The Vegas Whiskey Expert Who Makes Winning Taste Good

Craig Schoettler helps keep the rich liquid.

When Craig Schoettler, the dapper, custom-suit wearing cocktail and whiskey guru of Aria Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, starts pouring you glasses of rare and expensive whiskey, it means one of two things: Either he’s been mandated to do anything he can to keep you on property or you are a reporter from Maxim investigating what might be the greatest whiskey collection in Las Vegas. Unfortunately, I’m on assignment.

Schoettler’s job is to make sure that high rollers have suitably high-end drinks, which is why the liquor library he oversees is so highly respected by professional gamblers and penthouse bookers alike. I sat down with Schoettler to discuss his most beloved – and, now, my most beloved – whiskeys. This is the stuff you drink when Pappy Van Winkle and 25-year-old Macallan just don’t cut it anymore.

This is what winning tastes like.

Jefferson’s Presidential Select 17 Year Stitzel-Weller Bourbon

This bottle of whiskey represents the best case scenario for a distiller who leaves full barrels of bourbon laying around. It helps that the distiller’s employer, the now defunct Stitzel-Weller in Louisville, KY, produced Pappy Van Winkle way before it counted as a trophy tipple for stockbrokers and corporate attorneys. In other words, back when Pappy Van Winkle was the really good stuff that few people truly cared about. “This is made from the same formula as the original Pappy Van Winkle,” Schoettler says of Jefferson’s wheated hooch. “It’s closer to the original Van Winkle than today’s Van Winkle is.” In his eyes, that makes Jefferson’s 17 a bargain at $1,000 per bottle (what you’ll spend in the secondary market; it’s long gone from retail shelves), as original bottles of Pappy trade in the $4,000 range.

Springbank Campbeltown 1971 Single Malt Scotch

One appeal of this is the sheer rarity: only 2,400 bottles were distilled. Then there’s the age (35 years old) and the fact that it had been resting in a sherry cask. According to Schoettler, only three scotches from Campbeltown get the sherry-cask treatment. Most importantly, of course, is its sublime taste. Holding a glass up to the light, Schoettler says, “Notice that it’s not super dark. And it won’t taste overly fruity.” Then we sip. “Despite being in the wood, it still has white flower and jasmine notes that this scotch is famous for. But they’re all softened by the aging.” Gordon and MacPhail bottling of Glenlivet 70-year-old Single Malt Scotch – Gordon and MacPhail is an independent bottler that buys casks of spirits from elite producers. They then do their own aging or blending or (in the case of this beauty) pretty much leave it alone for an extended period of time. Considering that a teardrop shaped bottle of the stuff retails for nearly $30,000 and that Aria charges $5,500 for a shot, I can understand Schoettler opting to not offer me a taste. I’ll take him at his word when he tells me that it has cherry notes and a chocolaty finish. As to why Gordon and MacPhail waited 70 years to release this golden nectar, Schoettler figures that they either like round numbers or decided that the scotch had reached its peak. “For something so old, it doesn’t just taste like a barrel,” he marvels. “It tastes like Glenlivet on steroids.”

Mt. Vernon 1921 Pure Rye Whiskey

This one is not exactly a household name, and that’s not the point. American Medicinal Spirits Company produced Mt. Vernon during prohibition, back when the only legal liquor was sold by prescription at the pharmacy. The stuff is 100 proof, and, all things considered, quite tasty – complete with the dill and spiciness usually associated with rye. “This is not going to be the greatest rye you ever drank,” acknowledges Schoettler. “But it doesn’t need to be. There’s a lot of romance in the bottle; you’re drinking history. And, considering that it aged for only four years, it’s pretty good.”

Gordon and MacPhail bottling of Port Ellen Single Malt Scotch

Glanced through its glass bottle, the pale yellow coloring of this scotch might lead you to think that it is light on flavor. You’d be wrong. Schoettler accounts for the subtle shading by pointing out that this scotch had been aged in old barrels stripped of their woody quality. As for Port Ellen’s cultish popularity, Schoettler attributes it to the fact that the whiskey maker shut down in the early 1980s, had been around since the 1800s, and produced some seriously memorable sips – the contents of this bottle among them. “You get smoke up front and strawberries-and-cream in the back,” he says after a taste. “It goes for $1,500 a bottle, which isn’t as much as it sounds like when you consider that Port Ellen is done. Seventy years in the future, you can get a Glenlivet that’s in the cask right now, and it will be really good. But this? They’re just not making any more of it.”

Photos by Getty Images