Though we talk often about bourbon in these parts, scotch whisky deserves a lot of love too. The beloved juice from Scotland is more attainable than ever (as long as you get it delivered by Drizly or a local restaurant-turned-bottleshop). While its history and mystique remain, gone are the days when only your well-traveled, pipe-smoking grandfather enjoyed it. Whisky (especially Scotch whisky) is actually surging in the early months of 2020.
Don’t worry if you’re a whisky novice. There are no judgments here. Do you like your whisky with a little smokiness? Go for an Islay expression from Ardbeg, Bruichladdich, Bowmore, or Lagavulin. Looking for something a little smoother to ease your way in? How about a bottle from The Macallan, Glenmorangie, or Glenlivet? Fans of bourbon can even get started by enjoying one of the many offerings aged in ex-bourbon barrels. Add some water, ice, or even mix it into a cocktail like the iconic penicillin.
Like us, bartenders need a nice dram of Scotch every now and again, especially during the quarantine. That’s why we decided to pose a simple question: If you could only bring one bottle into your home before going into isolation, what would it be?
Caol Ila 12
Darron Foy, head bartender at The Flatiron Room in New York City
Caol Ila 12-Year-Old. This dram has so many memories linked to it. It’s a firm favorite of my wife and me. This was the whisky that made me go to Islay. A beautiful level entry to Islay peat, smoke, and tar. I always get white pepper mixed with coconut, lightly smoked with more of an oily tar and salt feel to its Island counterparts. This would remind me of the good times and the many fond memories of Islay.
Juyoung Kang, lead bartender at The Dorsey in Las Vegas
There are so many!! I’ll go with Auchentoshen 12 Year, Macallan 12 Year Double Cask, Lagavulin 8 Year. Why? Because they’re solid, well thought out, and just a little different than the normality of their own brand line. But, if I had to pick one, it would be Lagavulin 8 Year. Smoky, rich, and perfect.
The Macallan Rare Cask
Hector Ortiz, beverage manager at Hyatt Regency Grand Reserve in Puerto Rico
The McCallan Rare Cask. Why? From my point of view, it is a very, very good product, and I also love the aroma of ripe fruits, honey, berries, and creamy vanilla and palate that it has.
Glenmorangie Nectar d’Or
Myles Harrison, director of wine at St. Regis in Toronto
Glenmorangie Nectar d’Or. Aged in old bourbon barrels and then finished in Sauternes Casks. This is elegant sipping whisky.
Balvenie 12 Year Double Wood
Nikki McCutcheon, beverage director at Magic Hour Rooftop Bar & Lounge in New York City
Balvenie 12 Year Double Wood is one of the easiest drinking and smooth scotches. It is aged in Sherry and Whisky barrels that helps mellow out the smokiness that is sometimes overwhelming in a scotch.
Compass Box Hedonism
Drew Hairston, beverage director at Dirty Habit in Washington, DC
Compass Box Hedonism is a smooth baking-spice-driven, blended grain whiskey. Compass Box represents a facet of whisky-making that is generally overlooked: transparency. They advocate for all whiskey makers to inform consumers on exactly what they are drinking and how it was blended. This is something lost on many distillers.
Rus Yessenov, director of mixology at Fairmont Royal Oak in Toronto
I’d have to bring Ardbeg Uigeadail. It’s ultra-complex and peaty with 54.2% ABV, this spirit is the real deal, feeding Ardbeg’s cult-like popularity.
Balvenie Caribbean Cask 14
Sam Gay, bartender at Ojai Valley Inn in Ojai, California
Scotch…I’d probably go with Balvenie Caribbean Cask. I can’t do the super peaty Islay scotches, personally. Plus, it’s my wife’s favorite, and ideally, she would be in quarantine too.
Osvaldo Vasquez, mixologist at Chileno Bay Resort, Auberge Resorts Collection in Los Cabos, Mexico
If I had to pick just one, I’d go with Tomatin 18. It’s rested in sherry casks and I consider it a great whisky because of its floral, wood and fruity flavor notes.
Amanda Swanson, bar manager at Fine & Rare in New York City
AnCnoc 2001. This light, creamy whisky is one of very few I could see myself sipping under quarantine, under what I would normally deem a clear-liquor situation, but the flavors on the AnCnoc 2001 are something like a creamsicle. Rich vanilla and bright citrus shine all around and make for the absolute perfect ‘Anytime, Anywhere’ whisky.
Balvenie 12 Year American Oak
Kyle Walter, bartender at Grayton Beer Brewpub in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida
Balvenie 12 Year American Oak. Take the peat and smoke and marry it with the vanilla notes of the toasted oak and what do you get? The immediate feeling of relief that you have something perfect to sip on.
Bruichladdich Black Art
Ben Schiller, beverage director at RPM Restaurants in Chicago
Bruichladdich Black Art. Bruichladdich is my favorite distillery. They craft a spirit that is both elegant and full force at the same time. They never chill-filter or add caramel coloring to their whiskies, and they age all their products right there on Islay. Black Art is now being bottled at 25 years of age, and it’s been aged in five different types of oak barrels. Bruichladdich keeps them a secret, so it’s enjoyable tasting the dram and trying to reverse engineer the flavors in an effort to determine what barrels they used.