Wednesday, April 21, 2010

So you want to start drinking scotch?

One of our readers commented with a question recently stating that they wished to start drinking scotch as they were trying for a low carb diet and wished to switch away from beer. The reader asked which ones were good starter scotches and in the reasonable price category. I did reply directly via comment box but thought this topic might lend itself to a more in depth discussion in an article so here we go.
First you dieters will be pleased to note that scotch only has 80 calories per serving which is the lowest of all the hard liquors so selecting scotch as a diet aid is a good start. In general scotch comes in several categories depending on which part of scotch you are discussing. There are single malts which are all bottled from the same lot from the same distillery and there are blends where master scotch blenders take various barrels of scotch perhaps from several different distilleries and blend them to get a particular taste they are looking for. For taste there are oak, sherry, Madeira, peaty (smoky), and multiple barrel selections (where they put it in oak a while, then sherry, then Madeira, etc.). There are younger whiskies and older whiskies with usually 12 year and younger being less expensive than 15 year and up and of course 25, 30, and 50 get really expensive.
Today we will address the more reasonably priced scotch that would be most likely to taste good to the beginner. Remember please that there may be some scotch we don’t mention that you might think is wonderful and we don’t mean any disrespect but we can only recommend what we have actually tasted. If you see a scotch that costs less than $16.00 a bottle for a fifth or a liter just put it down and slowly walk away. Stay away from the bottom shelf at first. You can try those selections later on and you may find one you really like but not for your first go as it might prejudice you negatively against all scotch and we are trying to get you into the hobby not discourage you from it. So let’s stay with the middle shelf for you beginning experiences. First the blends should be considered. Ballantines, The Famous Grouse, Grants, and Dewar’s are four that I have tried on several occasions and I feel these would be a great starting point for your journey into scotch. You should be able to get these from around 18$ up to the mid 30’s depending on the bottle size, state taxes, etc. Remember it’s better to have one bottle of something you will enjoy than a whole case of undrinkable swill. For single malt whisky we almost have to go to the top shelf; The Balvenie, Glenfiddich, Glenmorange, The Glenlivet, The Macallan (10 or 12 year, Glen Keith, Long Morn, Tobermory, and Highland Park are all good but will cost you a bit more than the blends in most cases probably between $28 and $45 is a good estimate. None of these are the Peaty flavor which in my opinion the novice scotch drinker should wait a bit on the smoky ones until they have sampled the non-peaty scotches for a while. Some folks love the smoky scotches but they may be a bit overwhelming to the beginner. Any of the ones listed here should provide enjoyment to the drinker and remember you can add a bit of spring water or even ice at first if you wish. Mastering scotch takes a while for most beginners and scotch and spring water on the rocks may ease you into the hobby and later you can remove the ice, then the water and get down to just plain scotch and glass. Take your time, it’s not a race and you have plenty of time to try different brands and ages and flavors to find what is right for you.
A word of warning is offered at this time to you all. I have spent a bit of time this week looking at some of the other writings about scotch out there. Some are quite good especially those affiliated with magazines and distilleries. I was appalled though to see people recommending Crown Royal, Makers Mark, and Canadian Club as being really good scotch selections. Crown Royal is good but its Canadian not scotch, Makers Mark is good too but its bourbon not scotch and Canadian Club……..gee can you guess where it’s from???? I have enjoyed all three of those products and they have their own special place in my liquor cabinet but they are not scotch. To be scotch the whisky must be distilled in Scotland!!! So use care where you get your drinking related information. I might make an honest mistake once in a while and when I do I will be glad to retract and apologize for it but damn some of these folks don’t really seem to know anything about the subject. You are the best judge of what you like to drink and we will offer suggestions and welcome your ideas and suggestions in return. We don’t claim to be experts or whisky snobs but we are huge fans of whisky and have our own experiences to share with you and look forward to reading yours as well.
What am I drinking these days? Well I just bought a bottle of Tobermory 10 from my local liquor store and I am enjoying that and a bottle of Sheep Dip and Pig Nose.
All three are really good and by the way, I did buy some stock the other day so I really do have an interest in a few brands of scotch but I have not written about any of them in any articles on this blog to date as I have not tried them yet. When I recommend anything I own stock in I will tell you. Happy drinking and let us know what you are trying and what you like we are always looking for new ideas.
The Whisky Warrior


  1. Thank you for your advice... however my question was (more precisely) if there was anyway to be able to drink whisky without that god awful taste...

    I keep hearing/reading it is an acquired taste... how does one go about acquiring it?

    I found some in my cupboard the other day and tried it on ice with a splash of water... It's still as awful as I remember...

  2. Well,(laughing), believe it or not I totally understand your issue. My wife refers to the taste of scotch as "cat piss" and is not a fan. Scotch is kind of like liver, haggis,or Guinness, you either like it or you dont. As to how to "learn to love it" you might go back in the older posts to my article on "how I got started drinking scotch" (its about the first article I wrote so its back a ways clik on older posts at the bottom of the page until you get there) and you will see that the first 3 scotch and sodas I had I thought were awful and then some mystical button in my head was activated and I have been a a scotch drinker ever since. I dont know what happens but somewhere along the way it happens for some people(Angels singing , bagpipes playing etc). So you may never cultivate the taste. Sometimes that happens and thats ok too. But here is what I would try. 1st get a bottle of club soda and mix your whisky 3/4 soda and 1/4 scotch over ice. Not for everyone but that's how I started. If that doesnt do it then try 3/4 water and lots of ice with 1/4 whisky. Another thing is put the whisky bottle in the freezer (the alcohol should keep it from freezing) then make your drink. I was a Wild Turkey bourbon drinker before I finally cultivated the scotch taste. One final idea, go to your liquor store and buy 6 minitures of various whisky or whiskeys (scotch or Irish or bourbon) and try them maybe a different brand would taste better to you , there really is a difference in taste. That should only set you back about 20$ to try that. If that fails you might try a good vodka martini with Grey Goose or 3 Olives, or one of the higher end vodkas.(They are better I think because they filter them more and yes I do add a small amount of dry vermouth and no less than 3 Spanish Queen olives to my martinis)
    Good luck with it but it may be you just don't like the taste. Everyone is different and we totaly respect peoples differences so do what is right for you. Thank you so much for writing and please let us know your results.
    The Whisky Warrior