Why does a Scot always instantly command respect when the topic of whisky comes up? Firstly, the accent, it sounds as though they have had a few drams already and are speaking from field tested experience. Secondly, given that the Scots have been making whisky for longer than anyone, except the Irish, they deserve the recognition.
If you haven’t read part 1 of this series, check it out here
Tony, true to his word brought Chris over and gave him a quick summary of my needs. Chris, a Scottish infiltrator into the US, has been working for Total Wine for a while in multiple cities. Chris jumped into the opportunity with both hands, He quickly and enthusiastically engaged me with confidence and knowledge.
1st Category Scotch
Like leading a horse to water and forcing it to drink. Taking a Scot into the Scotch section is pretty much going to be a done deal. They will try hard to sell you something from the homeland.
Chris straight away showcased the Shieldaig 18 year old (Speyside). This brand is exclusive to Total Wine. It is bottled at 40% and while Chris did not mention either Chill Filtration or Caramel, I suspect that there is a little of both involved. At $39.99 for an 18 year old Single Malt, it is to be expected that it needs to be 40% for sheer economy of scale and part and parcel of that ABV is chill filtration.
92 points Wine Enthusiast and a Gold Medal at the San Francisco Spirits Competition give it a decent pedigree. For the purposes of my shopping experience the $39.99 price tag was certainly putting it right up there as a front runner and peaking my interest.
Given that Tony’s Grangestone 30 year old blend suggestion was $89.99 & Chris’s Sheildaig 18 was $39.99, I already had a leaning due to an agenda to buy two bottles. Chris then also worked to swing my decision with a slightly personal bias against blends. I can sympathize as a lot of the mainstream inexpensive blends can be somewhat harsh and decidedly inferior to most Single Malts. Having said that however, older grain whiskies can be magical and premium blends with higher Malt percentages can be exceptional. With Single Malt stocks at risk due to market demand these premium blends will become the way of the future for affordable Scotch.
I asked Chris in a lighthearted way if he was pushing me towards a Scotch as a true Scotsman should. He smiled and promised me that he would show me some other delicious whiskies as he bustled me over to the Bourbons to show me just how multi-whisky skilled he was.
2nd Category Bourbon
The first Bourbon Chris suggested was the Hancock’s Single Barrel Reserve. 89 points in Wine Enthusiast for $38.99. Chris had a lot of good things to say about this whiskey. I asked him about the Willet Bourbon as a possibility but he came back to the Hancock on value and balance. I am a big sucker for a balanced whiskey so he had unknowingly lifted the Hancock up to the top of the pile with just that one comment.
The second Bourbon option was Chestnut Farms. Receiving a Double Gold at the San Fran Competition, it looked to be a very interesting option. I actually had it in my hand at one point and at $47.99 it would still work within the 2 bottles for under $100 ceiling.
3rd Category Rye
Rye finally got its due and is one of my favorite styles of whisky. I just love all things spicy and Rye scratches that itch for me.
The first suggestion from Chris in this section was Darby’s Reserve, at $21.99 it seemed like a really good deal. I was not convinced however and in this instance really wanted the best whiskey I could find closer to the $50 mark. I pretty much dismissed this option as soon as it was offered.
Chris also suggested the WIllet Rye Single Barrel which Tony had also done. This made it even more frustrating that there was none in stock. This is a great sales pitch though as it made me want to come back and buy it when it was. A good way to get me back to the store and to begin to build a loyal customer. Good work from both Tony and Chris on this one. 90 points in Whisky Advocate this Rye quickly disappears on the shelf and they had no date for a re-stock. One to look for in the future. $42.99 seems like a bargain.
I also asked Chris about the High West Double Rye and his take on it was that it was too spicy … is that possible 🙂 which put it out of balance. I had to quietly disagree with Chris a little on this one as the 16 year old portion of the Double Rye really does smooth out the spice and leave a lingering balanced finish. But I could see his point as the younger 2 year old does light up the palate with a big spicy intro. Always interesting to get someone else to give you their palate experience on a whisky you personally like. Sometimes the very things you like about it are the same things that causes them to dislike it.
So next week the decisions will be revealed along with tasting notes on the first whisky.
Let me know about a great retail experience that you have had in the past 12 months.
I look forward to talking whisky with you then.