E-pistle 2007/048 – A Dozen Dependable Drams

By Louis Perlman, USA

Anyone who hasn’t been living in a cave for the last few years has noticed that single malt scotch prices have been rising steadily.
Whether it’s rising energy costs which affect all aspects of SMS production and distribution, or price gouging by corporate ownership or distributors, you are paying more for your favorite dram these days. Fortunately, there are still some darn good drams out there that have fallen between the cracks, and can still be picked up for a reasonable price. I’ve put together a list of a dozen or so of them. There is a good bit a variety among the dozen. A few are limited editions, most are mid priced, and there are a couple of affordable drams and one luxury bottle. All are original bottlings, so no need to look long and hard to track down 1 of the 262 bottles that exist in the world.

Ardbeg Uigeadail (54.2%, OB) $80
The Uigeadail is vatted from older casks that dropped (presumably far) below 40% ABV and could not be legally bottled as scotch whisky, and younger cask strength malt. The contribution of the younger malt is evident, as there is quite a direct punch, while the older malt adds roundness and extra complexity. As such, the Uigeadail doesn’t quite reach the lofty heights of the Old malt Cask bottlings from the seventies, but I find it to be a  superb dram and agree with Michale Jackson’s 92 rating. There appear to be two versions floating around, one a bit lighter than the other. Luca also rated a recent release only 83, and I would imagine that the last of the older casks may literally and figuratively have been the bottom of the barrel. But keep this in mind. The distillery has run out of casks from the 70’s. Unless you have very deep pockets, this is your last chance to obtain ANY older Ardbeg for a long time. The bottles out there now are going for around $300 in the US, and the price is certain to go even higher. And once that very last cask in Scotland is bottled, it will be auction house prices only. The good news is that there was plenty of Uideadail produced. Many liquor stores stocked up early, and the Uigeadail can still be found in New York City for $80. So just ask the owner or manager from when his stock dates from, and buy as much as you can of the older stuff.

Bruichladdich Infinity (55.5%, OB) $72-80
Because the distillery was closed for a while, Jimmy McEwan and friends have had to use some creative thinking to fill out the product line. The Infinity is vatted from three ages and levels of peat, all aged in refill sherry casks. The youngest malt is the barely-legal Port Charlotte, which adds most of the punch. The other malts would seem to be close to the 10 year old and 14 year old Augusta Links. The end result is superb. Not a total peat monster, but that just means that you’ll have to go for something else on the very coldest days. The high ABV helps, but the Infinity won’t need more than a tiny bit of water at most. A real winner, my rating is 89. The price is attractive as well, I paid just $2 more than I did for the new Turnberry links at 46% ABV. The Infinity is by definition, a limited release. There is now a second release which is lighter in color, and wine finished. If you would rather have scotch that tastes like scotch, it’s worth putting away a few bottles.

Compass Box Whisky Eleuthra (46%, OB) $40-48
The Eleuthra is one of the earlier CBW releases, and it my favorite. Vatted from Clynelish and Caol Ila, there is just the right amount of balance between the sweeter and peaty elements. I like it better than the CBW Peat Monster, of which the two bottles that I have tried (purchased a year apart) failed to live up to the heritage of the original Monster. The Eleuthra is now listed on the CBW web site in the ‘Limited Release Range’ section, so I am including it here. There are plenty of peaty-wannabees at this price, so might as well get a really good one.

Dalmore 28yo (45%, OB Stillmans Dram) $120-130
This is the luxury bottle mentioned above. Nicely balanced with a good firm body, it does an
excellent job of presenting the Dalmore profile. The reason i am including it here is that you could pay a heck of a lot more for something 28 years old. And since this is an official bottling, there is no need to scrounge around to figure out which of the 1970 or 1971, or cask 3475 or 3476 is the ‘good’ one, as often must be done with independent bottlings.

Glenlivet 16yo (53.4%, OB Nadurra) $50-60.
The standard GL 12 year old has a reputation as a ‘beginners malt’ amongst Maniac types.
The distillery shrugs this off, noting that they tend to do quite well in blind tastings, where snob factor doesn’t come into play. Nonetheless, they have given us the cask strenght Nadurra, free of chill filtering or caramel color. And the price is a bargain as well, since you can pay that much for a 16 year old at standard strength.

Glenmorangie 15yo (43%, OB) $50-75
Lets see know. The 15 has positive attributes of 10 and 18 year olds, but is priced closer to the 10. Corporate owner LMVH is in the luxury good business. In just the time I dreamed up the idea for this list to getting it keyed in, the price went up from just over $50 to the low seventies. You still might find some of the older stock at the lower price, so buy while you can if the 15 is something you re interested in.

Laphroaig 10yo (57.3%, OB ‘Cask Strength) $60
Laphroaig ‘Quarter Cask’ (48%, OB) $42-50
These are both superior to the standard 10 year old. The Cask Strength is perfect for those bitter cold winter nights, and the 1/4 Cask has some creaminess added, which is countered by the unusual 48% ABV. Both are bargains, which means that they are good candidates for a price increase at any time.

Lowgrow 10yo 1985 (56%, OB) $80
This release of the peated Springbank is a real winner. The peat dovetails nicely with the
exuberance of the standard 10 year old Springer. While I haven’t tried the immediately preceding vintages, the 1985 is better the early nineties Longrows, as well as the previous release of the Springbank 15 year old (I haven’t tried the latest release). Don’t worry about the age, this is worth the price tag as much as anything else in that price range.

Macallan Cask Strength (58.1%, OB)
While Macallan does not have enough sherry casks to meet world demand, they still sell the Cask Strength in the US.
It has malts from 12-15 years old, and is an excellent value at full strength. You know what that means, so put away a few bottles while you can. Come to think of it, stock up on the twelve year old, now part of the ‘Sherry Oak’ series, before it’s price goes thru the roof wherever you can actually still find it. In case you’re still waffling, I’ll remind you that the Macallan 18 year old goes for around $150 nowadays.

Springbank 10yo (50%, OB) $55-60
While the current release of the 10 year old is a pleasant dram, the 100 proof version has a firmer, more rounded profile.
It is darker as well, but my retailer tells me that it is due to 100% first fill bourbon casks, rather than sherry influence. Whatever the case may be, this is a real sleeper.

Talisker 18yo (45.8, OB) $58-65 & Talisker 12yo 1992 (45.8%, OB ‘Distillers Edition’) $58-65
These two bottling make up the middle of the Talisker range. The 18 wears its extra age well, kind of like a 40 year old James Bond. Sherry finishing on a peated malt such as Talisker may lead to a confused result, but not here. The DE add a layer of glazed fruit, imagine a fruitcake with a not-sweet crust. The reason that I am listing these Taliskers here is the price gap between these expressions and their older siblings. While the 18 goes for $65, the 20 year old costs $150, a big difference for just two extra years. And Talisker is the most prestigious of the Distillers Editions imported to the US, so there is plenty of opportunity for upward price movement for both.

Buying strategies

Obviously, stock up on the Uigeadail if you at all have a fondness for older Ardbeg.
The Infinity is worth having a couple of bottles in reserve, but I wouldn’t empty my piggy bank. Ditto for the Glenmorangie 15, as it is bottled at the standard 43% ABV.  The Longrow and Dalmore aren’t really in any danger, but they are worthwhile considering if you’d like to treat yourself to a special bottle. The Macallan Cask Strength is definitely an endangered species, but a bottle should last a while at cask strength. There are always going to be heavily sherried independent bottlings of just about everything, so there will be alternatives. It’s worth having 3 to 6 bottles on hand depending on just how much big a Mac fan you are. As for the rest, I would keep of buffer of two or three bottles for anything that you like to have in your open stock. Then pick up a new bottle each time you open one from the buffer. And keep some spare cash around, and stock up immediately as soon as you hear about a price increase for one of your favorites.