Like buying Spam instead of pork loin from the butcher, or using mouthwash instead of brushing, several Scotches have become unjustifiably common and (dare I say) trendy as alternatives to established and reliable drams. Of course, I would prefer a glass of any single malt over a glass of blended Scotch, but it deeply concerns me when I continue to see Glenlivet on restaurant menus, and Aberlour being featured at the the liquor store. Before you dismiss these sentiments as superficial and unnecessarily critical observations from an indulgent North American nerd, please skim through the follow case studies to see where I am coming from.
Oban is one of my favourite whiskies due to its perfect balance of peat and sweet, and to its briny finish. Diageo Distilleries, which owns Oban Distillery, designated Oban as the representative West Coast Highlands whisky, and it is known around the world for its regionally-specific flavour. However, it is pricey at $120 per bottle, so many people opt for the bland and forgettable Old Pulteney. At $80 per bottle for their standard 12-year-old, Old Pulteney has made a name for itself by mimicking Oban. From its seaside location at the northern tip of Scotland to its nostalgia-drenched marketing, Old Pulteney tries very hard to act like an historical and unique whisky. However, its bankruptcy-riddled past and atypical Highland characteristics reveal that it is only an average malt exploiting the idiosyncratic finish and established features of Oban. Old Pulteney is owned by Inver House, which is a Scottish-owned company, but it just cannot compete with the almighty Oban.
Glenfiddich, the top selling single malt in the world, is a spirit that appears in every bar and restaurant as a Speyside malt. As the Coca-cola of the Scotch world, Glenfiddich relies on product placement and ubiquity to garner fans and deceive those in search of an exceptional Speyside whisky. Chill-filtering, mass distilling, and flavour-enhancing distillation techniques produce a weak spirit, and Glenfiddich (along with Glenlivet) totally lacks the leather-and-dried-fruit sophistication of distinctive Speyside Scotches such as Glenrothes. Glenfiddich is a copycat whisky that uses drink menus and transnational advertising campaigns to slink into the throats of unsuspecting imbibers hoping to experience a multifaceted Speyside malt.
To reiterate, any single malt is a good single malt. However, the "classic Scotch impostors" out there, such as Old Pulteney and Glenfiddich, will rob you of the ethereal taste sensations that can be generated by consuming Scotches such as Oban and Glenrothes.