There’s such a wonderfully diverse variety of scotch available today that it can almost paralyze someone interested in exploring the category for the first time. To soften the blow, we enlisted the help of two bar owners who know a thing or two about building a scotch collection.
Tommy Tardie is the owner and operator of New York City’s Fine & Rare and The Flatiron Room, both of which have exceptional––and exceptionally large––whisky stashes. Mike Raymond is the co-owner of Reserve 101 in Houston, which boasts a whisky lineup in the hundreds. Neither focuses on building out a list just for the sake of it. Across all their bars, Tardie and Raymond focus more on quality than quantity. This is their shortlist of the essential scotch bottles for your home bar.
Ardbeg Uigeadail ($80)
“If you’re doing entertaining, you need a bottle like this in your bar,” says Tardie. “Crack the bottle, pour a glass and watch your friends look around for a fire extinguisher. This is a big, bold peated scotch that’s not for the faint of heart. I personally love it. Not always, but on a cold night, nothing warms me better than a nice glass of Ardbeg. The Uigeadail takes on some of the flavor from the sherry casks that it has been aged in. It delivers almost a salty-sweet combo that leaves a finish that lasts for what seems like hours.” How’s that for a party trick?
Bowmore 15 Year The Darkest ($90)
Islay whiskies are known for peat, but this whisky offers a master class in the way sherry and peat can work in tandem. “This is the scotch drinker’s scotch,” says Raymond. That’s why it’s viewed as a reasonably priced go-to for scotch lovers, yet it’s still approachable enough to be an introductory bottle as well. “Light hints of peat shine through the sherry-cask influence,” is how he describes the flavor profile. Look for rich sherry notes, dark chocolate and dried red fruits all intermingling with the smoke.
Compass Box Hedonism ($115)
Sometimes a single bottle of whisky can open up the world to a whole category. That’s the case with Compass Box Hedonism and scotch grain whisky. “In 2000, most people paid little attention to grain whiskies,” says Raymond. “Then John Glaser debuted this whisky that launched the brand.” A scotch grain whisky is made with additional grains beyond malted barley, typically corn. Grain whisky is column-distilled as opposed to pot-distilled and is traditionally used as a component of scotch blends. But on its own, grain whisky is creamy and easy-drinking, with pleasing vanilla notes. Hedonism shines as a leading example of the style.
The GlenDronach Original 12 Year ($60)
This is the sherry lover’s dream dram. “It’s no secret The GlenDronach 18 is one of my favorite bottles of single malt, but as the bottle price continues to rise, it may be cost-prohibitive for those just starting out,” says Tardie. “For this reason, I recommend the GlenDronach 12.” The 12-year-old is indeed a great value, with a booming flavor you won’t soon forget. “A heavily sherried malt with the same DNA as its older brother, the 18, it’s matured in a combination of Pedro Ximénez and oloroso sherry casks,” he adds.Continue to 5 of 5 below.
Glenfiddich 14 Year Bourbon Barrel Reserve ($60)
“This is a relatively new release from Glenfiddich and one that’s always a big hit at any dinner party I’m hosting,” says Tardie. “It’s aged for 14 years in ex-bourbon barrels—nothing new there—but it’s then finished in new heavily charred oak barrels.” With the final step of maturation akin to how a bourbon is aged, you get flavors more commonly found in the American whiskey world. “This is great for the typical bourbon drinker who’s looking for the strong vanilla and caramel notes they’re familiar with,” he says.