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Why Japanese Whisky Is So Good and So Hard to Find (roadsandkingdoms.com)
177 points by pastamachine on July 13, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 226 comments

11-12 years ago, Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio used to be $9.99 a bottle.

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.

We should not underestimate the social and "hype" aspects of enjoying something. I enjoy things a lot more when I'm primed to enjoy them. It's sort of like the placebo effect for enjoyment. I'm much more charitable with a film made by a director who is well regarded than by an unknown, for better or worse. I suppose you can go the opposite way and only like things other people turn their noses at, but that's a bit misanthropic.

And the exclusivity factor. Whether a hidden vacation spot, restaurant, food, or under-appreciated spirit. Even a paid app from an indie dev gets is often more loved than the same app from mega corp would even if given away free.

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.

It's one of the main brands you can buy in any Japanese supermarket. It's also quite good value for money.

Suntory is the only Japanese whiskey featured in a $100MM-grossing motion picture, and that was 15 years ago.

I strongly disagree, otherwise you get stuck in an echo chamber.

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.

I find the opposite often to be true, if something's hyped up I often find that I'm primed to be disappointed.

I have heard similar stories about Patrón Tequila, which is marketed as a premium tequila and definitely one of the more pricey brands. It was originally produced by the Casa Siete Leguas distillery. However, they moved production to a newer distillery in 2002 to allow for more mass production.

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.

In this case, Siete Leguas still produces tequila - would be interesting to compare, as the prices between Siete Leguas and Patrón are not too far off.


It is by far one of the best tequilas available at any price. In particular their añejos and reposados.

Patron is still a great tequila. But if Siete Leguas is available, I'll choose it every time.

There’s an old saying, “There’s no accounting for taste.” Food, drink, art, fashion, music, they’re all driven by the process you describe. Aka “trends”.

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.

Presentation is most important when one needs to give further value to sell food overpriced. Compare for example those two meals: https://bit.ly/2ujGdla and https://bit.ly/2KV1jAM

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.

So, you can think of nothing in that first meal apart from presentation that would justify higher price?

And what is "nourishing value"? Calories?

Yes, absolutely nothing. It can surely be an interesting exercise in aesthetics (admittedly it's beautiful to look at) and taste mixing, but I see it more related to tasting than eating.

Same thing happened with South American Malbecs a few years ago. I used to find very nice quality Malbecs from Chile and Argentina for under $10. Now they sell for double.

>It was a very good wine for cheap and wine hipsters loved it.

> 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?

Japanese whiskey is pretty damn good though and quality does usually go down when production is increased (esp with whiskey as they often have to change the water source, grain, and aging processes).

It would be trivially easy to support that claim about the wine. You just do a blind vertical taste test.

Good. Alto Adige is full of great wines to explore. Don’t fixate on one producer — and try other varietals too.

I see nothing in the post you're replying to that says they haven't explored other producers or varietals.

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.

Sometimes you need a push to break out of your comfort zone. And yes generally people into Pinot Grigio, even the best ones, could use a push. Alto Adige has fantastic and interesting other varietals.

Psst, Old Grand Dad BIB 100 is pretty good. Don’t tell anyone.

> it shows it to be spectrometrically, molecularly, and even atomically identical in every way

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.

I'm a Scotch/whisky nerd going on 10 years now. Particularly obsessed with anything from Islay. 50+ bottle collection, mostly easy-to-find stuff but there are a few rare expressions in there (Ardbeg 2009 Committee Release Supernova is probably the most unobtainable). I'm a drinker, not a collector, everything has been opened and consumed at least partially.

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.

For me blind tasting is key. The vast majority of things aren't appreciated in a blind test setting (even professional wine critics don't!), so extremely subject to other notions in particular fame and price. With a group of friends, we sample 2 or 3 wines at the same time, blind. It's very humbling. I highly recommend it for a more accurate evaluation...

I saw a funny article awhile back that did literal blind tasting, and when told they would be tasting red wines, none of the critics and "experts" detected they had also sampled white wines.

edit: I see it's mentioned in other comments here

That test is pretty misleading, it's similar to the famous French study which used white wine dyed red and counted whether people used "red" words or "white" words. One obvious conclusion consistent with other studies is that people believe what they're told.

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.

I used to be big on challenging my assumptions with blind tasting. Then I realized I do 99% of my drinking with the label visible.

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.

If you don't mind me asking, how do you do blind tastings? Doesn't someone have to pour the glasses and therefore knows which is which? Also how do you figure out at the end, which was which? I imagine, one person pours, another rearranges, and then the glasses have a labeled underneath

You pretty much nailed it. It is easier if you have an impartial helper though; a professor I knew back in school would, after finals, invite his students to a wine tasting at this house. His wife would pour and label the glasses, but never took part, removing the chance for subtle cues at the tastings occurred. After we'd all tasted and jotted down our notes, and shared our thoughts, they'd be revealed.

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.

I feel like I just read 'A Quality Introduction To Fine Whiskey In One Minute'.

This right here is exactly why I love HN. Getting past the political debates, there are some real gems of awesome on these pages. Thanks HN people!

'A Quality Introduction To Fine Expressions In One Minute'


You really cannot compare a Yamazaki with an Islay whisky. Sherry or otherwise.

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.

In fact, I did comare Yamazaki whisky to Islay whisky using this (http://rsearch.ca/static/compare) web interface I made specifically for cases when people claimed that any two things were "not comparable".

The results for Yamazaki include: smooth mizunara hakushu hibiki

While the results for Islay include: peat smoke barley caol

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.

There is _no_ objective measure of quality when it comes to whisky so all we have to go on is personal preference. When Murray benighted the 2013 Yamazaki, that was _his_ personal preference against _all_ whiskies reviewed, peaty, smokey, or otherwise.

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).

You CAN compare it to a Coca Cola, but it’s appropriate to point out that they’re very different.

Agreed, for a light Highland single malt it might be easier to compare to white spirit than to an Islay.

I tend to agree. When Yamazaki 12 was around $50, I'd go in for a bottle every now and then. At twice the price now, it's just overpriced relative to comparable Whisky from Scotland. I'd rather have a bottle of Springbank.

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.

My whiskey guy tried to sell me on a pricey Kavalan (he had a whole collection of them) and I ended up getting a Compass Box instead. But I'm going on vacation next week and buying a whole bunch of bottles to take with. Do me a favor and sell me on the Kavalan? I'm maybe a little skeptical of Taiwanese whiskey.

I've had two kavalans while traveling in china recently, both were forgettable. Decent enough but very expensive for what they were. Both were bourbon cask so maybe another expression would be better. Compass Box has never let me down, though this is not a luxury whiskey is the only super high end one I've ventured into.

I don't recall all the ones I've tried. They remind me of a nice Speyside. At least the sherry cask ones, do. The Solist Vinho Barrique is in toasted ex-wine casks and has a complexity that I would compare to Glendronach 15 or Glenfarclas 105.

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.

They flooded the local (Chicago) distributors recently. That stuff has shown up all over the place. If someone can sell you on it, let me know cause I couldn't get into it either.

That is good to know. Thanks!

Maybe look for McCarthy's (Oregon single malt in the "light" islay style), if you are looking for another interesting single malt made outside of scotland.

I like the Suntory Toki a lot (different flavor than Yamazaki 12 or Suntory Habiki 17). You can find it at a lot of Costco stores (state dependent), BevMo!, etc for around $40 a bottle.

I really don't like Islays (the swamp muck flavor really doesn't do anything for me; my wife loves it though), but the wine-finished Kilchomans are all pretty special. Kilchoman port cask is the one Islay I almost always have on hand.

Many (most?) people do not like the Islays/peaty/smokey whiskeys. I love them though, and find the milder whiskeys hard to drink because all I taste is alcohol.

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.

My observation from tastings is that many people do like peated whiskies, but few people like all peated whiskies.

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 was at the Talisker distillery a couple of months ago. Like you said, the Talisker 10 year is a very approachable medium smoke whiskey. I enjoy the laphraig and lagavulin. I brought home a nice assortment of ladaigs I picked up in Tobermory. The 18 year oloroso finish was quite nice.

Very jealous. After the Islay "holy trinity" (Ardbeg/Laph/Laga) Talisker is on my must visit list whenever I go to Scotland.

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.

That's understandable, but it's complicated, right? I can deal with a certain level of phenolic, but I really dislike iodiney seaweedy flavors. But there are other wood flavors that I really like and that might read as "campfirey"; I love resiney and vanilla-ey flavors.

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. :)

What's your daily driver/cheaper bottle of choice? You seem to have similar tastes to mine, personally I love Eagle Rare for the price point but would like to find some other good ones.

My daily is Very Old Barton (so: much cheaper). My basic rule is that you can't go wrong with anything that is also sold in a bonded expression (and you can't go wrong with the bonded expressions themselves), and that it comes down to whether you like rye-spice-dry (Four Roses, Old-Granddad, VOB) or wheat-sweet-mellow (Weller, Makers, Fitzgerald).

Top comment - I’ve been drinking bourbon for years but don’t know much about it, I just try to get a bottle of something I haven’t tried before whenever I run out. Of those six you categorized, I’ve only tried Four Roses and Makers, and I do prefer the Four Roses but didn’t know why - now I will be sure to try Old-Granddad and Very Old Barton to see if your categorization holds!

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?

Bonded whiskeys are legally certified to be (and kept in custody to ensure they remain):

* 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.

You might find this interesting for comparing bourbons:


That said, I find from year to year my preferences change, since I doubt it’s the whiskies themselves changing very much.

Throw a Wild Turkey in there and if you spend a little bit more a Makers Mark also.

When trying Wild Turkey make sure to take note of which heat version you are drinking.

I've had the Wild Turkey 101 (aka about the most "regular" one I could find) and I don't recall it making any particular impression - though I don't keep notes either, nothing really stood out about it that I can remember less than a year later.

I live in NC where Old Weller Antique has become unobtainable. It’s annoying since it was my favorite wheater. So I make do with Makers. I’ve tried Larceny a few times but it isn’t winning me over (I know it isn’t a bourbon).

Is there a place in the US where any Buffalo Antique is reliably obtainable? It's been years since I've been able to get my hands on any here in Chicago; I manage to get my hands on a bottle about every 18 months or so.

If you like Eagle Rare, give Henry McKenna a taste.

Aye, and the aroma is a source of most of the enjoyment.

I like to pair a peaty Scotch with a heavier cigar from time to time. Lovely.

the swamp muck flavor

The correct technical tasting note for that is "old crofter's socks".

> Particularly obsessed with anything from Islay. ... > from the island.

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..

Jim Murray has always ranked Alberta Premium rye whiskey quite highly. I always found this funny as its one of the cheapest alcohols available in Canada. Mr Lahey of trailer park boys fame even drinks it (although its poorly blurred out). Its often around 50% of the price of something like Jack Daniels here.

Jim Murray aside, as a general rule with a lot of exceptions, when it comes to North American whiskey, the cheap stuff is usually the good stuff. The "premium brands" --- Templeton, WhistlePig, Stranahan's --- tend to be shady (usually: because they've sourced bulk whiskey from MGP and marked it up). Even when they're not shady, a lot of "craft" whiskey in the US is basically charging you for their inefficiency, not for their quality. So for instance while Few Spirits does a solid, authentic rye, it's a long way from the best value in rye whiskey. There is is whole lot of $50-$60 craft bourbon that is outdone by stuff in plastic jugs --- not necessarily because it's bad (though some of it is), but because the plastic jug stuff can be really good.

It's basically the opposite of the beer market.

Not that it's a consequential distinction for your argument, but for those liking it and wanting a cheaper alternative, WhistlePig's standard 10 year and 15 year straight rye is not MGP, it's Alberta Premium. Their 12 year old "Old World" is MGP.

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.

Completely agree. I love whisky of all kinds. And I was almost as excited to sample some new Japanese whiskies while visiting there as I was to do so in Scotland. But I have yet to taste a Japanese whisky that blows my mind. It's more refined than Irish whisky typically, and can't really compare it fairly to bourbon & rye, apples to oranges, from my view. It's good. But it pales in comparison to the Scottish stuff.

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.

hey! I have some scotch questions if you don't mind. I really love Lagavulin 8 + 16, Bunnahabhain 12, and Talisker 10. Less relevant I think McAllan 18 is good and Balvenie 21 as well. What should I try that is similar to these?

Every scotch I tried that is less than about ~45-50 USD I really hated, is there anything good that is cheap?

The three scotches you like are peaty; 2 are Islays and one (the Talisker) is an Island, which is like a toned-down Islay. You like smoke, phenols, and brine. If you want something sort of "in between" the Lagavulin (almost one-note phenolic) and the Macallan (caramel and wine, little wood, no smoke), try a BenRomach, which is a briney and not smokey and right in your price point.

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.

There's a whisky from Glenrothes? That's hilarious somehow. When I lived in Fife we called it Glen-grotty, it had some "great" brutalist architecture. Also known in the past for its lino factories (floor covering, the making of which was highly polluting).

Yeah, it's in Rothes; I drove past it a bunch of times when we stayed in Craigellachie. There's distilleries everywhere you look in that part of the country (like, literally, go up on a hill and look in any direction), and Glenrothes is one of the better known (there are a bunch of distilleries around there that produce only for blended scotch, but Glenrothes is one of the more popular single malts).

Glenrothes is the first scotch I recommend to anyone who loves bourbon and thinks they hate scotch.

You are getting a lot of far too convoluted answers. The simple one is the Ardbeg Corryvreckan. It checks the value box easily - at nigh-60% alcohol, you can practically make two bottles of booze out of it by adding water. Taste and smell? On consumption, it removes your ability to taste and smell anything else making it incomparable and thus, the best whisky by default. Free bonus - The Corryvreckan sounds a character from a bad TV adaptation of a bad Neil Gaiman novel.

Also it will get you way drunk.

I like all the Ardbegs, particularly An Oa which is creamy, the 10 year which is refreshing (if any Islay can be called refreshing), and Uigeadail which is more caramel sweet than the others. These are all big peaty whisky.

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.

decided to show them what "over the top" really was.

That is exactly what happened. "Did you say Glugglugvulin? Cory is IN. THE. HOUSE."

Corryvreckan, fwiw.

£100/l on Amazon. Blimey.

(https://amzn.to/2uvAaJr, aff.)

Fixed it, thanks. That only improves the character name. It's $70 around here.

I wholeheartedly endorse this. For the money Corry is the best bottle coming off the island.

I'm not crikli, but we have similar tastes! Talisker is my go to dram.

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!

Well, first and foremost you should try as much as possible the rest of the Islay distilleries; Bowmore, Laphroig, Caol Ila, Ardbeg, Kilchoman and Bruichladdich. Bruichladdich is a little special since regular Bruichladdich, which is bottled under that name, is mostly 'unpeated', they then have a bottling under the name of Port Charlotte which is peated to the "regular" Islay standard (e.g. 35-50 ppm phenol - a measurement for peaty/smokiness) and last but not least they have the Octomore which is peated to the super heavy levels of 167-300 ppm phenol.

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.

Not OP but we have similar tastes (I’ve had the Lagavulin 16, the Bunnahahain 12 and 18, Talisker Storm, McAllan 12 and 15 - no Balvenie I can recall though).

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.

Laphroaig, Ardbeg or maybe the distillers editions from Lagavulin and Talisker. Islay is pretty small so you don't really have that many options.

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.

I got sold a Glenfarclas as a better Macallan and wasn't blown away by it. I think I'd always take a Dronach over it, and pay 40% less to boot.

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.

Glenfarclas and Glendronach are are both great alternatives to Macallan. Glendronach is a bit too sweet for my taste though and since Glenfarclas is much more affordable (at least here in Germany) I always recommend that one first.

Not a scotch, but if you like those three then give Connemara a try, especially the "original" version.

If you like peety scotches, maybe consider other smoked liquors (ie mezcal). You might be surprised.

Hakashu would be the one to try if you’re a scotch nerd. That’s a truly distinctive style... I call it “clean peat”.

It's Hakushu (白州).

Thanks Sensei.

On the contrary, in Chicago, which admittedly has a pretty outstanding retail market for whiskey, it has never been easier to buy Japanese whiskey. Nikka Coffey Grain and even the Nikka Single Malts show up on the shelves at Binneys, our neighborhood liquor chain.

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!

I really enjoy Nikka Coffey Grain. Distinctive flavor, and not especially expensive. As it should be -- Japanese whiskey was appealing because it was reasonably high quality, and cheap. There were lots of places in Japan where you could get a glass of Yamazaki for under $10, before all of the insanity. Oh well.

"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.)

Agreed. This one is my favorite. Getting harder to find these days though.

That's weird, because in Chicago, it's getting a lot easier to find.

Yeah, same in NYC.

Same experience in Oakland. It has never been easier to find Japanese whiskey. In fact all kinds of spirits have been having a renaissance around here; you can get anything from anywhere including many local spirits. That’s on top of the craft beer tidal wave.

Same in Dallas. Japanese whisky is expensive, sure, but you can find it no problem.

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.

> Same experience in Oakland.

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.

Yeah I don't know if there's all that many craft beers _in_ Oakland, but the state is just crawling with them.

What should I drink if I loved sipping on Hibiki 12 but my wage hasn't grown in pace with its price?

It depends on what you liked about Hibiki 12. You could try Nikka Coffey Malt if what you liked was the spirit itself, or you could try any wine-casked single-malt if what you liked was the aging characteristics. A thing I think is true about Japanese whiskey is that you have to go very high-end to get serious sherry/wine cask effects --- but the good news is that if that's what you're into, you can get that cheap from Scotland (try a Dronach 12, or an Aberlour A'bunadh).

How about a cheaper (I'd settle for more available) Nikka Coffey Malt? I discovered this a couple years ago, and it's by far my favorite whiskey. It used to be priced around $55/bottle in Chicago, but recently I've seen it going for as much as $80.

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.

The Coffey Grain just smelled too much like rubbing alcohol to me. I couldn't stand it. Is the Coffey Malt better?

Yes, I had absolutely the same reaction to the Coffey Grain. Someone gave me a single "sample" of the Malt and it was night and day. This is the only alchohol I kinda don't keep in the house because it goes too quick if I do.

Worth a shot a least!

Thanks, I'll have to give it a try then!

I think Nikka from the Barrel is comparable to the Hibiki line.

I miss being able to pickup Yamazaki 12 for $65. That said, while I like Japanese Whiskey I find it more novelty than quality. It's a great conversation piece for those not familiar with whiskey but I don't think it's some kind of Nectar of the Eastern God's...

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 started drinking Japanese whiskey because it was a better value than Scotch. Now I drink Scotch again because it's a better value than Japanese whiskey.

I am with you and I do the same with wine. South Africa actually do make their own whiskey which tends to be better priced than the imports. Drinking imported single malt whiskey is seen as a status symbol. I am sometimes amused when I see someone order a 12-18 year old whiskey only to add lemonade to it. All to show off that they can afford the 12-18 year old whiskey.

Funny enough that's the one enormous benefit of having a state run liquor market in Oregon. I can search all liquor stores inventory and see that a store nearby has Yamazaki 18 for $249.95. Is it worth that price?

No, it is not. $250 will get you a profoundly good bottle of Scotch, or a Buffalo Antique with enough left over to spare for a GlenDronach 15.

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.

The store which had it only had one bottle and just sold it. Looks like your post triggered many calls to the store. The clerk knew exactly what I was calling for, haha.

I bought Yamazaki 18 for $200 several years ago and I thought it was worth the price. It's certainly not a daily whisky, maybe a Friday evening kind of whisky :)

I miss the Hibiki 12 though. I remember when I could afford it :(

I brought a bottle back from duty-free in Japan back in 2010. I think it worked out to around $180 (but only 70cl) by then-current exchange rates. Nursed it for probably two years. It was excellent.

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.

Side by side I didn't find a large amount of difference between the 12 and 18. The 25, on the other hand, was worlds away. Very smooth and dark. If you ever run by the yamazaki distillery I'd recommend doing a very reasonably priced tasting of the 12, 18 and 25.

I would personally be very happy to spend $250 on bottles of Yamazaki 18. I understand that an 18-year Scotch would normally run the $120-160 range, but illogically I would scoop up every single bottle of Yamazaki 18 possible at the price you're seeing.

I used to buy some hibiki 17 at 100€, and Taketsuru 21 at 125€. Hell, I almost bought some 30y karuizawa 1981 that were at 300€~ a few years ago.

Correct title, “Why Japanese Whiskey is so Trendy and Hard to Find”

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.

To see how trendy Japanese Whiskey is, I did a Google search with keyword "Why Japanese Whiskey is..." and there are at least a dozen articles from different media writing the same thing as this OP's article.

Google Trends has some interesting data on this one, not only did it seemingly come up for almost no interest but it's popular in the "hip" states: https://trends.google.com/trends/explore?date=all&geo=US&q=j...

More like popular in the more affluent states. That map is eerily similar to a map of GDP per capita by state.

odd the "proper" spelling yields not quite the same results, Hawaii disappears


Maybe there's an industry trade group that does marketing?

The real reason: Chinese tourists buying anything that is "popular" and "good", go to any places in Japan and it's overran and ruined by them. Lot's of articles on that (google chinese tourist hibiki, plenty of results, including ft.com articles)

Your tone makes it sound like this is something terrible. Why shouldn't Chinese people have just as much right as anyone else to buy things they want, if they have the money for it?

Try to guess why they are called locusts.

Funnily enough I was just reading, locust is apparently a reference to the evils of capitalism. From Bloomberg [1],

> 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.

[1] https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2018-07-10/hedge-fun...

It's more a reference to what is going on in HK (infamous ads from 2012...) and nearby countries. Baby formula is one example or straining the overall health care.

And it was one of the reason ( IF not the ONLY reason ) why certain Scottish Whiskey are now 3 - 10x the price. And since the Chinese has nothing against the Scottish, which means its place as gift will likely continue for many more years to come. Japanese Brands tends to go up and down a little depending on the state of diplomatic issues.

Reminds me of the Wine doc called Red Obsession.

Funnily enough, this comment shows up as number 2 for me after doing that Google search.

How do people get into whiskey, anyway?

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!

I guess I can hate you for mixing perfectly good Jim Beam into soda or whatever, but other than that, what's the problem?

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.

and Bowmore (Islay).

Dyed-in-the-acrylic sock-hater.

That sounds great! I‘ll see where I can get one of those and give it a try.

You should get into cocktails instead. Less pretense, more variety.

Cocktails are far more pretentious than single-malt snobbery, and also far more caloric. Plus, they're dying in the glass from the moment you're done mixing them; you can't nurse one for a half hour.

Ehhh... pretty much every cocktail I've had has tasted, in a significant fashion, like what they say it tastes like. No dicking about with notes or finishes or whatnot.

Just last night I made my Tom Collins last that long... I may have been drinking it from a Tervis however. :-)

I have a strong skepticism towards aged spirits of any kind due to the traditionalist nature of their production, as well as due to the inherent biases involved in anything food or drink (e.g. wine tasting [1]). Aging is solely a factor of temperature, pressure, and time. Rum aged in the Bahamas ages quicker (by years) than that aged in cooler climates. Likewise, spirits aged at, say, 0C will age very slow, if at all. It's like making tea, where you can steep in cold water, but hot water expedites the process significantly. So why don't any of these spirit producers use a heated pressure chamber with some wood thrown in to "age" their spirits in hours instead of years? The answer is because many countries impose regulatory mandates that for X spirit to be labeled as such, it must be aged a minimum Y time. This minimum can be years for some spirits. Thus producers are forced to age traditionally regardless of the efficiency of their process. And you can't sell your pressure-aged spirit as "120 Years" despite the chemical processes involved being identical to traditional aging. Consumers might also perceive such process as of lesser quality. It's a sham, and the value of supposed quality spirits is artificially inflated by their arbitrary and involved production process, as well as by consumer bias.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blind_wine_tasting

Bufalo Trace runs a ton of experimental runs of their Whiskey where they change all manner of variables. You can pretty routinely find vertical or horizontal tastings of their stuff to see what factors matter most to you.

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.

I don't doubt that many producers aim to improve their process and flavor profile and aim to modernize. But how can they when something like Scotch must be aged 3 years in wood to be sold as such? That is, you can replicate the traditional Scotch aging process in a pressure chamber in a matter of days, and it tastes similar, and the chemical profile is similar, but you cannot sell it as Scotch unless you stick it in a wooden barrel for years. It's arbitrary and ridiculous.

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 [1]: 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.

[1] https://arstechnica.com/science/2016/07/the-scientific-arms-...

The trend in Scotch is strongly towards no-age-statement (NAS) expressions. If they could reproduce aging in an Oloroso butt using pressure treatment, Diageo would already be doing it. Scotch tends to be aged for at least 10 years; the economics are such that even if they could just mix in pressure-aged distillate to cut down the aggregate ratio of aging years/liters, they'd be doing that, and still relating an "average age" over 10 years (which is roughly what they claim for NAS single-malt now). But they do not. They don't even do it for blends, where the distillates aren't even ostensibly traceable.

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.

This is really silly. American whiskey producers already experiment with accelerated aging. But the whiskey we're talking about in this article --- high priced Japanese single-malt, and single-malt in general --- is aged in particularly selected casks. You can't use a heated pressure chamber to change a bourbon barrel into an oloroso sherry cask.

The process to produce the casks could be accelerated in the same pressure-aging process on wood pieces, which can then be used in place of the casks. And as the surface area of wood pieces is far larger than that of a barrel, and since pressure causes full penetration of the wood, it requires far less wood volume to produce the same chemical interactions and leaching. It may therefore be economical to buy the used casks and cut them up for use in the pressure-aging process.

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.

There's more than wood in these casks. Aging in a sherry butt extracts sherry flavors, which are unmistakeable --- you don't need to be a whiskey nerd to notice them any more than you need to be a beer nerd to notice the difference between an APA and a porter. And sherry butts get used in cycles for multiple batches of scotch.

Hibiki is available without an age statement. It's quite popular despite this.

Interesting, but whiskey advice from a fellow who drinks all of his in highballs?

Highballs are very popular in Japan, so much so that you can buy a highball in a can at vending machines, train stations, etc. Indeed, when I toured the Yamazaki distillery a few years ago, they served Highballs to the guests. Best highball I've ever had.

Cut the guy some slack, this is a passion project of his. His day-job is writing for videogaming blog Kotaku: https://kinja.com/brianashcraft


Please don't post unless you have something civil and substantive to say.


Much like Pappy Van Winkle, its popular now because its popular. People want what they can't have.

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.

Unlike Pappy van Winkle, Yamazaki is really quite good. 2 of the three Pappy bottles I've had tasted like grass clippings, and the 3rd was pretty unremarkable.

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.

I stopped drinking Van Winkle a while ago when the price to quality ratio when sideways. That said, claiming it isn't good is a stretch. Its very good whiskey. Just not much better than a load of other very good whiskey. That said, when I was drinking it, I preferred the 12 year to all the other expressions.

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.

We had at the old office a 15 and a 20, and they both tasted like grass clippings. Not hay, not tobacco, just fresh, slightly sour cut grass. I think that's how it's supposed to taste.

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 mean, I've had vanity Laphroag that only tasted of wood fire. Doesn't make it not good. I certainly wouldn't pay for it but I'm not saying its bad whiskey.

I'm like 90% sure they make Laphroaig by distilling ground up burnt swamp frogs. I'm comfortable saying it's bad.

(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.)

Try some of the micro distillers up and down the state of Michigan. Then judge 'bad' vs 'good' whiskey.

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.

[edit] 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.

I really, really don't understand the expensive alcohol hobby. For those of you that do, is it more about finding and trying cool stuff? Because I can completely relate to that. I just feel like expensive alcohol is so transient, and can't provide the same experience that the equivalently priced food could.

I think it depends on your comparison point.

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.

Those are pretty small pours if you're getting 20 out of a bottle. There are ~12 2oz pours in a bottle of scotch.

> 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.

I use 1 bottle whiskey = 3 bottles wine for my conversion.

A $70 bottle of single malt is good for 4-6 serious drinking sessions (so: several weeks, especially if you're not just drinking single malt; my daily drink is VOB bourbon), and those sessions are approximately as enjoyable as a really good restaurant meal.

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.

Do you have any recommendations for a great whisk(e)y under $100? I'm at the stage where I've had Scotch, both peaty/low peat, as well as bourbon. Here's what I've tried, and my thoughts. Please excuse my poor descriptions, I'm still a newbie to the world of spirits!

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.

If you like High West, track down a High West Midwinter Night, which is their sherried rye; it'll go for like $70 in season and holds up with good Speyside.

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.

Another good sherry Irish is Yellow Spot (~$100) and its cheaper non-sherry sibling Green Spot (~$50). Irishes drown very easily, so be careful with the water!

Never tried it. Will now. Thanks!

No problem! They only recently started distributing to the US. I know you're a Chicago guy (same here). You can grab both at Binny's. They have both at Longman & Eagle to try if you're not interested in bottles. Not sure if Lady Gregory's carries, thinking of other bars that would have a good selection of Irishes.

> 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.

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).

I've had Pulteney in bars but never bought a bottle. But all the Pulteney I've had (and the 12yo expression) is bourbon casked. That doesn't make it bad, just less interesting to me.

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.

The 17yo and older Pulteney expressions are also aged (some) in (oloroso) sherry butts. The 12yo is not, from what I understand.

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.


Thank you so much for this detailed response, much appreciated. I'll give some of your recommendations a try. Just to clarify, the GrenDronach 15 is the tawny cask version, right?

There's I think more than one Dronach 15, but Dronach as a whole is famous primarily for producing sherry bombs and I think any Dronach you buy that has an age statement (12, 15, 18, 21, &c) is going to be a safe bet.

Yes to the Wild Turkey - good taste and great value. Best drunk in the woods from a metal cup with a bit of ice.

I'm a hardcore bourbon drinker that had a real hard time finding scotch I could enjoy. But eventually found Springbank. I prefer the 12 year old to the other age statements and it fits in your budget.

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.

Try a Macallan 12, then try a George Dickel Rye. You could do the reverse but I think it gives a better idea of the similarities of some spirits even though they may have a big price difference.

Ardbeg An Oa if you can find it, the regular Ardbeg 10 is good too. High West Rendezvous Rye is lovely. For mixing Rittenhouse 100 Rye is inexpensive but yummy.

Worth noting that High West Rye is MGP product. You can pay 1/3rd as much to get roughly the same spirit by buying Redemption or George Dickel.

MGP makes a lot of different whiskeys. But that does not mean that all of them are the same.

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.

Actually at least in my experience the people into expensive alcohol tend to like collecting it, which I find odd. I'm into food and I enjoy food with my friends who are also into food (note I said food, it doesn't have to be expensive, just good). My friends who are into expensive alcohol like having huge stocks of expensive alcohol that they rarely or never drink because it's expensive. Doesn't sound like much fun.

Unlike alcohol, food is generally perishable. Plus a (responsible) alcohol connoisseur's consumption is more strictly throttled by his body.

It’s not stock in a public company or money in your IRA, it’s alcohol, drink up & enjoy!

Giving your friends samples of interesting things you've found over the years is really fun. And sometimes it's a bit like having a nice suit that you put on for special occasions. My collection grew to the point I realized I could never drink it all, so I started giving it away, and now I only collect something new when I've emptied something else. It's fun to go back and try things. "Ooh, I haven't had the Absinthe in a while!"

I have a large amaro collection and a large whiskey collection because I really like them, and it's fun to sometimes be in the mood for a specific flavor. Plus, when people come over I can introduce them to things they haven't tried, so it makes for easy conversation. Plus, when mixing to make cocktails, nuances in flavor can matter a lot.

It's being able to buy a bit of the present that you'll be able to sample in the future.

For the oenophiles I know, it's totally about exploring interesting flavors, and also appreciating the context in which the different wines are made (like with art).

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.

Not sure about Vodkas, wines, or champagnes as I can't really tell the difference. But I could instantly tell the difference in smoothness between the $60 scotch I have at home now and the $150+ bottle I recently sampled at a friends house.

> I just feel like expensive alcohol is so transient, and can't provide the same experience that the equivalently priced food could.

How do you figure? Food is at least as transient. A several hundred dollar bottle of whiskey can last years.

I know food is transient, that's why I used it as a comparison. And really, really good food is just good. On a very primeval and satisfying level.

I get collecting. I love it. And at that level I understand. But from a pure enjoyment level I do not.

Have you drunk high-quality whiskey neat? If all you're used to is cheap stuff or mixers then I can see why you might not see the attraction.

My friends were involved in popularizing this on the west coast, worked for and with Yamazaki. This is a misleading title. The article says nothing about why it’s “so good.” Only why it is hard to find. At best it mentions that “People see Japanese whisky as a super premium product.” But this is pure perception. The “goodness” is assumed. Rarity itself is proof positive.

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.

It seems like the article highlights the non-traditional things Japanese whisky makers are doing (e.g. using woods other than oak in their barrels).

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.

>If it’s summertime and I’m eating Osaka’s soul food, then I’ll order a highball. If I’m in a restaurant, I’ll order a proper highball in a glass, but if I’m at the supermarket and we’re going to make takoyaki at home, then I’ll just buy it in the can. Canned highballs are one of the great cheap drinking pleasures of Japan.

I've wondered about this: anybody know if the highball-in-a-can is really whiskey or a kind of shochu?

I've consumed my fair share and wish so desperately that those would come stateside. Based on taste I'd be pretty sure it's whiskey. Also, the english language suntory site states that they are whiskey.


It certainly tastes like whiskey. I always assumed it was just low-shelf stuff. It's probably just as expensive to make bad shochu as bad whiskey, so I can't imagine that there's much of a cost advantage to faking it.

Also, those highballs can't be using that much booze -- they're incredibly weak.

Shochu highballs are marketed as such as a selling point (for example the popular Chu-Hi brand). I'm going with whiskey for what he drank.

I lucked out and found a bottle of Hibiki 17 for very cheap last year, and stocked some bottles of Yamazaki 12, when the stocking situation started looking bad, but the actual discontinuation made me really sad, as those are 2 of my favourite whisky :(

Tip: if you happen to be in Boston or New Hampshire the state run store in South Nashua, New Hampshire[1] typically has a fair amount of Japanese brands in stock. I have a relative from Connecticut that is a whisky enthusiast and every time he visits he stocks up since he can't find them down there.

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.

[1] https://goo.gl/maps/crkqY9Z1KgK2

For relaxing times, make it Suntory time.

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.

Wabi in Venice Beach had a good selection when I was there. My biggest gripe with all (non American) whiskey is price. Kind of hard to experiment when you are looking at $20+ a glass.

The reason it's hard to find is because the sherry cask Yamazaki won best whiskey of the year a few years ago. It was a limited batch so everyone started buying everything Japanese. The sherry cask that won used to go for ~150/bottle. Now it's $3k. Now I'm priced out of all of my favorite whiskies. Fuck you, hipsters!@

TLDR: It takes a really long time to make Whiskey. It recently became more popular and production is taking a long time to ramp up to meet the demand.

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.

I stayed in a hotel in Kobe a couple of years ago. The room had mini bottles of Yamazaki in it, and it turned out they were free, and replenished every day! Neecdless to say, my wife and I took full advantage...

Can anyone explain what is going on in the first image at the top of the screen where there appears to be a barrel being rolled through fire?

It looks like they are charring the barrel


> 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.

Ironically, it's a little unlikely that Yamazaki barrels are charred. American whiskey is aged in new oak, which is charred or toasted both to standardize quality and also to bring out caramel and vanilla notes from the wood. But single malt scotch is generally aged in used barrels and the barrels are selected in part for the characteristics of what was aged in them before, which is why the "best whiskey in the world" Yamazaki 18 Sherry Cask costs so much. Charring is what you do, in Scotland, to an exhausted cask; it's also something Scotch distillers work to mitigate in ex-bourbon casks.

The photo looks like it's of a cask firing at Ariake Sangyo [0], which manufactures barrels for a variety of uses. About 10 percent of their barrels go to domestic whiskey producers, and the rest to shochu. Yamazaki has their own cooperage, so that barrel isn't going to them.

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.

[0] http://www.ariakesangyo.co.jp/, mis-captioned as a distillery here: https://www.masterofmalt.com/blog/post/qa-brian-ashcraft-aut...

I love whisky, particularly scotch. Japanese whisky is... fine. It's boring. I like the strength of the peaty Islay whiskies.

Last time I drank Japanese Whiskey it ended in a sleep waking incident and urinating on my flatmates feet.

I tend to avoid it now.

You mean the last time you drank a bottle of whiskey by yourself right?

Is Japanese Whiskey hard to find? I've seen it everywhere from Hawaii to the Netherlands.

I’ve had Japanese whiskey in the past, and honestly, nothing made me think “Wow! If someone served me this without telling me what it is, I could tell it’s Japanese in a heartbeat!”

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.

It's not supposed to taste "Japanese". It's supposed to taste good. Japanese people are fiends for whiskey (it's one of their endearing cultural quirks), and they are good at making it.

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.

Unorthodox opinion but here it goes: people like to pretend they know a lot about wines and whiskeys and that they have skills to identify and taste them but they're just being pretentious or don't know where to spend money. As long as the wine comes from an old caste and the whiskey follow strict procedures it's all the same thing. People want to look sophisticated but when blindfolded then can't even distinguish between red and white wine if they're at same temperature.

Same thing for musical instruments. It's all branding, marketing hype for hipsters and some sort of placebo effect.

No. People read that article where it turns out people couldn't tell white wine from red wine and then think they can extrapolate that (very misleading) data point out through all of wine and spirits. They look silly doing that.

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.

"People want to look sophisticated but when blindfolded then can't even distinguish between red and white wine if they're at same temperature." I hope you're exaggerating here!

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 hope you're exaggerating here!

I'm not, several studies were conducted. Same thing for violins for example (Stradivarius vs. a contemporary violin that costs much much less).

re: red vs white wine, Nope! Not exaggerating!

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.

I've heard this one a bunch, but it seems to be really hard to find the source. The closest I have found was that it was a study done bye Frédéric Brochet for his Phd in oenology (did not know that was a word until today)

http://web.archive.org/web/20070928231853/http://www.academi... https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blind_wine_tasting https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2011/10/you-are-n...

I don't really buy this, I'm an amateur wine snob at best, and blindfolded I had absolutely no trouble telling apart white wines and red wines. In fact, no one at my table of 4, the other 3 having less knowledge of wine than I do, had any trouble whatsoever with red v. white, and all of us were close to right with region or grape variety. The only kicker was a rose champagne which everyone thought was a prosecco.

From what I've read in this thread, I infer that the study involved telling blindfolded people that white was red, or vice versa, and people were induced to rationalize their perceptions. The classic Asch conformity experiments[1] did not prove people can't tell the length of lines, did they?


Your argument is sort-of correct once it gets down to something extremely difficult for the non-sommelier to determine, like telling the difference between a 2003 and 2005 merlot from the same winery. However your over-zealous example of red vs. white wine is laughably false. There are different regions, types of grapes, length of time the grapes are "starved", barrel material, and so many minute details that go into what makes one wine category (such as merlot) taste different than another (such as pinot noir). It's not a snob thing, it's a flavor profile thing, but the snobs love to shove their knowledge around and make a lot of noise.

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.

>However your over-zealous example of red vs. white wine is laughably false


Okay, fair... correction: popular American (Napa) red wines are extremely different tasting than typical white wines, and comparing those is lauglable. In that study a French wine was used, which are very "light" and can taste more similar to white wine. Sort of like comparing apple juice and hard cider. However red Napa wines have a very distinct flavor profile -- not so light like French/Greek wines are known to be. You'd definitely know the different by taste.

Ah, extreme opinions. The hors d'ouevres precipitating internet stupidity. I'll bite.

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.

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