Four whiskies for £100: the beginner's whisky cabinet
If you had a budget of around £100 to stock a whisky cabinet for beginners, which four whiskies would you include? Perhaps you are a beginner, eager to take your first steps but unsure where to put your money.
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We put the question to our panel of experts: Tim Forbes, Graeme Wallace, Ruben Luten and Darren Rook. At the time of writing £100 is approximately €120/$150.
So, without further-ado let's see what they rustled up for us...
Starting out in the drinks trade in 1998, Tim Forbes has worked for The Whisky Exchange since 2003, and now writes all the creative content and tasting notes for both the TWE website and The Whisky Exchange Blog.
Glengoyne 10 year old - £27
A terrific malt for beginners and one of the only completely unpeated whiskies in Scotland. Glengoyne 10 year old is generous on the nose with honey, cooked apples and hot-buttered popcorn; sweet on the palate without ever becoming sickly; very accessible without being simplistic. Clean, honest malt character from an unsung distillery.
Redbreast 12 year old - £28
96 points in the Whisky Bible; Irish Whiskey of the Year; Best in Class at the World Whiskies Awards. Redbreast 12 year old must be the cheapest 96 point dram in the book, and if it was a Scotch there’s no way it would still be under £50, let alone £30. Beautifully smooth, sweet sherry influence on a flinty bed of pure potstill character. A fascinating whiskey – I think the sky might fall in if I came home one day and found I’d run out.
Aberlour 10 year old Sherry Finish - £29
To my mind, this is exactly how sherry-finishing should be done – enhancing the character of the whisky without swamping it or becoming too cloying. Aberlour 10 year old Sherry Finish, a recent arrival to UK shores, is a great example of the way balanced sherried malt can be: raisins, exotic fruit, chocolate brownies. Complex, but easygoing.
Lagavulin 16 year old (20cl quarter bottle) - £12
Islay malts are known for dividing opinion – for most, it’s either love or hate at first sip - but many people who start out disliking them come round to their peculiarly compelling, peaty ways eventually as their palates mature.
They’re also not cheap – so why blow the cash on a full bottle of something you might end up using to scrub the guano off your car, when one taste from this cheeky quarter bottle will probably decide the issue straight away? If Lagavulin 16 year old is not to your liking, the rest can be given to friends or retained for experimentation at a later stage of your whisky adventure – without the burden of bad feeling a costly mistake can provoke.
Graeme Wallace, publisher, photographer and organiser of The Whisky Show is owner of GW Publishing - well known for books such as The Malt Whisky Guide; The Whisky Kitchen; and the newly released Discovering Scotland's Distilleries.
Black Bottle - £22
With a reputation for heavy, smoky whiskies, The “whisky island” of Islay may be misunderstood by some. Black Bottle is a blend of Islay whiskies but uses the less peaty – Bunnahabhain as its primary malt. The result’s is a fantastically smooth and well balance blended whisky that has body, character and finesse. Comfortable on its own, this is a blend that is truly undervalued.
Talisker 10 year old - £29
The perfect all rounder – spicy, fruity and slightly briny. A full, complex dram that is so approachable. Talisker 10 year old appears to be owner's - Diageo - flagship single malt, and being so drinkable, it’s amazing that they can produce sufficient to satisfy demand?
Balvenie 12 year old Double Wood - £27
A whisky list would be incomplete without a Speyside and none can be better value than the full, and very satisfying, Balvinie 12 year old Double Wood. A sweet sherried whisky with a dry, nutty body. This is a whisky that is sure to appeal all palates.
Clynelish 14 year old - £31
As one of my favourite distilleries, I had to make space for Clynelish in my list. Dry, salty sweet, fruity and briny – the perfect balance for a Scotsman. Being one that enjoys full bodied whiskies, Clynelish 14 year old is relatively light (more of an aperitif) so I’d love the distillery to add a cask strength edition to the range!!!
Compass Box Oak Cross - £29
Because a good blended malt is better than a mediocre single malt. Compass Box Oak Cross is full-flavoured and has a certain all-round quality with plenty of fruits and spices.
Talisker 10 year old - £29
A nice introduction to smoky and maritime whisky. I could have chosen an Islay whisky (Ardbeg Ten, Laphroaig 10yo) but some people may be overwhelmed by their strength.
Nikka All Malt - £22
A Japanese blended malt (a mixture of malt whiskies produced at different distilleries). Soft and accessible with lots of vanilla. More complex than you would expect yet perfectly drinkable. It proves that the Japanese know how to distill whisky.
Buffalo Trace - £22
Still one of my favourite American whiskeys at this price level. Sweet, creamy, leathery and minty. It would be hard to find a single malt with this complexity at the same price.
Glenfiddich 12 year old - £25
I think when most people see this they’ll potentially think "what, Glenfiddich?
What you have to remember is that single malt wouldn’t be where it is today without the legendry design of the bottle and more importantly the whisky in the bottle! A classic for a reason, this is the benchmark. The nose is light and sweet with apple and pears. The palate smooth, sweet with exotic spices. Great just before dinner!
Ardmore Traditional Cask - £26
Ardmore is a hero of whisky; it ages really well as a single cask whisky, while blending beautifully with other whiskies to create some of the icons of the blended world. Also, this spirit is peated, which is different for Speyside!
Ardmore has finished this expression it in quarter casks to accelerate the flavour profile to great success.
On the nose butter and cinnamon give to light peat smoke, grass and pineapple. The palate is reversed and the smoke dominates switching to almond, tablet and Christmas spices. Coconut builds into the finish and ends in a great fresh cut tobacco - one to have with a cigar if they weren’t so unhealthy!
Georgia Moon - £18
I love this stuff! After a long shift at SMWS Queen Street I would frequent a bar called Bramble as it was on my route home. Sitting at the bar and drinking a dram of the “Moon” brought it all home.
Forget about the Scotch and remember what whisky is all about when you drink Georgia Moon. In 1916 the first act of parliament to enforce aging for 3 years was put in place, prior to that this is what would have came off of some stills and sold in the shops.
Like popcorn in a glass and great with weisse bier – one for summer nights and BBQ’s.
Nikka Pure Black - £31
This is a superb whisky, but you have to look for the batch numbers, as some are better than others (the not so good are still fantastic). Over the last four years Japanese whisky has really started to get the recognition it deserves.
This is a blended malt made up of whisky from Nikka's Yoichi and Miyagikyo (Me-a-geek-you?) distilleries. Full of rich fruits, balanced oak, peat and toffee. Great way to finish the day.
n.b. Would recommend a good book in hand so you drink it slowly as the bottle is 50cl.