I'm unabashed about it: I won't pretend there aren't crappy whiskies out there, because there are. (For example, I got ten free miniatures from Douglas Laing, the independent bottler, and nearly lost my stomach on a few of them. Ever had a 31-year-old whisky that tastes like you're licking the floor of a coal mine?)
So I'm going to put here a list of my top five whiskies, not in any particular order. My tastes will change over time, so this list might change. I'll let you know when it does.
I'll also include the typical 750 mL bottle prices here, since it's good to know how much dough one of these things will cost.
Ardbeg Uigeadail ($80-90)
Ok, probably a little cliched here, since Jim Murray also listed it as one of his top two whiskies of all time in his Whisky Bible 2010. But I would have to agree - at cask strength, it lets you know it's there (and you might forget where you are as well). Massive peat, but with a background of dark and juicy fruit, owing to the marriage of bourbon and sherry casks. A concert of flavors going on, and I'm not even going to try to describe it. I'd rather just drink it.
Old Pulteney 12 ($35-40)
This is probably where I will lose a few people. What the hell is "Old Pulteney" and why doesn't anyone else ever talk about it? "The Pult," as it's known in my house, is the northernmost distillery on the Scottish mainland and makes a whisky that gives you the urge to go whaling. It is salty. I get the impression of steel. It proclaims itself to be the "genuine maritime malt" and I think it's right. When I was new to whisky, I was searching for exactly this flavor. I bought a bottle of The Pult 12 on a whim and, immediately upon my first sip, I actually audibly exclaimed "Yes!"
Just such a distinct flavor, and one of the best values out there, I think. It's the whisky I drink most.
Laphroaig 18 ($130-150 in MA, $70-80 elsewhere)
Peaty, fruity, floral, smooth. Much better than the 15, which it replaced, and more complex than the 10, which was the whisky that initially got me hooked on scotch.
Port Charlotte PC7 ($110-120)
I had this for the first time at the Brandy Library in NYC with my wife and we were both struck by it. This was after trying 11 other whiskies, half of them peated. This one blew our socks off. Heavy peat, and the cask strength is like the spur on the peat boot. You can hold a little in your mouth and feel it work around, getting into every crevice, and then sending spikes into your tongue. More of an experience than any kind of a describable flavor.
Highland Park 12 ($40-45)
Another one, like The Pult, that just has a very unique flavor and is easy on the wallet. This thing has honey, peat, floral/grassy ("heather" if you know what that is) notes...the list goes on. Some salt too. And leather. And other stuff.
Here are some other whiskies that I really enjoy and are close to making it in my top 5:
- The Balvenie 12 DoubleWood
- The Dalmore 15, King Alexander III
- Glenmorangie 10, Nectar D'or
- Gordon & MacPhail Imperial 15 Year Port Finish
- Jameson 18
- Johnnie Walker Gold Label
- Lagavulin 16
- Laphroaig Quarter Cask
- Port Charlotte PC6
- Signatory Laphroaig 1999 7 year
- Suntory Yamazaki 18
I'm working on adding some independent bottlings to my knowledge bank, so maybe they'll make it on soon.