If your town has a wine or spirits shop, see if that shop has a scotch specialist on staff. If there is one in your town, it might provide samples of bottles they have open. If you want to be sure you get a good single malt, look for a place like this. You can get a quality scotch that isn't a grocery store brand.
[Pardon my spelling; I'm typing this on my phone's micro keyboard.] IMO, whisky from the Highland and Speyside regions are much more conducive to new Scotch drinkers. It took me a while to get used to, and appreciate the Islay offerings. My 'training wheels' single malts would be Glenlivet, Aberlour, and Macallan. For the adventurous, go for Lagavullin, Laphroaig, and Ardbeg (my new favorite). I'm learning to appreciate some bourbons but the 'sweetness' from the new oak is a little too much for me for the most part. Also, if you're near one of the cities (and can wait that long) where one of Malt Advocate's Whisk(e)yFests is held, I recommend trying to attend. I've been dabbling with Highland and Islay single malts for several years but my eyes were opened to much more when I was finally able to attend this year's Fest in Chicago. The ticket price is worth it for the amount you get to sample (and find a new favorite). --
Thomas and Joe reminded me of a good way to get your feet wet with a selection. In Portland (and I expect other cities) there are several 'Single Malt Saloons' (or Bars). I can't imagine what the inventory must be worth - $$$. The ones I have visited were really nice places with a small private club atmosphere. A couple of these places offer a sort of 'newbie' service that consists of partial shots of several different whiskies. For the price of a single shot of medium cost whiskey you could get three of four partial shots and a large glass of water to clense your pallat in between. Sort of a neat service, you can try a bunch of different drinks and still be able to walk out. Another thing that impressed me about the place I went to was that they had an old single group behind the bar La Marzocco and the bartender pulled pretty decent shots of 'Hairbender'. They were located in an area of Portland where you don't get away with second rate espresso. Class act! Mike (just plain) Homeroast mailing list Homeroasthttp://www.sweetmariascoffee.com/gallery/main.php?g2_itemIdx20">http://lists.sweetmariascoffee.com/listinfo.cgi/homeroast-sweetmariascoffee.comHomeroast community pictures -upload yours!) :http://www.sweetmariascoffee.com/gallery/main.php?g2_itemIdx20
I don't know if they still do it, but Johnny Walker used to do an Introduction to Scotch night, with dinner and scotch tastings. It was all free and they more than made their money back on me. :) If I remember correctly, we sampled 4 single malts, plust the black, red and gold label blends. They also went through the history and making of scotch. My favorite moment was when our heavily accented host referred to one scotch (I want to say Dalwhinnie) as a good "breakfast scotch". On Tue, Jul 7, 2009 at 7:30 PM, Michael Dhabolt wrote: <Snip> Homeroast mailing list Homeroasthttp://www.sweetmariascoffee.com/gallery/main.php?g2_itemIdx20">http://lists.sweetmariascoffee.com/listinfo.cgi/homeroast-sweetmariascoffee.comHomeroast community pictures -upload yours!) :http://www.sweetmariascoffee.com/gallery/main.php?g2_itemIdx20
Although I haven't tasted it, I understand that Dalwhinnie is light and sweet; almost honey-like. "Breakfast scotch" sounds appropriate. Bob