The Scotch Whisky Association Names The Following Five Styles Of Scotch Whisky:
- Single Malt Whisky- is one whisky from one distillery, distilled from 100 percent malted barley.
- Single Grain Whisky is one whisky from one distillery, distilled from one grain or a mixture of grain, generally up to 20 percent malted barley and up to 80 percent other grains, such as corn or wheat.
- Vatted or blended malt whisky is the traditional blended whisky, consisting only of single malt whiskies, which may come from more than one distillery.
- Blended grain whisky is made of a mixture of grain whiskies from more than one distillery.
- Blended Scotch whisky is a blend of whiskies, generally made of 20 to 40 percent single malt whiskey plus 60 to 80 percent grain whisky, usually from several distilleries.
All Scotch whiskies must be aged for at least three years. Many distillers age their whiskies for longer periods of time to add to the flavor and color while smoothing down the spirit.
The Balvenie Doublewood 12 Year
Citrus and orange peel are pronounced on the nose of this Scotch, like an Old Fashioned, one taster said. Its bright, acidic, and zesty on the palate, light and smooth, with a short finish, said another, adding, Im salivating. Panelists also enjoyed Balvenie 14 Year Caribbean Cask . Average price: $57.
A Curated Selection From Some Of Scotland’s Finest Distilleries
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Liquor / Chloe Jeong
Best Splurge:Lagavulin 16 Year Old at Drizly
Aged in second-fill ex-bourbon barrels, the 16-year-old expression is well worth the splurge.
Many scotch enthusiasts may discover that they’re well into their journey of appreciation before they ever actually learn what the phrase “single malt” even means. To be considered a single malt scotch, the whisky must be distilled from a mash bill of 100 percent malted barley at one distillery and aged for a minimum of three years in wooden casks. Distillers are then allowed to get as creative as theyd like, from experimenting with the number of distillations to using a variety of cask finishes.
There are more than 120 distilleries in Scotland making single malt whiskymuch of which is ultimately destined to be used as a component in blended whiskies, but some of which is bottled as an individual expression of the particular distillery’s character. With a style out there for everyone, here are the best single malt scotch whiskies available in a range of categories.
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Glenfiddich Bourbon Barrel Reserve 14 Years
Sweet and warm, with vanilla, chocolate, oak, and freshly baked bread aromas, this bourbon-barrel-aged Scotch was a crowd favorite. It has a creamy body and fruity, peppery finish, like peppercorn and orange peel. Glenfiddich 14 was also a favorite, with Lipton-tea-like bitterness and acidity on the finish, one taster said. Panelists found both whiskies approachable and easy to drink. Average price: $55.
Hidden Track: Compass Box Artist Blend
The lions share of this blend 45 percent comes from a single grain whisky aged in ex-bourbon from Cameronbridge Distillery. 22 percent is a single malt aged in ex-bourbon that comes from Linkwood Distillery. The rest is a mix of French oak and ex-bourbon single malts and blended malts from the Highlands, Clyneilish, Linkwood, and Balmenach. Those whiskies are vatted and then proofed down before bottling.
This opens with a very clear and concise note of apple candy with a hint of salted caramel ice cream cut with a touch of eggnog spices. Theres a nice maltiness that leans into a creamy vanilla, soft holiday spice mix, butter toffee, and a hint of milk chocolate near the end. The finish is warming with a whisper of tobacco next to a woody apple, spice candies , and a final hint of cocoa and caramel.
Value For Dollar:
While all of the above blends are built from distilleries within the parent companys portfolio, Compass Box gets to have the best of all worlds. They source their barrels from every distillery they can in Scotland, regardless of who owns them. That means youre getting a true blend of Scottish whiskies that very few other blenderies are doing. That alone almost makes these blends invaluable when looking at the big picture of blended whisky in Scotland.
Plus, this juice is just delicious.
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The Best Scotch Whisky That Isnt Technically Scotch Whisky
Kavalan Sherry Oak Single Malt
Cedar Ridge Single Malt
Distilleries have to meet a number of criteria in order to legally label their product as Scotch, and being produced in Scotland is probably the most notable barrier to entry. With that said, there are plenty of brands out there pumping out some fantastic whiskey that cant technically be called Scotch but still checks basically all of the requisite boxes.
Teeling is one of the rare whiskeys made in Ireland that uses peat. Its flagship offering has an unmistakable smokiness, but the Blackpitts label kicks it up a notch to produce a product that has more in common with whats produced across the Irish Sea as opposed to within the border of the country it calls home.
Japanese distillers have managed to carve out one hell of a niche for themselves in recent years. However, theres a reason its marketed as whisky, as most producers turned to Scotland when they first began to hone their approach. Hibiki did such a good job that it was forced to discontinue its 17-year and 12-year offerings due to the insane amount of demand, but Japanese Harmony is a more than adequate solution to a very good problem to have.
Aberfeldy 18 Year Double Cask
This double-cask single malt whisky is one of Aberfeldys Exceptional Cask Series released in October 2019. Its finished nine years in an oloroso sherry cask, picking up sweet and spicy notes. This is as good with dessert as it is for dessert, one panelist said. A bitter chocolate flavor on the finish ties it up neatly and deliciously. Average price: $200.
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Speysidesingle Malt Scotch Whisky
Geographically, Speyside is a region in Morayshire within the Highlands of Scotland. For whisky purposes, it is distinguished as a sub-region of the Highlands due to the concentration of distilleries in the area and some stylistic similarities between them.
Glenrothes Distillery makes textbook Speyside whisky
What Are The Different Categories Of Scotch Whisky
The Scotch Whisky Regulations 2009 define five types of Scotch whisky. Heres how the types of whisky differ:
- Single malt Scotch whisky must be distilled at a single distillery.
- Single grain Scotch whisky is also distilled at a single distillery but made from cereal grains rather than just malted barley.
- Blended Scotch whisky combines one or more single malt Scotch whiskies with one or more single grain Scotch whiskies.
- Blended malt Scotch whisky is a blend of two or more single malt Scotch whiskies from different distilleries.
- Blended grain Scotch whisky is a blend of single grain Scotch whiskies, which have been distilled at more than one distillery.
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Johnnie Walker Blue Label
This amber gem has a peaty aroma that reminded one panelist of maple bacon, and another of crackers and brie. A silky, honey-sweet texture gently ascends to a peppery kick, with tingling spice sticking to the cheeks and lips. This is one to sit with and savor on a crisp night, hopefully with something to celebrate, one panelist said. Average price: $185.
They Go Through Different Aging Processes
Bourbon has no minimum aging period, but to call your product Straight Bourbon, a specific distinction of quality, it must be aged for no less than two years and have no added coloring, flavor or spirits. Conversely, Scotch must be aged for no less than three years. Within Scotch, though, there are additional distinctions as well. For instance, a single malt Scotch is made with malted barley in pot stills at a single distillery and blended Scotch whisky is made by combining several single malts with other whiskies in column stills.
Scotch also tends to be aged longer than bourbon, with many of the most popular whiskies hitting shelves after anywhere from 12-25 years inside barrels. Part of the reason for this is a difference in climates. Bourbon is predominantly produced in Kentucky, where the climate is quite warm during the summer and therefore bourbon evaporates at a faster rate. This means that the longer bourbon is in the barrel, the lower the yield and the more expensive it gets.
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MSRP: $4,000 for 750ml | Global Allocation: 1,830 bottles | ABV: 49.7%
In true Isle of Skye fashion, Talisker 43 is briny and saline without being overpowering. And one of its more alluring qualities is its mildly saccharine finish that lingers for longer than any veteran whisky drinker would expect. And in my mind, its all about that finisha finish like that is no easy feat to achieve. Beyond that, theres a fun little story behind Talisker 43s flavor profile: This particular expression is due, in part, to the staves used. Adventurer James Aiken took on a 3,264-mile transatlantic journey, carrying wooden staves on the deck. When he returned to Scotland, the aforementioned staveswhich were splashed with seawater and exposed to the elementswere incorporated into the casks used in Talisker 43s final maturation. And it made all the difference. This whisky is a sublime single malt that captures the pinnacle of the key aromas of Talisker: spice, sweetness, waxy and creamy, with a sense of the sea salt spray, the morning after a storm, says Ewan Gunn, Diageos senior global brand ambassador. The four decades of maturation have given a full flavor, yet a softness to this bold dram resulting in a rounded and elegant experience.
This Image Is Part Of What Has Made Whisky So Successful But It Is Also A Hindrance To The Spirit
What I like to do, says Blair Bowman, is cut through the myths. Bowman is a whisky consultant. Someone who, in his own words, is trying to convert people all over the world into whisky fans, one by one. But he has no patience for fusty ideas about how the spirit, which has been distilled since at least the 1400s, should be consumed. The purists cardinal rules over whether or not to add ice, what temperature is ideal and whether one category of whisky is superior to another all can be dispensed with, he says.
You should drink it however you want and not let anyone tell you otherwise, says Bowman, with refreshing nonchalance. One of his own mixtures of choice, for instance, is whisky with ginger beer. A fantastic combination but he still gets asked in bars now and again if it should be allowed.
Few beverages have cultivated the reverence that Scotch whisky has. For some, its the very essence of Scotland distilled, matured and poured into a glass. The drink is rich with history, craftsmanship and culture. Theres truth in that Bowman happily agrees. But theres another side to Scotch.
Its also a booming export product that is taking certain foreign markets by storm. In 2018, Scotch whisky exports were worth £4.7bn in total, up nearly 8% on 2017. More than a billion bottles of Scotch were sent overseas that year. And these considerable sales made up 70% of Scotlands food and drink exports, and 21% of the UKs as a whole.
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Best Overall: Aberlour 16 Year Old
Region: Speyside | ABV: 43% | Tasting Notes: Caramel, Oak, Spice
Aberlour is often overlooked by whisky drinkers here in the US, but undeservedly so. This Speyside distillery has an excellent lineup, with the 16-year-old landing right in the sweet spot of maturation between the 12 and 18, the other two age statement bottles in the range. The whisky is matured in both bourbon and sherry casks for 16 years before being married together and bottled. This provides it with the best of both worldsa rich, oaky structure with some sweet vanilla notes from the lengthy time in bourbon barrels, and ripe fruits and spices from the sherry casks.
Best Under $: The Glenlivet 12 Year Old
Courtesy of Reserve Bar
Region: Speyside | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Apple, Citrus, Vanilla
The Glenlivets 12-year-old expression is extremely popular, and for good reason. Its priced affordably and has a really approachable palate, according to Chris Dempsey, bartender at Xaman in Dallas. Its not too peaty, and its really the best everyday drinking whisky for a great price, he says.
The whisky was matured in a combination of American and European oak and is a good entry-level bottle for those who dont want to spend too much but are looking for something with complexity of flavor.
Region: Highlands |ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Vanilla, Almond, Baking Spice
This is a classic Highlands whisky and is an interesting look at one of the whiskies that makes up the much better-known Dewars White Label.
A major malt component of the Dewars blend comes from Aberfeldy, a distillery that has been around since the beginning of the 20th century. The 12-year-old expression is a great value single malt, usually available for somewhere between $30 and $40. For that relatively low price, the discerning drinker is rewarded with flavor-rich, syrupy notes of honey punctuated by bursts of vanilla and paired with a gentle spice undercurrent.
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Glendronach Parliament 21 Year
Dark like a tobacco leaf, this Scotch has nuanced aromas that excited our panel brown sugar, molasses, cookie dough, and almost roasty, like imperial stout, one panelist said. Others tasted marzipan and vanilla cake with homemade icing. It has a noticeable kick to it, a panelist added. I keep coming back for another sip, they concluded. Average price: $178.
Best Overall: The Glendronach Revival
Region: Highlands | ABV: 46% | Tasting Notes: Cedar, Chocolate-covered cherries, Pecans, Honey
With notes of cedar, chocolate-covered cherries, pecans and honey, The GlenDronach Revival 15-year-old scotch evolves in layers and layers of new flavors and keeps on delivering, according to Tardie, following through with its seemingly miles-long finish.
Aged in the Highlands in Pedro Ximénez and oloroso sherry casks, it starts off with a spiced fruit nose that Tardie calls brilliant. Drink it neat with milk chocolate or aged cheeses, or, as he suggests, “drop an ice cube in and let it sit for a few seconds and see what happens.”
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Learn How Geography And Terroir Impact Your Favorite Whiskies
Chris W. Anderson / Shutterstock
If you love scotch, this is a wonderful time to be alive. Already the most consumed whisky on the planet, the liquid is now enjoying an era of unprecedented growth. In 2018, the U.S. became the spirits first ever billion-pound export market. And if you head to your local liquor store, youll see ample evidence on shelves dense with colorful bottles sourced from every corner of the country.
While extra-aged single malt is a phenomenon all its ownthe perennial preference of the finicky connoisseurits worth noting that blended scotch remains the predominant driver of scotchs success. Dont fall prey to the allure of exclusivity: There are plenty of blends, single grains and non-age-statement malts worth exploring.
Typically, theyre divided into the five primary Scottish regions of production: Campbeltown, the Highlands, Islay, the Lowlands and Speyside. Each of these respective provinces can be tied to a specific style or flavor profile. Some recommend taking this with a grain of saltor barley, at the very leastas it may be nothing more than a fancy marketing ploy. Still, you cant deny geographys effectiveness in helping us break down an increasingly dense landscape of labels.
With a very broad stroke, heres what you can expect in each category, along with a quintessential bottle for each.
Ordering Whisky In Scotland
The first rule of ordering whisky in Scotland is to never call it Scotch. It’s whisky when it’s blended and malt when it’s single-malt. When ordering malt, it’s a faux pas to order it on the rocks because ice numbs the tongue and does not let you appreciate the flavor of the whisky. You can drink malt neat or with a drop of water. Ordering it with Coke, of course, is also a terrible idea.
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Does It Go Off
In theory, no. Sealing the bottle with a screw top , means it is not possible for oxygen to come into contact with the whisky, thus preventing oxidation . Even in the case of older bottles sealed with corks, though, oxidation is minimal because of the high levels of ethanol, which absorbs oxygen in the first instance.
Wine, with its lower ethanol content, is somewhat different. Some wines can benefit from oxidation in the bottle over time . Others are more suited to being kept light and fresh, and are thus closed with screw tops and not generally decanted. In conclusion, your sealed whisky will remain largely unchanged over the years. Once youve opened it, however, the process of oxidation begins. Youd generally want to finish a bottle within a year of opening, and two at the most bearing in mind that the less whisky it contains, the quicker oxidation will take place.