In the past few years I've become a whisky fan boy, buying bottles in most styles, including Scotch. This question pertains mostly to Scotch, but other styles can be included too.

One problem I've found is that I'd like to buy more upper tier bottles (in the 100+ Canadian) range, but I'm hesitant to do so without actually sampling these whiskies first.

This poses a problem because the city in which I live doesn't give me much opportunity to sample whiskies in this range. The end result is that I can't really know if that 150 dollar bottle is worth it, or if I'm just burning my money.

With that in mind, I wonder if there is a common way to determine the objective quality of a bottle in this range, without actually trying the bottle first?

  • When I get a recommendation, I always run it by a dear friend with similar taste and/or someone who has steered me in the right direction before... Finally, this sounds like a project that may ultimately end up in a memoir from which one may see a fair return on said investment. ;) – Modern Apostles Jan 19 '17 at 23:11
  • How would you select any drink without trying it first? – user6035379 Jan 22 '17 at 16:36
up vote 8 down vote accepted

Unfortunately there's no good way to guarantee you'll get something you'll like. However, there are some things you can do to help:

Find reviews that you agree with of whisk(e)ys you like. Note who wrote them and how they described the spirit. Try to find other reviews by those reviewers and look for the same descriptors. Ignore words like "smooth" and pay more attention to flavor notes.

Keep your own notes about what you like and what you taste when you drink what you like. Use the vocabulary that you and the reviewers you trust use as a guide for what is likely to be in your wheelhouse.

This won't be perfect. I don't recommend spending $200 on a bottle with this. But for the midtier it's not a bad approach.

If you're serious about upper tier stuff, find a good bar that has some of these whiskeys and go try them there. Find a local whiskey society to join or look out for tasting events (they happen more often than you'd think).

No. There is no "objective" way to map your tastes to what is in the bottle. It's purely a subjective exercise.

There is also this website Master of Malt Samples that might be able to ship 3cl bottles to you.

  • Thanks. I think your second answer is a valid way to solve the problem I present. – Canadian Coder Jan 19 '17 at 21:04
  • 3
    Also, you could find some whisky reviewers that map to your tastes and go on their recommendations. That's what I do with wine. I know some reviewers like big, bold, alcoholic wines and some like more delicate, balanced wines. – farmersteve Jan 19 '17 at 21:17
  • Thanks for the tips. I finally tried to go down the rabbit hole at Master of Malt and it looks like they don't deliver to Canada. Blergh.. want an Erdradour Caledonia 12. – Canadian Coder Jan 20 '17 at 2:02
  • [This guy][1] has a LOT of reviews on his YouTube channel. In America - I have found that top tier doesn't always mean "better." Price normally denotes a rarity (think limited release, 1500 bottles ever) time/effort in releasing. Pappy Van Winkle 23yr takes 23 years of care to make and they have to make ~50 gallons to yield 3... Oddly, it retails for ~$120 but you'll normally see it priced closer to $2000. [1]: youtube.com/channel/UCp0k3OKqfkPW0HdRLA8JWZg – BryceH Jan 30 '17 at 16:03

You can conduct research on these sites:

Find what you like and then, find others who like the same. Read their reviews and try their top rated suggestions.

Find a local pub/bar/restaurant with a good selection and try a dram before you buy.

Join/start a whisky club and share the pain (cost) with other avid whisky scholars. Study often.

The only real way to select whiskies you like is to taste them. The question is how to do this without investing in whole bottles. The obvious approach is to visit an establishment that provides whiskey "flights", usually bars or restaurants that feature whiskeys. Generally this is a set of four or five small pours of a variety of whiskeys. Sometimes you can mix and match, but other times I've seen flights with a theme such as Irish whiskey or different regions of Scotch. Try Googling "whiskey flights near me". In addition, some larger retail stores (such as Binnys in the Chicago area) have whiskey tastings.

  • I added a bit more content, but really I think it is a reasonable answer that hasn't been covered by the other answers to this question. – Eric Shain Feb 8 '17 at 15:28

You could join communities like:
Reddit's /r/whiskey
or /r/bourbon
or /r/scotch

They have a system where you give quality reviews of a set number of whiskey/scotch/bourbon. After X reviews you're eligible for their Swap community where different members mail drams/bottles to one another. Don't roll in day one asking for "limited super rare edition" spirits. But, the people there are very generous and kind.

I agree with most of the comments above, especially about Ralfy on youtube. Also via http://ralfy.com/

I have seen Erdradour in the US, but not the Caledonia. I got my bottle in Pilochry at the distillery. Great tour, worth the trip if you are in the Highlands.

Other than taking a gamble once in a while, find the ambassador of the brand, and see what events they have in a larger city near you, and make the trip. Another option is to look at some of the social organizations near you. Some of them have fund raisers that include tastings of several brands.

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