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Where do I start? Part 1: The Whiskey Aisle

“Where do I start?” is a new series of blogs coming out over the next months to help navigate the world of fine spirits.

The Whiskey Aisle

You’re done with college, and you have decided UV Blue, and Naturdays are maybe something you should put behind you like your freshman year friend turned awful sophomore year roommate.

So, you have decided to start getting into whiskey, but as you approach the aisle, you see maybe 300 hundred different bottles. Worse yet, there is Rye, Bourbon, whiskey AND whisky? How is Jameson different from Scotch? Grandpa’s Jim Beam bottle looked a little different than the one on the shelf (and smaller for some reason…). Plus, whatever you had before burned like hell.

Overall, it can be overwhelming to figure out what you may enjoy. You have prices ranging from $9.99 for JW Dant Bourbon to $99.99 for Springbank 15 Year Scotch. And your liquor assistant will tell you each has a great purpose for a different occasion. So, essentially here is the main question:

Where do I start?

  1. What have you had before? Think about different whiskeys you have had before besides Fireball (fireball is an abomination which will receive as little recognition from this author as possible). If nothing stands out, or you do not remember what you may have enjoyed and need a good starting point, here are some nice one word descriptions.

    1. BOURBON – Sweet

    2. IRISH – smooth

    3. RYE – spicy

    4. SCOTCH – classy

    5. JAPANESE – neutral

    6. CANADIAN – cheap (sorrey!)

Now, if you do know more about whiskey, you might find these one word descriptions lacking, but I don’t care. There are a lot more complexities here, but let’s just look at some starting points. I got my personal start with whisky in Scotch, and I’m glad I started there and then progressed to bourbon and then rye before plunging headfirst into the 50% ABV and cask strength liquids.

Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon $27.99 – Elijah Craig is made at Heaven Hill Distillery and the signature whiskey to come out of their facility (aside from Evan Williams). Elijah Craig is at a very great price point being sweet and warming with a long finish (a flavor that does not leave quickly [also sometimes called chew, but who cares]).

Woodford Reserve Bourbon $32.99 – Woodford Reserve is maybe the most balanced whiskey someone can find on the market. With some fruit, some brown sugar, some this and some that, Woodford is perfect because you can use it for any purpose, and also just gives you a nice introduction to the wonderful world of bourbon.

Michter’s Small Batch Bourbon – $41.99 – More expensive, this might be a good splash into running with the big boys. There will be a very obvious jump from 40% ABV to 45.7%. If you like that, do it, if not, put a drop of water in the bourbon (like just a drop, not a splash, a drop. Put your finger in a glass of water and let one drop in) and this will drop the proof noticeably. Again, I chose Michter’s here because much like Elijah Craig and Woodford, when it says there is fruit, oak, and sugar sweetness, it is true. This bottle also offers a delicious balance and maybe trying them next to each other, you can see why Michter’s costs that extra $10-12.

Glenfiddich 12 Year Scotch – $44.99 – I chose this bottle because yes, this was my first bottle of Scotch. The second reason is Balvenie 12 Doublewood has skyrocketed in price in the last year. The third, and most important reason, is that Glenfiddich 12 is a well made highland (most Scotch is highland) which will show you the classic profiles of a bottle aged in Sherry, with notes of pear, cream, and oak. There’s a distinctive flavor to a Scotch you will not find in any other style of whiskey. However, because most good Scotch sits in casks for an absurd amount of time, Scotch is expensive, and you need to usually spend $50 to start finding good stuff outside of Islay (what Ron Swanson drinks). This Glenfiddich 12 will tell you quickly if you are going to be a Scotch person, or not.

I could go on from here, but I believe I will stop for now. This is the introduction to Bourbon and Scotch; just getting your feet wet. Here are some of the other good ways to do it:

Go to a WHISKEY bar, not a bar – Bartenders will be able to help you figure out what you like, and if you found a good one, they will not try to bullshit you or make you buy something overpriced. For $10-15 a pour, you can figure out pretty quickly some different whiskeys you really enjoy, and others you can pass on moving forward.

Find a nice liquor store with a good whiskey selection – In a similar manner, find a local liquor store (not a Total Wine) that has a good reputation. It may be a little out of your way, but talking to a professional who is really passionate about the product will always be worthwhile. These people have more than likely had restaurant or other previous industry experience, and have chosen for one reason or another to work at a wine shop (or whatever fancy title they give it).

With each of these, ask the bartender where they shop for their libations, and ask the liquor store what bars they like to frequent for selections. More than likely, they have a connection somewhere and can make a good recommendation.