It was a very good wine for cheap and wine hipsters loved it.
Then after a string of stellar reviews in different wine media outlets it became hard to find at $20-30+ a bottle.
The price, coupled with the scarcity and good reviews made it even more sought after. So production was increased.
Now it is easy to find for $18 a bottle.
Because it is now popular, and relatively expensive, wine hipsters turn their nose up at it.
Snobs will claim for days that the ramp up in production has led to quality differences to something they tasted a decade ago, with absolutely no way of supporting that claim.
I imagine the same thing happens with whisky, except whisky production is harder to increase due to aging requirements.
I'm 100% sure that if Japanese distilleries find some way of increasing production and availability, whisky snobs will wave their hands and say "oh they ruined it", even if every objective means of evaluating it shows it to be spectrometrically, molecularly, and even atomically identical in every way to whiskeys back when they were rare.
Also why every large brewer has a bunch of "micro" brew labels with the big corp name nowhere in sight.
A Japanese friend gave me a bottle of Suntory about 10 years ago and it was my favorite whisky to share and talk about with others precisely because so unknown. It was also very tasty.
I tend to enjoy things that other people do. However, I become more critical when something is considered 'good' or expensive not less. So, I prefer to go in fairly blind vs listen to a lot of hype.
It was argued that the move caused a major decrease in quality and no longer deserves the premium price tag it goes for nowadays.
It's impossible for me to say if these claims are true since the move happened a while ago, but it is another example of consumers arguing quality differences in a product.
Patron is still a great tequila. But if Siete Leguas is available, I'll choose it every time.
There’s a reason presentation is such a huge part of cooking. Context is important when trying to assign a value to the appeal of something.
Without any doubt the second ingredients kill the first ones in nourishing value, therefore they have literally to invent new ways of rearranging them so that the presentation "value" justifies the price. I have no doubt the first meal would cost multiple times the second, but no way I would take one even if I'd be fine spending that money for something that could only make me more hungry.
And what is "nourishing value"? Calories?
> Because it is now popular, and relatively expensive, wine hipsters turn their nose up at it.
Could it be that the so-called hipsters enjoyed the wine priced at $9.99 but not when the price nearly doubled?
You appear to be applauding the fact that a wine which used to be a good value for money became either worse or, at the very least, a worse value. That seems like an odd reaction.
The problem with that kind of statement is that you vastly overestimate the analytical capabilities that we have. Yeah, with infinite resources we can probably pretty well separate and understand every component of a good wine or Whisky, but that's not something that simple to do, and is ripe with incertitude with each measurement.
With that out there, I don't get the buzz over Japanese whisky. I've got several solid, highly reviewed expressions, including the 2013 sherried Yamazaki that Jim Murray put on the map. I've done several blind tasting with friends, some of whom are afficionados and some of whom are not, and that Yamazaki never comes out on top. If I do a sherry-finished flight more often than not the sherried Kilchoman finishes first or second, with the Yamazki usually beating the Glenmorangie Lasanta and not much else. Laphroaig PX either wins or comes second to the Kilchoman.
Japanese whisky is good and they're consistently making the best whisky that's not coming from the island. But (IMO, of course, this is completely non-objective) the best expressions are still coming from Scotland.
edit: I see it's mentioned in other comments here
I hesitate to call this type of uncontrolled testing junk science, but it definitely doesn't demonstrate what it claims to, imho. Super popular with the "well actually" crowd, however.
Addendum: I have personally, on several occasions, failed to replicate this result in a study where the subjects are not tainted with false knowledge. Blindfolded drinkers who are given a glass of red and told nothing about it usually know it's red.
For better or worse the marketing and tasting notes impact my enjoyment of the spirit. Any results I learn tasting "blind" don't generalize to my day to day experience. As a result I've mostly stopped doing blind tasting.
He (the prof) always took joy in how much variation there was in the wines students deemed "best", given our relatively inexperienced pallets. One's favorite was as likely to be pulled from a $150 bottle as an $8 box.
Preferring Laphroaig PX over a Yamazaki has nothing to do with the quality of either, but with personal preference. You just cannot compare a heavily peaty/smoky whisky with one that is neither.
The results for Yamazaki include:
While the results for Islay include:
Actually, you seem to have provided a comparison yourself: one is heavily peaky and smoky, and one is not. Seems like a pretty good comparison to me.
And you can _absolutely_ compare a peaty/smokey whisky to one that isn't. Why can't you? Peaty/smokey isn't the sharp divisor of preference that is insinuated in yours and other comments. Peat is delivered in very unique ways across distilleries and in my tastings I often have folks strongly dislike Ardbeg Corryvreckan but adore Lagavulin 16 (as an example).
Speaking of world whisky, if you can find it, try Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique. It's one of my favorite single malts in the past couple years.
I liked it that much. I've tried a couple others. The sherry cask one I liked, and the others, not so much. I think they're just young, still.
If you're in or around Taiwan, I think you can get the Solist Vinho Barrique for under $100 US, which is a hell of a deal. In the US, who knows. Definitely taste it first before you go all in on a bottle.
For me, drinking a really smokey whiskey is like sitting next to a camp fire on a cold night. That feeling is probably why I enjoy them.
The biggest hits I see in tastings are Talisker 10, Lagavulin 16, and about any Kilchoman. I haven't kept track but I'd say 70% of people find themselves really enjoying one or the other (Tally is pretty lightly peated). Ardbeg 10 and Laphroaig 10 are the most divisive...people love or hate them, and to that point yeah, maybe 40% of tasters love one or other. Bunnahabhain, Bowmore, about 50/50.
I've never had much Ledaig, I think only the 10 year. I'm going to have to grab a bottle of that 18 year sherry finish, that sounds good.
My point is: sure, if you don't like pungent alcohol flavor (another suggestion: dilute with water!). But there are other flavors you can get in your whiskey besides swamp muck. :)
Also I could google it but it’s more fun to discuss - what is a bonded expression, and why do you consider a non-bonded expression of something available bonded to be better than a non-bonded expression of something that isn’t available bonded?
* The product of one distillery
* The product of one distilling season
* Aged at least 4 years
* Bottled at at least 100 proof
For the most part, as a consumer, you don't care about these particulars. For instance, 50% ABV is on the high side for what's pleasant without dilution.
However, a distilling brand that can produce a bonded bourbon or rye expression is probably not playing games with their non-bonded bourbon or rye; that there is a bonded VOB strongly suggests that all VOB bourbon comes from VOB distilleries (and isn't sourced from MGP or simply relabeled Heaven Hill). So you can pay a little extra for the bonded VOB, or just buy regular old VOB trusting that their ability to produce bonded bourbon means their non-bonded bourbon is just as good (which is a safe bet).
An annoying thing to be careful about: just because someone produces a respected (or bonded) bourbon doesn't mean their rye is trustworthy, and vice versa. Distilling brands do brand extensions into other whiskeys by sourcing from other distilleries and rebranding.
That said, I find from year to year my preferences change, since I doubt it’s the whiskies themselves changing very much.
When trying Wild Turkey make sure to take note of which heat version you are drinking.
I like to pair a peaty Scotch with a heavier cigar from time to time. Lovely.
The correct technical tasting note for that is "old crofter's socks".
Never actually had japanese whiskey, but definitely have had islay and highland varieties of scotch -
Wondering if preference bias for islay style is the factor here, where the selling point is not 'subtlety' or 'smoothness'..
much in the same way in the beer world that e.g. the smooth/subtle flavor of english bitters are underappreciated stateside because we are hop-crazy for nuclear IPAs..
It's basically the opposite of the beer market.
Backing up your argument, Alberta Premium sells in Ontario government stores for 18% of what the Whistlepig goes for - in your choice of glass or plastic bottle.
Doesn't stop the hype train though. And I get it, it's lesser known, most of the branding is beautiful. Japan has a cache to it and do details right.
But in my opinion, it's not exceptional whisky like a nice scotch.
Only thing we disagree on is Sherry casked whiskies. I don't like the effect it had on the profiles. I stay away from them.
Every scotch I tried that is less than about ~45-50 USD I really hated, is there anything good that is cheap?
The other Islays you haven't tried include:
* Laphroig, which adds a huge medicinal flavor to the wood and smoke in Lagavulin.
* Bowmore, which tends towards leather and fruit flavors (they do some interesting wine cask expressions). Kilchoman is similar, pricier, but with even better casks.
* Ardbeg, which tends peatier/smokier than Lagavulin but not as iodiney and briney as Laphroaig.
The other two you like, the Macallan and the Balvenie, are very mainstream Speysides. No peat, lots of wine flavor. It's easy to find a lot of whiskeys in the same region and all will be better values than the Macallan (which is one of the world's most popular single malts and priced accordingly) and the Balvenie, which is solid but also grocery store scotch. I recommend GlenDronach 12 or 15 if you want to explore the sherry-bomb character of the Macallan 18 (GlenDronach is probably the scotch most like Macallan that isn't called Macallan), and Glenrothes if you just want to explore the cereal/vanilla/caramel malt characteristics of Speysides. Both are ~$50-$60 priced well.
Glenrothes is the first scotch I recommend to anyone who loves bourbon and thinks they hate scotch.
Also it will get you way drunk.
Corryvreckan ... is more so. Tasting notes: refinery, bed fire, shipwreck. The distiller must have been out for a pint or five with the other distillers on the island ragging him about "too much, over the top" and decided to show them what "over the top" really was. Worth a try and good in its own way, but not for everyday.
That is exactly what happened. "Did you say Glugglugvulin? Cory is IN. THE. HOUSE."
£100/l on Amazon. Blimey.
Try Bruichladdich Islay Barley. It's heavy on the saltwater characteristic that Talisker and other Islays have but is overall a bit lighter in both color and taste. I don't recall which vintage I had, which supposedly makes a notable difference for this whisky.
Kilchoman is another Islay that I enjoy a lot.
If you want to delve further into the world of peat, checkout Ardbeg and Laphroaig 10. Laphroaig has other nice varieties like Quartercask and PX that aren't as peat-centric. Ardbeg also has a wide variety of offerings to explore.
Of course I would recommend trying before going in for a bottle on all of these since everyone has their own tastes!
There's also a now defunct distillery from Islay called Port Ellen where it's still possible to get hold of stuff that was in the casks when they went under, maturity here ranges from 22-30+ years and they will start distilling again in the coming years, so there is something to keep an eye out for. I would never recommend people to buy an entire bottle of Port Ellen since the cheapest one in my country is roughly ~$1000 and it's not just THAT good regardless of how much money one have. But if you're ever in a whisky bar which has good enough inventory a dram of Port Ellen won't ruin you.
Staying on Islay, Ardnahoe is a new distillery which started distilling spirits this spring so the first bottle of what can legally be called whisky will probably be available in 3 years.
There's also two independent bottlings from anonymous distilleries on Islay called Smokehead and The Ileach.
Leaving Islay and traveling the neighboring Jura which has a distillery with the same name, Jura Superstition is their peated whisky.
Other than whiskys from Islay, Jura and Skye (Talisker) I'm quite fond of Highland Park (any bottling pretty much), Oban 14 and anCnoc Peatheart Batch 1.
You should also try different bottlings from Bunnahabhain, Talisker and Lagavulin. My current favorite whisky is the Lagavulin Islay Jazz Festival, bottled in 2017.
For under $45, see if you can find Talisker Storm (my shop has it on sale around $32 quite often). The Laphroaig 10 can be had under $40 if you look around. Feels like an oddball but Johnny Walker Green Label would be a good one to try - I believe Talisker is a primary component - it is blended, however it is a blend of all single malts. I’ve had it for $33ish, on sale, should be able to find it under $40 if you keep an eye out.
Since you like Macallan (I assume sherry oak?) you might like one of the older Glenfarclas (for the example the 25yo).
I don't know how whiskies are priced in the US but the "cheapest" whisky I like is Tullibardine 228 (burgundy finish). I think I payed 30€ for it. Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban (port finish) is also very affordable.
Aberlour doesn't really fit in here but the 15yo and 18yo are worth checking out if you haven't already.
Aberlour is basically pin compatible with Macallan, and the two whiskies are distilled walking distance away from each other. Aberlour has the one NAS scotch --- A'bunadh --- that I've really liked; it's a bargain sherry bomb that I'd take over Macallan any day.
What is probably true is that it's harder to get Yamazaki. Yamazaki had a moment last year (I think?) when its Sherried Single Malt was named "best whiskey in the world". One reason why whiskey enthusiasts hate this "best whiskey in the world" nonsense is that it instantly turns brands into collector items, which get hoarded for trade and resale value instead of consumed by people who actually like whiskey.
But, whatever. Yamazaki was fine, but there's lots of good Japanese whiskey, and in the no-age-statement era of single malts, it has never been easier to get your hands on wine-casked whiskey expressions. It's a golden age. Enjoy it!
"One reason why whiskey enthusiasts hate this "best whiskey in the world" nonsense is that it instantly turns brands into collector items, which get hoarded for trade and resale value instead of consumed by people who actually like whiskey."
Yep. And it's not just whiskey. The attention of the internet is a good way to ruin just about anything. One day, you're enjoying your modestly good local diner, and the next there are Yelp elite waiting around the block for the same food.
(One could argue that the entire city of San Francisco is in the middle of the same phenomenon, but I digress.)
There's one excellent bar near me (Ron's Place) that has a wonderful selection of whisky, and they have several Japanese examples. Looking at their list, though, they cost about twice as much as a typical scotch. Most of the scotches on the list that aren't highly aged are in the teens, while the Japanese whiskies are all in the twenties. Now, mind you, there are some 18-year and 21-year scotches on their list that are in the forties and fifties, but those are the exceptions.
Umami Mart on Broadway now has a really great selection of Japanese whiskey! They also have some super weird Japanese beers.
> That’s on top of the craft beer tidal wave.
Ghosttown brewing in West Oakland shreds (and they have an amazing taco truck staffed by the nicest old ladies in the world)!
I've been a bit underwhelmed by the other breweries in Oakland. :( Federation's beers tend to be a bit skunky while OPBC's taste like water. Rose's and Temescal are merely ok. Woods' beers are awesome, but I'm pretty sure they are based in San Francisco.
I really was surprised how much I liked it compared to the bottle of Nikka Coffey Grain I tried for comparison. I see the grain bottles everywhere, but malt is a bit more hit or miss it seems.
I think what I like about it is the lack of cask effects, while not being quite as "harsh" as the grain.
Worth a shot a least!
I do regret not purchasing the bottle of Yamazaki 18 I saw in a store a few years back tho. Impossible to find nowadays.
I bought an Yamazaki 18 a couple years ago and liked it, but I've had $70 bottles of Scotch since then that were far more memorable.
I miss the Hibiki 12 though. I remember when I could afford it :(
If you like the old style, all-sherry-aged Macallan it will be right in your wheelhouse. $250 would be a steal these days. I'd certainly pick up another one if I saw it at that price.
Japanese whiskey hasn’t changed meaningfully in decades yet it’s become scarce (even in Japan) in the last few years. Yes it’s good, but it’s not magically distinctive as these instant aficionados suggest.
> Within hours of Heinrich Hiesinger stepping down as ThyssenKrupp AG chief executive last week amid pressure from activist investors, the talk turned to “locusts,” Germany’s catch-all term for the evils of Anglo-Saxon capitalism.
My few contacts looked like this:
* About 15 years ago I visited a friend who was studying in Edinburgh. She didn't know too much about it, but got into drinking it now and then, and she showed me two or three types. I liked them, although the only thing I can differentiate is peat or no peat, more or less. And she told me that it's okay to put water in it. Blew my mind!
* Around the same time, three of my friends got into whiskey. A lot. I sometimes tasted a bit when I was at their home. Two of them (a couple) fell into that hole and are now proud owners of many, many bottles, club memberships of Scottish distilleries, special glasses, holiday trips to a dozen distilleries, magazine subscriptions, everything.
* Whenever I hear whiskey fans talk about the drink, I hear wine talk. "It's a bit like freshly mowed grass from the south side of the hill, and a lot of bananas afterwards" or stuff like that. It turns me off, but it seems to be obligatory to talk like that.
* Two years ago I was at a pretty renowned whiskey bar/store: lots of different whiskeys, very expensive ones behind a fence, the owner also travelling to whiskey fairs. I asked the waitress to recommend one, for a total beginner. She had no clue about what the bar had to offer and said "maybe try the offer of the day?". Probably a temporary worker, but still...
* A year ago I met my friends again when I came back home. There was a small whisky fair (think: fifteen stores/importers from around Germany, and I think Austria as well). That was the worst anti-PR you could imagine. First of all, again nobody could recommend something for a beginner and maybe explain why they recommended this or that. They just shoved something towards me. When I even dared to ask, because this whole affair was so embarassingly snobbish. I was cringing hard when my friend was "debating" the finer points of Gaelic pronunciation with an importer. Or when another importer didn't want to tell where the (brandlabelled?) whisky was from, instead doing a little quiz ("There is a creek where distillery X is located, and if you follow it upstream, there are Y other distilleries. It's the one with no letter "C" and a yearly output of less than Z litres" or something like that). This was simply a bunch of nerds showing how much smarter they were than their counterpart.
* So far I'm very rarely buying something, and if I do, it's from the supermarket, and for mixed drinks. Jim Beam, usually. Hate me!
For American whiskey, just drink lots of cheap whiskey and figure out what you like and don't like. Buy some Heaven Hill and some Knob Creek --- which is aged Jim Beam --- and see if you have a preference between the two; if you like the Knob Creek more, you like a little rye, and if you like the Heaven Hill, explored wheated bourbon.
For Scotch, try Springbank (Campbelltown), Aberlour A'bunadh (Speyside), and Bowmore (Islay). See which you like best.
If you're at a point where you have a particular kind of bourbon you like (high-rye or wheated or whatever) and a particular kind of Scotch you like (low peat or lots of sherry or whatever), then, I've got bad news for you: relative to the population, you are officially "into whiskey". :)
Start cheap and stay cheap as long as you can. Get to a point where if you're spending more than $30 for American whiskey or $60 for Scotch, you know exactly where the money is going and why you're spending it. I think that's the antidote to becoming a vanity whiskey weirdo.
The one I've found that seems to have the most flavor changes for the least amount of 'bad outcomes' is smaller casks. But even that you can fairly easily pick out once you've started finding your favorite flavor profiles.
Other distillers do the opposite, Makers Mark for instance is famous for moving casks all over their rick houses to account for the differences in heat/pressure/etc to get a more consistent flavor.
Lots of micro distillers are using 'modern' processes to get different flavors out of their production.
Thats a long way of saying, I disagree with you about it being rare for companies to mess with their production processes. Its quite common and the stigma against it is going away, not being reinforced.
But the article linked in the OP describes traditionalism. Nothing is stopping these Japanese distillers from innovating and expediting the aging process. So really, those low-stocks are artificially inflated in value.
Here is an interesting article :
We put the distillate into a pressure capable stainless steel tank and then we cut up the wood from the barrel into measured segments. We control for size and shape and surface area and moisture content and weight.
Once Cleveland’s spirit is in the tank, the pressure is ratcheted up and then plunged down to a near vacuum. Supposedly, the process is similar to what happens when the temperature fluctuates in a rickhouse. Although “essentially, we’re squeezing that wood much like a sponge,” Lix says. “We pull a tremendous amount of flavor in a short time.”
“By the traditionalists, we’re considered heretics and what we’re doing is sacrilege,” Lix continues. “We’ve been called the number one most hated bourbon distillery among old-school whiskey drinkers.”
Not only do these modern processes face regulatory restrictions in the market, they face backlash from the consumers themselves. I wouldn't be surprised if in a blind tasting, such pressure-aged spirits would fare favorably, but not if their brand and process was known. There is too much biased involved for me to appreciate any part of this industry and it as a hobby.
Is it possible that some technological approach will allow for radically accelerated aging of Scotch? I sure hope so!
Is your subtext --- that all Scotch is basically the same product regardless of how it's aged simply because someone has managed to extract phenylated esters from chunks of wood --- valid? No, it obviously is not.
Anything to get away from being reliant on aged wooden barrels to produce aged whiskey at a huge markup simply due to the time required for the archaic process. That's what is silly.
Good whiskey takes a while to mature (the lowest PVW ages for 15 years) so if there is a spike in demand, producers cannot react quickly.
Also, careful with the aging comparisons. Single malt whiskey routinely ages for over a decade and the really expensive stuff for significantly longer than that. But Pappy is a bourbon, and it is unusual for bourbons to age for 15 years, not because it's expensive but because it's often counterproductive. I think? several of the Buffalo Trace Antiques are even no-age-statement.
The sweet spot for bourbon seems to be in that 8-12 year market. Unfortunately that stuff is basically the hardest to sell these days. It used to be that a 6 year bourbon was fairly easy to find (VOB for instance used to do that at bottom shelf prices). But now thats treated like an antique. While if you have 12 year old barrels sitting around it makes sense to hold them until they are into ridiculous ages for the collector market.
I've had a 23 in a glass and liked it fine, but I've had vanity whiskey that completely blew my head off --- Thomas Handy, Stagg, Booker's Rye --- and the Pappy wasn't one of them.
(I'm off to Michigan this weekend and my plan is to spend a fixed % of the price of the beach house we rented on whiskey, so this stuff is very top-of-mind for me right now. Had this thread not occurred, I'm like 90% sure I'd have gotten talked into buying Kavelan, so it's already a major win.)
At the end of the day, not liking something and not believing it is appropriate value are different than 'this stuff is broken'. Which seems to be the state of lots of micro distilleries.
 also, i didnt want to imply I didn't like the Kavalan only that everyones whiskey guy is selling that stuff in Chicago right now. I havent actually tried it, mostly cause i blew my budget on mezcal a while back.
A good value bottle of Whiskey sits around $30-$50, and you can easily spread that single bottle over at minimum 20 servings. For a few dollars, if you enjoy it, that's a pretty good value.
As you get more expensive, you tend to get more distinct and nuanced. Smoother hard liquors, more interesting flavors, etc. We once did a tasting flight and one tasted literally like camping outdoors with the smoke and wood. Another tasted almost like honey. So, to me, it's not that expensive and opens you up to an interesting and exciting landscape of flavors.
If you're comparing to prices on a menu at a restaurant, then it's completely outrageous that a single glass would cost as much as your entire dinner. And there I agree, it's completely skewed.
Granted, after a certain point (about $200 for me since I'm still a relative newbie. $1k is getting outrageous imo.) you're just chasing popularity, hoarding as a collection, or showing off your wealth. There's some amazing stuff, and for those trained and really knowledgeable and deep into the hobby it's worth it as they tease out all the little nuances. But just like buying a >$1k bike, for the average person you can't take advantage of the extra value and care that went into the product.
I'd put this price at around 2500. The better shifting from a decent group set makes a huge difference in a new rider's ability to enjoy the ride. It's hard to enjoy a ride when your chain keeps dropping and you cant shift through your gears. Though, I really wish someone would come out with a mass market Ultegra spec'ed decent geometry steel bike for ~1k.
A big part is finding and trying cool stuff, but I'd guess every ~3rd bottle I buy is GlenDronach, so a big part of it is also just loving a couple things. Like: if I buy a dry-aged prime ribeye, it's expensive, but I'm not looking for something "new" (that would be worrisome) so much as something enjoyable and a bit scarce.
Important to keep in mind that it's not "alcohol", it's whiskey. It would be weird to spend this kind of effort on vodka or even gin.
Lagavulin 16 - I hadn't had much scotch before I tried it. Very confusing, as I initially didn't like the peat, but was more and more intrigued by the same thing that turned me off to it. Kind of the same experience I had with IPAs.
Tamdhu - I really liked this one. Felt easy to drink, familiar, and comforting.
Balvenie Caribbean Cask - Pretty bad. The rum notes made me feel nauseous.
High West Double Rye - Really good. "Fresh" for lack of a better word (but I had a second bottle years later that was horrible so who knows).
Pappy 15/20 (before they became $$$) - I thought the 20 was okay. Tasted like a mellowed out Buffalo Trace. Really liked the 15--flavorful, hot, and just the right amount of sweet.
Dollar for dollar, there's probably no better value in Scotland than a GlenDronach 15, and you really can't go wrong with any GlenDronach, from 12 to 23, with an age statement.
Aberlour A'bunadh is Aberlour's no-age-statement high-cask-flavor expression and it's pretty cheap (like $50?). If you buy it and really like it, there's a whole world of wine-casked Speysides you can go explore.
I am a fiend for cask-y Speysides but I haven't really liked any of the Balvenie stuff (even though Balvenie is one of the cooler distilleries).
I'm working my way through a Tamdhu NAS Special Edition which I'm liking a lot, so our tastes may be similar.
If you're less into sweetness and wineyness and fruitiness and more into grain character, I like Springbank a lot.
The good news about American whiskey is that spending money on it is the wrong approach. The right thing to do with American whiskey is to buy bottom-shelf bourbon and rye, preferably from brands that have a bottled-in-bond expression of whatever it is you're buying (or just buy the bonded expression itself if you can get it). So: Very Old Barton, Heaven Hill, Old Granddad, and Old Forester. These are, like, $30 bottles. Also buy a Four Roses and a Wild Turkey.
Don't buy premium-priced American whiskey until you've tried enough "cheap" whiskey to know what you liked and (importantly) don't like. You can live on the bottom shelf of bourbon and be a happy drinker for a long time, and you get snob points for appreciating a cheap Heaven Hill while "hipsters" pay $60 for an "artisanal" "craft whiskey" that is really just a bottling of MGPI.
A lay-up pick in your price range is Redbreast Lustau, a sherry-casked Irish whiskey. Over-the-top wine notes on top of an already super drinkable whiskey.
Man.. It really comes down to preference. I find Old Pulteney 12yo to be one of the best values out there (I prefer the 17yo, but it is for sure more pricey).
The annoying way I look at it is that if I'm going to pay 3x as much as I pay for VOB to get a scotch, I want something more interesting than a nicely balanced whiskey with some spice and some caramel notes. That's all well and good, but I can get that from Four Roses.
But one thing I cannot get from American whiskey is nicely balanced whiskey with powerful wine notes. As a rule, American whiskeys are aged for a relatively short time in new oak, and Scotch is aged for a long time in used barrels. So Scotch distillers are experts at imparting flavors from different casks, and that's kind of what I'm paying for.
That, or I'm paying for smoke and phenols and brine, which I'm sometimes in the mood for, but mostly I avoid.
I tend to not like heavily sherried Scotches (sherry-bombs), preferring oak, smoke, peat, brine, and nutty flavors. Sounds like you enjoy the wine/sherry though. Luckily there are plety of options out there for both of us.
That said, drink a bunch of cheap whiskey. Basically all American whiskey can be found in cheap expressions that capture the things that you like. Learning that you prefer Wild Turkey to Four Roses (for instance) gives you information to move up the price board.
I do feel that many of the brands are priced by pure marketing (ie whistle pig). But some are quite good.
FYI some of the high West varieties are MGP product mixed with High West own distilled product.
As for transience, you can stretch out a bottle of spirits over months. And hopefully the wine would be enjoyed synergistically with some great food.
All that said, there are a thousand good/interesting $15-25 bottles of wine to chase if you're wanting to get into that, and IMHO Veblen goods are stupid.
How do you figure? Food is at least as transient. A several hundred dollar bottle of whiskey can last years.
I get collecting. I love it. And at that level I understand. But from a pure enjoyment level I do not.
I am not saying anything about the actual quality of Japanese whisky here (I happen to like much of it). But I will note that the concepts of “good” in the spirits world are very much influenced by subtle and not so subtle signals like this article title, brand ambassadors, good stories, exclusivity, “authenticity”, etc.
In other words, the Japanese whisky makers are successfully innovating and exercising more creativity than most American and European whisky makers. And it seems to be paying off in terms of flavor.
I've wondered about this: anybody know if the highball-in-a-can is really whiskey or a kind of shochu?
Also, those highballs can't be using that much booze -- they're incredibly weak.
Obviously not the ridiculously expensive ones but still hard to come by. I wouldn't even know they were hard to come by if my relative hadn't told me.
EDIT: According to several articles, this Bill Murray bit from Lost in Translation is partially responsible for creating the current run on Japanese whiskey. Small world.
This results in price increases that reflect the increase in scarcity more than an increase in quality.
Followers of Rick and Morty and the McDonald's sauce debacle will be familiar with the concept.
> People have suggested that the inside of barrels were originally burnt to remove the leftover flavors of goods previously stored within, which sounds reasonable enough ... So why do barrel coopers still char the interior? ... Charring the wood actually primes the wood, which impacts the spirit’s flavor in several important ways that have nothing to do with smokiness ... charring essentially opens the wood up, making it easier for bourbon to extract flavors.
However, Yamazaki does use a variety of different barrels, including wine casks for finishing, sherry casks, mizunara (Japanese oak) casks, new American white oak puncheons, hogsheads made of used barrels, and ex-bourbon barrels. AFAIK they use a variety of char levels on the barrels they produce in house and on re-chars.
 http://www.ariakesangyo.co.jp/, mis-captioned as a distillery here: https://www.masterofmalt.com/blog/post/qa-brian-ashcraft-aut...
I tend to avoid it now.
I mean it was good but not groundbreaking compared to other whiskies. Like drinking prosecco instead of champagne. I think it just is a matter of personal preference.
The interesting thing about Japanese whiskey is that they tend to produce single malts or blends of single malt, just like Scotland, but their palates are more American than Scottish. American whiskey is almost all bourbon and rye --- lots of corn, lots of rye, not a lot of barley. Japanese whiskey, like Scotch, is all malted barley --- but no smoke, no iodine, no salt.
You can sort of think of the Japanese whiskey industry as the single-malt partner to the American whiskey industry, maybe the same way Ireland is the non-malted partner to Scotland.
Same thing for musical instruments. It's all branding, marketing hype for hipsters and some sort of placebo effect.
Some commenter can reliably be counted on to say something like this in any thread about craft beers. But you would have to have never had more than a couple beers in your life to think that someone couldn't tell a Heady Topper from a Dark Lord. There are a variety of markedly different beer styles, and within a style there are a spectrum of expressions. If you never drink beer, a Dreadnaught and a Pliny the Elder might just taste "IPA" (or, more likely, "super bitter") to you. But it would be pretty silly to argue that there isn't a lot more maltiness, sweetness, and texture to the Dreadnaught, and a lot more balance and fruit to the Pliny.
It's the same with whiskey. Even if you've never had whiskey before, you'll have no trouble distinguishing Four Roses from Laphroig. One tastes like burning frogs, and the other doesn't. With no palate at all, you'll still get the sweetness and wineyness from a Redbreast Lustau, even if you don't taste it alongside another Irish whiskey that wasn't aged in wine casks. Woodford Reserve does an old-wood new-wood comparison edition, same spirit, same mash bill, one in new wood and one in old. Even if you're not a whiskey drinker, you will have no trouble triangle-testing between the two.
Different whiskeys. Different mash bills, different processing, different aging systems, different aging environments. Different flavors. Not complicated.
This is, by the way, equally true of wine. Probably I don't reliably guess Syrah vs Zinfandel, especially with supermarket wine (I'm not a wine guy). But I had a wine flight at Alinea that blew my fucking head off and there is no way I'd have any trouble at all picking out that Pinot Noir from an A to Z I buy at the liquor store. Just as importantly: everybody can pick out a sweet Gewurztraminer from a dry oakey Chardonnay. The "studies" you're thinking about don't say what you think they say. People might not be able to reliably identify specific wines (or, more importantly, pick them out by price). That doesn't mean wines taste identical, even to novices.
I largely agree, the best wines I've every had came out of a box. I read about a bunch of wine critics who did some blind tests and chose a discount wine over much more expensive ones.
Frankly if you get a half decent drink and put whatever effort you would have put into getting a better one into having a good time with good people you're on to a winner.
I'm not, several studies were conducted. Same thing for violins for example (Stradivarius vs. a contemporary violin that costs much much less).
Several studies have shown wine is crazy subjective, and both novices and experts have been fooled before by changing the colors (dye) and bottles. Most people also have trouble blindfolded unless they are particularly experienced.
The the rest of us just enjoy the different flavors and types of wine, and have our favorites. Don't let the hipster snobs discredit the art of winemaking and whiskey making. It's as purposefully nuanced and diverse as programming style.
This is patently false. My current favorite whiskey is Blanton's, which I tried knowing nothing about it. My current most disliked whiskey is Tomatin 15 year which came highly recommended to me.
I will let the wine somaliers speak for themselves, but whiskey can certainly be identified by the seasoned palette.