View Full Version : The six classic malts--another whiskey thread

Steve Williams
3rd January 2001, 23:10
I wanted to start another whiskey thread after the other one drifted a lot....

Can we keep this one to a discussion of the "six classic malts" those that "Are carefully selected to best represent each of the main whiskey producing regions of Scotland. They embrace the full diversity of regional tastes and styles."

The six classic malts are:

What are they like?
Are they as good as they claim?
Has anyone had all six? (maybe Neil?)
What is the true taste, not what the label says it should be, but the real taste?

Earl Hartman
4th January 2001, 00:08
I've had Oban and I really liked it a lot. Smooth, just the right amount of smoke, and with a beautiful sweet finish. Can't comment on the others, but have been told that Laphraoig is a good representative Islay. I guess that means that I don't like Islay whiskey, since I found it far too smoky. It tasted like the tarred rope they used to use to caulk the decks of old sailing ships.

Michael Becker
4th January 2001, 11:14
Another splendid thread!

I have had both the Lagavulin ( 16 year old and Distillers Edition 1979 ) and the Talisker.

Both of them are exellent malts, though not for the novice drinker.


The 15 year old Laphroiag is supposed to be the best vintage-better than the 10 year old or older vintages.

The ten year old has been compared to cough medicine and tends to get strong reactions one way or another!

I would say that the Lagavulin is noticably better than the Laphoiag, but it still has a strong peat flavour.

4th January 2001, 13:01
I've had the Dalwhinnie (only a dram from someone else's glass at the Games unfortunately) and really enjoyed it. Nice and very smooth.

BTW, while the Irish and US "whiskeys" are spelled with an 'e', the Scottish whiskys are not.

Kempoka, Highland Athlete and Whisky Drinker

Steve Williams
4th January 2001, 14:35
This is the information I have on the "six classic malts"

Lagavulin: A 16 year old distinctive and powerful Islay malt. It is deeply smoky and peaty with a velvety, complex finish

Glenkinchie: A10 year old soft, sweetly aromatic malt from the 'Garden of Scotland'. It has a fresh, grassy sweetness balanced with a warming, dryish finish.

Dalwhinnie: A 15 year old gentle, delicate malt from the wild and windswept Highlands. It is a subtle, smooth delicately smoky malt with a heathery, honey finish.

Cragganmore: A 12 year old elegant, sophisticated Speyside with the most complex aroma of any malt. Astonishingly fragrant with sweetish notes and a smoky maltiness on the finish.

Oban: A 14 year old combining the sophistication of the Highlands with a touch of the peaty style of the Islands. It is rich and full-bodied with a mellow fruity finish.

Talisker: A 10 year old and the only malt produced on Skye. Its seaweedy, smoky nose and sweet maltiness is perfectly complimented by its spicy long finish.

Steve Williams
4th January 2001, 14:40
From a personal viewpoint, of these six, I have only had the Lagavulin.
It is very good, a strong smoky/ peaty aroma, and after-taste. Very smooth going down as well, no "rough edge".

I would compare it to the Laphroag, in the aroma and after-taste but it is a lot smoother.

I now have a new goal, to taste all six........ :laugh:


4th January 2001, 14:51
If I remember correctly I found the Lagavulin to be quite peaty, and not altogether pleasent. It is probably the most distinctive and difficult to enjoy...(not saying that I don't of course).

Neil Yamamoto
9th January 2001, 22:17
OK, time for me to jump in I guess.

The six classic malts are nothing more then a marketing plan very well executed by United Distillers, the parent company that owns all these distilleries and a good number more. As Steve said, these are to represent characteristics of the region where the distillery is located.

Are these good whiskies? Yes, most definitely. Are they classics? Well that’s another story to argue about over a wee dram of whatever you prefer. United picked these whiskies based upon marketability and distillery capabilities. That is, not just quality but the ability to produce enough scotch to keep up with supply and demand issues. Nothing wrong with this at all, simply good business practices.

Build demand with a marketing campaign. Now add in some mystique. In this case, act like this was reached as a consensus by a board of master distillers (No kidding, this is what one of the marketing reps who works for an alcohol distributor out here in Seattle told me and my friend who owns a bar.) This is maybe true, but if so they all worked for United.

There was also a short video produced to train bartenders, restaurant staff, etc. to push this line and it looks pretty good provided you don’t know it was produced by United Distillers. It gives the impression that these are the best Scotches on the market. Then once you have done this, make sure you have supplies to meet demand. It worked. I have had several bartenders repeat almost verbatim what the video says to me when I ask what are the best scotches they have in the bar.

Here’s my take on these and what I consider to be classics from the regions. The quotes Steve posted first from the United Distillers comments then my take on the stuff.

United says:
Lagavulin: A 16 year old distinctive and powerful Islay malt. It is deeply smoky and peaty with a velvety, complex finish.

Scotch is an acquired taste and Islay whiskies are hard to like even for most Scotch drinkers. Lagavulin is one of my favorite Islay whiskies but the classic for most Scotch-aholics is Ardbeg. Ardbeg is not owned by United, and hence not a classic, and is unfortunately closed by the owners Allied Domecq. The marketing of Lagavulin was so successful due to the classics sales pitch that supplies ran low for a time in the mid 1990’s and it was hard to find for a short time. Port Ellen produced until the mid 1980’s and is better then Lagavulin but Port Ellen was shut down for purely economic reasons by United.

United says:
Glenkinchie: A 10 year old soft, sweetly aromatic malt from the 'Garden of Scotland'. It has a fresh, grassy sweetness balanced with a warming, dryish finish.

Glenkinichie is a very good Scotch again. But a classic? Naw. The classic of the lowlands is Rosebank, the 8-year-old specifically. Also owned by United. But Rosebank is in no condition to produce quantities needed without a major overhaul costing multi million dollars so quality booze or not, it was shut down. Given there are only 3 distilleries still producing in the lowlands, Glenkinichie is the best United has to offer. Garden of Scotland? What a load of tripe. The lowlands were never considered a great distilling region and the majority of distilleries, over 30 total, all failed due to lousy quality and too strong a competition. Glenkichie is located in a barley producing region so could be called a garden area if you strech things a bit.

United says:
Dalwhinnie: A 15 year old gentle, delicate malt from the wild and windswept Highlands. It is a subtle, smooth delicately smoky malt with a heathery, honey finish.

United picked Dalwhinnie as the Highland classic and it is a great whisky. Out of the United distilleries, Dalwhinie really appeals to both women and men as an easy whisky to drink; the bourbon cask aging allows the sweetness and floral flavor to come out. Yep, there are Highland whiskies which are as good as Dalwhinnie. Try Deanston in some bottlings over 15 years old, Aberfeldy at 12 years old, Edradour when the casking is good at 10 years old, Glen Goyne at 17 years, but none of these are owned by United and are not as consistent in quality. They also made renovations to the Dalwhinnie distillery to attract more visitors, which increased the sales of the whisky. Really smart for a bunch of haggis bashers.

United says:
Cragganmore: A 12 year old elegant, sophisticated Speyside with the most complex aroma of any malt. Astonishingly fragrant with sweetish notes and a smoky maltiness on the finish.

Now this is really one that some people I know get their kilts up about. Cragganmore is a darn good whisky and has a really strong following. It’s one of the best United has but the classic of Speyside? The old owners, Scotch Malt Distillers plc, considered Cragganmore their best distillery. Most people I know will rave about Macallan, Glen Rothes, Glenfarclas, Abelour, Belvenie, Ardmore, and Glentauchers as classics but dismiss Cragganmore as too common. To my taste, Mortlach and Linkwood, also owned by United, are as good as, if not better then Cragganmore.

In this case I think it was a matter of economics, Cragganmore was in better shape for facitlites, and could produce greater quantities consistently with the quality needed. But it all comes down to what you prefer in your booze and in this case United had all the right factors- consistent quality, output quantity and good facilities, in Cragganmore

United says:
Oban: A 14 year old combining the sophistication of the Highlands with a touch of the peaty style of the Islands. It is rich and full-bodied with a mellow fruity finish.

Well, this is a classic. No other whisky in the region can produce such quality and consistency in their whisky. Isle of Jura is very good to great stuff but is owned by another company, Whyte and MacKay. Ben Nevis owned by Nikka, is every bit as good as Oban in my opinion when you can find it as a single malt. Most of it is used in blends.

United says:
Talisker: A 10 year old and the only malt produced on Skye. Its seaweedy, smoky nose and sweet maltiness is perfectly complimented by its spicy long finish.

Talisker is considered a region of it’s own by most people even though it is not far from the west and island region that includes Oban and Isle of Jura. Talisker is just great stuff. An acquired taste as are all island whiskies, but I have acquired it thankfully.
Now this begs a few questions. How about the Eastern Highlands? Well, United has only one distillery there, Royal Lochnagar, so this region goes unnoticed in the classics malt series. It earned the right to use the Royal in the name when an invitation to Queen Victoria to visit the distillery was sent to Balmoral and the Royal family turned up the next day at the front door in the late afternoon having strolled over from the palace. Queen Victoria used to mix her scotch with claret, so I question her taste in booze anyway.

Royal Lochnagar is just passing as a single malt nowadays. Quality has not been maintained and my old bottle of good stuff is long gone. So since United has no real output here, there is no eastern Highland classic I guess. Just as well, most eastern highland scotches stink. Glen Garioch is an exception at 8 and 15 years old in the last few years though.

How about the Campbeltown area? Campbeltown was one of the major scotch producing areas with over 20 distilleries active in a small town of about 2000 in the 1800’s. They also produced some of the best whisky on the market as the only 2 distilleries still here are Springbank and Glen Scotia still do today. Why is it ignored? The other major whisky producing companies are none to fond of the owner of Springbank, JA Mitchell & Co. The subsidiary private bottling company JA Mitchell owns, Cadenhead, sells independent bottlings from other distilleries and this upsets them for some reason. United Distillers especially. Leaving this area out is somewhat of a snub.

Northern Highlands and the Orkaney’s is also ignored here. Probably because Clynelish is the only distillery United owns up here and production is spotty at best. This leaves out Old Pultney, Highland Park, Glenmorangie, and Dalmore and these are pretty darn good whiskies and better then some of the whiskies picked by United as classics.

So, what it comes down to is clever marketing increased sales for a company’s own portfolio of subsidiaries. Hey, I’m in sales for a living and I understand this perfectly. But don’t for a minute think that the classic malt series is anything but a marketing pitch just like “Wasssssup!?” plugs Budweiser.

[Edited by Neil Yamamoto on 01-09-2001 at 05:26 PM]

Earl Hartman
9th January 2001, 23:24

We are not worthy! We are not worthy!

Ummmm...do you do anything else other than study whisky?

Steve Williams
10th January 2001, 19:03
Thanks Neil for your whisky insight (as full and informative as ever, do you have a real job? :laugh: )

We bow to your superior knowledge, and now I have a question for you...

What are the "Neil Yamamoto Classic Malts", there may be more than six since you mention eastern highlands and orkney as other possible malt producers, I would (seriously) be interested to know your recommendations, since I am a (relative) newcomer to whisky drinking I am trying to get a "taste" of them all, but also trying to avoid the c**p (blended??), could be a whole new thread......

Also could you include (if possible) alternatives for any that are no longer available ?

Joseph Svinth
11th January 2001, 08:10
Hey, don't be so hard on blended -- Royal Salute is drinkable. Meanwhile I've had some single malts that tasted like somebody put his cigarette out in the bottle.

Neil Yamamoto
12th January 2001, 23:27
I was channeling Joe Svinth on my previous response that’s why it was so detailed. Joe has taken possession of me again, so stop reading now unless you want Scotch whisky overload.

First, I actually do other things then research scotch. That’s why this reply was long in coming. I was in Las Vegas for a week for work at the Consumer Electronics Show with meeting after meeting and walking the convention hall to get to meetings. Not fun! But I got time now, so…

The business stuff on Scotch I know a little about because I was reading up on stuff for work, distribution methods and such, and one of the business channels I read about had a look at alcohol distribution and involved scotch.

Steve, I highly recommend you and anyone else interested read Michael Jackson’s “Complete Guide to Single Malt Scotch” and also his “Whiskies of the World” books. Also very good; "The Single Malt Whisky Companion" by Helen Arthur and Jim Murray’s “The Complete Guide to Whiskey”. And can’t remember the names, but the books by Gavin Smith, and the book co written by Tucek and Lamond are good references. Contradicting information in Murray’s book to the others though. A really good book is called “Drink- A history of drinking in America” for a general look at how society is reflected by their alcohol consumption.

I also suggest you start to take notes on the booze you try. Comes in handy later. That's where most of what you are reading here comes from.

I may seem like a snob since I know a bit about booze, but I don’t let that get in the way of what people like to drink. I just think that if you can drink the good stuff, why drink just the inexpensive and bad stuff? Good booze is a real treat, as is good food. Not all fit the mood you are in and the crowd you are with.

Single Malt at a Korean restaurant is not only snobbish, it’s stupid since you can’t taste what you are drinking. Beer is perfect since it complements the food and puts out the spices in the food. Wanna go to a Mexican or Indian Curry place and drink Scotch? Not in my book. Now if I’m gonna drink, I’m gonna try and drink better quality booze most of the time. I enjoy it more and drink less then I would drinking cheap stuff. It’s simply more satisfying.

But – Heilman’s Old Style, Rolling Rock, Lone Star, Olympia, Bud, all sell for a reason. Easy to drink, goes with food, and is very affordable. Same goes for cheap booze, mixes well and is affordable and that counts for a lot with cocktails, which were really developed to hide the taste of badly made booze. Think Long Island iced teas. Made with the cheapest crap in the bar and it still tastes pretty good even if the main purpose of these is to get hammered.

Now as to blends, they exist for a reason. They are purposely lighter in flavor and mouth feel since not everyone want’s a single malt and the characteristics of a single malt, which can be overpowering. Blends can range from 10% to about 85% single malts in a blend depending on the quality wanted by the blender. Pick one to fit your tastes and budget.

Blends were the only thing that kept the most distilleries in business for years. Selling their malt is still a major source of revenue for some distilleries. There are some malts that are crafted specifically for use in blends such as Alt- a Bhainne and Braeval. Some of these malts taste off balance as single malts, Dailuaine is an example. There are good blends on the market, I have some in my cabinet.

What I disagree with is the cost of most good and high end blends. For the money, I don’t see why anyone would buy the Walker blends at over $100 per bottle. Just not worth it when a bottle of Abelour or Oban is about $40U.S.

For example, Almost all Irish whiskey on the market are blends and you don’t see people turn their noses up at these unless it is just badly made. The best Irish whiskey I have ever tasted is a blend, Jameson Gold, which is over 80% single malt but is still a blend. Power’s, Jameson 1780, and Black Bushmill are blends- 70% or more single malt, and are very wonderful drinks to sip and relax after leaving the dojo. The Tyrconnell, Connemeara, and Cooleys are single malt Irish, but the good blends stand up very well in comparison to the single malts.

The same applies to Scotch. There are times you don’t want a strong characteristic that most single malts have. Then I go for something light in a single malt or a blend. That’s why I keep a lighter malt like Glenlivet, Grant’s, Benriach, or Cardhu around with a couple blends. That’s also why lots of people add a splash of water to their single malt.

Teacher’s Highland cream which is a very good blend, 70% single malt, so it is rich in flavor but not over powering. My friends are routinely fooled into thinking it is a single malt. A blend is still the bottle I reach for when guests come over since most people can’t and won’t enjoy a single malt. I also add a splash of water to my single malt when I want a mellow drink. So, try these blends and see if you change your tune.

Teacher’s Highland Cream – Best of the blends to my taste and I think for the money a great value. Smoky with sherry overtones. Under $20U.S. Reminds me a lot of Ardmore which makes sense since it is used in Teacher’s blends.

Famous Grouse – A very good blend, more sherry flavor then Teachers, the Grouse Gold Reserve is great, smooth and lots of malt honey flavors. Under $20U.S. and about $35-$40U.S. for the Gold reserve.

Stewart’s Cream of the Barley – Not a good as Teachers, but a smooth blend anyway. Like the name implies, creamy feel in the mouth with a nice nutty undertone. Under $20U.S.

Buchanan’s blends, the older are better. Try the 17year old. About $40U.S. for the 17yr.

Ballantines 12 yr old is good, the 17 yr old was great. Light but crisp, clean, fruit and honey flavor with a mild finish. The 17 yr is about $45U.S.

As to the Neil Yamamoto classics, my rule of thumb is if you like it, then it is good. Every distillery has something they make that is good to great. The question is can you find it and afford it.

I listed some of the better whiskies I’ve had on the previous thread but here are some of the whiskies I think stand out in my tasting by region and I know are available even if hard to find.

All the Islay are tasty to me when at the right age. Bowmore Legend, 12 yr old and 17yr old, Laphroig 15 yr, Lagavulin 16 yr, Bruichladdich 10 yr, Bunnahabain 10yr and 12 yr are easily available. Caol Ila is the only one that I did not like, but this distillery has been poorly run and neglected. Standouts are; Ardbeg- $80 for the 17 year old, hard to find now, Port Ellen – hard to find about $100 per bottle if you can find it, Bowmore 30 year old at about $180 per bottle.

I just love Springbank! Not cheap, but well worth finding and indulging in a bottle. Depth of flavor and peat balance better here then in Islay malts to my tastebuds. The 15 yr and the 21 yr are the best of the bunch. Glen Scotia can make good booze, but the quality is up and down, also is near impossible to find. Standout – Longrow also made by Springbank is expensive but worth paying for a shot in a bar.

Orkneys and Highlands
Glenmorangie, Highland Park, and Dalmore are easy to find. Highland Park simply makes good whisky, but there is bit more peat to it then some people like. For smooth and consistent with variety of casking used, Glenmorangie wins. Try the Portwood, Sherrywood, and Madeirawood finishes. Dalmore makes a heavier but still smooth whisky and there is a bit more smoke to it. Standouts but may be hard to find are;
Old Pultney 12yr is as good at it gets with Pultney, Scapa is rich tasting and reminds me of good chocolate for some reason. The Stillman’s dram 30 yr from Dalmore is very good stuff.

Islands and West Highlands
Talisker and Oban are joint winners and standouts here for me. Which I reach for depends on my mood. Isle of Jura is good at 12 years, similar to Bunnahabain to my taste, but a little more peaty. Ben Nevis is great but nearly impossible to find. Isle of Arran is not available as a single malt yet, but is supposed to be released this year.

Central Highlands and Midlands
Some people refer to this region as Perthshire. The standouts are; Dalwhinnie and Glenturret. Glenturret is rich nutty with honey and smooth, hard to find. Glengoyne 17 yr old and Deanston 12 yr old are both worth seeking out. Aberfeldy 12 yr old is wonderful and hard to find.
Tullibardine is very good and so is Edradour 10 yr if the casking was right. There have been problems at the distillery and you won’t know until you open the bottle.

Eastern Highlands
Most E Highland whiskies are dreck. The best of the E highlands is Glen Garioch at 8yrs as a bargain, and the 15 is pretty darn tasty. Lochnagar is OK and is pretty good in the select reserve but I won’t spend $200 for a bottle of this when so much better is available.

The motherland of Scotch, lots of great whisky is made here. Look for any of these and you won’t be disappointed.
Macallan – Any version is good, even the 10 yr sold in Italy is better then most whiskies.
Glen Rothes – Any year from 1979 to 1984 is great. The 27yr cask strength I had was the best whisky I have ever had.
Glenfarclas- Same as Macallan, hard to find a bad one.
Abelour- The 15 is fantastic, smooth and lots of sherry, honey and creamy flavor. The 10 yr is not quite as rich and smooth
Cardhu – A very good simple clean tasting malt. Perfect for people who claim not to like scotch.
Longmorn – The 15yr is rich and smooth, malty sweet and lightly fruity.
Speyburn – Great value for the money, a sweet and crisp flavor, a bit of bite to it.
Glenlivet – Pedestrian yes, but still a great whisky. The 18 yr and the 21 yr are standouts.
Mortlach – If you can find it buy it.
Glenglassaugh – If you can find it buy it.
Benriach – 10yr is very crisp and clean, perfect for a change from the sherried malts.
Strathisla – Not a standout but a great malt, oily and somewhat heavy, hints of mint and smoke
Ardmore – Only in independent bottlings, worth trying, a great speyside style malt
Craigallachie – Soft creamy and rich in the mouth, a nice smoky background.

The Lowlands have Glenkinichie which I already mentioned in this thread. Rosebank 8yr old is my favorite but this is hard to find nowadays. A recent newcomer to the list of good stuff is Auchentoshan triple wood. This is good stuff, nice and rich with sherry and oak, lots of aroma of honey and hints of fruit. Yeah, I like this stuff. The regular Auchentoshan is OK stuff, nice and light from triple distillation with a light fruity and herbal flavor. I think it makes a great hot toddy with clover honey, a couple cloves and a cinnamon stick.

I think I have exhausted the subject. Sorry Steve, but this will probably kill the thread. Email me any more questions, happy to discuss my one bad habit with one seeking to develop the habit. BTW, no I don't drink all the time. Just when I am around fellow e-budoka like Aaron, Joe, and Doug.

14th January 2001, 13:06
For a superior whiskey try Dungorney (a very rare irish whiskey, produced by accident - long story) or Bushmills millenium malt. I find irish whiskey nicer than scotch because it is distilled three times rather than two and the barley is malted in a closed kiln so you miss out on the taste of campfire.

Steve Williams
2nd March 2001, 20:49
Got a bottle of Oban last week

Just having a sip as I write this, and it's good :)

Not quite as much smoke as I normally like, but it has a great finish.......... :toast:

Neil Yamamoto
2nd March 2001, 21:50

I really like the Oban, lots of balanced flavor and great finish.

Since you like the smoke, get the Talisker next. It will probably end up being your favorite. The first time I had Talisker I wasn't ready for it, blew me away and it took awhile before I could appreciate the stuff.

The newer bottlings are not a smoky as the one I had the first time I tried it. But it's still plenty smoky and should be to your liking.

Steve Williams
3rd March 2001, 21:44
Thanks again Neil

I probably owe you a drink for all the advice, with that in mind I will be taking a holiday in the US this year (Washington state) with my wife, if possible (and you obviously know some good bars ;) ) we could meet up for a 'dram'.
We will be in Seattle at the end of August for a couple of days, let me know if it is feasable.

Neil Yamamoto
5th March 2001, 18:21
Hi Steve,

Please do let me know if you will be in Seattle. If you like I can also arrange if they are available to meet some other seattle area e-budo-ka. Just give me as much notice as possible, so I can make sure my schedule is free.

BTW, for anyone interested, there is a 3d virtual tour of a distillery on this link. It's all in German but still pretty neat even though I can't read it.


John Lindsey
6th March 2001, 20:24
Great thread..and making me a tad bit thirsty! But then again, I am more of a beer drinker. But, lets see what happens at the e-budo party in tokyo later this month...


Neil Yamamoto
6th March 2001, 20:26

The smilie guy looks like me drinking a pint of Guinness. When did you take the footage of me drinking?