Welcome back whisky fiends! After an extended hiatus, Whisky a Day is back. As some readers may recall, I recently moved interstate from Perth to Sydney having left the bulk of my whisky collection behind to some very grateful friends. In the long drive across Australia, I could only bring a small selection of some of my favourite bottles stashed on the back seat of my car. Starting a new job and moving into a new place to live have all meant the formal whisky tasting has by necessity taken a back seat. Of course the regular informal tasting of whisky has continued unabated…
Now that I’m settled in my new apartment, I got thinking about how to rebuild my whisky collection. What should I choose? How much should I budget for? I decided to set myself a list of criteria that covers most bases in terms of whisky styles and regions to create a well-rounded collection.
The kicker: They all have to be whiskies that I have never tried before. Quite the challenge given how many whiskies I’ve tasted. At least this would ensure the selection was quite unique compared to your average whisky collection.
Budget: I thought $1000 would allow sufficient funds to grab both a variety of different whiskies and some quality or somewhat unusual whiskies. In saying that, I don’t want to blow my budget on say a $700 bottle of whisky and leave very little scope for selecting other whiskies to round out the collection. Like managing a football team trying to stay below the salary cap, you don’t want to put all your cash into a star player and not leave enough to ensure quality players in other positions.
Whisky styles / regions: Below is the criteria for whisky styles or regions that I felt my collection should cover. It would be impossible to cover every single country, region or style of whisky, but I felt the list below covered most bases and would allow me to establish a reasonably broad collection.
- A Scottish whisky
- Something Australian
- An American whiskey
- Something Asian
- An Irish whiskey
- A sherry matured whisky
- A peaty / smokey whisky
- A quaffable, go-to whisky
- Something surprising
- An independent bottling
- A blended whisky
- A cask strength whisky
With these criteria in mind, here’s what I’ve decided upon:
- Zuidam Distillers Millstone 12 Year Old Sherry Cask Single Malt – $165. Thought I’d start off with something a little unusual. A Dutch whisky, which also ticks the sherry matured box. Awarded “World Whisky of the year” by Whisky Advocate Magazine in the USA 2013, as well as 95 points from Jim Murray in his 2015 Whisky Bible; this could be a decent drop.
- Balcones Brimstone Texas Scrub Oak Smoked Corn Whiskey – $165. The American whiskey. It’s a smokey whiskey, but not peaty like many Scottish malts. In fact it’s a very unusual wood smoked whiskey made using sun-baked Texas scrub oak. I loved the Balcones True Blue 100 Proof Corn Whisky, so I cannot wait to try their Texas Scrub Oak Smoked Corn Whiskey. It promises to be quite the unique whisky I suspect.
- 1996 Duncan Taylor NC2 Glentauchers 15 Year Old Single Malt – $100. The independent bottling and first Scottish malt. Light and delicate, the reviews I’ve read sound great. Plus I’ve not tried either a Duncan Taylor bottling or a Glentauchers whisky before. Coupled with the fact it seems decent value at $100 and this seemed like a solid choice and also quite a contrasting style to the previous two whiskies.
- Strathisla 12 Year Old Single Malt – $80. This is my quaffable, go-to whisky. It’s a fruitful, balanced, yet mid-bodied whisky. Strathisla is also the distillery that comprises the base of Chivas Regal, which makes for an interesting anecdote when serving a whisky to guests at my housewarming party. I’m not going to serve them all $165/bottle whisky now am I? That’s why we all need a quaffable whisky in our collection which is also great drinking in its own right.
- Glendalough 13 Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey – $135. The Irish whiskey. A whiskey from a relatively young distillery, this one has received great reviews and sounds like a well balanced drop with plenty of layers.
- Glengoyne Cask Strength Single Malt – $100. The cask strength whisky. I’ve been impressed with the Glengoynes I’ve tasted previously, so when I heard favourable comparisons between this and the Aberlour A’Bunadh – one of my favourite drams for a while now – I knew that this one had to be part of the selection.
- New World Projects Port Double Cask Release #1 – $140. An Australian whisky from the producers of Starward whisky. A marriage of whisky matured in two Australian Tawny Port casks, one first fill and the other second fill.
- Kavalan Single Malt Taiwanese Whisky – $100. This is the Asian whisky. I love Japanese whiskies, but I’ve had quite a lot of them and couldn’t find anything interesting that I’d yet to try and which fitted in my ever-dwindling budget. Kavalan was one of the revelations from my Whisky a Day project last year, with the Kavalan Solist Ex-Sherry Cask Strength Single Malt coming in my top four whiskies of 2014. On the back of this, I was keen to add another Kavalan single malt to the collection.
- Heartwood ‘Any Port In a Storm’ Tasmanian Malt Whisky (30mL taster bottle) – $25. Down to the last $25 of my budget, and I’ve gone for this Heartwood. It ticks a lot of boxes – it’s an independent bottling, a blend, Australian, cask strength, and somewhat surprising. Heartwood have been producing some amazing whiskies lately and attracting rave reviews. And as a small taster bottle it brings me nicely up to my budget of $1000. I wish I had more room in the budget to get a full size bottle and have a more generous amount of blended whisky available, but as I’ve always been more about the quality of the dram and not too hung up on the single malt vs blend debate, I’m really not all that fussed.
TOTAL: $1000 (precisely!)
Full tasting notes for each of these whiskies will ensue in good course. What would you pick in your selection?
Rebuilding on a more modest $500 budget
I realise that not everyone has $1000 to drop on whisky, especially as some of the malts listed above are a little obscure and pricey. So what would I recommend for say $500, a whisky collection “starter kit”?
- Monkey Shoulder Batch 27 Blended Malt Scotch Whisky: $46. A vatting of malts from Glenfiddich, Balvenie and Kininvie distilleries. Cracking value, in fact I think this is possible the best value for money whisky out there. A quaffable go-to whisky that I will happily drink all night.
- Starward Single Malt Australian Whisky: $80. Another outstanding drop, this time from Australia. Along with the Monkey Shoulder this is fantastic bang for your buck, but stands on its own as a fantastic single malt. It drinks like a much more expensive whisky.
- Ardbeg 10 Year Old Single Malt: $70. Ah, sweet peat. Ardbeg is one of the staples and one of my first Islay whiskies that I loved. For $70 you’re not going to get much cheaper, and it’s an excellent introduction to the Islay style.
- Nikka From The Barrel: $70. A Japanese blend and one of my go-to Japanese whiskies. So smooth, great bottle design too.
- 1993 Gordon & Macphail Scapa Single Malt (375mL bottle): $85. An interesting independent bottling from Gordon & Macphail, possibly the most prolific of all independent bottlers. Light yet with a tangy saltiness. You’re not going to get too many good independent bottlings cheaply, so this little one provides a decent starting point.
- Basil Haydens Bourbon Whiskey: $70. A smooth bourbon without overpowering spice. A great introduction to the genre without breaking the bank or stepping up to something too intense (either in flavour or ABV).
- Kavalan Solist Ex-Sherry Taiwanese Single Malt (196mL bottle): $66. On of my Top 4 whiskies from my Whisky a Day project in 2014. An intense sherry bomb; ruch, full mouthfeel with flavours that linger forever. Pick up at 196mL bottle at only $66, great buying.
- Glendronach 18 Year Old Allardice Single Malt (30mL taster): $12. Not much left in the kitty, so with the remaining few coins I’d pick up a 30mL taster bottle of Glendronach 18 Year Old. Another quintessential sherry dram, 100% matured in ex sherry casks, unlike others that only have a period of time “finishing” in sherry casks.
So there your have it. What criteria would you have when building a whisky collection? There’s never a single correct answer, but I found the debate and budget limitations forced me to explore and consider whiskies I’d never heard of before. Which can only be a good thing.
Todd (aka Whisky a Day)