A bit of a compendium from an older thread on Scotch...
The two primary divisions in scotch are the blended scotches (Johnnie Walker, Ballantine, Ambasssador, Cutty Sark) and Single Malts, which are a product of a single distillery. Now, Blended scotches have a high proportion of grain whiskey blended with the malt whiskey, which dilutes the character. Of the Blended whiskeys, I second Kalra's reccomendation of JW Black Label, and I'll explain the reasons why in a moment. As for single malts, they are the best because they are not diluted and they show the unique character of the ingrediants (especially the water), the house style, and the land in their flavours. The 80-odd Single malt distilleries are generally divided into certain regions, and of them, Highland, Speyside, Lowland, and ISlay are the most common. I drink scotches from all the regions, depending on mood -- their is a whiskey for nearly all moods -- but Highland and Speyside whiskeys are my usual drink. They are elegant and gentle. Available favs for me are Macallan (quite common in a decent bar), Cragganmore, and the aforementioned Dalwhinnie. The Islay scotches are the most distinctive of all, having their malt roasted over peat-fed fires, and believe me, the smoke really comes through. Bowmore is a good first if you want to try and Islay, and Laphroig (sp) is a seriously smoky scotch. I also like Talisker, which is a compromise between a Speyside and an Islay -- a little smokey, but has the nice caramelly notes of a Speyside. As for Glenfiddich, yes it is an approachable scotch. But I do find that of all the scotches, Glenfiddich has the most herbal notes -- by herbal I mean it has a nose and flavour of grassy, green things, and is unique in that manner. I personally prefer the richer caramel notes of other scotches. Back to JW Black -- that particular blend has a quite low proportion of diluting grain whiskey, and most of the malt whiskey in it is from Highland and Speyside, so it is my standard indulgence. Best way (generally agreed) to drink scotch is at ambient temp, or slightly chilled, with water added up to 20% the volume of the scotch. Some like soda, or scotch on the rocks. I do rocks sometimes, but most often just drop one in my scotch -- it cools it a little and dilutes it just right for me. Oh, and if you need a dessert-y scotch drink, do, do, do have a rusty nail as Kalra mentioned. it's 1:1 or 1:1.5 ration of scotch to Drambuie, Drambuie being a sweet scotch liquor. Oh, and Kalra, a 'dram' is a unit of measure...
. And from JFK, who's probably THE scotch man here:
let me suggest the Bicentenary Edition Highland Park Vintage 1977 Reserve (Michael Jackson calls Highland Park "the greatest all-rounder in the world of malt whiskey"). It's not an Islay (Highland Park is on Orkney; it's the northernmost distillery in Scotland), but it's definitely an island malt - although with more heather than peat... The Bicentenary Edition is a beautifully complex 24-year-old, and it's right at your price point; I recently got a bottle from D & M Wines and Liquors in San Francisco for around $145.00 delivered, and it's well worth it. D & M also has a 28-year-old Glenlivet Murray McDavid Bottling for around $144 that I've been meaning to try (I really like the Glenlivet; they make some of the most subtle of the Speyside whiskies, but they generally have great depth and complexity, too). Oh; the URL for D & M (they have an incredible selection of scotches; many of them I've never found anywhere else): http://www.dandm.com/scotch.php
And this, too:
John Glaser, who used to work for "a very large whiskey company" (which he does not further identify) started a company called Compass Box (http://www.compassboxwhisky.com/
) several years ago to make his own blended whiskies. He makes the most amazing blend entirely from grain whiskies; it's called "Hedonism", and, at under US $100 a bottle, it's a bargain. I highly recommend it. As to single malts, I favor the Lagavulin 16-year-old (the quintessential Islay malt, in my opinion) and the MacAllan 12 or 15-year-old (for the Speyside experience), but my current favorite (of what's in my cupboard right now) is the Highland Park Bicentenary Distiller's Reserve; an amazing 21-year-old distilled in 1977 (and, actually, I'd say Highland Park is my favorite distillery so far).
Will compile some more in another post. Regards, Huntsman