The 30 Best Scotch Whisky Brands For 2021
Where Kentucky boasts more aging barrels of whiskey than living inhabitants, Scotland can counter with having one distillery for every 40,000 inhabitants . More than any other nation or region, Scotland stakes a credible claim as being the home of whisky with or without the e.
At a quick glance, the category can seem intimidating. There are various regions to explore, from Speyside to Islay. Then there are the different styles: single malts blends and blended malts peated and unpeated. Where to begin?
Thankfully, youve come to the right place. Within this list, theres something for every palate, budget, and occasion. Whether youre looking for a single malt that overdelivers on price, or you finally want to take the first steps into a fiery peated exploration, youll find the perfect partner listed below.
Without further ado, here are the 30 best Scotch whiskies for 2021.
Bruichladdich Black Art 1994 Unpeated Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Seldom do we include two bottlings from the same brand in our roundups, and rarely do we recommend something quite so expensive. But this whisky is an exception. Unbridled joy captured in a glass, this 26 year old expression emanates intense tropical fruit aromas. The experience is intoxicating before a drop of alcohol has been sipped. So much energy and fruit remains on the palate despite its age, and theres no signs of oak overpowering things instead it dazzles with endless complexity. Buy this bottle for special occasions or a special someone. Average price: $550.
The Balvenie Doublewood 12
Thanks to fertile valleys fed by the River Spey, the Scottish Speyside region is famous for producing the highest density of whisky brands in the world. Yet out of the 50 distilleries spotted across only 15 square miles, The Balvenie takes our first price as the top Speyside single malt scotch brand.
Compared to other regional varieties of single malt scotch, the best single malt scotch whisky from Speyside aim for a fruity blend thats sparse on smoky peat. As its name suggests, The Balvenie Doublewood is aged in two different types of wooden casks, imparting a unique character reminiscent of both sherry and oak. These wooden tones are then softened with layers of vanilla, cinnamon, and honey.
On the nose, youll find hints of dried stone fruit, raisin, and sultana. As the Doublewood 12 Year approaches the back of your palette, it leaves a warm and long-lasting finish thats sweet and inviting. The Doublewood 12 Year is best enjoyed on cold nights curled up by the fire with a good book.
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Kilkerran 12 Year Old
Longrow has been distilling Islay-style single malt at Springbreak since 1973. This is double-distilled and aged in bourbon and sherry barrels. These bottles are hard to come by, and carry a high price tag, but are worth picking up to explore Campbeltowns take on peated Scotch.
Glen Alba 22 Year Old
As chosen by leading whisky expert Charles MacLean: “I wasn’t surprised when Lidl’s range won all of their awards, they really are excellent drams that are incredibly reasonably priced.
“The Glen Alba has a rich aroma, dry overall, with a trace of white pepper: fruitcake moistened with rum and decorated with glacé angelica, with white coffee on the side. It really is remarkably good.”
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Best New: Torabhaig 2017 Legacy Series
Courtesy of Total Wine
Region: Isle of Skye | ABV: 46% | Tasting Notes: Salt, Honey, Smoke, Bitter herbs
Want to get in on the ground floor with a new distillery? Only the second-ever licensed facility on the Isle of Skye, Torabhaig opened in 2017, and its first release, this single malt blended from 100 select barrels, is young but delightful. The heavy peat character is tempered by a brisk sweetness from the pure island spring water used to make it and the Kentucky bourbon barrels used to age it. The honeyed vanilla char of the wood mingles with isle seagrass and iodine for a whisky made for sipping or stirring into drinks.
Oban 14 Year Old West Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Distilled in a tiny town on Scotlands west coast, this whisky is notably mighty by contrast. Its aromas lean into the vibrant tropical fruit that typically comes with substantially more age, while the palate is concentrated, complex, and oozing with honeyed sweetness. Average price: $89.
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How To Find The Best Scotch All You Need To Know
For those alcohol lovers out there whose favorite cocktail of choice happens to be whisky, youve probably tried scotch a time or two. Scotch is a special type of whiskey that is produced in a variety of regions across the world which adds to its novelty and popularity at large. Much like other whiskey products, scotch whisky varieties incorporate the use of delicately picked grains and wheat by-products which then will go through a very special fermentation phase in order to create the scotch you know and love.
There are several different elements which will affect the overall taste and flavor of the scotch whisky that you choose. In order to make the right decision on which whiskey option is best for you, youll need to do your proper amount of research into the overall fermentation and creation process of scotch whisky as a whole.
Location, climate, filtration, and more will alter the end resulting flavor of any scotch whisky in production, thats why its so important for you to look at all of these variables before finalizing a purchase on any scotch whisky selection that you choose.
Scotch whisky begins with a very rich history that started in Scotland and eventually spread its roots throughout the rest of the world. Today, scotch whisky is produced in a wide range of different regions and locations across the globe.
The Glendronach Cask Bottling Batch 18 1994 Cask 5287
This is one of four different single malts from the distillerys Cask Bottling Batch 18 collection that are being released exclusively to the United States. Cask No. 5287which was distilled in 1994is arguably the best. Aged for 26 years in Port pipes, it has a distinctive Highland toffee and chocolate truffle richness that lingers on the palate long after the last drop in the glass has been drained. Only 638 bottles have been produced.
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The Glenlivet 12 Year Old Illicit Still
Who wouldnt want a bottle of single malt that actually says Illicit Still on the label? But theres more to it than that. The expression draws inspiration from its 19th century founder, George Smith, who illegally distilled whisky in Upper Drumin, a lofty, hidden location where he could spot the Kings tax-collecting soldiers before they spotted him. But the passage of the Excise Tax in 1823 legalized whisky making for private citizens, and having gotten advance word of this, in 1824 Smith became one of the first legal distillers. Needless to say, the 12 Year Old Illicit Still, although a reinterpretation of Smiths original recipe, is much more refined, and is also markedly different from Glenlivets regular 80 proof 12 Year Old. For one thing the whisky is non-chill filtered, plus its higher 92 proof enhances Glenlivets iconic fruity and floral taste profiles, while adding some sweet tropical nuances.
Johnnie Walker Blue Label Year Of The Ox
This is the mountaintop of Johnnie Walkers whiskies. The blend is a marriage of ultra-rare stock from extinct Diageo distilleries around Scotland. Thats cooler than Brad Pitt wearing work boots and aviators on his motorcycle. This expression is all about barrel selection and the mastery of a great noser and blender working together to create something special.
Dried fruit with a plummy sweetness mingles with a very soft and almost dry waft of smoke. The palate then veers in a completely different direction folding in orange oils, marzipan, rose water, honeycombs, and even a dusting of bitter cacao once a drop of water is added. The end is slow, smoky, and full of dry fruits, nuts, with a malty nature.
This is Blue Label, sure. But this bottle is truly magnificent. The hand-painted art on the bottle is worth the price of admission alone. This really is a great collectors item with a stellar whisky inside.
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What Does Single Malt Whisky Taste Like
The flavor of a Single Malt can vary, depending on what country it was made in and where in the country it was produced. Single malts are a combination of sweet, fruity, nutty and spicy flavors, and specific notes can be more pronounced depending on where it’s made.
Here are the Single Malt regions to know in Scotland:
- Highland Single Malts can be distilled in a vast area of the country, so they vary from dry to sweet
- Lowland Single Malts tend to be light with delicate aromas and flavors of herbs and malt
- Speyside Single Malts, made near the Spey River in east-central Scotland, usually are sweet, fruity and smooth
- Islay Single Malts are renowned for their smokiness that comes from toasting the barley over peat moss
- Campbeltown Single Malts are varied and full of flavor, with hints of salt, smoke, fruit, vanilla and toffee
Ardmore 12 Years Old Port Wood Finish
The Ardmore distillery is a colossus producing 5 million bottles, but they know what they do. There are some particular peaty drams, but the most balanced is the 12 years, which ages in American barrels and then Port pipes. Classic, a super creamy whiskey where peat and warm fruit in syrup mix with sweet spices, cinnamon, and brushstrokes of jam, define an inviting and rich aromatic profile. Easy to drink. Well done, even if too much stylized-rigid.
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Best Peated Scotch: Bowmore 12 Year Old
Region: Islay, Scotland| ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Peat, Chocolate, Cherry.
Bowmore is mildly peated compared to some other Islay whiskies, but the smoke is distinctly present all the same. But in this 12-year-old expression, the peatiness is balanced out by a rich array of fruit and spice flavors, along with notes of honey and vanilla. The distillery is the first recorded to be in operation on Islay, and this long, storied history is present in this approachable yet pleasantly smoky single malt.
Region: Japan | ABV: 43% | Tasting Notes: Green apple, Citrus, Smoke.
Japanese whiskey, particularly from Suntory, can be very costly and hard to get, but this bottle from the Hakushu distillery in the Japanese Alps is phenomenal. It features crisp notes of unripe melon and apple, along with just a hint of smoke. This 12-year-old whiskey makes a delicious highball, although you might want to save this to sip. Lynnette Marrero, bar director for Llama Inn and Llama San NYC, calls it delicious, grassy, a little smokier than other Japanese whiskeys.
Top Recommended Scotch Whisky Selections
Scotch whisky comes in various brands and types so there are no shortages of options for you to choose from, in order to make it easier for you to pick up the right scotch whisky selection for your particular needs and desires, were going to list some of our top recommended options below. Each scotch whisky selection mentioned below will vary in terms of taste, aging, fermentation, flavor and a lot more so keep all of these factors in mind before making a final decision about which scotch whisky brand is best for your particular taste preferences and needs.
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Wemyss Malts The Hive Blended Malt Scotch Whisky
Scotch blending house Wemyss Malts names each of its expressions after the character of the liquid in bottle. This release, a fusion of up to 16 single malts aged at least eight years, gains its moniker from its luxurious honeyed character. Expect an abundance of baking spices, too, and lively texture as the whisky meets the palate. Average price: $46.
The Crowd Pleaser: Arran Barrel Reserve
In the same style as the Arran 10, Arran Barrel Reserve shares a similar apple orchard aroma in its brightness, says Victoria. But this one has a notable depth of full blossom, summery white flowers, and wood chips. Born to please and easy to love.
The Macallan Edition No. 6
Rich, velvet mouthfeel, dried fruit, orange jam, and caramel decadencelike biting into a vanilla-frosted cupcake. The finish is overall the most luxurious mouthfeel, as expected from The Macallan, Victoria says. Its perfect for a summery nightcap! Robert Mitchell, the distillerys ghillie and guardian of The Macallans stretch of the River Spey uses this decadent release to bring light to protecting local salmon and sea trout through a charitable partnership with The Atlantic Salmon Trust.
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Sia Blended Scotch Whisky
SIA Whisky is the result of Carin Luna-Ostaseskis passion for the good stuff from Scotland. Luna-Ostaseski successfully launched this whisky through Kickstarter, making the first crowd-sourced whisky. The actual juice in the bottle is a blend of Speyside, Highland, and Islay juices with a 60/40 grain whisky or malt whisky ratio.
Theres a marrying of bright orange zest with a five-spice note lurking beneath. The citrus really brightens things up as hints of vanilla pudding, honey, buttery toffee, and fatty nuts balance out the flavor with a very distant wisp of that Islay smoke. The end is well-rounded, nutty, and full of vanilla cream, all finishing on a slightly sweet smoky note.
This blend continues to shine as something new in the world of blended scotch. I tend to use this pretty much just for highballs. But in that application, it always delivers.
The Glendronach Parliament Aged 21 Years
Dont let the name fool you. The parliament in this case is the collective noun for rooks a type of European crow that nests above the distillery. That dark essence is rendered in the whisky through 21 long years of maturation in Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez sherry casks exclusively.
Theres a lot going on with this nose, starting with blackberry brambles hanging heavy with ripe fruit leading towards a well-spiced oatmeal cookie vibe and cut with hints of orange zest and vanilla. A sticky toffee pudding sweetness arrives with flourishes of bitter dark chocolate notes and a sharp holiday spice matrix. The end is very long but very velvety with hints of dark fruits and spices warming your body as it fades away.
This whisky is perfect. Well, lets qualify that as an unpeated malt, this is perfect. This is definitely a bottle you want to enjoy and expand your palate with.
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Benriach The Twenty One
In September 2020, after more than 120 years, this Speyside distillery completely revamped its core expressions and, guided by master blender Rachel Barrie, added some ultra-premium whiskies to round out its portfolio. One of the most distinctive of these is their 21 Year Old, a vatting of bourbon, sherry, virgin oak and red wine casks. Peaty smoke immediately makes its presence known, followed by dried fruit and leather, with heavy cedar emerging in the finish, making this an evening dram that calls for a full-bodied cigar such as our 2021 Best of Best J.C. Newman Maximus Robusto.
Types Of Scotch Whisky
Scotch whisky is most commonly defined by two factors grain and region. Single Malt Scotch must use a mash of 100 percent malted barley, pot distilled in a single distillery. Meanwhile, Single Grain Scotch can incorporate other grain cereals but must also be distilled by either continuous or column stills at a single site. Finally, blends combine single malt or grain whiskies from more than one distillery to create new flavors or improve consistency. The majority of Scotch whisky sold globally is a blend. Then, the other defining element is the region. There are five in Scotland Lowlands, Highlands, Speyside, Islay, and Campbeltown, with the Islands commonly considered an unofficial sixth region. Each has a unique and inspiring landscape, producing distinctive characteristics often found across the distilleries. For example, Islay whiskies tend to be peaty, Islands are briny, and the Lowlands are light and grassy.
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Abv: 468%average Price: $50tasting Notes: Sweet Peat Smoke Honey And Pepper
Rock Oyster has a salty and briny nose and a taste of lemon and sweet peat. A true maritime malt, this is an excellent example of what coastal whiskies taste like. The taste is fresh with a sweet, salty, and smoky finish.
This scotch makes the top of our list because it’s easy to drink despite its 46.8% alcohol content. Best served neat or on ice cubes to bring out the flavors even more!
What Makes Scotch Whisky Unique
Like bourbon and Champagne, Scotch whisky is separated from other styles by a strict set of Scotch Whisky Regulations for production and labeling. Scotch whisky can only be made in Scotland. It must also be distilled from water and malted barley though other whole cereal grains may be added. Distillation strength must not exceed 94.8 percent, while bottle strength is at least 40 percent ABV. The spirit must be wholly matured in Scotland, in oak casks not exceeding 700 liters, for a minimum of three years. Finally, nothing can be added other than water and plain caramel coloring. There are also additional requirements for calling something a single malt, single grain, or blend. Another unique feature of Scotch is the prevalent use of peat, especially in Islay and the Highlands.
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