Sunday, March 20, 2011

Climbing the Scotch Ladder for Beginners

I have a friend, let's call him Pete.  Pete, like most people, occasionally drink blends like Johnnie Walker Black, and mostly on the rocks.  On one occasion at a bar, perhaps somewhat intrigued by my scotch obsession, he decided to try a single malt.  Unfortunately, he ordered from the bar-tender a dram of Laphroaig (very strong and smoky).  All it took was one sip from the glass, and Pete began coughing violently and choking.  He later told me that he cannot believe people actually enjoys scotch.  Pete never touched another glass of scotch since then.  

Unfortunately, I suspect Pete's case is more the norm rather than the exception.  Too many people often start off with too advance, and are immediately put off by the pungent taste.  Starting with an Islay (as in Pete's case) is like drinking a Guinness if all you ever had was Bud Lite. 

To help beginners out there still discovering the wonders of scotch, I developed this simple "scotch ladder" guide.  Start off at the bottom rung, and move on to the next step when you feel comfortable with the level you are on now.  This way, it allows your taste buds to develop and adapt, and in the process appreciating, the various flavors of scotch, without them being too overpowering right from the start. 

Your journey starts here.

1. Start with a smooth, light scotch.  Focus is on drinkability.
Recommendations: Cragganmore 12 yr, Glenfiddich 12, Dalwinnie 15 yr
Value selection: Cragganmore 12 yr
Premium selection: Glenlivet 18 yr
Cragganmore 12 Yr

2. Next, introduce some complexity and richness. 
Recommendations: Macallan 12 yr, Glenfarclas 17 yr, Longmorn 15 yr
Value selection: Arbelour 12 yr
Premium selection: Dalmore 21
Macallan 12 Yr

3. Add some light smoke. 
Recommendations: Oban 14 yr, Highland Park 15 yr
Value selection: Glen Garioch 10
Premium selection: Royal Lochnagar 12 yr
Oban 14 Yr

4. Dial up the smokiness.
Recommendations: Highland Park 18 yr, Bruichladdich 10 yr
Value selection: Highland Park 12 yr
Premium selection: Springbank 15 yr
Highland Park 18 Yr

5. Enter the peat man.
Recommendations: Talisker 10 yr, Bowmore 12 yr, Talisker 18 yr
Value selection: Talisker 10 yr
Premium selection: Ledaig 20 yr
Talisker 10 Yr

6. Final stop: Islay
Recommendations: Lagavulin 16 yr, Laphroaig 10 yr, Ardbeg 10 yr
Value selection: Caol Ila 12 yr
Premium selection: Lagavulin 12 yr
Lagavulin 16 Yr

59 comments:

  1. omg and you drink this all ?!

    Oo

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  2. damn you know a lot of this stuff...
    still a drink on its time is no problem ;)

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  3. Working to cure ignorance!

    I appreciate the informative posts, sir. Keep up the excellent work!

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  4. Thanks for the info. Now i'm going to keep it classy.

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  5. Nice, I needed a list like tha :D

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  6. Highland Park is one of my favorites by far. It's not too much, not to simple.

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  7. When I introduce new people to scotch, I recommend Highland Park 12 just because it's so well rounded and relatively inexpensive.

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  8. Hehehehe... II could've used this a while ago..

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  9. Hmmm... I unfortunately usually go for the stuff on sale.

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  10. I am going to give these a try. THanks for the tips!

    My father loves scotch and I never know what kind to buy him.

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  11. How long before moving on to the next scotch level.

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  12. that looks like death in the morning :D

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  13. scotch scotch scotch. down in my tummy.

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  14. great post. im not a big drinker but this gives me a jumping off point

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  15. I like johnny very much, time to try Islay if it is so strong :)

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  16. very nice guide you have here. this post is actually perfect for me (a beginner). when i'm ready to delve into the world of scotch i will use this for sure.

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  17. This is a fantastic post. Just what I need, since I intend to enjoy alcohol on a more regular basis when I'm living on my own, and I don't wanna end up like Pete.

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  18. Im keeping in class every weekend with like beverages ;P

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  19. great advice. my favorite post so far!

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  20. even though i'm not a drinker i find all this information very interesting thank you for sharing your knowledge

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  21. thanks! its kind of like with cigars. start with the light stuff then move towards the more full flavors.

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  22. thanks for the advice! this should be useful for beginners like me, although i've never heard of an of these brands!

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  23. Thanks for the info. I find it very helpful! :)

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  24. That's a lotta good info, thanks!

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  25. Just reading this is warming myself up

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  26. nice tips on where to begin!

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  27. That a lot of drinking to do. Better get started...

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  28. Good info! I'll try some of these out. I'm still a newbie

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  29. nice info, definitely going to search for them to get started

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  30. good advice, will follow through

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  31. Very informative for noobs like me! Thanks for sharing!

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  32. That's hella classy man, thanks for the advice

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  33. These are some good pointers. It's neat to see articles on how to acquire a taste.

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  34. Are all scotches the same % alcohol?

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  35. This is a great guide.
    You really are knowledgeable in regards to scotch.
    Thanks!

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  36. dude, I think you want to kill us all XD

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  37. Excellent walk-through.
    Laphroaig is definitely not for beginners.
    I went to an after-pub party once and they had a bottle - they said they didn't really like it so me and my buddy (the one who's thinking of the trip to Islay) got out the tumblers and pitcher of water.
    Some other people started mixing it with coke & ice so I kept hiding it!

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  38. this may be very helpful in the near future. I like evan williams whiskey at this point, i think with a black label. I tried some other options, but never scotch before. I am looking forward to it.

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  39. Useful list!

    Following,
    U Laugh U Lose - For your daily laughs!

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  40. Well it would be a pretty big stretch to see any of these down here in CR, but I'll keep a lookout. I noted you didn't include any of the Johnny Walker labels as well...

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  41. Thanks for this ladder. One of your earliest posts suggested to start off with the Glenlivet 12, and since then that's what I've been drinking. But I suppose now I have a new goal in my scotch adventures: to conquer this ladder in this order.

    I follow and support those who do likewise.
    toastburnt.blogspot.com

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  42. wow.. and you've tried these all?

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  43. Damn, I'll have to look out for these. Like Pete the closest I've ever had to scotch was Black Label.

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  44. I had my first scotch about 7 months ago I must say I was much luckier than Pete. I started off with the Glenfiddich 12 year and I fell in love immediately. I have worked my way slowly from the 15 yr and on to the Macallan 12 year. I say slowly because I have to work with the ignorance of the bud light drinkers. This gives me a good guide on which to get them (Pete) started! Wonderful!

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  45. This is spot on! I actually took a path very close to this... Just reached Lagavulin and found this site looking for the next step :)

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  46. Thank you for taking the time to post this "ladder" for beginners. Three years ago I tried a shot of scotch at an airport bar while traveling. I too, like Pete was blown away with the taste and burn. I found this guide and thought I would give scotch a second try. I just finished my first bottle of Glenfiddich and moving on to cragganmore. I enjoyed the Glenfiddich and found it smooth and very drinkable with strong notes of vanilla and pare on the nose. Thanks again for everything.

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  47. This was really helpful. Today I bought my first bottle of single malt. I stood in the shop, a Glenfiddich 15 in one hand, a Talisker 18 in the other. Knowing nothing about Scotch, and wanting something to get started with, I was completely lost. In the end, I went with the Glenfiddich; the deciding factor being the red leather and steel canister it came in. Had a glass tonight and it was delicious. Your article vindicates my decision, and now I know what to move on to from here. Thanks!

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