Single Malt: Innumerable Bottles

The rarest single malt scotches in all the world can be found in Minnesota, if you only know where to look

Blue Max Liquors
14640 10th Ave. S., Burnsville

Top Valu Liquors
4340 Central Ave. NE, Columbia Heights

Liquor Depot
1010 Washington Ave. S., Mpls
Richard Fleischman

Location Info


Blue Max Liquors

14640 10th Ave. S.
Burnsville, MN 55337

Category: Retail

Region: Burnsville

Liquor Depot

1010 Washinton Ave. S.
Minneapolis, MN 55415

Category: Retail

Region: Minneapolis (Downtown)

Not all winters are created equal. Some come in like a lion and go out like a lamb. Others come in like a lamb, and go out like two Romanians in a straightjacket. Still others come in like Mae West in a Mae West life jacket, and go out like the thing in The Thing, muttering, "Man is the warmest place to hide." Of course, this is cold comfort when you live in a world where they can put a man on the moon, but you can't find one really good holiday present for your dad. Your boss. Grandpa Evers. Or that one guy in IT who wears a derby, and on whom the whole world depends.

Unless he drinks single malt Scotch, of course, because then you can take advantage of this bit of hard-fought insider's knowledge: There are three depositories of mind-boggling quantities and mind-blowing qualities of single malt Scotch whisky in this metropolitan area, if only you know where to look.

First, look to Burnsville! On dear old County Road 42, real close to where 35E and 35W come together. There, in a strip mall that's about as nondescript as a point on a porcupine, you'll find Blue Max Liquors, a tiny, plain, family-run liquor store that's something like the Fort Knox of Scotch, were such a thing crammed into your spare bedroom.

The first thing you notice on walking into the place is what I'll call the Museum of Springbank. Springbank is a famous distillery, and certain bottles of particular vintage and particular cask number from that particular institution are treasured by collectors because they are about as rare as pink buffaloes--and presumably far more pleasant to encounter after dinner. I say presumably because I'll never know, and no one else probably will either: They're not for sale, and the Pilney family, which owns Blue Max, isn't going to drink them either.

What's the value of a drink that's not for drinking? If you have to ask, obviously you haven't been bitten by the single malt bug. The Pilneys worked long and hard to get these things into Minnesota; they came via Hawaii, through the intervention of angels and the calling in of favors. Like a Vermeer, the owning of these beauties is enough. That they are tucked in near the rafters in a dim corner is kind of like the way fine art dealers often check dummy luggage and simply carry works on paper tucked in between the pages of a magazine: Nobody looks for treasure in plain sight.

Though you could say that Blue Max has nothing but treasures in plain sight: Shelf after shelf of some 220 single malt Scotches. Most of the treasures are indeed for sale: a 30-year-old Laphroig for $205, a 30-year-old Macallan for $339. Or, here's my pick: Glenlivet's mind-blowing 21-year-old Archive, for $92. In this apricot-colored wonder, layered floral notes combine with hints of sage, heather, buttery caramel, peaches, and tanned sheepskin in such a way that makes you sort of feel like stammering and swooning in its presence. I mean, this stuff has perfume and strength the way a very beautiful, very rich woman has perfume and strength--it has perfume and strength to burn.

Which is to say that I wasn't at all surprised when, as I stood in the aisles, marveling at all of the single malts that Blue Max has that I had never heard of, an executive wife walked in, opened her cell phone, barked, "Put me through, I'm at Blue Max!" and proceeded to tell her husband what was on the shelves, so that he could guide her through the selection of $1,000 worth of specially targeted executive gifts.

It's worth noting here that if you have a beer hound on your holiday list, Blue Max has 1,100 types of beer. Yes, I said 1,100, and I'm not exaggerating at all. Belgian Ales, winter-spiced porters, beers in golden flagons, meads in ceramic jugs. If there's a home brewer on your list, you could blow her mind.

In fact, Tom and Diane Pilney, who run the place, say they've got a number of customers who drive in from Fort Riley, Kansas, or Omaha, Nebraska, fill up the truck with beer, and head home. It is the mother of all beer runs. They also have a number of specialty bourbons I've never seen, in case you want to stock up on something for yourself in addition to buying something for Dad. And the place is even running a sale through December 11.

Why do I assume that you probably drink bourbon, and it's your dad who drinks Scotch? Just demographic junk I've read, mostly. Something seems to have happened after the drinking age jumped to 21, something like drinking got moved out of the family, and kids started teaching one another to drink, and thus everyone gravitated to more accessible, sweeter drinks, like Grape Apes or bourbon. Of course, if you want to have something in common with your boss at Piper Jaffray, you probably should stop drinking Key lime pie shooters in public. But at $30-something a bottle and up, how could anyone ever start?

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