Sunday, December 30, 2018

My top single malt Scotch picks

Regular readers will recall that a friend and former colleague of mine is the Beverage Director at Frenchman’s Creek, a private residential golf community in south Florida. I’ve appeared there as a guest speaker, hosting whisky dinners for the members a number of times over the last six years. I’ve also served as somewhat of an unofficial consultant to them, occasionally providing opinions and advice for potential whisky purchases.

I recently received an email from my friend asking (on behalf of one of the members) for recommendations of high end Scotches to purchase, ranging from $100 to $500 per bottle. I was actually asked for a top five list, but I went a little beyond that. Since I put a bit of time into coming up with an answer, I thought it would be good to roll that over into a blog post.

Single Malts were not specified, but I usually view high-priced blends with a bit of suspicion, so I really didn’t even consider any. Of course, these are all whiskies that I like; I chose not to include any offerings that don’t suit my personal preferences, even though they might be quite good.

While I haven’t tasted every whisky on the list, I have at least tried examples that were close enough to give me confidence in my recommendations. Here’s what I came up with:

There are a lot of interesting single malts in that price range.

The first thing I would look for is something from the Glenfarclas Family Casks series. These are vintage dated, cask strength, single barrel releases that span from the early 1950's to the early 2000's. The price range is pretty big depending on the distillation vintage and when it was released. Newer releases are much more expensive than the ones that came out seven or eight years ago for any given vintage. Most of the 1970's vintages that come out now are in the $2000 to $3000 range, but I recently bought a 1973 Family Casks bottle that was bottled in 2011 for $700. I also bought a 1995 vintage at the distillery two years ago for a little over $300. I haven't opened those two, but I've tasted others from the 70's, 90's and 2000's and they've all been stunning. Basically anything you can find from the Family Casks series that is in your price range will be worthwhile.

If you can't get any Family Casks bottlings, Gelnfarclas 25 year is by far the most reasonably priced 25 year old single malt out there. It comes in a little over $160, which is 1/10 the cost of Macallan 25 year and likely on par in terms of quality.

The Springbank Local Barley bottlings have a good reputation. I haven't tasted any of them recently, but I do have a 16 year in the collection that I bought for $200 not too long ago.

I recall you asking me about Glendronach 18 year and 21 year. If they are still available I would definitely go after them.

I know you don't have a lot of peat fans down there, but if that is an option, Ardbeg 21 year and Laphroaig 25 year would be great heavily-peated choices around the $500 mark. Slightly down the peat scale, Highland Park 18 year and Bowmore 18 year are great options in the $150 neighborhood.

Old Pultney 21 year is a lovely whisky that was recently discontinued. If there's any still available to you, get it while you can. Should retail around $175

Bunnahabhain 18 year is an old favorite. It runs around $150 and I actually prefer it over the much more expensive 25 year.

On the more delicate side, Auchentoshan 21 year is a nice option that is often overlooked. Should be around $250.

Craigallechie is a more assertive Speysider that tends to be somewhat divisive. For those that appreciate a whisky that can be a little abrasive but has lots of character, their 17 year at $150 or their 23 year at $300 are good options.

I also just noticed that there was a 21 year Oban in the 2018 Diageo Special Release collection. While I feel that the differences between their 18 year and flagship 14 year are too subtle to justify the price jump, the 21 year is aged in European oak and bottled at cask strength, which should help to differentiate it. Initial reviews look very good. Definitely pricey at $550, but it's on my radar now.