I decided to celebrate my 30th birthday by having my best friend Kai come over to taste some whiskies. The plan was just to hang out, eat some good food, watch the Warriors on HDTV, and taste some good single malt action. Kai loves whisky, but never buys it on his own, nor does he know much about anything other than Glenlivet/Glenfiddich. Needless to say, we both had a blast. We had such a good time that he decided he would also like to learn more about American whiskey and taste through a whole line up there as well. That was not the smartest decision I have ever made, but we were having such a good time, and, hey, you only turn 30 once. In any case, the reason I'm telling you this is because I thought it would be interesting to show you the line up and give you the feedback from Kai - a lover of whisk(e)y who knows nothing about what he's drinking. If you have some buddies who you are shopping for this holiday season, it might be useful.
1998 Clynelish Highland - Not thoroughly impressed. This is a bit too gentle and subtle for the newbee. I really like it though. Don't get this for a friend, only yourself.
1991 Glenrothes Speyside - Good. He liked the dark fudge and orange flavor, but I think he didn't quite get why it's really amazing. Maybe a bit too complex for a young palate. 50/50
Highland Park 18 Year - He loved this one and, really, who wouldn't? Subtle smoke, sweetness, with a smooth and semi-rich mouthfeel. Highland Park 18 is a great malt loved by both beginners and experts. This one tied for first place.
2000 Caol Ila Murray McDavid Ridge Zinfandel Cask - I am loving this whiskey more everytime I try it. I had a second serving of it. Kai was intrigued by the cask enhancement and enjoyed the red fruitiness, but I'm not sure if he was crazy for it.
Ardbeg Uigeadail - The overall winner I think, and I was a bit suprised. I know how much I like Ardbeg, but it can be a bit overpowering for someone who has never tasted the intensity if Islay. Kai had never tasted the intensity of Islay, but immediately fell in love. The smoke, the seawater, the power, and the brine.
Suntory Yamazaki 12 Year - Ok, techincally not Scotch, but this one received high marks for its supple mouthfeel and sweet butterscotch notes. I really enjoy it as well. A good pick that's not too pricey and it's neat because it's Japanese.
McCarthy Oregon Pot Still Whiskey - Again not Scotch, but more Scotch-like than Bourbon-like so we tasted it here. The peat is there and the whiskey is sooo smooth despite only being aged 3 years. This one was also a favorite. I think it would make perhaps the coolest gift of all and it's not too expensive.
American Whiskies - Where it all went downhill
Pappy Van Winkle 15 Year Bourbon - Powerful, sweet, and spicy, this was a big favorite and possibly the winner for the American stuff. Even a non-bourbon drinker could appreciate the intensity and complexity of the Pappy.
Weller LaRue Antique Collection (09) - Again, the power of the cask strength bourbon really impressed my friend Kai, but I think it was a bit too hot to really appreciate it. We watered it down, but at this point in the night it simply fried our taste buds.
Willet 13 Year Single Barrel - Kai was not really feeling this one. It's less rich and sweet, more spicy and earthy. This is a bourbon for experts.
Vintage 17 Year Bourbon - The other overall favorite. How could you not like this whiskey? It's soft, smooth, rich, and integrated. Everything is in balance.
Thomas Hardy Sazerac Rye Antique Collection (09) - Not a winner. Too hot of a whiskey at this point. Cask strength simply burned our tongues.
Old Potrero 18th Century Style Spirit - This was more like a homework assignment, but I think he really liked the idea that he was drinking what Jefferson and Washington likely drank.
Old Potrero Single Malt Rye 3 Year - This was also high on the list. The peppery notes and the clean flavors were well received. This is the purest rye in existence.
We did not spit any of these. :()---------