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Secret Whisky Shopper Part 2 | Blog #13

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.

Cheers!

Jonathan

Secret Whisky Shopper Part 1 | Blog #12

What do vacationing in Florida, Bourbon, Scotch, Rye and the Largest liquor store in Orlando have in common? They all come together as the subject for this series of blogs.

Being normally on the selling side of the whisky transaction I thought it would be fun to head into Total Wine in Orlando while on vacation with my wife Cindy. I posed as an interested consumer to see where the staff would direct me to make my purchase.

Total wine has a good reputation for knowledgable staff and an amazing selection. Having been to numerous Total Wine stores in the past I was somewhat prepared and expected a great experience.

My wife Cindy inconspicously took photos and recorded conversations while I made my way around the whisky aisle and started browsing.

To say that Total Wine has a large selection would be a gross understatement. The only thing holding retailers in the United States back is the government regulation to have 750ml bottles. This cuts out smaller United Kingdom producers that use the UK standard 700ml and are not willing to do 750ml due to additional expense and stringent labelling requirements.

The whisky aisle was long, high and imposing with a ton of whiskies that I had never seen and of course a lot that I had.

The first staff member to notice my perusing was Tony. A very nice young guy that instantly wanted to help me find the right whisky. He happily took me down the aisle pointing out a number of selections based on my criteria.

I indicated that I was looking for an interesting whisky that I had not tried before under $100 and if there were some options that would allow it that I could buy two whiskies keeping that $100 cap as a total. I mentioned that I liked Bourbon, Rye, Scotch etc. and was open to any and all suggestions. I’m sure that retailers would love an endless stream of customers like me. Open to suggestion, eager and ready to buy.

Here are the whiskies that Tony suggested.

1.        As we passed the Scotch section he pointed out a 30 year old blend called Grangestone. This is an exclusive whisky to Total Wine put together especially for them in their own packaging. It is $ 89.99 which is a really good price for a 30 year old blend and also picked up a Double Gold at the San Francisco Spirits Competition. A combination of Speyside and Highland Malts combined with Lowland Grain all 30 years or more. A very tempting bottle indeed. However, I wanted a lot more out of this journey so continued on awaiting with baited breath to Tony’s next suggestion. He didn’t really offer any more suggestions in the Scotch category and headed over to the Bourbon section.

2.        His number one choice for Bourbon was Angel’s Envy Barrel Selection. I have had the Port Pipe finish on many occasions and am a true fan of the brand. The Barrel selection was awarded 98 points in Wine Enthusiast and was $46.99. This was straight away a front runner in my bid to buy two whiskies for under $ 100 and left me intrigued as to what might change my mind and see me walking out with something else.

Upon reaching the Rye section Tony had several options that were both out of stock.

1.        Angel’s Envy Rye – limited release and apparently almost never on the shelf this Rye got 94 points with Wine Enthusiast and was $ 75.99. It was out of stock and would have been tempting as I have never tried it and I have a real soft spot for good rye.

2.        Willet Single Barrel Rye receiving 90 points from Wine Advocate and only $42.99. This was according to Tony another sought after Rye and was also conspicuous by it’s absence on the shelf.

Tony was extremely helpful and was doing a great job for Total Wine. He was definitely keen on points and accolades and gravitated towards special, popular and rarer bottlings. I wanted of course to buy everything that I couldn’t have especially the Angel’s Envy Rye.

I asked him about High West Double Rye as both of his suggestions were unavailable. He said that he had not tried it and that he would go and get the whisky expert Chris, who could potentially help me with that and perhaps give me some other suggestions.

At this point I already had some great options but wanted to press further and find out what Chris would have in store for me and if there would be any suggestions in common between the two staff.

Part 2 next week is dedicated to Chris who spent a good long time with Cindy and I and ultimately led to my purchasing decisions. I had already, before entering the store, resolved myself to buy the clear winner in price and suggestion based entirely on what the staff told me to buy. I was just hoping that they were going to sell me something yummy.

What is your favorite whisky category? Let me know in the comments.

Like this blog? Share the whisky love with your friends.

Cheers!

Jonathan