Whisky tasting mat

So, how much money would you be ready to invest in single malt whisky at this point?
A:. Nothing  (Just browsing, thank you...)
B:. About C 25.-  (I'm mildly interested in SMSW.)
C:. About C 100.-  (Yeah, I'm getting in the mood, baby.)
D:. More than C 100.-  (Woohoo! I'm getting all excited. Somebody stop me!)
Indeed, it's a multiple choice question - and a guide to the available answers is included.
Or rather: Either click the option you would choose or just read all answers to see which
investment would suit you best. You can take a virtual tour of Scotland for any budget!


Drinking a fine single malt whisky is an almost sacred experience.
Acquiring that single malt whisky, on the other hand, often isn't.
Here are a few tips to help you spend your money wisely. Just a
few tips, mind you... This used to be by far the biggest chapter of
this guide, but now I moved most of the information on shopping
to the Advanced Beginner's Guide - a novice doesn't need all that.

Unless you decide to do your shopping on-line (more about that
later) you'll have to leave the comfort of your home to visit a liquor
store. But for many of us, just flying off to the local liquorist isn't an
option. First of all because the majority of the liquorists only offer a
small SELECTION of single malts. One of the things that's unique
about SMSW is the amazing variety in character, so part of the fun
is trying to compare as many different malts as humanly possible.

Browsing through a 'collection' of a dozen single malts might be fun when you're investigating a store for the first time,
but if you're anything like me you'll soon find that you need a wider selection to keep your curiosity & palate satisfied.
My second selection criterium is the PRICE LEVEL of the stores. Thanks to the internet it's fairly easy to compare
prices for a particular bottling these days, so there's no need to pay more than you have to for a single malt.
Expensive stores sometimes offer better (or at least more) ADVICE than the
supermarkets or cornershops, but many liquorists hardly know what they are
talking about anyway. So it's better to use the web as an information source.

Alas, how rarely does a person find himself lucky enough to live in the
vicinity of a liquor store that meets all the requirements I mentioned?
Very rarely, I tell you! I live in a one mile radius from five different liquor stores in Amsterdam myself, but none of them meets my requirements.
That means I have to travel to the centre of town to find a liquorist with
good service, a wide selection and decent prices. For me, this means
that a trip to an acceptable liquorist (and back) takes up at least three
hours of my time - a rare and valuable commodity. Chances are you'll
find yourself in a similar situation when looking for your first bottles.

You can find an overload of my purely personal opinions on the rest of
Malt Madness, but it might be a good idea to check out Malt Maniacs and
some other websites too. Well, if this Beginner's Guide has convinced you
to spend some actual cash on a few bottles of single malt whisky, that is...
I'll focus on 'what to buy' later, but first you'll have to decide 'where to buy'.

So, you won't have trouble spending your first Euro's / dollars.
Which brings us to the next important question; how much
should you spend? Well, obviously that's entirely up to you.
Let's assume for a moment that you're not a millionaire, OK?
In that case, the answer would be 'as little as possible', no?
When you are taking your first shaky steps into maltland you
will find out it can be quite intimidating and maybe you don't
even like it there. It would be wise to proceed with caution.
You should know more after tasting (half a) dozen whiksies.

Royal Mile Whiskies

OK - it's about time to find out for yourself what's so special about single malts, wouldn't you agree?
I've moaned about the troubles of finding a halfway decent liquorist nearby, but when you're taking your first shaky steps into the wonderful world of single malt whisky that's the least of your problems. Even within a collection of one or two dozen malt whiskies at your average local liquorist you should be able to find enough quality and variety to get you hooked.
Besides, in this digital day and age you could be living on the North pole and still have access to a wide range of malts at the hundreds of on-line stores. (Granted, getting a timely delivery on the North pole might be a little trickier than usual...)
With a credit card in your hands you can quickly & easily order malt whiskies from the comfort of my own home.

Which brings us back to the topic at hand: shopping for SMSW. If you already have a few single
malts in your collection you can now happily skip along to chapter 8 and educate yourself on the
'proper' way to enjoy a single malt whisky. But if you haven't, it might be prudent to keep reading.

Shopping in Scotland

Admittedly, this is a fun way to get yourself acquainted with the concept
of single malts, but at the end of the evening you will have learned only
one thing: you either like or don't like that particular single malt whisky.
This information isn't very useful, because of the extreme differences
between malts. The fact that you like the Macallan 10 doesn't mean you
will like the Laphroaig 10, for instance. Besides, depending on the clerk's
taste in cheap whiskies probably isn't the best way of going about things.

Hmmmm - so, you're one of those people, are you?
Never mind, even if you're still not ready to spend some real  money on SMSW there are ways of getting a few drams for free.
Especially if you're a woman in posession of a short skirt it should be easy enough. Just dress up, go to a nearby bar (or better yet, a bar that's perhaps not so nearby ;-), go sit at the bar and start looking vacant. As if by magic, your first free drink should appear in front of you within minutes. If you're a guy built like yours truly, wearing a short skirt won't get you very far - well, at least not at your average bar.
You may have to resort to leeching off whisky owning friends or drop subtle hints when your birthday or christmas is coming up.
But why wait and go through all the trouble if you can have a perfectly legal encounter with SMSW for a mere 25 Euro's?

A: Getting To Know SMSW For Free

B: Getting To Know SMSW For +/- 25 Euro's (or the equivalent in your own currency)

OK, if you're prepared to invest a modest amount (equivalent to the price of a decent middle class blend like Johnnie Walker Black, Dimple or Chivas Regal) in SMSW research there are several ways to go about it. The most obvious option (simply buying a bottle) is the easiest, and requires little or no intelligence at the purchasing end of the transaction.
Here's a quick 7-step guide for dummies:

There's one thing I should probably mention before I continue. The prices on Malt Madness are usually (more or less) valid in the largest part of the civilised world but there are some notable exceptions. I'm thinking in particular about the uncivilised prices in Scandinavian countries and in some emerging economies like India and Pakistan. The Indian government has lowered the barbaric tax of 800% on imported liquor at the end of 2003, but it will probably be a while before Indian and South African whisky lovers can enjoy a good glass of single malt Scotch whisky as casually as malt maniacs in Europe or North America can. But things are indeed slowly improving.

If you're not comfortable drinking alone, you could also take your 25 Euro's and taste a few different single malts in your local bar.
Lucky sods like myself live in a city with a few specialised whisky bars that allow you to choose from a few hundred different malt whiskies. Unfortunately, most regular bars offer just a tiny selection of single malts and a noisy, smoky atmosphere isn't always the best way to experience a good malt whisky. If you do decide to go out, I recommend you ask specifically for a large cognac glass or a sherry copita.
The good news for people depraved of good whisky bars within crawling distance is that more and more liquorists organise tutored tasting sessions for customers themselves. It might be worth it to ask about possible upcoming whisky tastings at nearby liquorists.

C: Getting To Know SMSW For +/- 100 Euro's (or the equivalent in your own currency)

With that in mind, investing 100 Euro's doesn't seem excessive, does it?
And you'll be pleased to learn that such an investment is more than enough to get you (properly) started on
your voyage of discovery through maltland. For one thing, you could take your 100 Euro's and invest them in
a visit to one of the growing number of whisky festivals. The admission fee itself will probably not consume
your entire investment, but when you consider travel expenses you'll probably spend all your 100 Euro's on
a single day. The good news is that you should be able to sample dozens of different single malt whiskies.
This will give you a pretty good idea of the amazing variety within the world of single malt Scotch whisky.

D: Getting To Know SMSW For More Than 100 Euro's (or the equivalent in your own currency)

1 - Go off to your local liquorist
2 - Fork over your 25 Euro's
3 - Tell the clerk you want a cheap bottle of single malt
4 - Ask for a complementary gift-wrap
4 - Complement the clerk on his choice
5 - Go home and try it
6 - Try it some more
7 - Pass out

Not to worry though, there's an alternative which will allow you to try several different single malts for the price of a bottle of blended whisky. Many liquorists offer a set of miniature-bottles of the 'classic malts'. This selection was introduced by United Distillers (UDV) around 1990 and the package contains some of my favourite single malts, all from different parts of Scotland. For a measly 20 or 25 Euro's you get six different single malt whiskies. They are Dalwhinnie 15yo, Lagavulin 16yo, Cragganmore 12yo, Talisker 10yo, Oban 14yo and Glenkinchie 10yo.
I tried it in 1992 and it helped me a lot in defining my tastes. The only disadvantage is that the samples are just 5cl - which makes them pretty poor value compared to a bigger 70, 75 or even 100cl bottle. If your liquorist doesn't have this set of classic malts he may have a selection of other single malts to choose from. You can find many more suggestions in the Advanced Beginner's Guide.

Shopping at Cadenhead's

Alternatively, you can spend your 100 Euro's on a few big bottles.
They offer far better value than 5cl miniatures and, what's more, they will give you the opportunity to enjoy a few malts over a longer period of time. Especially if you're not used to drinking strong liquor it may take you a while to get accustomed to the alcohol before you can distinguish the more subtle elements doing their own thing in the background. Your budget should allow you to buy yourself three big bottles (70, 75 or 100cl) of decent malt whisky. The Advanced Beginner's Guide offers an overview of more good malts for 'beginners'.
If you indeed managed to find three different single malts within the budget, the real fun can start.
With three bottles, you can organise 'head-to-head' (H2H) tastings of two different whiskies in two glasses. By making different combinations and try the whiskies in different orders with different amounts of water (on different evenings, preferably) you can already learn a lot from just three different whiskies. Chances are that you will be inspired to continue your voyage of discovery through the wonderful world of single malt whisky. Should you indeed become inspired, Malt Madness contains notes and impressions on thousands of different malt whiskies (both from Scotland and other countries) to help you choose your next discoveries carefully.

The correct answer to my question about your willingness to invest was 'D', of course!
With + 250 Euro's in your pocket you could play the big spender
and go for a top quality bottle on the top shelf at your liquorist.
Although you'll be able to bring tears of envy to the eyes of any
whisky loving friends with a bottle of Macallan 25 or Brora 30, it
might be wise to spread your first investment around a little bit.
This will allow you to explore (for example) some of the different
regional styles that make investigating SMSW such an adventure.
For circa 250 Euro's you should be able to get yourself five or six
very decent bottles of malt whisky (at the '2007' prices, mind you).
For the purpose of earlier editions of this Beginner's Guide I made
a number of 'tasting sheets' to help visitors of Malt Madness set up
their first tasting sessions. I created around a dozen different sets,
some of them based on the 'terroir' principle I discussed in chapter
three of this guide. I've now evolved into a skeptic on the 'terroirs of
Scotland' theory (at least when it comes to its day-to-day usefulness
in the modern world), so some of those tasting sheets had become
a bit of an embarrassment to me. So, I decided to get rid of them.
What's more, because of the batch variation phenomenon and long
term trends, a set-up up that would work perfectly in 2004 might not
be such a success today. That's why the Advanced Beginner's Guide
features a set of new tasting sheets that will be updated regularly.


It's easy to acquire a bottle of malt
 whisky in Europe or North America.
In countries like India or Pakistan
where import duties are prohibitively
high, buying a single malt whisky, if
available, is an adventure in itself. 


Main Segments

Anything younger than
three years isn't 'whisky'
according to the SWA.
See the chapter about
maturation for details.

Recommended Reading about whisky

Whisky Classified (David Wishart)
Handbook of Whisky (Dave Broom)
The Malt Whisky File (Lamond & Tucek)
The Whisky(e)y Treasury (Walter Schorbert)
Advanced Beginner's Guide (Johannes v/d Heuvel)

Previous ChapterA Beginner's Guide to malt whisky - OverviewNext ChapterAdvanced Beginner's Guide on WhiskyA Beginner's Guide to malt whisky - OverviewAdvanced Beginner's Guide on Whisky
Glendronach 33 years old

Maybe it's about time you started looking for your first bottles.
After all, you made it to chapter 7 of this Beginner's Guide and so
far it has mostly been theory. It's time you got your palate wet.
The next chapters deal with the actual enjoyment of single malts
and other practical issues, so if you haven't got any single malt
whiskies in the house this would be as good a time as any to
'put your money where your mouse is'. If you made it this far,
you should be ready to spend some hard earned cash by now.

Whisky wisdom

Many liquorists have a 'web presence' these days.
If you shy away from ordering your malts overseas
you should be able to find a liquorist in your area
on the world wide web, using just a search engine.
The Advanced Beginner's Guide features a list
of reliable and recommendable on-line stores.

Whisky wisdom

Below you'll find some suggestions regarding your initial explorations.
Just follow the advice that matches your BUDGET & level of curiosity.
Or not, of course. Part of the fun of single malt whisky is the fact that
each dram invites further voyages of discovery into the whisky world.
But even a voyage of a thousand miles starts with a single step...

And that's really the last bit of 'theory' in this guide - now it's high time for the actual enjoyment of single malt whisky. Knowledge is power, but there's nothing like the actual tasting experience to make you understand what's so interesting about single malts and why a growing number people are growing increasingly crazy about it. The next chapter tells you precisely how to properly enjoy a single malt whisky and make the most of your 'investment'.

Why not expand your horizons and find out for yourself what all the fuss is about?
However, I think I should warn you... You might get hooked like me and you'll be
never be able to enjoy an "ordinary" Scotch in quite the same way again...
So - proceed with caution ;-)

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Beginner's Guide

A Beginner's Guide, Chapter 7 - Shopping

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