Originally Posted by SchwererGustav
It's my second night with this. I'm trying to break into classy drinks, and I'm struggling. I like dry, red wines and sherry, and figured brandy and cognac to be the next step up (with single-malt scotches being my supposed peak).
It's funny, there are some days when a spirit neat is something I tremendously enjoy and other days when it just doesn't work with me. I second the suggestion of trying an Old-Fashioned style cocktail, or a Manhattan as a good segue. For the old-fashioned you need nothing more than a spirit (you can use bourbon, rye, scotch, or brandy -- even gin or tequila), a dash or two of bitters, about a 1/4-3/8 oz simple syrup (per 2oz spirit) and a little bit of orange or lemon peel. The sugar really makes some of the spirits' nuances more accessible to palates, like all of ours, raised on too much sugar. A drop or two of simple in a standard Manhattan also eases it up quite a lot. I started drinking Manhattans with 1/4oz, and still do sometimes, depending on the vermouth.
You'll get more than enough spirits recommendations around here to last you forever. Don't think, either, that scotch is your apez -- scotch has a variety of styles, and something like Dalwhinnie is inexpensive and mild. Certain scotches, like those from Islay, are very peaty and less approachable. Some of the reason for their popularity is the idea that they are hard to drink, but that denigrates the other whiskies, all of which have their place.
I have suggestions, too, around the $40-50 mark (all should be findable in PA; I have friends in that spirits wasteland):
Bourbon: Black Maple Hill Limited. Pretty sweet and smooth.
Rye: Knob Creek
Scotch: Mild = Dalwhinnie (or Cragganmore). Smoky= Caol Ila. Moderate all-arounder=Highland Park
Cognac: You're screwed. Unless you want to special order something, PA has miserable coganc selections. I guess Courvoisier/Hennesy/Remy VSOP is OK. I like Frapin or Delamain better. I think you can order Pierre Ferrand Ambre for like $35 a bottle, which is great.
Vodka: I like vodka quite a lot, being mostly Ukrainian. I think Boyd & Blair (a PA vodka) is phenomenal, so go for that if you want to drink it neat. Otherwise, get Smirnoff's or Tito's.
Tequila: Likewise I know nothing.
Rum: Gosling's if you are going to mix it. Zacapa 23 at $40 is one of the best values in spirits to drink neat, and might be a great segue for you into the world of spirits (that is, so long as you like molassesy flavors)
Gin: Likewise, cpt put it well. Most of the big name gins are actually pretty great. I can't stand normal Bombay, but that's me.