Can't believe I missed this post until just now...if there is one thing I am more fond of than cooking, it's whiskey tasting.
I am a huge fan of all sorts of whiskeys: Tennessee, Irish, Canadian, Bourbon...but most especially Scotch, and exclusively Single Malt.
For those who did not know, malt is barley that has been soaked long enough to germinate, and then warmed until dry enough to crush into a powder. The germination is one aspect that makes for a more complex flavor. This is in contrast to a simple "grain" whiskey made from rice, wheat or corn, or unmalted barley.
The method of drying is another, with hot air from burning peat moss being the main source of "smokiness" in some brands (most notably those from Islay). The peat will give two flavors: smoke, and a mossy flavor, although the latter is not always prevalent.
It should also be noted that whiskey is most often "cooked" and distilled in copper kettles, which adds yet another taste element. For those that don't believe that it imparts a taste, I was once able to tell a lady in a liquor store who was giving samples of a new run that it had been made in a copper kettle, unlike most rums. She checked her literature, and confirmed my statement. (Okay, so that's just me bragging...not really info
I agree with Aunt Dot that Highland Park is a good whiskey to start out on, as would be most Highland or Speyside varieties. They are not as smokey, and tend to have a lighter, almost grassy taste that is less complex than some of the Orkney and especially Islay brands. It is what I sometimes laughingly refer to as a "breakfast whiskey", one that won't challenge the palette too much.
As for my favorites: #3 - Bowmore. There was a cask strength (50 % rather than 40%) that proved someone's point that you can still get a hangover with single malt. But I enjoyed the ride on the way.
#2. Lagavulin. An Islay brand with enough smoke in it to make you wonder where the fire is. If you can graduate to this, you are most definitely a connoisseur!
#1. Ardbeg. Without question, the best single malt on the planet, possible the most perfect liquid of any sort, consumable or not. The first time I tried it I had a mere 10 year old, the youngest they sell. After my first glass, I refused to put anything else in my mouth for hours on end, for fear of losing the sensation. Every whiskey drinker must
try this at least once in their lives, lest they pass on not having experienced the ultimate! If you can, try the 17 or 30 year old!