Your whisky story is a bit similar to mine in that I've never been a fan of American whiskey, or any spirits for that matter. Bourbon has this indelicate sweetness that reminds me of molasses and sorghum, and it is surrounded by a massive alcohol taste. To be fair, I've given it a chance - I've had Makers Mark, Jack Daniels, Evan Williams, Jim Bean and Knob Creek. And now that I'm more interested in whiskies I don't dislike them as much as I may have at one time. But lets just say that if I go to a bar with a limited selection I'd rather have Johnnie Walker black label (which I hate) than any kind of bourbon. I'm not a huge fan of Canadian Whiskey or Irish Whiskey, either. For some reason, I've found something in scotch (and some Japanese whiskies) that distinguishes the beverage from the world of alcoholic spirits.
We aren't from the exact same region, but I would assume that Georgia and Oklahoma are similar in that fine spirits isn't exactly a booming market. In my region beer is king.
For that reason, nice whiskies are somewhat hard to come by, it requires a bit of hunting and I think that's one of the supplemental reasons I got so hooked on scotch. It's more than just the taste for me, it's finding good deals and rare products, as well as tasting as many different things as possible.
I will say that Islays are growing on me more and more. For example last night I had a half a drink of macallan 12, a half drink of Cragganmore, a half drink of glenfiddich 15 - all ok but not exciting. Then I had a half a drink of Ardbeg 10, Lucy I'm home. It was like oh this is perfect, but only right at first and then last. That medicinal meat taste in between the nose, initial palate and finish is just in appealing to me. I'm guessing that's the peat. It's not as awful to me as it once was, but I don't necessarily like it. I love the nose, the initial palate and the finish but just not that quickly overpowering peat part. Maybe I should fall back onto some laphroaig for a while, as it's slightly less peated.
And I completely agree about the crappy barrels. It seems most of the sherried whiskies I have had have this nasty sulphur hint in them that I didn't start picking up until recently. Maybe a lot of people miss it and that's how they get away with it. But it's very unfortunate, seeing as I don't have the money or access to older bottles or proprietary bottlings.
I am very much aware and very much frustrated with the fact that I have become interested in scotch whisky right as it is starting to be ruined by mass production and the dedication to consistency. But if it is mostly connoisseurs that buy these older, rarer high dollar bottles, then why is it that the companies are ruining their product if their main customers are the small population that would probably be able to sense that change? I can understand macallan, glenlivet, glenfiddich, etc as they are mass produced and mass consumed. But I can't imagine there are a great deal of inexperienced, unknowledgeable non-scotch drinkers that would be buying 25+ year scotches, right?
But what do I know, the companies never asked me.