Scotch Road

No, not the one near the Trenton Airport. This is about the long road I’ve taken to enjoy Scotch whisky.

I was late coming around to Scotch. Like so many people, I started out drinking beer, added bourbon and other American whiskey’s, before moving on to wine. It wasn’t until I was in the wine & spirits business for a while that I was even exposed to a range of whisky. Our wholesalers have annual tasting events that feature much of their portfolios, and that’s where I started to appreciate Scotch.

My dad was a Scotch drinker, back before single malt whisky became a thing. Cutty Sark was his preferred brand; like many Scotch drinkers, he rarely chose something else. I’m pretty sure that my first Scotch was Chivas Regal, at a friend’s wedding. Under the circumstances, I really didn’t pay any attention to the taste profile.

Now, after years of sampling so many different Scotch whiskies, single malts and blends alike, I’ve generally kept a few different brands and styles in my home bar. So here’s what I’m drinking, when I choose Scotch:

Ardbeg 10. For the uninitiated, I explain Ardbeg 10 as like drinking a campfire. Malting barley with peat will add that intense smokiness, and there are complex flavors of banana and toffee, with a hint of brine that comes from Islay’s unique location. Ardbeg 10 has a long, smoky finish, and is definitely not a starter whisky. On sale for $48.99.

Compass Box Spice Tree Extravaganza. This was an indulgence for my birthday. The backstory is intriguing: an American making whisky in Scotland (read the full story on their website). I have enjoyed most of the Compass Box expressions I’ve sampled, and I had recently finished a bottle of the original Spice Tree. Since they had discontinued the original, I thought I’d step up. This has so much flavor and nuance that it’s difficult to find the right words. Notes of berries and sherry. Red fruit, brown sugar, and ginger on the palate, with a lengthy, spicy finish. You’d expect this kind of complexity from a dram that includes whisky from 3 different distillers, aged by Compass Box in 6 different types of casks. We have only 1 bottle left at Hopewell, on sale for $139.99. Spice Tree Extravaganza is part of the archives now, so get this one while you can.

Balvenie 14. Something that works for the beginner as well as the experienced whisky drinker. Take your 14 year old Balvenie, an excellent dram to start with, then finish it in ex-Caribbean Rum casks. Notes of toffee, honey, and fruit will please any palate, along with a serious vanilla and oak presence. Also has a lengthy finish, but it’s very smooth. On sale for $74.99.

Glenmorangie Original. At 10 years, this is probably the most accessible, easiest to enjoy Scotch in my small collection. Fairly light, with notes of vanilla, fruit, and summer flowers. The finish fades slowly, with hints of orange. On sale for $39.99, you won’t be afraid to use this as a base for sophisticated cocktails. Look for the recipes on the Glenmorangie website.

Johnnie Walker A Song of Fire and Johnnie Walker A Song of Ice. Both are part of the Game of Thrones collection (includes Johnnie Walker White Walker, along with single malts from Cardhu, Dalwhinnie, Lagavulin, and Oban). These are fairly simple blends, each featuring single malts from a single distillery. The Ice is crisp, while the Fire has a bit of smoke. They are on the young side, and I find myself enjoying them exclusively in cocktails. You can find recipes designed specifically for each blend on the Johnnie Walker website. They are on sale for $39.99 each.

Whether you have a nice collection, or just a bottle or two, Scotch whisky can be both enjoyable today, and can also evoke a different time and place. Our Scotch prices begin under $20, giving you lots of options along your own Scotch Road.

—Steve Wernick, Wine Manager

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