Whiskey has been made for centuries. Naturally, over that time the process has changed. But, as you will see far less than you would think. If you want to know how whiskey is made just read on.
We take you through the whole process and explain how it has changed over the years.
How is Whiskey Made in the modern world
This first process is how all whiskey starts out. It is the same regardless of what grain is used.
The malting process
Malt whisky production begins when the barley is malted – by steeping the barley in water, and then allowing it to get to the point of germination. Malting releases enzymes that break down starches in the grain and help convert them into sugars. When the desired state of germination is reached the malted barley is dried using smoke. Many (but not all) distillers add peat to the fire to give an earthy, peaty flavour to the spirit.
Today only a handful of distilleries have their own malting. These include Balvenie, Kilchoman, Highland Park, Glenfiddich, Bowmore, Laphroaig, Springbank and Tamdhu. Even those distilleries that malt their own barley produce only a small percentage of the malt required for production. All distilleries order malt from specialised malters.
The Milling process
The malted grain is further checked for any rootlets, stones or other impurities before being milled. The powerful grinders of the milling machine generate considerable friction and heat, and a fragment producing a spark could cause an explosion (the fire that destroyed part of the distillery in 1898 began in the mill room).
The malt enters the milling machine at the top and is then crushed and ground by a series of rotating millstones. The powdered grain that emerges at the bottom, called grist, moves on to its rendezvous with that other vital ingredient, spring water.
The ground malt (or grist) is mixed with very hot water and directed into the mash tun. This is a large, circular, covered vessel with a rotating rake-like attachment, which stirs and breaks up the thick porridgy substance, now called mash. The process takes around six hours.
The combination of heat, movement and moisture extracts the sugars from the grist, dissolving them in the water. This sugary liquid, called wort, is drained off and transferred to the wash back for the next stage: fermentation.
The Magical Fermentation Process
The sugary liquid or wort that is drawn off from the mash ton (leaving the draff behind to be used as cattle food) is cooled before passing into the wash back, a large, circular stainless steel vessel. Yeast is added to the mix, attacking the sugar in the wort and transforming it into crude alcohol.
The process is an extremely active one, with the wort heaving and bubbling like the contents of a gigantic magic cauldron. Gradually the vigorous movement dies down and after some 46 hours the fermentation is over, producing a beer-like liquid known as wash. This contains alcohol of low strength (along with some un-fermentable elements) which is piped through to the still room.
In the first of two distillations the fermented liquid, or wash, is piped through to the wash still. There it is brought to boiling point by means of steam-heated coils. As the wash boils the alcoholic content vaporises, passing up the neck of the still and along the lyne arm, before being condensed back into liquid form by the cooling system beyond.
This first distillate, known as “low wines”, is collected in a receiving vessel and then run off into the spirit still, where the distillation process is repeated more slowly. The flow of raw spirit that emerges is divided into three parts. The first, called “fore-shots”, contains oil and other impurities. The second and purest, the “centre cut”, is collected to become whisky.
Finally comes the “feints”, the back end of the run, which together with the fore-shots is returned to the process to be re-distilled with the next batch of low wines.
Having spoken to a lot of whiskey lovers in my time, they all have their definite favorites. Whats interesting is that once a whiskey lover finds their favorite, they tend to stop looking, or just keep to that one distillery.
Whilst Scotland is the Manchester United of Whiskeys, there are now distillers all over the world and so I have selected my top ten whiskeys from an outstanding international list. These are all affordable and accessible and hopefully something for everyone. First in my top ten whiskeys is;
Hibiki 12 & 17, Japanese Blended Whisky
This whiskey originates from the Suntory Whiskey company in Japan, which commenced production in 1923. Japans climate is very different to Scotland’s and that creates a totally different tasting whiskey.
The fresh waters in the local area and the huge number of malt and straight grain whiskeys that go into the finished product create a unique taste on the palette.
The Whiskey is casked in japanese oak and has a subtle amber hew. Hibiki whiskey smells of rosemary with subtle hints of sandalwood. The taste is sweet and clean with overtones of orange and white chocolate.
Cost per bottle is around $148.00.
Green Spot, Irish Single Pot
This whiskey has been described by Jim Murray as one of the worlds best whiskeys. Green Spot is one of only a couple of single pot whiskeys being produced today. It can’t be called malt, because some of the grains are un-malted and also single pot whiskeys are distilled three times not twice like malted versions. The whiskey is produced at the Midleton Distillery in Cork Ireland.
Green Spot was one of several different colors that were sold under the “Spot Brand” The current batch is a complex blend of eight and nine year old whiskeys and was difficult to get hold of, unless you lived in Ireland as it is mainly sold through a specialist shop in Dublin that is owned by Mitchell and Sons, the owners of the Spot brand.
However with the brand gaining in popularity in the United States it is now freely available through online stores.
Whilst the whiskey is rich and robust in color, it does not have that smokey or sweet flavor like Scottish whisky’s. instead it has a very soft and smooth taste and is easy to drink neat. Cost is around $45.
Whistle Pig 12 Year Old Rye Whiskey
Situated in 250 acres of Vermonts finest countryside, the Whistle Pig Distillery is a 150 year converted dairy barn. Rye grain is harvested from the company owned fields and distilled in distinctive especially designed copper pots and matured in American white oak barrels that have been carefully charred and which gives Whistle Pig a unique smokey flavor.
The 12 year old whistle pig is a careful blend of European oak casks – Madeira, Sauternes, Port, Cognac, and Sherry. The Master Distiller Dave Pickerell, has created a one of a kind whiskey, which whilst distinctly American has notes from all over the world.
The whiskey has won numerous awards and is in huge demand. Whilst the underlying taste is rye, you also get hints of the fruitiness, a combination of plums, raisins, combined with honey and apricots. Prices are around $135.
Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Straight Kentucky Bourbon
This is an old school bourbon from the Russell stable that packs an almighty punch! The way this bourbon is produced hasn’t changed for 60 years, in fact it costs more to produce than its modern competitors, but the unique taste remains to be enjoyed by all.
The Wild Turkey Distillery that produces many award winning products is situated in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky and can be traced back the the late 1800’s.
As the name suggests the Russell’s reserve is a single barrel bourbon distilled from rye and aged in American Oak barrels. The process that gives this bourbon its distinct aroma is in part to the charring of the barrels. Each barrel is given what is known in the trade as a “No 4 Alligator Charr”. This is apparently as deep a burn as you can get without, weakening the actual barrel.
It is bottled at 110 proof and it is advised not to drink it straight! Even with water, its still rich and full flavored with overtones of hazelnut and toffee, combined with that unmistakable hint of smokiness. Priced at $55.00.
Macallan Rare Cask
Described by the Macallan Brewery as “Rare and Rich” The Macallan Distillery is lengendary nestled in nearly 400 acres and has been around for 100’s of years. Using unusually small stills and taking only the top 16% to mature in casks, means that the whiskey produced is second to none.
The Macallan Rare Cask goes one further and uses only 1% from casks that will never be used again.
I have not had the pleasure of tasting this whiskey, so am relying on the notes from the Macallan distillery
The nose is Opulent, yet soft and slightly meandering, picture an orchestra setting up: quiet vanilla with deep notes, already in tune; raisin bold and booming, though only in spells; chocolate a star performer, but not a standout; a sweet ensemble of apple, lemon and orange, beautifully balanced with a spicy quartet of root ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and clove. Then oak conducts, mature and elegant, with patience only time delivers.
Palate The spicy quartet leads, loud and full, unwavering in their performance. Raisin dares to temper – and succeeds!! – but oak takes control; timeless, polished, rich and resonating. Vanilla and chocolate compliment each other in the background
Finish Light citrus zest, yet full and warming
Prices are around $300
Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye
Next is the turn of a Canadian Whiskey. Situated along the shore of Lake Winnipeg is the tiny village of Gimli. Here there has been a Crown Royal Distillery for over 100 years. The harsh climate (down to minus 30 degrees) and lime filtered cold waters of the lake, all add to the unique blended flavors of Canadian Crown Royal Whiskey.
At least fifty different blends of whiskey are carefully brought together using a unique still called the coffey still (after the man that invented it), to create an unmistakable smooth whiskey.
The maturing casks expand and contract due to the large differences in temperature and this only adds to the taste.
The Northern Harvest Rye is a 90% Rye Blend and has already earn’t its place in the Jim Murray 2016 Annual Whisky Bible. The whiskey itself has a very spicy nose, you can taste vanilla, oak and a hint of pepper, but the overriding factor is the smooth and creamy finish. Its very popular and not easy to get hold of at the moment, the cost is a modest $40 for such a great whiskey.
Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Whiskey
This is such a well known brand, thanks to billboard and TV advertising and you can pick up a bottle of Jack Daniels for only a few dollars. But the popular Tennessee whiskey company also produces some special bottles such as the Single Barrel Whiskey.
Jack Daniels is the oldest registered distillery in the United States, where the process hasn’t changed in the slightest from the day they opened their doors. Unusually Jack Daniels make their own barrels, something I believe no other company does. The contents of their whiskey is of course corn, rye and a tiny part malted barley, combined with pure iron free spring water.
The whiskey is dripped through ten feet of charcoal and matured until the master blender decides its ready.
The single barrel is 94 percent proof and as the name suggests drawn from a single barrel. Each bottle details the specific batch, barrel number and bottling date. As a result no two bottles will be exactly the same. These barrels are chosen as the best of the best and having the most caramel and toasted oak flavour. The result is a smooth taste on the palette with hints of toasted oak and almonds. Prices are around $80.
Frysk Hynder Freisian single malt whiskey
A new boy by whiskey standards, the Dutch Frysk Hynder distillery was started in 2002. It started off as a bit of a hobby and only produced 77 bottles per day. However as it became more popular, it slowly turned into a business. Unfortunately there were financial pressures along the way and the distillery, have to bottle every three years, so that they can continue to trade.
The climate is quite similar to Scotland’s and the pure waters in the local area is critical to such a pure taste.
Matured in port barrels, it has a fruity nose and taste, with hints of malted barley followed by an unmistakable oaky finish. The bottle has a distinctive Freisian Horse Head top, in either a silver or gold finish and is priced at $40.
Bastille 1789 French Whiskey
This is a luxury whiskey, totally hand crafted in the Cognac region of France. Jean-Marc Daucourt, the famous distiller creates this whiskey from the best malted barley and wheat grown in France. Incidentally this is the wheat and barley that is used my many of the top Scottish Distilleries.
The sparkling clear waters from the Gensac spring filtered through miles of limestone are added to the process. Finally the whiskey is aged in very small batches using only the finest oak barrels, which include the famous Limousin oak.
I have not had the opportunity to taste this particular whiskey, but would point out that 1789 does not refer to its age, but rather to the french revolution. 1789 is a blend and according to the International Review of Spirits:
Bright orange amber color. Intriguing aromas of orange marmalade, dried apricot, spice cake, pineapple blossoms and suede with a vibrant, dry-yet-fruity medium-to-full body and a long, orange bread crust, peach cobbler, peppery spice and limestone accented finish. A remarkably fruity, exotic and enigmatic whisky that will make unique cocktails.
International Review of Spirits Award: Gold Medal
A bottle can be purchased for $40. Maybe not as refined as some of the scottish offerings, but worth trying.
The final of my top 10 whiskeys is
Chivas Regal 25 Year Old Scotch Whiskey
The Chivas Regal whiskey originates from the Strathisla distillery. It was created in 1786 and sits close to the river Isla. The distillery is one of the oldest in Scotland. In 1950 the distillery was purchased by the Chivas brothers, (hence the name of the whiskey) allowing a centuries old process to continue to this day.
The process includes the use of very short and very small copper stills, water from the River Isla and top quality malted barley. The result is a full bodied single malt scotch whiskey that is extremely popular. (you can still visit the distillery to see for yourself, how such a wonderful whiskey is made)
The Chivas Regal 25 is the culmination of years of refining a skilled process. This bottle contains a blend of whiskeys that have all been aged for at least 25 years.
It is a rich gold in color, and has a very fruity aroma, hints of oranges and peaches. It is rich but comparatively mild in taste. Again the taste of oranges is prevalent, in this case chocolate orange. The finish is described as smooth, rounded and long.
There are several different types of whiskey for you to enjoy discovering. Each type has its own history and unique qualities. We explain the difference between the various types and give you an idea of how each one tastes. Our aim is to help you to find the right one for you.
Understanding the different ways whiskey is made is interesting. It really helps you to appreciate this unique art.
Single Malt Whiskey
This is as the name describes, a whiskey from a single distillery. It is made from a mash that utilizes only one malted grain (normally malted barley). However unless the label on the bottle states it is “single cask” then chances are that the whiskey is from different barrels and possibly different ages. This is how the company’s blender can achieve such a consistent flavour for their particular brand.
Blended Malt Whiskey
As the name suggests this is a combination of different malted whiskeys. The whiskey could be blended from many different distilleries. The taste and flavor is down to the expertise of the blender. It this style of whiskey that many people start out experiencing.
Made from a mash that isn’t malted, this type of whiskey is normally taken from an individual barrel. In many cases the bottle is listed with the specific barrel. Without the blending the taste can change from cask to cask. This is an exciting class of whiskey, which is becoming increasingly popular. It is encouraging people to buy this beautiful spirit by the barrel rather than by the bottle.
As the name suggests similar to blended malt whiskey, except malted grains are not used in the process.
Famous in America, bourbon whiskey has to be made from a corn that is at least 51% of the total mash. It is also growing in popularity, as more people outside the US gain easy access to a wider range of Bourbons.
Again an American product where the mash needs to be at least 80% corn. This one is a bit of an acquired taste. Some people do not even think this tipple should be categorized as whiskey. It is powerful stuff, with a typical alcohol rating of 80% AV.
This way of making whiskey was first developed by moonshiners. However, because a traditional mash method is used it actually cannot be categorized as actual moonshine.
Rye and Wheat whiskeys
These whiskeys must have at least 51% Rye or Wheat as the main part of the mash. This style was developed to help to bridge the gap between Bourbon and whiskey. The flavor is typically quite complex. There are relatively few producers making this style of whiskey, but, again, it is growing in popularity as people seek out new taste experiences.
Trying out the different types of whiskey is an interesting past-time. It is becoming increasingly easy to book Bourbon tours as well as more traditional whiskey tours. If you want to get started buying whiskey sample packs is a particularly good way to do so. They also make very good presents.
This article is about the world’s most expensive whiskey, and where you can find it. However before we dive in, it’s worth giving this famous gold liquid a little introduction. Walter Mosley gets it right in his book “Black Betty” he said:
“There are few things as beautiful as a glass bottle filled with deep amber whiskey. Liquor shines when the light hits it, reminiscent of precious things like jewels and gold. But whiskey is better than some lifeless bracelet or coronet.
Whiskey is a living thing capable of any emotion that you are. Its love and deep laughter and brotherhood of the type that bonds nations together.
Whiskey is your friend when nobody else comes around. Whiskey is solace that holds you tighter that most lovers can.”
Oddly, not an exaggeration, whiskey really does have a magical effect, which is why it is worth spending a little extra every now and again and treating yourself to an expensive whiskey. There are some really great ones to choose from.
The Most Expensive Whiskey Brands Uncovered
You will probably have guessed by now that the most expensive whiskies are the ones that have aged the longest. Expect to pay $20 – $30 dollars for Jim Beam, Bourbon or Jack Daniels, right up to $85,000 for a 50 year old single blend whiskey. At this point, I feel there is an important distinction to make in respect of the most expensive whiskey. You will probably see other websites quoting figures of $600,000 plus for the most expensive whiskey title. However before you jump out of your chair, you should understand that the large price tag is mainly down to the vessel the whiskey is kept in rather than the whiskey. I am more interested in the whiskey itself and am therefore not concerning myself with records that are more bottle than whiskey!!
I have listed below four of the best out of top 10 whiskeys and most expensive whiskies in the world. If money is no object you can still own and enjoy one of these rare bottles.
Springbank 1919 Cambeltown single malt scotch whiskey
This is probably one of the rarest single malts ever manufactured. My understanding is that only 24 bottles from the 1919 vintage were bottled at the Cambeltown distillery in 1970.
Springbank distillery is the oldest in Scotland, which is still family owned. It was founded in by Archibald Mitchell in 1828 and is now managed by Hedley Wright, who is the great great grandson and the fifth generation to own and manage.
Cambeltown itself is classed as the whiskey capital of the world and it’s no surprise that the distillery prides itself on the skill and traditional production methods used to create such fine blends. A rarety in our modern times, Springbank whiskey is one hundred percent a handmade process and unusually refining is carried out on just the one site. Visitors can still enjoy a tour and see where the most expensive whiskey (as confirmed by the Guinness book of records) was made.
The whiskey was distilled two and a half times and introduces the coconut oily flavor that makes this whiskey so famous. The famous bottle has a spicy ginger nose, combined with a mix of sea foam and a hint of peat
There are only a few bottles of this vintage remaining and they are valued at $85000.
Macallan 1949 50 year old Millennium Decanter
The Macallan distillery is located in Speyside Scotland. The Macallan Estate is about 390 acres in total, and as well as the distillery contains Easter Elchies House which was built in the 1700’s. At least 90 acres is laid down to the famous minstrel barley, which is used to give Macallan Whiskies its unique taste.
The distillery itself has fourteen copper stills, although they are actually the smallest of their type on Speyside, their small size assist in producing the rich fruity flavor that is unmistakably Macallan.
In a break with the norm Macallan only take sixteen percent of the distilled whiskey, ensuring that only the best is used. Whilst this is one of the smallest amounts in the industry, it ensures quality and the great Macallan name.
The Macallan 1949 Whiskey was distilled on the 14th January 1949. The whiskey was secured in specially sourced Spanish oak sherry casks and poured into a unique handmade Caithness decanter in August 1999.
Caithness Glass well respected producers of glass ware in Scotland, export their wares all over the world. The decanter is presented in an oak box, which features a commemorative copper plate. The copper plate was taken from a redundant still (number 9) from the Macallan distillery. The decanter is also finished using the same copper.
The whiskey is dark in color has aromas of chocolate orange, dried fruits and spices. This vintage is becoming increasingly rare and has a price tag of $23,000.
Rittenhouse 25 year old rye
Heaven Hill owner of the Rittenhouse brand is the largest family owned Whiskey distillery in America. Founded in Kentucky by the Shapira family, they are rumored to be the seventh largest spirits supplier in the US, holding over one million barrels of aging bourbon whiskey.
The whiskey has been blended by the Beam family for six generations. The skill and craft has been passed from father to son over that time, with James Beauregard Beam being the original master distiller. Known by his friends as “Jim” he was responsible for the world famous “Jim Beam” label (now owned by Suntory Holdings in Japan)
Rittenhouse rye whiskey as its name suggests was a classic rye whiskey and is seen as a classic whiskey now enjoying something of a comeback. The 25 year old Rittenhouse was a single barrel edition. It was kept and aged in one of the coldest parts of the warehouse to allow an even maturing. The result is unique deep rich colored liquor which has a sweet and spicy aroma. The taste reminds one of chocolate raisins, vanilla and sandalwood and reveals a spicy aftertaste. At only $1600 a bottle, this is a real steal.
Coleraine 1959 34 year old Irish Malt Whiskey
The Coleraine Distillery was set up in 1820. It was rebuilt from an abandoned mill in County Derry. At that time there were only two distilleries in Ireland and Coleraine quickly became the distillery of choice. In fact it became so popular that it was the only whiskey allowed to be drunk in the House of Commons in London. As a result it was allowed to include the initials HC on all of its bottles.
It was renowned for its triple distilling and the fact that the whole process from start to final bottling was carried out on the same site. No whiskey was bottled until it was at least ten years old.
Unfortunately after the owner Robert Taylor passed away in the early 1900’s the distillery fell into decline and after several periods of no whiskey being produced and the distillery being brought and sold, the Coleraine brand became extinct and the doors closed for the final time in 1978.
This has resulted in early bottles of Coleraine Irish whiskeys becoming really sort after and therefore puts a premium on the label. The Coleraine 1959 was bottled in 1993 and is a clean single malt whiskey with no smoky taste, because the malt was dried using coal rather than peat as they do in Scotland.
The price of a bottle is approximately $3400.
I hope you have found our search for the most expensive whiskey interesting. If you don’t have tens of thousands of dollars to spend on a bottle, you can still enjoy some incredible whiskeys at a fraction of the price.
We have written about some very old and very expensive whiskeys on this site. So the question has to be asked, do you need to find the oldest and most expensive whiskey to enjoy the best? Or is it a case of the emperor’s new clothes?
Is Aged Whiskey the best?
The producers would probably argue that a great whiskey needs time to mature, to draw in those flavors. To some extent this is true, but it is far from the whole story. I can tell you from experience, that not every aged whiskey tastes good. Far from it!
Why Does Aged Whiskey Costs More?
The other factors in pricing an old bottle of whiskey is time/money. By laying down a cask for over 50 years, you have to wait a hell of a long time to see a return on your investment.
Even if the whiskey isn’t the best, you are going have to pay a premium price for it. The cost of storage means that this is almost inevitable.
We are constantly being told that older whiskey is better. I am sure that producers have taken advantage of this. Many of used this marketing ploy to sell their older whiskeys at an inflated rate. In some cases, they have done so even if it is actually not that good.
What the experts say about aged whiskey
So what do the experts say? Having spoken to several master distillers, they are of the opinion that in some cases older is better. But not always. An experienced master blender can produce an incredible tasting whiskey that is only a few years old.
What is the optimum age for whiskey?
There is debate among experts as to the optimum age for a whiskey. Corn and Rye based whiskeys are said to be at their best between the ages of 6 and 12. Scotch is placed at around 20 years.
The role the barrels play in how whiskey tastes
Most experts agree that this is down to the age of the barrels used in the maturing process. American whiskey is normally matured in brand new casks and therefore takes less time for the flavors to be extracted.
Scottish distillers favor used sherry, Madeira and bourbon barrels. The older used casks have less flavor to be extracted and therefore the process takes much longer. Scottish distillers would argue that this gives the whiskey a better flavor, hence the older whiskey costing more.
Japan uses Japanese oak which has a very tight grain and therefore flavors take much longer to leak into the contents. This is why a lot of Japanese whiskey has been matured for 20, 30 and even 50 years.
The role of climate in how whiskey tastes
Climate also plays its part. In hot dry parts of the world, the whiskey evaporates quicker and makes the remainder much more concentrated in a much shorter time frame. The damp cold climates of Scotland and Ireland makes this process much slower.
How much should you pay for aged whiskey?
Whilst there are older spirits, a 50 year old whiskey seems to set the bench mark for the most expensive whisky title. Most 50 year old whiskey will cost over $2000 a bottle.
Whiskey tasting is becoming an increasingly popular pastime. So, naturally people are interested in how to taste whiskey. There is definitely a right and wrong way to do it. We tell you the best way to get the most out of your whiskey tasting opportunities and tours.
How to taste whiskey – a step by step guide
Choose a glass with a narrower top than bottom
Pour yourself a small measure of single malt whisky scotch whisky. A glass that is narrower at the top than the bottom is best. This type of glass allows the aroma to gather and be focused near you nose. Remember, that what you taste has a lot to do with smell. If you do not believe me, just try putting a peg on your nose and a blindfold on then eating two of your favorite foods. You will be stunned by how little you taste when you cannot smell. In fact, a lot of people find it impossible to tell these foods apart, especially if they have a similar texture.
2. Do not warm the glass
Hold it your glass by the stem. Do not warm the glass in your hand. When you warm or chill the whiskey it changes the way the taste molecules react. So, if you are tasking warm or cold whiskey you are not really going to know how it tastes. If you want you can have a bottle of chilled still Scottish spring water to hand to cleanse your palette.
Check the color
Hold the glass up to the light. Color does not necessarily show a single malts age: rather it indicates how the spirit was matured. Since a cast imparts color and flavor, you may hazard that a golden hued single malt was matured in sherry oak. A very pale whisky may suggest to you that, predominantly, bourbon casks have been used. Such precognition of quality and flavor has some value, however, you should keep to yourself. At least for the moment.
Look at the Legs
Hold the glass at an angle and rotate it briskly, washing the inside walls of the glass with whisky. Hold the glass up straight and watch the liquid forming the ‘legs’ as it runs down the sides of the glass. Over time, single malts give up their lightest spirits to the ‘angel’s share’. So, the slower the legs the more viscous the liquid, the older the whisky.
Nose the Whisky
Hold your glass at arms length then pass it smoothly under your nose, breathing in deeply through the nose as you do. Think. Imagine. ‘What do those smells remind you of?’ Try to remember that ‘signature’. Now pass the glass back under your nose and repeat the process.
Taste the Spirit
Form your tongue into a small spoon shape in your mouth. Sip from the glass, letting the single malt nestle on your tongue. In your own mind, you will feel tongue-tied as you try to articulate the complex, constantly changing aromas and flavors.
Add a little fresh Spring Water
Don’t drown it. Just a little water a few drops should be enough. Swirl the glass, (to mix the watery aqua and the oily aqua vitae.) You’ll find the resulting mixture surprisingly mellow and drinkable. But don’t gulp. Take a small mouthful of whisky. Purse your lips and take in some air. Note all the different aromatics, the infinite notes and subtleties, the universe distilled into a drop of whisky.
Over the past couple of years, I have been getting more and more people asking me what the best affordable whiskey is. Naturally, people what to buy good-quality whiskey, but, they rarely have a big budget. Therefore, this question is understandably a popular one.
The good news is that if you know where to look it is perfectly possible to buy high-quality whiskey for an affordable price. Including, as you will see some quite old
How to find the best affordable whiskey
Whiskey prices can vary from as little as a few dollars for a mass produced whiskey, to tens of thousands of dollars for a rare example.
Does buying the cheapest whiskey mean that you are cheating yourself from the taste of an expensive one? We take a look at some great whiskeys for you to enjoy, that won’t burn a huge hole in your pocket.
Tomatin 12-Year-Old Malt Whiskey
Frequently, I receive requests for recommendations for affordable single malts. I attempt to balance the Favorite Malts selections with a mixture for all price ranges but I must admit that it’s easy to overlook the small gems in favor of a new release from a silent distillery. A visitor recently suggested I pass on a recommendation of Tomatin 12-year-old, noting that it was selling for about $17 a bottle.
Tomatin is a delightful whisky, a step up in flavor from Lowland and lighter Highland malts, without becoming too challenging (like Islay or heavily sherried malts). It exhibits a smooth balance of malty sweetness, a perfumy lightness, a peaty nuttiness, and a smoky softness.
I sometimes surprise guests during an evening of tasting various whiskies. After a sampling of several light malts, Tomatin tastes distinctly rich and flavorful. Although prices have increased a bit, it is still a good buy at around $24.
Cadenhead Lochside 19-Year-Old
Lochside is a delicious whisky; delicate, fruity, sweet and dry at the same time, with a soft, peaty creaminess. Unfortunately, the distillery was unable in its brief 35 year history to establish a following. Lochside’s delicate malt was either buried in blended whiskies or exported to the Spanish market. The fact the distillery was isolated in Montrose rather than in the Speyside, and the misfortune that the facilities were located on prime real estate all led to its demise.
There’s currently an opportunity to find out what you’ve missed. I purchased a bottle of this Cadenhead 19-year-old (1981-2000, 58 vol.), on a trip to Scotland. Finally some bottles have made their way to the US. It’s from an oloroso sherry cask, which adds subtle sweet and fruity notes to relatively dry and faintly peaty malt.
It’s delicious, and perhaps your last chance to affordably sample (about $100) vanishing single malt.
Many years ago, at a bar in New Orleans, Louisiana, I came across a bottle of 12-year-old Glenfarclas. I was embarking on a driving tour of Cajun Country and was surprised to find a single malt that wasn’t widely distributed in America. In the course of the following week, Glenfarclas and I became good friends.
It may just be the fond memories of a journey through an exotic part of America, but I like to believe that Glenfarclas is a particularly “Nawlins” style of whisky. Perhaps that’s why the Sazerac Company of New Orleans was chosen to be the American distributor. It’s a whisky that has the sophistication and charm to be at home in an antebellum mansion; comfort and warmth to fortify the soul at a late night voodoo funeral; and the common man earthiness to sip while eating fresh cooked crawfish by the side of the road at a “boiling point”.
The nose has an earthy, sweaty, pungent aroma, mixed with sweet vermouth and licorice notes. The palate begins with sherry notes, then a smoky, peaty dryness. The finish is long, dry, smoky, and trails off with echoes of oak.
The Balvenie PortWood 21-year-old
Though it’s only the beginning of February, there’s a touch of Spring in the air near my home. It’s not cold enough for a thick, sherry cask release, yet hasn’t warmed up to the point that a light malt is refreshing. There is however, something in between.
The 21-year-old PortWood from The Balvenie has an exquisitely well balanced combination of complex flavors, starting with a grapey sweetness in the nose and continuing through notes of heather, toffee, and anise. A cedar dryness keeps it from becoming overly sweet and heavy, maintaining an appetizing lightness. At $200 this is a snip.
Signatory Bladnoch 1974 25-year-old
It wasn’t difficult to choose a single malt to usher in what is officially the new millennium. I’ll share part of a message I sent to Raymond Armstrong, the owner of Bladnoch distillery, on Christmas Eve:
How nice to hear from you, and with such good news. Bladnoch is operating again! It must be wonderful to smell the smells, hear the sounds, feel the energy, and most of all — take pride in the knowledge that you have rescued a piece of living history from extinction.
Other than your infectious enthusiasm and the warmth of June and the rest of the staff, there has been a feeling of sadness on my visits to Bladnoch. As though it were haunted by the ghosts of a lively and cherished past. Against all odds you accomplished a seemingly impossible task — the spirits have returned to Bladnoch. My glass is lifted to you.
As I wrote I sipped a bit of a 25-year-old Signatory bottling of Bladnoch (1974-99, 54.8 vol.).
It’s a delicious malt that balances the clean, lemony, grassy notes of a young Bladnoch with the cedary, herbal notes that come from 25 years in an oak cask. Few Lowland malts age well beyond their teens as the lightness of the whisky tends to be overpowered by the oak and cedar notes that emerge from the cask. In this case it is a perfect combination of flavors, and a perfect symbol, bridging the Bladnoch of old and the new Bladnoch.