Archive for the ‘Guest Blogger’ Category

Guest Blog: Book review of “The World’s Best Whiskies” by Dominic Roskrow

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

The mini-marathon of book reviews by Jonny McCormick continues here on  WDJK. Thanks Jonny!

(Please note, the cover image posted here is the UK editon.)

The World’s Best Whiskies: 750 Essential Drams from Tennessee to Tokyo by Dominic Roskrow
Published by Stewart, Tabori & Chang, New York and Jacqui Small LLP, UK | 288 pages

This is one of the more substantial contenders of the whisky book releases this Fall but does size really matter?  Well, there appears to be some publishing machismo about, from Ian Buxton’s 101 Whiskies, Dave Broom’s World Atlas: More Than 300 expressions tasted, to Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2011 (promising more than 4,500 tasted) so slotting in the middle sits Dominic Roskrow’s 750 essential drams. It’s certainly noteworthy to bring out a major new tastings-dominated title in the whisky blogosphere’s golden era, to a marketplace of established tasting titles in the same year as the author played a major role in updating Michael Jackson’s Malt Whisky Companion (6th edition). However, the author’s purpose was clearly not to produce his own heavyweight version of other coffee table texts such as Michael Jackson’s Whisky (2005) or Jim Murray’s Complete Book of Whisky (1997). Here, the purpose is to tell the stories of the key people and distilleries behind the world’s best whiskies.

The introductory section contains a quick overview of distilling, production techniques for single malts, blends and bourbon followed by some brief whisky basics on tasting, glassware, whisky categories, food pairing and cocktails. The selection process of the 750 drams was meritocratic, drawn from contemporary releases and truly global in scope with sections on Scotland, USA, Canada, Ireland, Japan, Europe and the Rest of the World. Tasting notes are straight-forward, informative and expert descriptions without exuberant embellishments and the whiskies are not rated. Interspersed between the tastings are 34 distillery profiles and four distiller profiles. The majority of whiskies are accompanied by a bottle image creating a strong visual aesthetic with enticing double-spreads marking a benchmark for future reference. The creation of ten tasting symbols help you pick out different characteristics from peaty or aged to a high strength warning (George T Stagg bourbon, with eight symbols listed, has more symbols than any other) though it takes some time to become familiar with the system and whilst you’re learning, it would have been helpful to have the symbols and explanations for easy reference on the book jacket inside flap or on an accompanying bookmark. He jests about the irony of a whisky author explaining the best glass for nosing single malts yet publishers insistently placing a tumbler on the front cover. I’m calling this Roskrow’s first law of whisky publishing; check your bookshelves everybody!

There’ll be few WDJK followers unfamiliar with the author’s professional contributions to the field and you sense this is a book he’s been craving to write for years. We’ve read some sneak previews of his background research for the book through recent magazine articles and his writing style, eschewing forgettable statistics and dry passages of history, is credible yet informal, accessible and laced with his trademark references to good music and sports (frequently his cherished Leicester City soccer team). Arguably, in a selection of the world’s best whiskies, there shouldn’t be too many negative points but it does read like he’s being way too nice here. Where he has a chance to be critical, all too often he pulls back, for example on the Wemyss Smooth Gentleman where he remarks on a vaguely fishy nose and how it doesn’t leave a huge impression then draws back declaring it “pleasant enough and worth investigating”. I assume that on a rare occasion, geographical range has overridden quality during selection as a couple of whiskies are listed yet disclosed as not tasted (for example some Corsican whiskies). Similarly, during the territory overviews and profiles, where there is criticism, it is oblique and attributed to unspecified third parties, that is “some say that…” rather than the author’s personal opinion on these issues. Controversies, where they appear, are likely to be well-known tales including Cardhu’s Pure Malt, the launch of The Macallan Fine Oak range and the SWA legal objections to Glen Breton and Compass Box Spice Tree.

 Occasionally, there is overlap between the introduction of the distillery and the tasting notes leading to a degree of repetition, for example, we learn the reason behind the Buffalo Trace name on page 163, only to be reminded of the same fact on page 167. I suspect this is because most tasting books are sampled in small sections rather than read front to back. Bearing that in mind, don’t skip the rewarding sections on the innovations occurring within the blended and blended malt categories, the growth of Irish and Japanese whisky and Roskrow’s drumbeating for European and World whiskies. Finally, the most satisfying writing comes from the sharing of the anecdotes from his whisky writing career such as a late night bar debate on whisky journalism with a spirited Charlie MacLean or his night in an Irish Republican bar in Cork singing rebel songs and drinking Jameson.

With over 900 tasting notes on the Malt Advocate website, do you prefer to read tasting notes in books, magazines or online? How many notes will you read on a single release?

How long does it take you to tune into another expert’s tasting notes? When has someone got a review that perfectly matched your experiences of the whisky?

Guest blog: Book review of “101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die”

Monday, October 11th, 2010

Here’s another book review, exclusive to WDJK, by Malt Advocate features writer, Jonny McCormick.

101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die by Ian Buxton
Hachette Scotland | 224 pages

by Jonny McCormick

The prolific Mr Buxton returns with his third book of the year (I’ll leave you to insert your own Bruichladdich analogy here) but this publication championing 101 whiskies probably has the greatest mass appeal. The cover art is sharp and contemporary, reminiscent of a David McCandless graphic and whilst the title encapsulates the contents perfectly, this is no rampant bucket list of unobtainable luxuries. Buxton’s ground rules for inclusion are availability, affordability and advocacy and the list includes single malts and blends, Japanese, American, Irish, Canadian and English whiskies (Highland Park have more entries than anyone else). Premium bottles costing greater than £1000 are excluded and scarcity explains the absence of closed distillery bottlings (no Rosebank, Brora or Port Ellen here). Each double-page spread contains the bottle image, website, price bracket and distillery details on the left with justification, anecdotes and opinion about each brand or bottling opposite. The tasting notes are straight-forward, no nonsense descriptions of the big flavours devoid of hyperbole and bluster; appropriately and deliberately, he doesn’t score them either. Making the list is recommendation enough and I doubt many experienced palates will have tried every single one on the list, though I can see that could lead to some competitive blogging boasts! (One friend of mine has set the benchmark at 74 having bought a copy already). It’ll make for great bar conversations, as what makes your own 101 list will be highly personal and equally valid as this list. The book’s style is inclusive and companionable, yet sidesteps endless plauditory prose. Where necessary, he can sound the clarion call to galvanize support for particular causes such as Raymond Armstrong’s efforts at Bladnoch and Alex Nicol’s resurrection of Sheep Dip, then turn on a dime and have you chuckling with a humorous aside (can anyone suggest a more bizarre use for a Dewar’s Signature box once you’ve enjoyed the whisky?) This has clearly been both hugely enjoyable to write but also quite therapeutic and Buxton gets everything that’s been buggin’ him off his chest, accusing the Scotch Whisky Association of stifling innovation, taking a swipe at Isle of Jura whiskies which he dismisses as “bland”, criticizing the marketing of Ardbeg and “the overly self-congratulatory” Compass Box website.

This book is a gateway into the world of whisk(e)y for friends who are on the fringes; for those who’ve only dipped their toes in the pool, this book will give them the metaphorical nudge to dive on in. For novices, it’s a more approachable book than the standard texts on single malt whisky, concentrating on brands and flavour and much less worried about production nuances.  Whilst the selected whiskies are global, the text contains some UK colloquialisms (for example, I’m not sure that his analogy of Bruichladdich with Millwall soccer fans will travel too well). I did notice some minor errors such as the wrong bottle photograph on the entry for Thomas H Handy (the standard Sazerac rye bottle is shown) and the price banding for Knob Creek 9 year old, which is displayed at greater than £150 a bottle (if you are Ian Buxton’s ostentatiously wealthy whisky merchant  then shame on you). Whilst the whiskies run A-Z from Aberfeldy to Yoichi, it appears pedantic that Balvenie, Dalmore, Glenlivet, Glenrothes and Macallan aren’t listed by name but lumped at the rear of the book under the definite article and filed under “T”.

This is the book you wish you had when you first got interested in whisky especially the judicious steers towards value for money bottlings, but it still works for the more committed imbiber. Every home should have one.

What would be on your 101 Whiskies to try before you die list? How many of the 101 have you tried?

Guest blog: Book review of “Glenglassaugh”

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

Note: This the first in a series of regular book reviews, exclusive to WDJK, by Malt Advocate features writer, Jonny McCormick.

I’m in San Francisco to host Whiskyfest. Maybe I will see you there?

 

Glenglassaugh – A Distillery Reborn by Ian Buxton
 The Angel’s Share (Neil Wilson Publishing, Glasgow) |118 pages

by Jonny McCormick

Many of you will share the same scepticism as I do when it comes to approaching whisky books directly commissioned by a distillery company. However, this newly published history of Glenglassaugh distillery has much to recommend it and this high-quality book could comfortably find a place on the shelf of any single malt lover.  Whilst Ian Buxton (pictured) was Director of Marketing for the Glenglassaugh Distillery Co Ltd during this book’s creation, he has had the access and insight to complement his experience as an author without the end result becoming a glossy marketing endeavour, a process he has described as “semi-detached”.

Glenglassaugh – A Distillery Reborn makes absorbing reading from the early history of distilling in the area around the small settlement of Portsoy, Aberdeenshire and the local accomplishments of Colonel James Moir who had the distillery built in 1875 with typical Victorian vigour through to the recent history of the negotiations into the purchase of the distillery and existing stock in 2008 by the Scaent investment group from Highland Distillers who had mothballed the site in 1986. Buxton keeps the history engaging and informative including quirky asides about characters associated with the distillery.

A chapter is devoted to the major developments and changes of ownership from the late 19th century through to its cyclical periods of activity and closure in the 20th century. This includes contributions from Jim Cryle, Glenglassaugh distillery’s manager in the early 1970s and later The Glenlivet’s Master Distiller, as he recounts how attempts were made to tame this Highland spirit made with hard water from the Fordyce Burn by using soft water from Rothes brought in by tanker along with experimental changes made to distillation to try to create a Glenrothes style malt demanded by the owners of the day.

A short reference chapter on the few official and independent bottlings (backed up with an impressive photographic record) separates the old history from the renaissance as Scaent go shopping for a distillery.

Stuart Nickerson, Managing Director is central to the purchase before overseeing the million pound refurbishment as equipment left dormant for two decades is cleaned, repaired or renewed and replaced in time for that first mash on 24th November 2008.

Throughout the book, but especially at this point, the story comes alive with the accompanying original photographs by sought-after distillery photographer Ian MacIlwain (best known for the captivating Bottled History, see Malt Advocate, Q4 2009). From the dereliction of warehouse and malting floor, the dull sheen of the copper-domed Porteus mash tun to the industry of Forsyth’s men as they breathe life back into the neglected stills, MacIlwain creates studied images worthy of lingering contemplation.

With a nod to his Classic Expressions series, Buxton ends with a colour facsimile of the pamphlet by Alfred Barnard commissioned by Highland Distillers in 1898 where he described his journey to Glenglassaugh, then a mighty powerhouse with a solid reputation, interspersed with historical photographs of the young distillery. Fortunately for Glenglassaugh, there is no longer an end to its story.

Guest blog #10: Friends: you can’t have a great whisky drinking experience without ‘em

Friday, September 10th, 2010

Stephen Mathis from The Malt Impostor (http://maltimpostor.com) talks friends.

And I’m not talking about the sort of friendship one finds when, to quote Billy Joel, “they’re sharing a drink they call loneliness / but it’s better than drinking alone.”  Even though drinking alone has more virtue than that quote implies, sharing whisky with friends allows mere alcoholic consumption to transform into something truly extraordinary.  At the risk of waxing philosophical, sharing whisky with others renders both the friendship and the whisky itself more meaningful.  Even if the whisky you’re drinking is atrocious, having friends present who are willing to sit with you and slag that liquid atrocity transforms the whole experience into something wonderful.

It was precisely this effect that gave rise to a very silly project called The Malt Impostor:  One cold January day, Bill, John, and I set out for a great scotch bar to sample single malts.  Over the course of the afternoon we spent there, whisky became something more to us than it had been before. And it was that same laughter-filled afternoon that inspired us to create a website with humorous takes on whisky tasting notes.  Since then, the one thing we have appreciated most about our “work” has been the opportunity it has given us to deepen our friendship.

What was the best whisky drinking experience you’ve ever had?  Let us know in the comment section (you can change names to protect the innocent—or the guilty, whichever the case may be).  I’m willing to bet friends played a key role in making it great.

Guest Blog #9:What would visitors to a new whisky centre like to see and do?

Thursday, September 9th, 2010

Nick White, Managing Director of A.Dewar Rattray Ltd, Independent Bottler, is today’s guest blogger on “What Do You Know?”. Nick questions ” What would visitors to a new whisky centre like to see and do?”

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We are opening a new head office, shop and whisky centre in Kirkoswald, South Ayrshire.  This is a development that the company owner, Stanley Walker Morrison (former part owner of Morrison Bowmore Distillers), has always wanted to do.  Now in association with A.Dewar Rattray Ltd we are developing a unique whisky centre with :

• a small warehouse room where you can fill your own bottle straight from an actual maturing cask
• an extensive sample room where you can nose and taste a plethora of samples from single casks
• a formal tasting room with whisky artifacts, collectibles on display, cooperage tools and other whisky related memorabilia

My problem is there is nothing like this currently in existence.  Apart for the Whisky Experience  on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh the only whisky centres are part of distilleries.  In addition, there is nothing like this at all on the mainland West of Scotland.  Arran is the nearest distillery that you can visit.  Grants/Ailsa Bay is very near us but they are not open to the public.
 
I would be fascinated to know what would attract enthusiasts to visit us.  Any new ideas on what is missing from distillery tours?
 
Please note that the Whisky Centre does not open until April 2011.  Renovation work has just started.

Guest blog #7: The journey toward knowing whisky

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

Guest blogger, Jason Young takes you along on his journey toward knowing whisky. He blogs along the way at www.discoveringdionysus.com and asks for your guidance here.

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When John posted the question ‘What do you know,’ I thought it was perfect because it is a question I have been asking myself for awhile now. Or, more specifically, I have asked how people like John have come to know what they know, and how I might gain some of that knowledge and experience. You see, I am a mere 24 years old and am just beginning to explore the wonderful world of malted beverages. As I continue this exploration, I have become more interested in appreciating their many nuances and this, in turn, has led me to scour the many great writings and reviews out there by people like John. While these writers have taught me a great deal, I often wonder how they managed to achieve the level of expertise that they now possess. In this blog post I wanted to share my own strategy for gaining tasting ‘expertise,’ in the hopes that I might spark a conversation about how others have learned to better appreciate and understand their drams. Hopefully some of the comments will help me and other young whisky lovers as we fine tune our palates.

Obviously, the most effective (and enjoyable!) way for me to better appreciate a good whisky is to try as many different whiskies as I can… nothing beats experience. Since college my whisky collection has steadily grown from a young bottle of Glenfiddichto now include aged malts from around Scotland and the rest of the world. However, this can get quite expensive, particularly when you want to taste some of the older or rarer varieties (and who doesn’t?!?). So, lately I have been looking for ways to expose myself to a larger variety of whiskies for a lower cost. One strategy is to go out to a good whisky bar, but, unfortunately I haven’t found a great one around me. Instead, I recently came across Master of Malt’s sample collection, which allows me to buy a handful of miniatures for a fraction of the cost of a full bottle. I purchased about half a dozen samples from them a few weeks ago, and I have to say that it was a great experience. Lately I have also been thinking about joining For Scotch Lovers’s Whisky Explorers Club, which sends out 24 50mL samples a year to members. I’m curious what other strategies people use to get their whiskies? Obviously, receiving free official samples from distilleries would be nice, but I don’t see myself becoming lucky like that anytime soon…

In my mind, though, it isn’t enough to simply taste a dram… drinking, and its appreciation, is a social phenomenon and I find that sharing the tasting enhances the experience and leaves everyone with new perspectives. Nothing is better than getting a couple of friends to bring over their own bottles, put them all up on the table with a couple of glasses, and make a night of it. However, even when friends aren’t around, I have found another way to socialize my drinking experience—writing. Very recently I started my own blog (www.discoveringdionysus.com), where I am attempting to explore the process of growing a better appreciation of various wines and spirits. I find it has been extremely helpful, if only on a personal level, to write down my thoughts on whatever I am drinking. I often then go out and find other reviews of the dram, so that I can directly compare my experience with other people’s thoughts. At times my own notes correlate closely with others, and at other times I swear that some flowery reviews must simply be invented as part of a poetry project… But, at any rate, not only have those comparisons been very rewarding in themselves, but throughout the process I have encountered many new blogs and magazines that have helped me hone my tastes and expand my knowledge. So, perhaps another question for discussion is, what are your favorite sources of whisky knowledge (aside from What Does John Know?, of course)?

Finally, there are more institutional ways to expand one’s palate. I will admit that this is an area that I haven’t explored much, but I would love to learn about any good opportunities. For example, in college I took a semester-long wine tasting course, and I strongly believe that those classes did more to evolve my relationship with wine than anything else I’ve ever done. In all likelihood the techniques I learned in that class probably highly influence the way in which I taste other beverages. I would love to take a similar class created specifically for whiskies. I am even interested in the whisky nosing kits I sometimes see advertised, which supposedly help me identify the scents in my whiskies. I would also love to visit more distilleries, or perhaps participate in some of the society events that I sometimes read about. In the past I have only ever been to the Jameson distillery, but it was a blast, so I’m hoping to save my pennies for future international outings.

So, these are a few of the ways that I’ve thought of to increase ‘what I know.’ Hopefully I have gotten you to think a little bit about how you have come to know what you know, and hopefully you will share your journey with me. I would love to know about great places to buy or drink odd drams, obscure magazines I might subscribe to or books I might find, or classes and events I might look forward to attending. I will say with utter certainty that the one thing I do know is that I am very excited to be a new member of this great community!

Guest blog #6: Whisky improved

Monday, September 6th, 2010

The guest blog, “What Do YouKnow?” rolls on with Steffen Bräuner of http://danishwhiskyblog.blogspot.com/. Steffen explores the changes in whisky over time in “Whisky Improved”.

 I have a range of favorite distilleries. 

Everybody does I guess. For me this has clearly been affected by what’s available out there on the open market for us whisky consumers. When I started with malt whisky I was purchasing the major brands, but as I got in the know about where to find bottlings and located strange bottlings in speciality stores my preferences became more nuanced. Unless you live in a place where the available selection is very limited, I guess this goes for most of us.

I also have a range of distilleries I don’t like and have been avoiding. I tried their whiskies and found them not to my likings (Bad whisky?) or maybe the whisky I tried was just very very forgettable.

Well, avoiding distilleries as a principle might not be the best idea. The last couple of years I did decide to be more open-minded and retry whiskies I had a very set opinion on as being BAD! or BORING!

And I didn’t regret that!

Quite a lot of distilleries has improved their products a lot. Bowmore lost what seemed to me like perfume characteristic and has become “normal” a few years ago. I did look upon Isle of Jura, Ledaig/Tobermory and Fettercairn as producing a whisky more similar to sour socks than anything drinkable, but my recent retries of these malts has proved me wrong. I’d like to single out Tobermory/Ledaig which by going to 46.3%, 10yo age statement, unchillfiltered and probably also a change in production methods lifted their whiskies up to a much higher level. Burn Stewart did a similar thing with Deanston that improved a lot as well.

I didn’t have that high thoughts about Tomatin, but that changed dramatically when they revatted their bottlings last year (with higher ABV as well). Arran wasn’t really my favourite either, but this is an ugly duckling amongst the distilleries and as it has been coming of age, I have started to really enjoy their whiskies. It’s no secret I regard the Arran Peacock as one of the best malts of 2009.

Balblair, BenRiach and also Imperial has impressed me a lot the last years. Balblair due to their vintage series, BenRiach with a change of ownership and Imperial due to Duncan Taylor’s extra attention. (Duncan Taylor thought they were gonna buy Imperial so I stocked up, and what fine malts, quite young even, they released recently).

And who wasn’t surprised by the things BenRiach has been releasing since Billy Walker took over?

Moral: Be open-minded. Whisky changes, distillery changes, the people bottling the whisky changes. Things do improve.

Any distilleries surprised you lately ?

Guest blog #5: One last drink

Friday, September 3rd, 2010

Ryan Beard of Boozeblogger.com serves as today’s guest blogger. “One last drink”  is a deep approach to get to the bottom of a very simple question.

Christopher Hitchens is dying. Whether you love him or hate him the man is now faced with a fate we will all meet by a method of departure most of us hope to avoid. He’s been diagnosed with late-stage esophageal cancer and if he’s very, very lucky he might make it another few years. People die every day and while there may be better men to mourn there might be no better man to answer the question concerning libations and departures we pose to you today.

These are Hitchens’ 10 Commandments for Drinking from his recently released memoir: Hitch 22

1.Don’t drink on an empty stomach: the main point of the refreshment is the enhancement of food.
2.Don’t drink if you have the blues: it’s a junk cure.
3.Drink when you are in a good mood.
4.Cheap booze is a false economy.
5.It’s not true that you shouldn’t drink alone: these can be the happiest glasses you ever drain.
6.Hangovers are another bad sign, and you should not expect to be believed if you take refuge in saying you can’t properly remember last night. (If you really don’t remember, that’s an even worse sign.)
7.Avoid all narcotics: these make you more boring rather than less and are not designed – as are the grape and the grain—to enliven company.
8.Be careful about up-grading too far to single malt Scotch: when you are voyaging in rough countries it won’t be easily available.
9.Never even think about driving a car if you have taken a drop.
10.It’s much worse to see a woman drunk than a man: I don’t know quite why this is true but it just is. Don’t ever be responsible for it.

So here’s the question. Imagine you are told the date and time of your death and, in that final hour, given access to one last dram of any whisk(e)y in existence or out of existence. One final drink before you shove off into the darkness. What would you choose? Would you choose the most expensive in the world? Maybe the oldest you can think of? Maybe that one that you never could find. Maybe the same one your father or grandfather drank, the scent of which you still remember wistfully when you think of Him. Would it be your old standard or a new favorite? Would you break into the Buffalo Trace distillery and crack open a barrel knowing that they’ll NEVER TAKE YOU ALIVE?! I might. 

Either way let us know your thoughts in the comments. And make it a good one; it’s your last.

Guest blog #4: Flavored whiskies

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

Today, I introduce Jason Cretacci, a Fine Spirits Consultant in Western New York as a guest blogger. Jason explores the flavor of things . . .

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My question to the What does John know? readers concerns flavored whisk(e)ys.  I have always enjoyed Compass Box Orangerie, Wild Turkey American Honey & Phillps Union Cherry Whisky.  I have also had the good fortune to try Bird Dog Blackberry Whiskey and Whitetail Caramel Flavored Whiskey.  Now, these are not something I would drink on a regular basis, but they have their place on whiskey rack, the store shelf, and on the back of bars.  These are great ways to introduce people to whiskeys, the same way I would introduce friends to wine with sweeter, more approachable ones before they move on to the dryer varietals.

What flavored whiskeys have you enjoyed? Did you get your start on whiskeys through flavored whiskeys? What other flavors would you like to see on store shelves? What bad experiences have you had from flavored whiskeys?

Good Drinks,

Jason Cretacci
Fine Spirits Consultant
Passport Wine & Spirits
http://www.passportwineandspirits.com

Guest blog #3: The Whisky War Chest

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

Nate Nicoll, blogger at www.whiskywall.wordpress.com, joins “What Do You Know” as today’s guest blogger and opens the whisky war chest.

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While drinking does not always need to be a battle, and hopefully most of the time it is not, of fundamental importance to the savvy and seasoned imbiber of spirits is how one stocks the war chest.  And this isn’t just any war chest, this is the cache of whiskies that must have a proper balance of bottles to fortify one’s abode against any unprecedented or decidedly welcome peril.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way.  One must stock a celebratory-grade whisky.  This is something you tend to ignore, perhaps dusting it off occasionally and admiring it, pondering when the day will arrive when you will be justified in cracking the seal.  This object of your fawning, this grail of sorts imparts to you a sense of purpose.  The mere idea of trying to justify savoring such a pour will inspire you to set the bar higher, to clearly state goals in your mind, the achievement of which will permit you to raise a chalice of this superlative spirit.  Simply possessing the celebratory-grade whisky can make you a better person.  And if you torture yourself for long enough, holding out till the moment when you feel you’ve earned your reward, you will probably be so deranged that the whisky will taste as nectar and in the manner of self-fulfilling prophecies, you will love it no matter what.  Depending on the depths of one’s wealth this prized bottle can be astronomically expensive.  Thoughts of bottles from now long gone distilleries like Port Ellen or Brora come to mind.

Then there is your guest whisky.  This term may be bifurcated depending on your relationship with your guests.  If your guests are limited to solid friends and family, this should be something a cut above.  More importantly, it should be an expression of you.  This whisky is an opportunity to let those you invite into a private setting to get to experience an aspect of yourself that you have come to terms with and that you entrust to those around you.  It is easy to impress a guest with something rare or fine, but to share a whisky with them that reflects something of your own tastes and personality give them insight into who you are, brings them into your inner-circle.  An expression that might surprise them or that you think to yourself “you have to try this.”  As you can see this is a highly personalized choice and will vary from drammer to drammer.  For my purposes I like to have an independent bottling of an Islay or Lowland malt.  

Then there is the other guest whisky.  If you have occasion to suffer guests that aren’t particularly welcome but seem to occasionally wash up on your shore, you might need something to make them feel special while you hide any whisky of real value.  A decent blend serves this purpose well.  Something you can use on your own when you need to inject several ounces of medicinal booze into the system and you don’t have time for sipping. And when you need to serve it you start out with the old, “I stumbled upon a surprisingly decent blend, you’ve got to try it…”  They won’t question you. They are a guest.  Such bottles are not difficult to think of or find as there are many at your local supermarket.

Perhaps the most important component of the war chest, one that is overlooked or under stocked at your own peril, is the table whisky.  The table whisky, like it’s name implies, is your daily dram.  Of supreme importance is to not be lulled in by the somewhat proletariat common-sounding term “table whisky”.  The whisky is easily the most difficult to settle upon and requires far more research then any of the previously mentioned bottles.  This whisky has to be eminently sip-able but also able to be gulped without a tinge of wasteful regret.  This is the whisky you will spend most of your time drinking.  And if you value your time, your quality of life, you will make sure you really like this whisky.  It serves as both comfort and medicine depending on the situation.  It can precede a meal and/or round a meal out.  And unless you are rolling in it, it can be inexpensive.  For a whisky to satisfy all of these things, you usually have to move on to a new table whisky every 3-to-6 months, or so.  Otherwise the familiarity takes away from the overall experience.

Solid table whiskies can be found in the $40-$60 price range, and when you find one you need to keep it well stocked.  The table whisky is the last line of defense.  Failure to properly stock a good supply of table whisky and keep that supply well tended will result in you coming through the door one night and decimating every more rarified, special occasion whisky in your collection in a misevaluated need to get further lit.  Even a few beers can trigger a run on your whisky stash, and to avoid any next-day recriminations over your rare moment of rashness, you need the table whisky to stand up against your temporary lack of judgment. 

Just like a balanced financial portfolio you must maintain a nicely diversified whisky war chest.  One that will be able to competently ride the waves of a fluctuating market of guests and fend off an unexpected run on resources. 

What is your strategy to keeping a diverse whisky war chest and what is currently in it?