The Only Scotch Guide You’ll Ever Need

Forget tasting notes—this is how to really figure out what your choice of whisky says about you.

January 23, 2017

By Neal McLennan

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The Bottle: Ardbeg 10

The Damage: $90

What it says about you: You like to think of yourself as a little edgier and a little more experimental than your brethren. You like that Ardbeg as a distillery dates to 1798, but you conveniently forget that since 2004 it’s been owned and perfectly marketed by a little concern called LVMH.

The Taste: All hype aside, this is year-in-year-out one of the best peated whiskies around (its big brother Ardbeg Uigeadail is similarly amazing). It’s stupidly expensive here in B.C. (it’s about $60 in Alberta), but there’s no squawking about the quality.

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The Bottle: The Balvenie 12, single barrel

The Damage: $129

What it says about you: The Balvenie used to play Robin to that other “The” whisky, The Macallan’s Batman, but for the past few years the brand has made a definite move into the big time through both their $$$ whiskies with some serious age (30-years-plus) and their use of single barrels to produce whiskies that nail the idea of rare. Still The Balvenie is for the traditionalist who’s not about to change their dram because of a clever ad campaign.

The Taste: Elegance. Buttered toast, toffee and citrus with a long refined finish. Wonderful.

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The Bottle: Laphroaig 10

The Damage: $81

What it says about you: You like Land Rovers, Barbour coats and the concept of having an empire. Laphroaig is the whisky of those who traffic in change very slowly. The packaging is classic, the limited number of bottlings (though this is slowly growing) is classic—everything about the brand screams old school right down to their most famous patron—Prince Charles.

The Taste: Brawny stuff. This is prototypical peated whisky with a wallop of smoke followed by the briny taste of the sea. If you’ve ever wondered what it means when you see iodine in a tasting note, try this and you’ll know.

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The Bottle: The Black Grouse

The Damage: $33

What it says about you: Firstly, this whisky is now called The Famous Grouse Smoky Black, but if you use that new moniker you’ll be branded a johnny-come-lately of the highest order. This whisky appeals to two camps: cheapskates who still like quality and sane people who are making cocktails that call for Lagavulin, but are too smart to use $125 whisky in a mixed drink. This may be the perfect decanter whisky (because only you will know how little the magical stuff therein costs).

Taste: Mid-smoky (that’s the black part) with a smooth pleasing sweetness. They’ve dialled back this blend’s personality a bit of late which is a shame.

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The Bottle: Lagavulin 16

The Damage: $125

What it says about you: If you’ve been drinking it for more than a decade it shows you like your whisky very bold and very rich and are happy to pay dearly for it. If you just started drinking it, it probably means you’re a fan of comedian Nick Offerman and his Parks and Recreation character Ron Swanson, both of whom love the stuff. Not a problem, just don’t pretend you’re from the former camp—the scotch world won’t abide a poser.

The Taste: Great stuff. Viscous and smoky and a huge wallop of a whisky. This isn’t for beginners, but if you love this dram you’ll accept nothing else.

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The Bottle: The Macallan 25

The Damage: $ 1,840

What it says about you: For starters, you’re very rich. But past that, fans of The Macallan know that while Glenfiddich may claim to have “invented” single-malt whisky, The Macallan perfected it with their 12-year-old sherry cask expression—a whisky (and it’s aged stablemates) that proved so desirable that it caused The Macallan to experiment with moving away from age statements on some of their whiskies. Not the 25 mind you. Consider this bottle in the same light you might consider a bond or large piece of gold—it’s an internationally recognized commodity that could probably get you out of jam in Chechnya if placed in the right commander’s hands.

The Taste: I haven’t tried this in well over a year and then it was late into the night so I’ll crib from Masters of Malt: “Textbook malt delivery which gives way to a mouthful of dried apricots, prunes and figs.”

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The Bottle: Chivas Regal 12

The Damage: $52

What it says about you: Once upon a time showing up at a pal’s house with a bottle of Chivas tucked under your arm was the height of class. That time was 1976. The thing is, while Chivas (and it’s fellow prestige blended whisky Johnnie Walker Black) has lost huge ground to the single-malt phenomena, most modern drinkers have never even tried a well-made blend, which is sort of bonkers. All of which is a lot to explain to the host you’re handing this over to to help with his/her puzzled look.

The Taste: Balance, balance, balance. It’s actually so smooth and a touch sweet that it reminds more of a well-made Canadian whisky than scotch.

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The Bottle: Black Bottle

The Damage: $32

What it says about you: You may not be rich, but you’re possibly interesting. I wrote about this in the magazine when it was finally introduced into our market a year back. It’s something of a legend in the U.K. amongst those in the know as being well-made, well-priced blended scotch. Evidently it used to be even better, but it’s still a nice breath of fresh, heather-y air in a price range where we don’t have a lot of options.

The Taste: Decent smoke, decent fruitiness, nice balance. Decent+

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The Bottle: Highland Park 18

The Damage: $206

What it says about you: You are very much on-point. This maybe the best reviewed whisky in the world over the past decade, with the experts falling all over themselves with praise of it’s Orkney Island mixture of softer peat (from the island’s abundant heather) and smooth long finish.

The Taste: Just a great bottle of whisky: quite floral with some baking spices and hit of lighter smoke.

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The Bottle: Talisker 10

The Damage: $93

What it says about you: Alone on the rugged Isle of Skye, Talisker has always marched to its own drummer—it’s a strong whisky from an area of strong folk and they weren’t into all things fanciful. In the past few years Talisker has put out a number of different (too many I would say) expressions—Skye, 57 North, Storm, Dark Storm—but it’s the classic 10-year-old that shows you to be someone who doesn’t follow trends, but doesn’t follow crowds either.

The Taste: Quite smoky with a mix of pepper and sea air on the palate. Not full-blown Islay, but a hairy-chested dram to be sure.

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The Bottle: Bowmore 12

The Damage: $58

What it says about you: Japanese-owned Bowmore is the most understated and often least peaty of the Islay malts (which is to say it’s still way peatier than anything from Speyside) and of late have been creating some major buzz (their Mizunara Cask bottling is a whisky nerd’s bottle to have right now), but it’s their core expression—the 12—which marks the buyer as an acolyte of the understated. And at $58 it’s arguably the best single-malt deal in B.C.

The Taste: Smoked orange peel, some vanilla and plenty of lingering smoke.

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The Bottle: Compass Box Enlightenment

The Damage: $105

What it says about you: Certified whisky nerd. Compass Box founder John Glaser worked in marketing at Johnnie Walker for years until he saw an opening for a bespoke collection of bottles crafted by single malt and grain whiskies he sourced throughout Scotland. The various bottles sell out rather quickly—like this bottle that is sold out in most other markets.

The Taste: I haven’t tried, but Master’s of Malt says: “Fresh, vibrant and uplifting with a mouthfeel that is moreish and mouth-watering. On the nose you will find bright apple and pear, vanilla cream and light violet; on the palate soft spice, gentle citric notes and more of that uplifting orchard fruit character.”

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