Whisky Galore

May 3rd, 2012

Ah, the simple pleasures.  I have for some time enjoyed a drop of the old single malt, but have done so in a pretty scattergun fashion.  So I figured that it was time to take things to the next level and remove all the fun from the business by really starting to identify what I like and what I don’t, hence:

I had inherited an old bottle of Macallan from my grandad (1960 vintage), and thought it would be kind of worthless.  Imagine my surprise when I was able to trade it for a dozen serious bottles of scotch and still have some change left over!  So, from Islay – Ardbeg Corryvreckan, Bruichladdich Infinity.  From the Highlands, just a Dalmore 15.  From the Islands, a Talisker 18 and a Highland Park 18, from the Lowlands, a Bladnoch 20 and an Auchentoshan 3 Wood.  From Speyside, an AnCnoc 16, Longmorn 16, Balvenie Single Barrel, Aberlour 18, and a Glenfarclas 21.

The differences in packaging and presentation always amuse me, I must say.  Look at the Bruichladdich (second from the left) in a can and with information technology type jargon on it – they so modern!  Look at the mid-80s gentleman’s club styling of the Glenfarclas (third from right) – they so traditional!  The plucky folks at Bladnoch couldn’t afford a marketing consultant so they just used an old milk-bottle and stuck the label on with spit.  The Longmorn on the far right has had a fancy relaunch and hence sports some truly ludicrous packaging, with articulated magnetic box and leather footed bottle.  Really.  Cos I often find when I put the bottle down the jarring impact is most upsetting and I think to myself – I don’t care what it tastes like, what I really want is a whisky whose bottle-bottom is somehow softened for my added convenience.  THEN I’ll feel like I’ve arrived.

If anyone’s interested in hearing more about this self-indulgent voyage into my own navel, let me know.  I’m not really a tasting notes kind of guy, but I may well pair them up and compare them in a grudge match styley, a blood-sport tournament of whiskies in which there can be only one winner…

Or, if no one’s interested (and I wouldn’t blame you), maybe I’ll just drink ’em in contemplative silence.



Posted in Other Life by Joe Abercrombie on May 3rd, 2012.

71 comments so far

  • Jeff Johnson says:

    I love my Single Malts. My bourbons as well. For Scotch, the smokier the better. For bourbons, well, I like the rye ones, not the wheated, and prefer the ones that have some honey notes. Laphroig Cask Strength is my scotch right now. Pure Kentucky for bourbon.

  • Tommi says:

    Great collection, I hope it lasts a while 🙂 You should add Lagavulin 16 Year Old Single Islay Malt to your collection.

  • Ryan Mark says:

    I’ll be interested if I get some! Lol, I have some scotch down stairs actually…

  • Vladimir says:

    Wow, I really envy you. Be careful with the booze though, keep your writing steady. 😀

  • James M says:

    I for one would love to read the results of the taste test – always interested in good recommendations.

  • Tom Fader says:

    I would love to read more about your tasting notes. At least you will have a bottle with leather bottom, so no need to worry.

  • Gillian says:

    Oh I think notes and grudge match please!! 🙂

  • Billy says:

    Two Whiskey enter, one Whiskey leave!

    I, for one, would appreciate a little bit of education on the finer nuances.

    It’s amazing how expensive those old bottles can be.

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    Lagavulin is an already established favourite. Once you’ve done the 16 there’s not a lot else to look at, though, before you get into silly money, so I’m holding off for now. Maybe next time around, depending how Ardbeg and Bruichladdich perform in the Islay category…

    Who says it isn’t the booze keeps the writing steady?

    Stop reading blogs! Someone has to make my books good!

    Well I don’t know if I’ll be educating anyone but I will hope to at least get a couple of laughs. Looks like folks are quite interested, anyway…

  • Ian Hickman says:

    I’ve tried about half of those Whiskys.

    Unfortunately, my pallete is pretty rubbish. I can tell good from bad, and peated flavours from unpeated, but beyond that the subtleties all merge into a glorious warming glow.

    By all means though, I’d be interested in seeing the results of the whisky deathmatch tournament.

  • Patrick Lundgreen says:

    Thanks mr. Abercrombie
    Any favorite beer?

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    I hear ya. When people talk about toasted almonds, then a touch of liquorice, oily mouthfeel and an explosion of pine needles, I’m always left a bit – really? A proper glass where you can get a good nose at it is already making a lot of difference for me, though, and I’m hoping a more scientifically comparative effort will help me refine my taste skills so I too can say shit like, ‘sweet fruit on the nose introduces gradually smokier, more maritime aromas. This pleasingly smooth expression opens sweetly on the palate, then becomes more assertive, with a whiff of smoke.’ From the Talisker box. Though I guess I could say that now. I’d just be talking out of my arse. As usual.

    I’ve tried to like bitter and real ales, cos it’s manly and all that, but I just don’t. I tend to like a light, fresh, cold Italian or Japanese lager-ish beer, if I’m honest. Sapporo? Moretti? There are some really nice Belgian beers out there as well, some of that monk-brewed madness is good for a laugh, but you wouldn’t want to drink it every day. I actually really like Morte Subite which is a kind of lambic, I believe, it has a sort of fruity, cidery taste. Difficult to get hold of in the UK, though.

  • Yeager says:

    Talley another vote for whiskey (tipping my point of origin by the spelling) deathmatch.

  • Jeremy says:

    You should check out http://www.whiskyblender.com/
    Create your own blend, pretty nifty.

  • Misti says:

    If you think you don’t like real ales, but enjoy a cold Sapporo, try and find a Black Isle Blonde on tap. You may be surprised!

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    Well I certainly did enjoy some of Black Isle’s computer games back in the day, like Baldur’s Gate. Maybe I’ll like their beer as well?

  • Chris says:

    Ick, not sure how anyone can like Island whiskeys. Why bother with such a costly (arduous?) process of slow refinement and ageing when the end result is a salty/mossy aftertaste? I’m sure there’s a shortcut to be had with a blender, lichen, rocksalt and malted barely left to sit in the sun for a few years or so.

  • innokenti says:

    Definitely want to see a whisky showdown from you!

    From my personal tastes the Highland Park 18 is the winner of your collection there but the Bruichladdich is not bad. I think a lot of the rest I wouldn’t object to either. I would also recommend Bunnahabhain… if you didn’t have enough already!

    Rooting for the Highland Park!

  • Tedd says:

    I think tasting notes worked into a blood and guts battle story would be just the thing. But, I’m not sure you could pull it off. (recognize the goad here)

    As for me, I am working my way through an Aberlour A’banadh #36 and Lagavulin 16.

  • A-drain says:

    Ha. And here all this time I’ve been offering to buy you a pint when you come to San Diego. Now I see my failing.

    I don’t really ever get the note of this, or, the aftertaste of that comment either. I can never taste it.

    I’ve got two bottles of burbon in my pantry, and I’m pretty sure neither one of those ran me more than $15.

  • Gary says:

    Changing topic slightly to refer to your mention of Black Isle and Baldur’s Gate.

    Did you know that Overhaul Games have done an enhanced version of the originals that will be coming out on PC and iPad this year? Not only will BG1 and BG2 be coming out, but also the possibility of BG3. The jury is still out on whether they will be any good, but if the game plays the same as the originals but with tidied up graphics then this could be something special indeed. I just pray they stick with the classic isometric view on BG3.

    Re-live those glory days with a cheeky glass or two of whiskey that will indeed enhance those excellent games even more 🙂


    In anticipation of their release, I recently had a bash on my old copy of BG2 and even though the graphics are slightly dated, the gameplay and story is still brilliant. A lot of current games could learn a thing or two from them.

  • Michael says:

    I used to holiday by the side of loch monzievaird just a mile or so across country from the Glenturret distillery (one of those claiming to be the ‘oldest’ in Scotland, before it was ruined by the famous grouse bunch). So my own personal favourite is their Glenturret 16. Of the few I have tried from your picture, I am with the Highland Park vote.

  • Justin says:

    I don’t think there’s anything better than a Lagavulin out there, but fellow Islays Ardbeg and Caol Ila are close seconds. I also like a Cardhu for something a bit sweeter and lighter.

    If you already love Lagavulin, I’ll be interested to know what else you enjoy, as I might too. I also always find a glass of amber is extremely helpful in focusing my mind when writing! 🙂

  • neth says:

    Absolutely go with the notes and a grudge matach.

    Fine whisky and SFF go hand in hand. About a year ago I started doing periodic whisky reviews on the blog. I don’t have a sophisticated palate on par with a lot of official reviews you read, but it has allowed me to take my enjoyment of the whisky to a new level.

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    I am all amaze. I was expecting no one to give a toss but there appears to be wide enthusiasm for the project. Expect further coverage over the coming months including whisky death matches, therefore.

    And in case anyone else is wondering, by all means drink whiskey, I enjoy it myself. But this is whisky.

    Too early to make official comment but I’ve sampled a couple, and let me tell you, if you like Islays at all the Ardbeg Corryvreckan is fucking gangbusters. The Ardbeg 10yo is perfectly acceptable but this is a totally different beast. Often you’ll taste a whisky and think, well it’s kinda like that other whisky. That Corryvreckan is like nothing else I’ve tried. Probably the costliest bottle there, but worth the money to my mind.

    Yeah, Baldur’s gate is ace. Quality humorous dialogue. Not sure I have the time these days to revisit a game I already spent hundreds of hours playing, though…

  • Jessica Hell says:

    I’m definitely interested in Abercrombie’s Whisky Deathmatch. I tend to be more of a rum girl myself, but I’ve been wanting to explore the wonderful world of whisky this summer, and your recommendations would be much appreciated 🙂

  • Thaddeus says:

    I don’t drink much, but when I do whisky is what I like. Mind you, it’s so infrequent I couldn’t really say specifically which brands I like.

    What’s your favourite whisky?

  • bryce says:

    I’ll go with Connor MacLeod from the original Highlander, Glenmorangie.

    Seriously, as a Scot I’m usually spoiled with choice, most pubs will have scores of malts, if not more. Glenfiddich is another favourite. Then again a tour of Scotland via whisky is always a great way to spend an evening.

    If there is a better way to finish off a meal than Glayva, the best liqueur in th world please tell me.

    A weekend going round Islay visiting the distilleries is one of the great and noble quests one can attempt. Sitting at 3 O’Clock in the morning in a pub in Port Charlotte is one of the great memories…

  • Steve Hick says:

    Joe — I might have kept the Macallan, depends on whether you like Sherry bombs and how old this was when it when into the bottle and whether you had another……

    If you like the Glenfarclas you’re a bomber.

    Some nice choices….I like the Laphroaig 18, it is less overwelming than the 10, and the Corryvreckan….hell I like them all. Neat maybe with 2-3 drops of water.

  • Ravenous says:

    A drink. A drink. I need a drink.

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    Well that’s what we’re going to discover. At least my favourite out of these 12…

    I had an ancient bottle of Dalmore that I opened, and is pretty amazing. That was a 20 when it went in the bottle, and it went in the bottle some time in the 70s. In the end though getting 15 good bottles for one old one seemed well worth it. I like the sherried, I like the more standard oak, I like the salty sea tars, it all depends on your mood, doesn’t it? I’ve never been a big fan of the whole notion of favourites, in a way. Variety is the spice of life, right?

  • Celyn.A says:

    My question is, does Mark Charan Newton know you’re muscling in on his patch?

    Look forward to the deathmatch. My faves of the ones you mentioned are tHe Highland Park, Bruichladdich and Talisker, but I haven’t tasted them all by any means (or even that particular expression of Bruichladdich).

  • TomGoodwin says:

    In defense of ales…I used to think that the majority of them tasted either like burnt water or the remains of a full ashtray that had been left outside in the rain. However, if you have a slightly sweeter palate, try any of the ‘Innis and Gunn’ Scottish bottled ales. They’re pretty strong (about 7%) and in half-pint bottles but taste like caramel, chocolate ale but with no bitterness. I think Sainsbury’s stock ’em.

  • Caleb says:

    love my single malts as well and am curious your thoughts on the line up you have there.

  • Ian Stuart says:

    Im putting my vote in for the Balvenie. Best dams would be Bavenie double wood, Mortlach 16 or a macallan tripple cask. All with a wee drop of water.

  • I’m more of an ale and wine man (not in the same glass), but always liked the packaging that scotch comes in. It’s like unwrapping a Christmas present every time you drink.


    The Bruichladdich Infinity (3rd edition, I believe?) is by far the best I can see on your table, but I am a total Bruichladdich fanboy.

    (Those Glencairn glasses are ace, btw – doesn’t taste the same without them.)

  • MarcusF says:

    Some fine Whiskys there Mr. Abercrombie.

    Very fond myself of a wee dram from time to time and you can’t (as you’ve already stated) go wrong with anything Ardbeg. The pinnacle in my own collection is an Ardbeg, a 1976 distillation (bottled 2004) by Gordon & McPhail that’s just gorgeous. Still potent with quite some bite and smokiness, but also very mellow and very cohesive in its palette. Very much recommended!

    Also, try some Japanese Whiskys, they’re also very good, especially the Yamazaki 18 yo.

    And, being from Sweden I wouldn’t be much of a Swede if I did not recommend Mackmyra. Anything from them is very good, but the regular “Brukswhisky” is a nice start, and shouldn’t be too hard to come by in Britain.

    As for beer… not the right forum, but I could gush all week long about the joys of craft breweries such as Stone (USA), Mikkeller (Denmark) or Dieu du Ciel (Canada). Suffice to say, there are few things better than a real well-crafted barrel-aged Imperial Stout.

    Also, very much looking forward to Red Country. You really have a fantastic knack for combining gritty, morally complex fantasy with a black self-deprecating sense of humor 🙂

  • […] series and random stuff, such as my current whisky stash (pictured above, and clearly bigger than Joe Abecrombie’s, not that we’re comparing sizes or […]

  • Lor says:

    I love it when other people get nerdy over whisky, makes me feel a bit better about my ridiculous collection (takes up a whole shelf in the bar now, two bottles deep, I’m probably going to get asked to remove it sometime soon).

    I’m getting rather excited too; a tiny local distillery that I have shares in is due for its first uncasking early next year, so there shall be new loveliness to sample.

    I’m with Mark though, Bruichladdich is the way to go. Though I am partial to the Ardbeg Uigeadail every now and then. I should stop making my tasting notes in Gaelic however; I might be able to share them with others that way! It’s just easier to go native when imbibing.

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    It would appear Mark has answered that question…

    Mark CN,
    Oh, fie, that’s not the whole collection, merely the new arrivals…

    Yeah, the glasses make a big difference. The Bruichladdich is great, not sure I’d put it over the Corryvreckan, though. That may well be among the first of my death matches. So I guess we’ll see…

    I do like the japanese, I meant to get a bottle of Suntory Hibiki which I hear is amazing, but forgot at the last minute. Might try a little round of japanese once I tire of this little lot…

    My gaelic is a little rusty, I must confess. The slight problem I have with Bruichladdich is the immensity and confusion of their range. Seems a little hard to get your head around.

  • Lor says:

    I hear you; my dad started me on my whisky journey age 15, as he was determined I wasn’t going to let my Papa down! He’s the reason my notes are in Gaelic, as he barely speaks English! Definitely worth getting used to though, I’ve found I have a greater appreciation of a lot of other food and drinks now I’ve trained my palate.

    That and it’s a good excuse for a dram or two!

    I remember taking my German friend on a distillery tour, and in the tasting room they gave you a dram just to try, no info given. Then they gave you one of those “scratch and sniff” cards, with what the flavours should be, and the scent. It was amazing the difference it made when you knew what should be there.

  • ColinJ says:

    I smell a television series on the works. Joe travelling the world, sampling whiskeys and providing snarky-yet-insightful commentary. I’ve seen shows on wine, so why not?

  • Frank says:

    That is great to see! Also good to read that you like Morte Subite, one of my favourites as well. It’s just a very refreshing, different beer, great to just sit outside with on a sunny day… and it easier to get by in the Netherlands 😉 On to the gold stuff; No Irish Whiskeys?

  • Giasone says:

    Interesting how rapidly a post about grog gets so many responses… 😉

    Perhaps you could rate them vis-a-vis persons from your work… e.g. what would Logen drink? which would Glokta prefer?

  • DrGonzo says:

    Hmmm tasty,…

    just got a few whiskeys from good friends.

    Bunnaharain (hope that correct) Had once a small glass of it. really nice.
    Some Ben Nevis and ans Isle of Aran (pretty uncommon I think taste very soft and fruity).

  • StephenL says:

    I’d recommend Tormore also from Speyside. I love the Talisker and one of my favourites would be a Laphroaig. I have to be honest and say it took me a wee while grooming my taste for whisky to get from a ‘sucking lemons’ to a ‘smug, satisfied glow’ reaction after sampling.

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    Indeed, I could nose a dram or two and look discerning while copies of my books appear in surprising places in the back of every shot.

    Isn’t it? Only incendiary genre opinion pieces have created this much response so quickly. People round here are obviously a lot more interested in what I drink than what I write…

  • Mark Newton says:

    A fair Bruichladdich to pitch against the Ardbeg might well be the Octomore – the world’s peatiest whisky. Though the way Bruichladdich distil it – and possibly the still shape itself – means it’s actually very nice, as opposed to eating charcoal.

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    Mark CN,
    The Octomore is certainly on my radar, as are a fair few others of Bruichladdich’s output, but I was trying to keep things within a certain price range and the Octomore is nearing £100. Octomore vs. Supernova, maybe?

    Traditionally I’m omnivorous, variety is the spice of life and all, but I’ve tended towards lighter, fresher stuff and away from the smoky heavy end. I’d say these days I’m moving in the opposite direction. There’s a degree to which one sherried speyside is rather like another, whereas there just seems to be more variety and capacity for surprise in the islay and island stuff.

  • Joris M says:

    Nice selection.

    Now we just need to team you up with Ian Banks for a nice rambling travelogue on the journey to discover why the perfect dram does not exist. Mark should probably join as well.

  • Murray says:

    Regarding decent beers, I highly recommend the Belgian beer La Chouffe (no its not a villain from a Bond movie!) – it’s a great beer, easy to drink (not a dark beer) and at 8.5% packs a hidden punch.

  • DrGonzo says:

    Oh beer. In case you could get a hold on Schlenkerla from Bamberg in Germany.
    The malt is roasted and the beer smells like coal and tastes like liquid ham. Very special but worth a try.

    NapoleonX Cognac also a nice taste.

  • Doug says:

    You are missing one of my favorites, which comes directly for your set of wee islands: Connemara. Single malt Irish whiskey. Warm, smoky and smooth to sip.

  • Vladimir says:

    By the way, where’s the Glennfiddich? It’s really nice if you haven’t tried it.

  • Giasone says:

    And to think I’ve been posting little rants in previous comments in order to provoke debate about literature, Tolkien, et cetera, to no success.

    Perhaps, being Australian, I should make some remark about English beer… :0

  • martingriffy says:


    Trade them back, there’s no price a vintage like that…

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    Er … yes there is a price on it. I had some of my brother’s, what was it, 1962, I think, and it was nice, but it wasn’t 15 good bottles of scotch nice. Most of the value is in the collectibility, not the drinkability, and I’m interested in drinking it, not collecting it.

  • Jeff says:

    I just started my journey around the world of whiskey (and whisky) recently as well. My favorite Islay scotch so far is Lagavulin 16 year old. I find myself drinking more bourbon currently, but every time I watch Mad Men I feel like I should have a dram of scotch in hand.

  • Ronjo I says:

    Whisky is for drinking. I think if it goes past twenty years someone needs their ears boxed. I do understand the collectors spirit, near 4000 LP vinyl records I refuse to part with attest to that.
    The water of life however is made for consumption and unfortunately you cannot drop the needle for a second play of the marvelous warm glow a wee drop provides.
    The grudge match idea seems a wonderful idea. Just enough to get a gentle buzz without descending into debauchery, then losing track of the game.

  • Good Old Satan says:

    The Glenrothes – 1991

  • Ian Stuart says:

    A word of caution, I have been drinking alot more since this thread started. Something to think about. Anyone tried Delirium beer?

  • EdKnight says:

    Great collection there, Joe. Huge fan of the Talisker myself! Recently bought a bottle of their Distiller’s Edition for the first time and would recommend it for something a little different. The whisky goes through a second maturation in old sherry casks, giving it a richer taste. It’s very good.

  • Random says:

    Dude…. Whiskey, gaming and writing the best books ever… How awesome can one man be?!?!?

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    Is that really you? I thought you’d be more of an Ardbeg Supernova kind of guy. But yes, Glenrothes ain’t bad.

    Ian Stuart,
    Delirium Tremens. It’s strong.

    Got to say the islands aren’t my favourites. The Highland Park particularly disappointing, actually.

    This awesome, my friend, THIS awesome.

  • Jacob says:

    Do you ever write, while drinking a few of these, is the REAL question? Does it tend to loosen up the mind? Make the scenes more vivid?

    Wine sometimes did that to me…now I use coffee as a fine substitute…

  • Jacob says:

    And Joe, we need edit buttons on this blog to correct our mistaken grammar usages. Please.

    *offers blood*

  • Jimmy says:

    You need to try Laphroaig from Islay. The regular 10 yo works fine but the Cask Strength (55.3%). It’s like licking the hull of a newly tarred boat that is is on fire.


  • Neil Mungeam says:

    Very interested in your thoughts on the whiskies Joe. One of my fav things.

    I often pair the reading of fantasy with the drinking of great whisky or wine.

    I will let you know what whisky i drink when i start The Blade itself which is only number 2 on my To Be Read Next list.

    I am sure you and everyone else will be fascinated…

  • Dave says:

    Nice sly touch with the Glencairn glasses there Joe ….. you sneaky little connoisseur you.

  • Jules says:

    Cheers Joe!
    I should be there between 7 and 8pm…international flight allowing. 🙂

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