Frosty nights, windy days, an austere crispness in the air—this is what we call ‘Scotch Weather’ in these parts (and probably other parts too), and there’s no better time to enjoy Scotch than the holidays. Every year at our house on Christmas Eve, members of both sides of our family come together to enjoy cheesy potato casserole, cheap gifts, the occasional pleasure of each other’s company, and most importantly, a great bottle of Scotch. Last year, we foolishly deviated from tradition by trying absinthe, and while me and the wife had a good time, it left everyone else flat. So this year, we’re going back to where we belong, and revisiting Scotch. Fortunately, one of our good friends in Liquorland (that’s the small hamlet next to the teeming metropolis of Greater Shitcannery) sent us a few worthy contenders for this year’s celebration. Let’s take a closer look at each of them:
Glen Garioch Founder’s Reserve (about 40 dollars): This is a non-peaty Highland Scotch from one of Scotland’s oldest distilleries, Glen Garioch (pronounced ‘geery’). Now owned by Japan’s Suntory corporation, this whisky curiously exhibits the characteristic dry maltiness of Yamizaki, Suntory’s flagship whisky. At a hefty 48% ABV, it’s a bruiser too, so a little water or ice might be a good idea to soften the edges. It’s a little hot for my taste, and more peat would be welcome (there’s no such thing as too much in my book), but this is a decent, well-rounded Highland at a nice price.
Glen Garioch 12 (about 60 dollars): As big as the Founder’s is, the 12-year-old is its meaner, hairier brother who probably drives a Camaro, or maybe an Iroc-Z. This whiskey is very hot (it’s also 48%), but also exhibits some strange taste components: oddly, I keep thinking of marshmallows, and there’s a weird chemical flavor here too, maybe something like methanol would taste if you could drink it without dying. This sounds unpleasant, and it is a little, but there’s still a nice woodsy character and a surprising complexity here, if you’re willing to stick it out.
Auchentoshan Three Wood (about 60 dollars): A Lowland favorite that is aged in bourbon barrels before before being finished in Pedro Ximenez sherry casks. It’s a syrupy, swaggering, and fruity whisky with a pungent finish. It’s got just enough smoke to keep masochists like me happy, but retains enough of a softer character to please everyone else happy too. Definitely worth a try.
Auchentoshan 12 (about 40 dollars): As I’ve stated before, I detest the word ‘smooth’ as an adjective to describe liquor, but sadly, it was the first one to come to mind when I tried this. This means I need to try harder, so here it is: the 12-year is not too fruity, not too smoky, and very easy to drink—in other words, it’s boring. Maybe a little disappointing following the magnificent Three Wood, but it may be just the ticket for the less adventurous drinker in your life, poor souls they may be.
Bowmore 12 (about 40 dollars): From one of the most well known Islay distilleries in the world, this is their entry level whisky, and for the most part, it’s a good one. There’s the grassy, succulent mid-palate, the honeyed citrus notes, and the mildly peaty finish, but there’s not a hell of a lot else. It’s a nice and easy Islay; simple, but there’s nothing really wrong with that, is there?
(Ed. note: Marleigh prefers the flavor of whisky to that of peat smoke, and the Bowmore 12 was her favorite. If you’re not a peat monster or you just like a nicely balanced Scotch, try this one.)
Bowmore 15 (about 70 dollars): Of all the whiskys featured here, this was by far my favorite (and unfortunately the most expensive). This is a well-balanced, smokey Islay, and while a tiny bit more brine and peat (I’m looking at you Lagavulin, and I’d start running were I you) would be good, it still delivers on all fronts. The sherry cask comes through nicely on this, as do heavy notes of fig, honey, and grass. If you can swing it, and are looking for a stunning whisky that will floor all your friends, this is a good bet that is easy to find.
That should be more than enough to get you started, but the world of Scotch is a big one, so don’t be afraid to explore. After all, there’s nothing finer than pretending to listen to the bullshit of people you only see once a year while riding a winged boozehorse high above the caramel-colored mushroom cloud of a dram of your favorite whisky. That’s my holiday wish for you, and for us all: that we all get too fucked up to care. Skål!