I've always thought of Scotch as an extremely sharp knife. It's not sweet, it's not thick or viscous, and it will cut through whatever else is on your palate at the first sip. If you come from the area famous for Tennessee whiskey and Bourbon, it's easy to think that whiskey should be sweet and dark brown like our iced tea.
I'm not a Scotch expert, but I've had the opportunity to try amazing versions and really horrible versions. It's also a product that I really didn't like at all until my late 20s. When presented with a proper Scotch menu after dinner, I'll generally pick something at least 12 years old and preferably from an island. A nice Islay that reeks of peat and smoke, and causes nearby diners to shift their chairs away? Pure heaven.
Here's a pair of single malts that I recently got a chance to try. Both were sampled in my preferred form, neat. I might add just a small dash of chilled water, but I never add ice.
17 Year Glengoyne
$50/750mL, 43% abv
Classic and solid Scotch, warm and spicy nose with just a hint of sourness. Bracing start and a smooth finish. No peat is used, and this is made at a distillery near Glasgow.
18 Year Highland Park
$100/750mL, 43% abv.
The Highland Park has a great peat and barnyard aroma, and a crisp edge that will immediately clear out your sinuses so that you get the full, funky aroma. Requires a longer period of sipping than the Glengoyne. This comes from the Orkney Islands and is the northernmost whisky distillery in Scotland.
Thanks as always to Paul for the generous use of his liquor cabinet while I'm housesitting.