Thursday, February 25, 2010

Winter Tree Care in Asia? Yes, and No.

My son-in-law is traveling through China and Korea currently on business. He's been sending back photos from his Blackberry of things that might be of interest. In return, I have been sending him handy phrases in the native languages to ingratiate himself with the locals.

For example, he ought to try this out on the streets of Korea: "sogdoleul bodeo ppal-a" 
("your speed skaters suck"). 

But I do admire the Koreans' winter protection plan for their thin-barked trees: broom corn! 

Winter bark protection is usually an afterthought in cold climates; it should be a regular practice, according to the tree experts at Washington State University: "Sun scald occurs on sunny days in winter when the bark of a tree is warmed by the sun, especially on the southwest side of the trunk. The bark and cambial tissues deacclimate and are not able to reacclimate quickly enough when the sun sets and the temperature drops abruptly. The result is damage or death of tissue.The bark often cracks open or it may separate from the tree without splitting. Sun scald is more prevalent on stressed, recently transplanted, smooth-barked, or thin-barked trees. Wrap the trunks of recently transplanted trees and those which may have been stressed during the growing season with a light-colored wrapping from the soil line to the first set of branches. Leave this material on for the first winter and through the first growing season."

I'm not thrilled with the large stones placed around the tree (reduces the availability of water, may get too hot in summer), but I understand why they are there: to keep people off the root area. That is one of the tradeoffs of trees in public places. 

Still, it is better than what we do here: plunk a tree down in the middle of an hot asphalt parking lot, in a 5x5' concrete frame, with a gravel groundcover, and a broken sprinkler.

 During his visit to China, he sent along this picture. I offered him an appropriate phrase, which I suggested he yell at the local Beijing arborists:
"Bu ding bu de shu!" ("Don't Top That Tree!")

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

For Single Malt Scotch Lovers, A Very Sad Sight

When this....

Becomes this:

I blame Beverages & More. BevMo is a West Coast alcohol superstore, famous for their 5-cent sales of bottles of wine (I'm still waiting for the "Buy a bottle of Laguvalin, get another one for a nickel!" ad).

First of all, BevMo makes the Bowmore Legend even more enticing by having it on sale this week for $24.

Second: The clerk removes the bottle from the container to scan the price. When he returned the bottle to its box, did he secure the top? Hmmm....

Third: BevMo's cheap plastic bags. When transferring your newest, bestest friend from the car to the house, those flimsy bags with the nearly invisible handles make it a challenge to properly carry your prized possession. Yes, fumbling with a plastic bag carrying a bottle of single malt Scotch while stepping into a home with tile floors may be the purview of aging baby boomers. But can any single malt lover blame me for hurrying to the kitchen?

At this point, you may be asking yourself, don't you know "down" from "up", especially when carrying a bottle of Bowmore?

Again, I blame the cheap plastic bag. And bad vision. And impatience.

As I stepped over the threshold and into the hallway, life became a slow motion nightmare. I heard the bottle hit the canister lid. The lid hits the floor, followed by the bottle of Bowmore, hurtling downward like a rocket.

For a split second, I was hoping: "It looks like the bottle is going to land on its head. Perhaps the cork will cushion the fall onto the tile, and the bottle will slowly teeter onto its side, coming to rest, gently."


Instead, it was the sickening soft explosion of glass against tile, echoing throughout the hallway.

My epithet of choice at that moment, as the liquid slowly streamed down the hall: "Oh, God bless."

My wife laughed. 
Excuse me, but you are laughing at the unwanted destruction of one of my all time favorite single malts, the Bowmore Legend. Fleeting dreams of relaxing in the hot tub, enjoying the soothing vanilla and toffee aroma of the Bowmore with the hint of a peat finish, vanished quickly.

I flashed on a memory of the 1970's, when my neighbor spilled a vial of cocaine off his coffee table and onto his carpet. In one of the oddest sights I have ever beheld (and a sight that showed me quite clearly the dangerously seductive, addictive power of coke), both he and his cat dove nose first for the shag carpet. His cat had more sense. One sniff, and the cat jumped backward. Ron, on the other hand, remained prone for the next 15 minutes, snorting white powder, dust mites and dead skin cells. And cat fur, too, probably.
Looking down at the streaming amber liquid, I then imagined myself getting horizontal with the tile, licking up the pride of Scotland. And glass shards, too, probably. 

No, I will stay vertical. Instead, I offered myself this consolation: at least it wasn't the $70 bottle of Caol Ila I was eyeing at BevMo that day. But when it's one of your faves that is splattered on the tile, that is a small consolation.

Bowmore is a pleasant change from its more famous Islay brethren: Laphroiag, Caol Ila, Laguvalin, Ardbeg. One is not taken over by dominant peat and smoke at first sniff. (Neither is the person sitting at the next table).

David Wishart, in his book "Whisky Classified", ranks whiskies by their aroma and taste, not place of origin, price or age statement. He places the Bowmore one cluster away from those aforementioned peat monsters (sorry Compass Box). The Bowmore is described by Wishart as "Medium-Light, Dry, with Smoky, Spicy, Honey Notes and Nutty, Floral Hints").  

And that's a fair assessment. Please don't turn your nose up at the relatively low price and supermarket availability of the Bowmore Legend. Try it!

Although the Bowmore Legend may be sniffed at by some single Malt aficionados (I'm staring at you, Jim Murray), I find this readily available, reasonably priced single malt Scotch to be very pleasing to my nose and palate. So pleasing, that it is one of the two single malts I would choose if stranded on a desert island (BevMo does ship to desert islands, right?). The other I'd want with me: Macallan 10 Fine Oak, also reasonably priced and widely available.

After mopping up the liquid and vacuuming up the glass shards, I realized my pants legs and shoes now had a slightly peaty, slightly smoky bouquet. And the entire house had a wonderful spicy, honey, peaty aroma the rest of the day.

Not that I would recommend this as an air freshener. But if Glade marketed a Bowmore-scented PlugIn, I'd have one in every room.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

It's Seed Planting Time (indoors)

Every summer, I make the same promise to myself: "Next year, fewer tomato and pepper plants!" And every winter around this time, I try to start small. But somehow, things get out of control...

Late January and early February is the ideal time here in Northern California for starting tomato and pepper seeds indoors. And while you're at it, why not start a few others, such as more cool season leaf crops and summer annual flowers from seed. Those leaf crops (lettuce, spinach, chard) can be transplanted outdoors after about three weeks worth of growth indoors (take a few days to gradually introduce them to the outdoors, perhaps bringing them and their containers back in at night).

Those tomato and pepper plants, along with the summer flowers you started from seed? Keep them protected, indoors, until mid-April. Then, gradually acclimate them to the outdoors as well.

The main problem with outdoor planting of tomato and pepper plants this time of year? Soil temperature. Those summer vegetables do not start actively growing until soil temps reach the mid-60's, and don't really take off with food production until soil temperatures are above 70. Right now? Soil temperatures are hovering around 50 degrees here in the Sacramento area.

Another good reason to delay outdoor planting of those young vegetables until late April-early May: the wind. March is a very windy month in the Central Valley, with northerly winds hitting 20-30 miles per hour, for several days.

What you need to start your seeds:
• A sunny, indoor window or greenhouse.
• Small pots or flats with good drainage.
• An easy draining, pathogen-free soil mix, preferably soilless.
• Light.
• Air movement.
• Small amounts of fertilizer.
• Seed heating mat (optional).

If you are starting your seeds indoors, you would benefit from an extra lighting system, such as fluorescent bulbs hung a few inches above the plants. If the light source is too far away, the plants will get leggy.

I like to use 3"-4" azalea pots for starting seeds of tomatoes and peppers. I will plant three or four seeds per pot. When they come up and put on two sets of leaves (about three weeks after germination), I'll transplant them to their own pot. (NOTE: this is how a small number of plants becomes wayyyyy too many, in a hurry!).
Those old six packs and partitioned flats are ideal for starting green, leafy crops. Thin out the seedlings so that there is only one remaining in each cell.

The real key to seed starting success? The soil. More exactly, the soilless mix. Using soil from your garden to start seeds is filled with threats to seed survival: competition from weed seeds, soil-borne diseases, and too heavy a soil. Damping off, a common malady of new seedlings, is due to cool, wet, heavy soil, a perfect environment for pathogens, especially pythium.

Using a soilless mix to start seeds helps avoid introduction of those pathogens. You can purchase bags of "Seed Starting Mix" at your favorite nursery. Or, make your own. The recipe I use:

4 parts well aged compost
2 parts peat moss (be sure to thoroughly moisten the peat moss first)
1 part perlite (aids drainage)

If you are worried that the mix you are using is too heavy, you can help your seeds get off to a good start with bottom heat, via a seed heating mat. These are especially useful for germinating pepper seeds, which need higher temperatures to germinate.

Put the seed starting mix in each pot or flat, and then thoroughly soak it. Although it isn't necessary for starting seeds, you can add a diluted liquid fertilizer at this time. Generally, there is no need to fertilize until the seed has produced two sets of true leaves. "True Leaves" look like the finished product. The first two leaves that emerge from a seed are usually oval shaped cotyledons, which are embryonic leaves.

The seeds are planted just below the soil surface in each pot, no more than a half inch deep.

Once the seeds are up and growing, introduce some air movement into the room, such as a house fan. This helps the new plants avoid diseases. And, air movement can help strengthen tomato stems, according to Debbie Flower, professor of horticulture at American River College.

So, what got planted? 18 tomato varieties and 11 sweet pepper varieties (in the azalea pots).
The partitioned flats and six packs got planted with swiss chard, five different lettuce varieties, spinach, cosmos and African marigolds. Also planted: four different kinds of basil; three different kinds of parsley.

Coming in March: those 29 containers of tomato and pepper starts will easily become over 80 containers of tomato and pepper plants, after separating out the three or four starts per container.

Yep, another year of too much.

This year's tomato and pepper starts from seed include a mix of heirlooms and hybrids:
Tomatoes: Viva Italia, First Prize, Bloody Butcher, Beefmaster, Early Girl, Sweet Gold (two different packets), Marianna's Peace, Big Beef, Lemon Boy, Dr. Wyche's Yellow, Celebrity, Early Wonder, Djena Lee's Golden Girl, and some mysterious tomato seeds brought back from Italy by my daughter last year: Poti Cuote Bue (A), Poti Cuote Bue (B), Pomodoro Canestrino and Pomodoro Canestrino 'Claudia'.

Peppers this year include: Chocolate Beauty, Purple Beauty, Lilac, Anaheim, Tequila, Flamingo, Corno di Toro, Jimmy Nardello, Bull Nose, Quadrato D' Asti, Gypsy. 

Details about those varieties will follow.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The 140 Character Single Malt Scotch Review

It must be nice to be Jim Murray. In his annual series of  Whisky Bible books, Mr. Murray can wax poetic, on and on, about the aroma, taste and finish of single malt Scotch. I have discovered that I have a tough time translating all those sensory perceptions into flowery prose, especially if several different bottles are in, shall we say, "test mode" for the evening.

     For example, Mr. Murray says this about the Abelour 12 in his Whisky Bible:
"...just the right degree of spiciness. Silky, decisive olorosa again showing an uncanny excellence in spice; not a single off note."
My review? "Taste of farm tractor diesel."

Regarding Glenlivet 12, Mr. Murray expounds: "A surfeit of apples on nose and body. The malt is quite rich at first but thins out for the vanilla and thick toffee at the death."

Fred the future alcoholic sez: "Bland, dull, boring. On second try: no aroma, no taste, no finish. Pussy whisky."

And I keep it simple when I like a particularly delectable single malt:
"Some say La-Goo-va-lin; others say La-ga-VOO-lin. I say: Good!"

Obviously, I will never be asked to write a book-long critique of single malt Scotch. Hell, I don't even know what olorosa is!

But, my skills are perfect for that 140 character paragon of digital communication, Twitter

Here, then, are some of my single malt reviews from 2009. The good news: since they were on Twitter, it won't take long to read. "ABV" refers to "Alcohol By Volume". It's one-half of what we also know as "Proof". So, "40% abv" = 80 Proof.


Aberfeldy 12 (40% abv). Honeyed aroma, toffee finish. So-so. Short, stout bottle makes a good flower vase.

Caol Ila 18. It’s so warming it might save my citrus trees on a frosty night.

It's 10 a.m. and foggy in Sacramento; which means it's 6 p.m. & (probably) foggy in Scotland...time for a Trader Joe's Tomatin 11 !

Old Pulteney 12 (43%). I gave a nearly full bottle to a friend on his 60th birthday. Pretty bottle, though.

Cragganmore 12 (40% abv). Aroma of medicinal fruit (banana-flavored iodine?) with an afterburn.

Combination of a fine chocolate with a smoky single malt Scotch is a fine winter repast. Perhaps a Green & Black's with a Laguvalin.

Rain on the way, probably. Hold off garden irrigation. Containers beneath patio covers may like a drink, though. Make mine a Tobermory 10!

Bowmore 18 (43% abv). New to me. Ho-Hum. Faint aroma. Bowmore Legend is better. And much cheaper.


The aroma of Macallan 10 Fine Oak is reminiscent of a female natural beauty (such as my wife) perfume or makeup needed.

Cragganmore 12 yr (40% abv). Subtle, yet satisfying. Helped me sleep thru my wife's favorite TV show, "So You Think You Can Dance".

Tonight: Bowmore Legend? Macallan 10? Laguvalin 16? How about all three!

Glenrothes 1992 (43% abv.). Eh. Nothing special. Serve it to unwanted guests.

Some say La-Goo-va-lin; some say la-ga-VOO-lin. I say: good.

The aroma of the Bunnahabhain 12 is the perfect complement to a Saturday night in the hot tub, admiring the new landscape.

Tues Nite Scotch-Off: Cragganmore 12 vs. Isle of Jura 10. Cragganmore: upscale pussy scotch. Jura: Turns me into Jackie Gleason

Nothin' sez highland lovin' like a dram of Glenmorangie 10 (40%)...and it's a bargain at Costco!

The most aromatic, best-tasting bargains in single malt Scotch: Lismore and Finlaggan. Both under $20 at Trader Joe's.

Laguvalin 16 (43% abv). Peaty aroma, smoky taste. Very good after a well-marbled, ribeye steak.

Single Malt Scotch, desert island edition: As long as I have Macallan 10 Fine Oak (40% abv), life is good, no matter the location.

Single Malt Whiskey of the Night: St. George Lot 2 (43% abv). Made in California. My wife put it best: Not a pleasant experience.

Laphroaig 10 Years Old (55.7% abv) Original Cask Strength. Now, this IS peaty and smoky! Whiff of oak, too.

Bruichladdich 10 (46% abv). Get the one packaged with the free glass. My favorite drinking vessel!

Speyburn 10 (40% abv). Look for it on the bottom shelf at the store. A good citrus/toffee tasting bargain!

Abelour 12 (43% abv). Hint of zinfindel aroma of Lodi vineyards. Taste of farm tractor diesel.
Tamdhu 10 (40% abv). Aroma of flowering daphne, slight menthol flavor with a throat burn finish.

Ardmore Peated Quarter Cask (46% abv.), one more try: nondescript aroma, acid reflux finish.

Glenlivet 12 (40% abv). Bland, dull, boring. On second try: no aroma, no taste, no finish. Pussy whisky.

The return of Laguvalin 16. Peaty, smoky and enjoyable while watching a Dodgers playoff victory.

Fri. Nite Scotch-Off: Caol Ila 12 vs. Macallan 10 vs. Yamazaki 10 (single malt whisky from Japan). Winner by a nose: Macallan 10. Wonderful toffee! 

Glenfiddich 12 (40% abv). Aroma (subtle pear) is better than the taste or the finish. Nice bottle, though.

 Mortlach 16 yrs (43% abv). Mild yet pleasurable spicy aroma with a smooth finish. And the ladies like it!

(Not a Single Malt) Scotch of the Night: Johnnie Walker Black Label 12 Yrs (40%) abv. Devoid of aroma, bitter finish. Why bother?

Raising a glass of Macallan 10 Fine Oak for Tom Cable, coach of the Oakland Raiders, who apparently still has a job. Somehow.

Glenfiddich 18 (43% abv). The most complex of aromas I have ever sampled. Excellent. Best of all, a Christmas gift!

Top 3 Single Malt Scotch Whiskys of 2009: Macallan 10, Bunnahabhain 12, Finlaggan, Laguvalin 16. (hard to count after all that).

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Everything You Know is Wrong, Cont.

Besides being the title of an excellent Firesign Theater album from 1974 that was a parody of popular New Age practices at the time, "Everything You Know is Wrong" can also apply to gardening. It seems the "right thing to do" in the yard tends to change over time. 

Perhaps your grandparents (or your parents or you) would regularly spray tomato plants and other garden vegetables with DDT or Diazinon. Try finding either of those deadly pesticides for home use in the U.S. in 2010!

In the 1950's, here in  Northern California, the Modesto ash tree was considered the perfect street tree: it had a nice umbrella shape, grew quickly, nice fall color and seemingly resistant to pest and disease problems. "Seemingly" turned into "not" within 20 years. Anthracnose (pictured to the right), aphids, mistletoe, turns out that those stately Modesto ash trees are so problem-ridden, you can't even find them in nurseries anymore here.

And there are plenty more gardening methodologies that should be headed towards the green waste container. That's according to Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott, horticulture professor at Washington State University and overseer of the excellent website, "Horticultural Myths".

In 2009, Chalker-Scott won the Best Garden Book of the Year award from the Garden Writers Association for "The Informed Gardener", a compendium of many of the garden myths exploded at her website. Chalker-Scott approached many commonly accepted gardening practices from a scientist's point of view: "Prove It!" 

Calling on the resources of Universities and scientific studies (all peer-reviewed), Chalker-Scott blew holes in several common gardening habits, including:

Using tree sealants on pruning cuts (that actually slows the healing process)
Adding drainage materials to the bottom of plant containers (that hinders water movement)
Adding sand to clay soils to improve texture (the undesired result is a heavier, denser soil with less air)

Chalker-Scott is back in 2010 with a follow-up edition, "The Informed Gardener Blooms Again". This time, she takes on many popular gardening practices that are revered by adherents of sustainability, organic gardening and drought-resistant gardens. 

Among her findings:

Many organic gardening practices based on folklore do not stand up to scientific review
• Whipping a tree trunk will not make the tree grow faster.
• Burying open coffee cans to aid "deep watering" wastes water and ignores the feeder roots.
• The addition of Epsom salts will aid plant growth? No scientific evidence of that, she says.

The addition of seaweed extracts will not reduce plant disease or increase production. In actual field conditions, seaweed extracts have no reliable effect. Their use represents, she says, a waste of a natural resources in our threatened coastal ecosystems.

Your "drought-tolerant" garden may be using more water than a regular landscape. If more water is available, drought tolerant plants will use it, becoming more lush...a sought-after goal of many gardeners. An attitude change must be implemented by homeowners, who must be willing to accept smaller, less vigorous plants in a xeriscaped garden.

Other myths explored and exploded by Chalker-Scott include:
• using bleach to disinfect your pruning tools;
• the use of gypsum;
• rubberized landscape mulches;
• and, why buying ladybugs for your garden is a bad idea.

Many will disagree with Chalker-Scott's research-based findings. Still, the evidence is worth reading, especially if your only line of defense is, "Hey, it works for me."

Friday, February 5, 2010

Single Malt Scotch? It's About Time!

Anyone following me on Twitter knows I have at least two passions that get a daily writeup: gardening and single malt Scotch.

We're not talking about Scotch blends here, such as Johnnie Walker or Dewars.

We're talking about the stuff that turns heads at a table when the server appears with a glass of an aromatic single malt Scotch (neat, with water on the side) that originated in the Islay region of Scotland, an area noted for its peaty, smoky single malts such as Laphroaig, Laguvalin, Caol Ila, Talisker and Ardbeg.

But men (and an increasing number of women) do not live alone with these heavy hitters. The lighter, more delicate single malts have a charm all their own, including my favorites: Macallan 10 Fine Oak, Mortlach, Bowmore.

A single malt Scotch can be defined as: a whisky produced entirely in Scotland from a single malted grain (barley) at a single distillery. A blended whisky contains the products of several distilleries as well as several different grain malts.

Over 500 aromas and tastes have been associated with the 80 or so single malt varieties available today. It's the aroma that intrigues me, and has intrigued me since an article on the subject of whisky tasting appeared in the local newspaper three or four years ago. Up to then, I had never purchased, or sampled a single malt Scotch.

 And now, the single malt Scotch collection fills three cabinets.

The majority of the rants on this blog deal with gardening. So, it's about time for this, a single malt Scotch rant:
I wish restaurants and bars had a wider selection of single malt Scotch selections! Here in California, it seems a request for a single malt brings up the usual suspects: Glenlivet, Glenfiddich, Bowmore and, if you're lucky, Macallan. There's nothing wrong with these brands, but the choices usually do not stray away from the samples of what's available at most supermarkets: Glenlivet 12, Glenfiddich 10, Bowmore Legend and Macallan 12.

It would be nice if bars and restaurants had a wider range of single malts based on their aromas and tastes, not necessarily more varieties. If the typical bar carries four single malt Scotch varieties (which seems to be the rule here), they should span the range of aromas and tastes: perhaps a Macallan 10 Fine Oak,  a Bunnahabhain, a Glenfiddich 18 and a Laguvalin 16. With those four, a person could experience a wide array of aromas (from toffee to peaty) and tastes (medium-bodied fruit to full-blown medicinal smoke).

A classification of single malt whiskies has been developed which attempts to help delineate all these sensory perceptions. So, if this article piques your interest, expand your single malt Scotch horizons in a logical fashion (as opposed to my original buying habit: "Oh, that's a pretty bottle!").

A well-stocked single malt whisky collection should have one from each cluster...when the economy rebounds. I've underlined my favorites in each. The others aren't necessarily below average...more than likely, I haven't had the funds to purchase them!

The Classifications:
Cluster A ( Full-Bodied, Medium-Sweet, Pronounced Sherry with Fruity, Spicy, Malty Notes and Nutty, Smoky Hints): Balmenach, Dailuaine, Dalmore, Glendronach, Macallan, Mortlach, Royal Lochnagar.

Cluster B (Medium-Bodied, Medium-Sweet, with Nutty, Malty, Floral, Honey and Fruity Notes): Aberfeldy, Aberlour, Ben Nevis, Benrinnes, Benromach, Blair Athol, Cragganmore, Edradour, Glenfarclas, Glenturret, Knockando, Longmorn, Scapa, Strathisla.

Cluster C (Medium-Bodied, Medium-Sweet, with Fruity, Floral, Honey, Malty Notes and Spicy Hints): Balvenie, Benriach, Dalwhinnie, Glendullan, Glen Elgin, Glenlivet, Glen Ord, Linkwood, Royal Brackla.

Cluster D (Light, Medium-Sweet, Low or No Peat, with Fruity, Floral, Malty Notes and Nutty Hints ): An Cnoc, Auchentoshan, Aultmore, Cardhu, Glengoyne, Glen Grant, Mannochmore, Speyside, Tamdhu, Tobermory.

Cluster E (Light, Medium-Sweet, Low Peat, with Floral, Malty Notes and Fruity, Spicy, Honey Hints ): Bladnoch, Bunnahabhain, Glenallachie, Glenkinchie, Glenlossie, Glen Moray, Inchgower, Inchmurrin, Tomintoul.

Cluster F (Medium-Bodied, Medium-Sweet, Low Peat, Malty Notes and Sherry, Honey, Spicy Hints ): Ardmore, Auchroisk, Bushmills (technically, an Irish single malt), Deanston, Glen Deveron, Glen Keith, Glenrothes, Old Fettercairn, Tomatin, Tormore, Tullibardine.

Cluster G (Medium-Bodied, Sweet, Low Peat and Floral Notes ): Arran, Dufftown, Glenfiddich, Glen Spey, Miltonduff, Speyburn.

Cluster H (Medium-Bodied, Medium-Sweet, with Smoky, Fruity, Spicy Notes and Floral, Nutty Hints ): Balblair, Craigellachie, Glen Garioch, Glenmorangie, Oban, Old Pulteney, Strathmill, Tamnavulin, Teaninch.

Cluster I (Medium-Light, Dry, with Smoky, Spicy, Honey Notes and Nutty, Floral Hints): Bowmore, Clynelish, Bruichladdich, Glen Scotia, Highland Park, Isle of Jura, Springbank;

Cluster J (Full-Bodied, Dry, Pungent, Peaty and Medicinal, with Spicy, Feinty Notes): Ardbeg, Caol Ila, Lagavulin, Laphroaig, Talisker.

  Two excellent varieties not mentioned in the list that deserves recognition, available at Trader Joe's (here in the West)...for around $20! Finlaggan (It would probably go into Cluster J) and Lismore (a cluster B).

Two of my other favorites are also reasonably priced (for single malts!): Macallan 10 Fine Oak ($32) and Bowmore Legend ($29). Your tastes may...and will...vary.

Want to sound like an expert on single malts? A good first book on the topic that is an easy read: Kevin Erskine's "The Instant Expert's Guide to Single Malt Scotch".