Buying whisky ‘by the glass’ in a bar
or restaurant is an option if you want
to try a number of different whiskies for
a limited budget, but there are several
disadvantages. In the ABG I’ll explain
why buying ‘by the bottle’ (and maybe
sample swapping) is much smarter.
So, buying whisky ‘by the bottle’ is the
better choice - and you might as well buy
three or four bottles at the same time... .
Silver lining: if you can’t really afford
the whiskey, drinking enough of it will
make you temporarily forget about it.
Drinking a fine malt whiskey is an almost sacred experience.
Acquiring that fine malt whiskey, on the other hand, often isn't.
Here are a few tips to help you spend your money wisely.
Well, relatively wisely... For the purposes of this guide, I will
assume that your discretionary income actually allows you
to squander some of that money on whiskey once in a while.
Knowing I can afford a dram enhances my enjoyment greatly.
So, let’s assume that you can afford it...
If you don’t have an extensive whiskey collection yet (and which novice has?), the first
order of business is getting your hands on some whiskey. You’re now reading the seventh
chapter of this whiskey guide, so we can safely assume that you are serious about it... ;-)
In that case, buying whiskey one glass
at a time just won’t do. For one thing, an
opened bottle of whiskey may have been
tampered with. Re-filling the expensive
bottles with cheaper booze is a common
practice in bars all around the world.
One of the main issues with individuals is the fact that they have individual opinions.
Chances are that you have them too - and the sooner you know the better...
There are other shopping options
besides liquor stores & e-commerce,
but first I should point out that WHAT
you buy is ultimately more important
than WHERE you buy your whiskey.
As a beginner you’ll have to trust the
advice from retailers and others (*)
for your whiskey shopping choices.
And the whiskey label on the bottle!
The Whisky Label Inspector helps
relative novices to understand
the information on whisky labels.
You could start off with 11 different
expressions of Bowmore malt whisky,
but that would be unwise at this time.
At this point, you would be far better off comparing as
many different whisky styles and regions as you can.
By all means, choose one of the Bowmores from Islay,
but compare it with another (mainland) malt whisky,
an Irish whiskey and perhaps an American bourbon.
The sooner you figure out what your own tastes and
preferences are, the sooner you can spend decide on
which part of your whisky budget you can spend best
on which types of whisky and which ‘brands’ you like...
I would stay clear of whisky auctions as well - at least as long as you are a (relative) beginner.
There are a lot of fake whisky bottles on the market and some fakes are very hard to spot, even
for people who have read the Advanced Beginner’s Guide and who know what to look for.
The next chapter about whisky tasting is only useful if you have at least one bottle of whisky available.
At this stage in your whisky career, liquor stores and webshops are probably your best shopping bets.
So-called ‘travel retail’ should only be used as a last resort - the selection of whiskies is limited but
for the prices ‘the sky is the limit’. Chances are you’ll be better off at home and at your destination.
If you DO buy whisky ‘en route’, you might as well pick an exotic whisky you can’t get at home.
(*) When it comes to advice it makes
sense to consider the interests of the
giver of the (free) advice. Ultimately,
he who pays the piper calls the tune.
If the piper convinces his customers
that expensive or ‘sponsored’ tunes
are better, he often benefits as well...
However, assuming that you chose your friends wisely, it’s unlikely that
a large percentage of them drinks whisky or spirits on a regular basis...
(In fact, if most of your friends actually do drink a lot of alcohol each and
every day of the week, you might want to consider finding more friends.)
It would be wise to at least try a few whiskeys to find out if you like it, but let’s assume you do...
In that case, joining a whisky club might be a nice idea (if you are of a slightly social disposition).
If you are of a very social disposition you’ll probably have lots of friends. That means that you
could organise a tasting session by yourself and wouldn’t need a whisky club.
If you join a whisky club (in real life or an on-line club), you will meet lots
of people who know a lot about whisky - and the ones that don’t are still
more than happy to share their opinions with you. You will usually learn
more at a club tasting than at a ‘masterclass’ at a whisky festival...
If we assume that you do your whisky
shopping by the bottle, there are six
WHISKY SHOPPING CHANNELS:
A - Physical ‘brick & mortar’ stores
B - Webshops / E-Commerce
C - Travel Retail
D - Whisky Auctions
E - Whisky Clubs
F - Flippers & Frauds
One of the things that's quite unique about
single malt Scotch whisky is the variety in
characters and styles. But that also means
that you will probably prefer one style over
another. Some like a subtle Lowland whisky
while others prefer an Islay ‘peat monster’.
As long as you are still a novice, the sheer
size and complexity of the whiskey world may
seem daunting. But as soon as you’ve found
at least a few bottlings that you enjoy, you
can relax for a bit. Now you’ll always have a
few favourites to return to for comparisons.
If the whisky inside your cask turns out great, that’s just great!
However, if it doesn’t you probably don’t have a bunch of other casks
lying around to mix the contents with to disguise a less-than-stellar malt.
So, let’s say that you act reasonably and buy whisky by the bottle...
If you live in the vicinity of a well-stocked ‘brick & mortar’ liquor store,
that’s ideal. The other shopping options that are (legally) available to
you also depend on where you live, but here it’s not a matter distance.
And comparing different whiskies is one of
the best (and funnest) ways to discover the
wonderful whiskey world. But we’ll get to that
in the next chapter about tasting whisky - at
this point we’re still shopping for whisky...
By the way, did I just claim that buying whisky in bulk is best?
This is only true to a certain extent - I specifically meant buying
a few DIFFERENT whiskies (and maybe even whiskey types).
I also meant buying the BIG BOTTLES of 70cl, 75cl or 100cl.
The price/quality ratio of miniature bottles is usually quite poor,
and so is the effectiveness of the stoppers closing the bottles.
But ‘investing’ in an entire cask of whisky all by yourself
isn’t necessarily a smart choice either. Checking the quality of
your very own whisky every year can be great fun - but there
comes a time when you’ll HAVE to bottle your whisky.
It’s hard to believe that having whiskey delivered from webshops can
still be illegal in some ‘developed’ countries in the 21st century, but it is.
If your environment is suitably developed it usually comes with a reliable
postal or delivery service. In that case, webshops are a great alternative.
For example, our sample swapping went into overdrive.
My ‘malt mileage’ is only a little over 3,000 malt whiskies
at the moment if I only count the big bottles (70cl or more)
that I bought myself. However, including miniatures and
samples (from trusted sources) it’s now well over 5,000...
And I’m well enough past the 5,000 malts mark that I can
discount the first tasting sessions which were... useless. ;-)
I'm not a really social or sociable person (to put it mildly),
but when the 'foreign correspondents' for Malt Madness
started evolving into the Malt Maniacs whisky club around
2001 or 2002 it added new dimensions to my 'malt mania'.
Even after reading just one chapter of the Beginner’s Guide you should know more about malt whisky than you
did before - provided you were a proper beginner to begin with... And even though parts of MM have not been
fully reconstructed yet, you can find much more information about various aspects of the malt whisky world here:
An overview of the Scotch whisky industry, divided by the ownership of distilleries.
A list of the major Scotch whisky bottlers - both independent and industry-owned.
There are far more malt whisky brands than there are malt whisky distilleries.
An overview of all active and recently closed whisky distilleries in Scotland.
The whisky regions of Scotland have lost much of their significance these days.
As the ugly red-haired step-sibling of malt whisky, grain whisky is rarely mentioned.