here might not consider the Glenlivet or Aberlour as standard fare, I did read several posts that did recommended them to newcomers.

When I first tasted them I had a hard time really understanding what all the fuss was about. Frankly, to my untrained palate they all tasted pretty much the same. (I am now able to tell the difference). I read tasting notes from this and other forums to see if I could detect the same aromas and tastes. (Sometimes yes, sometimes not).

As I learned more about whiskies and the different distilling regions, I noticed that the three that I had tasted were Speysides. I learned that whiskies from the different regions had very distinct tastes. As a result, I wanted to try whiskies from different regions in order to really appreciate the full range and complexity of whiskies.

My first non-Speyside was an Islay, Laphroig 10 year. I got it for an excellent price at Trader Joe's (less than $30 US). (By the way, I added my suggestion on price-checking because newcomers will likely be cautious when spending money on whiskies).

I absolutely love the Laphroig. For the price, it's one of the best values I've seen so far. I could tell right away that this whisky was different from the Speysides. That's when I got really excited and started to learn more. I wanted to get an all around sampling of the best of single malts to decide what I liked and didn't like. While I might not recommend Laphroig as a first whisky, I would recommend that a newcomer try it in order to taste a peaty whisky.

When I've been shopping for new whiskies, I've met several people who have had similar experiences as I have. They are over 40, who've tried a single malt, liked it, and wanted to try something new. The question they have is what to try. After all, if they didn't like the whisky they wouldn't be shopping and they wouldn't be on this forum.
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Postby ScotchBlog » Sun Apr 23, 2006 2:10 pm

Hey Miandi,
Good post.

I hope you didn't take any of my posts as disparaging...Not meant to be at all.

Many people take different paths. All I'm saying is if someone walks up to me (and they do :)) and says, "what's all the fuss about, give me a Scotch that will knock my socks off" I won't (never, ever) give them a Laphroaig straight off. And I've been teaching new people about how to appreciate Scotch for a long time.

I MIGHT give them a Laphroaig as part of a mini flight; to demonstrate what "peat" tastes and smells like; in a tutored tasting; or when I am training bar staff.

Don't get me wrong. Laphroaig is my absolute favorite.

If someone says to me I want to try Thai, Vietnamese or India food, I wouldn't give them the spiciest, most flavorful item, because it is likely too much for them.

Also, keep in mind the vast majority of new Scotch drinkers (and the vast majority of long time Scotch drinkers), have never heard of Whisky Magazine, or this forum - they never attend Whisky Festivals -they never will, and they have a favorite brand that they purchase exclusively. They add ice to their Macallan 18.

The people who make up this forum are a rarified group, and they are not representative of even a fraction of whisky lovers. We are passionate and we discuss the silliest nuances of Ardbeg vs Lagavulin.


This isn't Whisky 101, It's a graduate class :).

If you want to spend all of your time reading and posting to this forum (like a lot of people (me included) do, then you are ready for advanced classes and should drink everything you get your hands on.

For your buddy who wonders why you like this stuff, don't give them laphroaig right off, as a rule of thumb...
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Postby Lawrence » Sun Apr 23, 2006 6:46 pm

I absolutely love the Laphroig


Well, you're set for the journey then aren't you?

Welcome aboard. :D

Lawrence (Laphroaig was my introduction to single malts)
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Postby Miandi » Sun Apr 23, 2006 9:36 pm

ScotchBlog,

Not to worry, no disparagement taken! We're all just passionate about our whiskies. I wanted to offer something back to the forum. If I've done that, then I'm glad to have contributed. I will keep an eye out on the Bowmore as you have suggested. Which particular Bowmore do you recommend?

As you say, this forum is graduate level training. Anyone who comes here has probably passed whisky 101 and is looking for something more. I do agree with you regarding the Laphroig. I probably would not recommend it to someone who is just wondering what whisky is all about.

There are probably three types of novices that we need to consider if and when we are asked to provide recommendations.

The virgin novice really isn't experienced with alcohol at all and is just curious about whisky. That person probably needs something smooth and mild. From what I've tasted, the Glenmorangie 12 or Cragganmore 12 might suffice. I'm sure there are other suggestions, but these are ones that I've tasted that fit these requirements.

The first-time novice, who has tried one or two whiskies and wants to try something else. (This is whom my post was addressed to). For them, it would probably be best to ask what they've tried and what they are looking for. Depending on their answer, I might recommend the Laphroig, or certainly suggest that they try a dram to experience a peaty malt. As I've said, I've met several people who do want to sample a variety of whiskies. They do seem to understand that whiskies can have different tastes.

The third category is the person who is experienced with alcohol, but not with whisky. Yesterday, I was with a friend who offered me a shot of tequila. It was very good! I mentioned my experiences with whisky and he was interested. We meet again in four weeks, so I've been tasked to bring some whisky to our next meeting. He and the others in our group are reasonably experienced with alcohol, but not as much with whisky. So I need to be sure to bring a special whisky to the meeting. Maybe the Bowmore?
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Postby ScotchBlog » Sun Apr 23, 2006 9:59 pm

Standard Bowmore 12.
Not the most challenging dram, but still has complexity - with a nice mix of sherry and peat.
The price is right for novices as well as it is generally $30-$40.
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Postby Deactivated Member » Sun Apr 23, 2006 10:17 pm

Miandi, those guys should definitely get a variety pack if you can manage it. Maybe a handful of minis?
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Postby Miandi » Sun Apr 23, 2006 10:49 pm

MrTattieHeid,

I'll try the minis if I can. I've not really found anyone who sells minis beyond the few basics that I don't think would do single malts justice. I probably may bring a bottle or two that I already have and let them sample from those.
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