Several years ago, not knowing anything about scotch, I searched around online reading opinions and ended up scratching 3 names on a piece of paper: Laphroaig, Glenlivet, Aberlour. I tried to find Laph at a few liquor stores, but they didn't carry it. It was $100 to order, so I just forgot about scotch.
Then one day I was out and about... went into a shop and asked the guy what a good scotch is. He recommended Macallan. Alrighty then... one is as good as another, but not knowing if I should spend $50 on a big bottle of something I didn't know anything about, I got the wee $5 bottle. Drank it all that night. It was good, but I was thinking scotch is supposed to be something vastly different from regular ole whiskey from TN or KY... and it wasn't. I couldn't see spending $50 for a 1/5 of Macallan when I could get a whole 1.75L jug of Evan Williams for $25 (that's how I was at the time).
So I was done with scotch again, but I still wanted to know why everyone was on about Laphroaig. Every now n then I'd stumble on that piece of paper and wonder when I was ever going to try that. Finally I found a place online that sold the 10 for $30 and the 1/4 cask for $35, so I bought one of each and thought I had a really good deal... even if I didn't like it I was well under the $100 the liquor shop wanted. When the fedex guy delivered it, I ripped open the box, popped the cork and took a sip. My 1st impression was, "that tastes like cough syrup!". My friend sent a text, "So how is it?". I said "well.... you've never had anything like THIS before".
He came by that night and we had a few... drams I guess is the "in" thing to say, though I've never used the dram word before. His impression was "its smokey". I said "smokey!?!". All I'm tasting is camphor, eucalyptus, or something of that sort. He insisted it tasted smokey.
So I set about searching for this smoke taste, and to this day I still wouldn't describe it as smokey. The more I drank of it, the more sweetness I found. And I loved how the taste evolved into many things I couldn't put words to. I loved the aftertaste... and how it lasted a long time and made other things taste better. Most whiskey tends to have an alcohol taste, which I don't like, and which Laph doesn't have.
Before long I was carrying it around in flasks camping and vacations. Everyone who tried it, seemed to love it. To me, this is what scotch was supposed to be... something different from TN and KY. Something different enough that it justifies paying a premium.
If it hadn't been for the Laph.... if I had tried the Macallan, Glenlivet, and Aberlour first, I wouldn't be here now. I would have just decided scotch is just whiskey and went back to something cheaper. Because of the Laph, now I wanted to try more.
Glenlivet was next. Like Macallan, I thought its just a smoother TN type whiskey. But as the bottle moved on, I picked up some flavors I really liked. Sweet ones. I can see why my uncle used to drink it. I wouldn't pay the $50 the liquor shop wanted though... not when I could have Laph for $30.
Aberlour was last on the list, but this time I ordered a whole big selection. Aberlour, Balvenie, Glenfiddich, Glenmorangie, Compass Box, Ardbeg, Taliskers, Caol Ila, Highland Park, Lagavulin, and who knows what all. It was 2 big boxes and 1 little one. That's when I knew I was commited and I finally got to see the nuances in each.
Now there are bottles I don't think I'd want to live without. It would be like deciding to live without chicken and just eat beef, pork, and fish. Each has their own flavor and I go to a different bottle on each whim. Some things, like lamb and deer meat, I don't care for. Same with scotch.
I know I can't try every bottle on earth and I really just wanted to know a bit about scotch... and I know enough to laugh at the mere selection of Glenlivet, Glenfiddich, JW, and Chivas Regal at the high-priced restaurant serving Dom Perignon. No Lagavulin???
I also suspect there isn't going to be that much more variation from the flavors I've had. I'm just going to be paying more and more for less and less "newness" and "difference" it seems. Its just going to be slightly more refinement (less alcohol taste)... hit or miss on good and bad batches.... and with scotch being in demand now, they're using crappy barrels to churn out more product. This makes me want to try more Compass Box. John Glaser is on the uptrend and is building a name for his company. I believe he used to work for JW. The man knows how to mix a good whisky! I don't think he will let a bad batch out. I think a lot of distilleries may be riding on their name and rep and not making as good of whisky as they could.
I've never had Bruichladdich, but I do want to try some. I figure it will fall somewhere near Laph and Ardbeg, but I'm eyeing the Octomore. Not sure if I want to drop $200 on something I'm guessing won't blow my socks off anymore than Corry does, but I'll probably cave in sometime. I mean... 170 ppm phenol... my god! Laph is what... 20?
In the mean time if I want something sweet and fruity, I sip on some Glenfiddich for the pears, Glenmorangie for citrusy florals, Aberlour for the apple cinnamon, Highland Park for the butterscotch. I hit the Balvenie for the plain ole whiskey type taste. Compass Box or Caol Ila for something complex I have to think about. Laph for the peat, Ardbeg for the chewy, resiny flavor. Taliskers tastes like nutrasweet to me. Lagavulin is good, but I'm content with Laph at half the price. I don't need an expensive addiction. The only one expensive on the list is corry and its different enough from anything else that the price is justified.
I have the oogy, corry and the 10. I wouldn't describe the oogy as less powerful than the 10 (it has higher 54.2% abv compared to 46% and higher ppm phenol I bet) and I certainly wouldn't describe it as sweet.
The corry though... if it wasn't 57.1%, I would have already sucked the bottle dry, broken it apart and licked each piece of glass clean.
Sipping the oogy now just to be sure... peppers, peppers, peppers, just a wee hint of a spirit taste, bitter like orange peels. Maybe even a slight orange flavor. Bits of what I taste in the corry... chocolate, coffee, resin. Not as chewy and creamy feeling as the corry. I might be able to see a christmas fruitcake in there somehow, but nothing I would call sweet. After a number of sips, it seems to sweeten up some, but I wouldn't call it sweet overall. And its really prone to a bitter taste that lingers like chocolate, coffee, and orange peels would have. Really, I think its a watered down corry, and the 10 is a watered down oogy. The prices reflect that too... $40, $60, $80 roughly. 46%, 54.2%, 57.1%. Good, better, best. 10, oogy, corry.