Silky Scotches: Selecting the Smoothest Scotch Whiskies (2023)

You know how when you take a sip of typical cheap or “house” spirit, the high alcohol content rips and burns your throat? That’s the opposite of what a “smooth” whisky hopes to achieve. By “smooth,” we mean a spirit that you can drink without needing to use a fire extinguisher to tone down the burn. You want the liquid to go down your throat like satin or silk.

That’s not to say that whisky can’t or doesn’t produce heat in your belly. There’s no better way to warm up on a cold winter afternoon than taking a dram of fine scotch. In fact, Scotch whiskies have been known to heal and warm for hundreds of years. But when we speak about smoothness—or lack thereof—we’re talking about that acerbic burn that feels like it’s taking off the lining of your gullet.

What makes a smooth scotch “smooth?”

There’s no real conclusive, quantifiable way to determine whether a scotch is smooth or not. You might think that measuring the alcohol proof would be a good start, but that’s actually not the case. All scotches have an approximate alcoholic strength of 63.5percent alcohol by volume; by law it must be 40percent or higher. However, some scotches are smooth, even with such a high alcohol percentage. It’s impossible to say that higher strength whiskies have more of a burn, whereas lower proof liquors have less. It’s more complicated than that. And it takes some people years to develop a palate that can tell the difference.

Smoothness is one way of measuring the quality of the spirit. So how is “quality” achieved? The heavy lifting is done during the aging process, including selecting the right kind of aging casks and barrels. Length of time is also a factor. As a general rule, the longer the whisky is aged in the barrel, the smoother it will be when you drink it.

There are ways that the master distiller can forcibly cut down on the by-products of distillation that impact the flavor. As part of the distillation process, the operator can separate what is called the “heads and tails” of the product. This is basically separating the good stuff from the bad stuff. The type of still that the distillery uses is one way the operator can achieve this. Whether a distillery recycles the “heads and tails” is another way to cut back on the alcoholic by-product. Some distillers may choose to filter the spirit through some kind of medium, such as activated charcoal, to remove the “tails.” There are hundreds of methods that a brewmaster can employ to try to achieve a “smooth” finish.

Appreciating a fine Scotch whisky comes along with appreciating the process. An expert distiller makes numerous choices that achieve the desired outcome.

(Video) A tasting guide to the Scottish whisky regions | The World of Whisky

Identifying smooth Scotches by the color

One way that you can choose a smooth scotch is by examining the color. This, of course, is difficult to do if the bottle is colored. But take a look at the clear bottles on the merchant’s shelf. The darker and richer colored spirit is usually a good indicator that the scotch has been aged a long time in a wood barrel. This is because the spirit takes on the color of the wood the longer it sits.

The exact color of the spirit will vary depending on the type of wood used in the aging barrel. For instance, if a spirit was aged in a barrel that formerly housed red wine or sherry, it may have a darker and redder tint to it. But a spirit that was aged the same amount of time in a white oak barrel would not be as dark.

Therefore, looking at the color of the spirit is a good indicator, but it’s not a fail-safe method for determining smoothness. (Expert note: Using our beautiful decanters and sipping glasses is a wonderful way to display a beautiful scotch.)

Silky Scotches: Selecting the Smoothest Scotch Whiskies (1)

Identifying smooth scotches by the nose

Another way to identify a smooth scotch is by smelling it. When you stick your nose right into the glass, do you get a heavy waft of alcohol? If yes, then you’ve probably got a lower quality spirit on your hands. The higher the quality, and better the smoothness, the more you’ll be able to pick up other aromas without the alcohol dominating the scent.

Scotches come in a wide variety of aromas. Can you pick up on burning wood or char? Fruit? Coffee? Vanilla or caramel? Peat or moss? Salty sea? One reason why Scotch whiskies are so beloved is that the smell of them can transport you to the beautiful lands along the sea.

(Video) Five Best Whiskies in the World

Too much of a burn? How can you “smooth out” a scotch that has a bite?

There are a few ways that you can forcibly “smooth out” a scotch that has too much bite for you.

Try adding water.

When you have your whisky poured in a beautiful, tulip-shaped glass, try pouring a small amount of distilled water in a separate glass. (You want to use distilled water so that you don’t alter the flavor of your whisky with the extra minerals, sulfur, or fluoride that are often found in tap water.) You also want to keep your water at room temperature, so it doesn’t distract from the whisky itself. Add a small splash of water to thin out the spirit, adding more until it’s at the desired dilution. You can even use an eyedropper to ensure that you don’t add too much water. (Of course, arranging your whisky, water, and decanter on a beautiful, customized tray will keep all of your drinking accessories organized and in one spot.)

You can add ice, but beware!

Yes, of course, you can use ice. But if you don’t drink your whisky pretty quickly, it is soon going to become too diluted. If you are going to use ice, use a spherical ice cube; it will melt at a slower rate than a square ice cube. Sometimes the distraction of the colder temperature is good, to divert your attention from the alcohol in the spirit. If you prefer that, look for whiskey stones—that way you get the temperature change without diluting your alcohol.

Silky Scotches: Selecting the Smoothest Scotch Whiskies (2)Silky Scotches: Selecting the Smoothest Scotch Whiskies (3)

Make it a mixer.

There are thousands of recipes for making your whisky into a mixed drink. The easiest way to do this is to add Vermouth, bitters (orange is usually a favorite), or some other sugar-laden additive. Keep in mind that all this does is to mask the flavor of the alcohol and change it into something else entirely.

Add a few tart apples.

Try adding some tart apple to your whiskies, like a Granny Smith or crab apple. The tartness helps to balance out the alcoholic zing.

(Video) All About Scotch || Whiskey for Dummies

What are some of the smoothest scotches?

So, what are some of the smoothest scotches available? Try our expert picks!

Silky Scotches: Selecting the Smoothest Scotch Whiskies (4)

Ardbeg Uigeadail

Deep smoky notes with luscious, raisin-y tones. Aged in ex-sherry casks. Deepest gold color. Can you pick up the hints of ocean, spices, and Christmas pine needles?

Lagavulin, 16 year old

A pungent malt, this spirit captures the region’s peaty goodness along with some Lapsang Souchong tea and pipe tobacco, with hints of kelp. Notoriously complex.

Glenmorangie, The Accord (Bourbon and Sherry Finish)

A 12-year-old spirit, this whisky has gone through two separate aging/casking processes: first in American oak bourbon casks and then in Oloroso sherry casks. You’ll get some delicious notes of vanilla, cappuccino, toffee, apples, and nutmeg. Can you capture the finishing hints of wood and leather?

Naked Grouse

Offered at about $30 USD, this is an ideal pick for anyone on a budget. Formerly part of The Famous Grouse line, the Naked Grouse is a blended Scotch matured in first-fill sherry casks. You’ll grab some hints of fudge, cooked apples, and cherries.

(Video) Top 10 Reasons Why Ardbeg 10 Is The Best Buy Scotch Whisky

A smooth Scotch whisky keeps you warm on a cold winter afternoon.

Finding the right, smooth Scotch whisky means finding a spirit that is enjoyable for you. As you get more experienced in tasting scotches, you may want to find different ways to describe that desired smoothness. Are you looking for a brew that’s “silky,” “smoky,” “subtle,” or “balanced?” These are all ways to describe smoothness, but with a bit more sophistication. How would you describe your favorite smooth Scotch whisky?

Silky Scotches: Selecting the Smoothest Scotch Whiskies (5)

Question 1: What’s smoother, whiskey or scotch? Both! Scotch is a whisky—it’s just made in Scotland.

Question 2: What does it mean to be a smooth scotch? A smooth scotch is one that doesn’t have that alcoholic burn when you swallow.

Question 3: How can I smooth out my whisky? Try diluting it just a little bit using room temperature, distilled water. Start with a small amount, then add more as needed.


What is the smoothest Scotch to drink straight? ›

Top 10 Smoothest Single Malt Scotch To Sip
  1. Balvenie 12 Doublewood. Average Price: Roughly $74.99.
  2. Glenlivet 12. Average Price: Roughly $54.87 (Drizly) ...
  3. Glenmorangie 10. ...
  4. Highland Park 18-Year-Old. ...
  5. Glenallachie 12. ...
  6. Springbank 10. ...
  7. Aberlour 16 Yr. ...
  8. The Glenlivet Founder's Reserve Single Malt Scotch Whisky. ...
Dec 20, 2022

What is the most sought after Scotch Whiskies? ›

The Macallan Fine and Rare 1926 – $1.9m

It's considered the founding father of The Macallan Fine and Rare series – a collection of 57 vintage single-malt whiskies produced by the distillery over eight decades – which remains the most coveted whisky collection to this day.

What are the different categories of Scotch? ›

There are five Scotch Whisky regions - Campbeltown, Highland, Islay, Lowland and Speyside. Each offers a different perspective on Scotch Whisky. Tagged with: Discover.

What is the number 1 Scotch in the world? ›

Ardbeg 10 Years

Regularly voted "World Whisky of the Year" Ardbeg's distillery has remained on the small remote island of Islay for more than 200 years.

Which is the world's No 1 blended Scotch? ›

Top 25 blended Scotch whiskies by volume
RankBrandEst. volume 2016 (000s of 9-litre, 12-bottle cases)
1Johnnie Walker14,490
23 more rows

What is the most popular Scotch in America? ›

Leading brands of Scotch whisky in the U.S. based on volume sales 2021. In 2021, Johnnie Walker Black was the leading Scotch whisky brand in the United States with about 1.14 million 9-liter cases sold. The third most popular Scotch whisky brand was Johnnie Walker Red, also supplied by Diageo.

What are the three types of Scotch? ›

There are five different types of Scotch whisky, which are: single malt, blended malt, single grain, blended grain, and blended.

Is Scotch smoother than Irish? ›

But the biggest difference between Scotch whisky and Irish whiskey is the distillation process. While both spirits are distilled liquors, Scotch is distilled twice to Irish whiskey's thrice. This extra distillation gives Irish whiskey a smoother finish and some say make it the best in the world.

What are top shelf scotch brands? ›

12 Top-Rated Scotch Whiskies Worth Splurging On
  • The Glenlivet 12 Year Old. Scotch whiskey. ...
  • Ardbeg 10 Years. Scotch whiskey. ...
  • Bruichladdich The Classic Laddie. Scotch whiskey. ...
  • Oban 14 Years Old. ...
  • The Macallan Sherry Oak 12 Years Old. ...
  • Highland Park 18 Year Old Viking Pride. ...
  • Lagavulin 16 Year. ...
  • The Dalmore Port Wood Reserve.
Nov 13, 2022

Is older scotch smoother? ›

The wood from the barrels a Scotch (or any whisky) is aged in tends to break down the rougher flavors in the alcohol, leaving you with a smoother taste. The longer the alcohol is in there, the smoother it gets. And yes, that is lovely.

What are the 6 types of Scotch whisky? ›

Scotch Whisky is produced all over Scotland and can be broken down into six regions, Highlands, Speyside, Lowlands, Campbeltown, Islay and Islands.

How do you pick Scotch? ›

What to look for when choosing a really special scotch whisky to buy
  1. the quality of the cask in which the whisky has been matured.
  2. whether the whisky has been chill filtered.
  3. the age of the whisky.
  4. whether additives have been added.
Apr 24, 2018

What type of Scotch is Glenfiddich? ›

Glenfiddich Whisky: Single Malt Scotch Whisky - 12 to 50 Year Old.

What is the most drank Scotch in Scotland? ›

These are the go-tos: (1) The Famous Grouse, aka The Low Flying Bird It's the top selling blend in Scotland. (2) Dewar's, aka The Drinking Man's Scotch Best seller in the U.S., top five in the world. (3) Bell's, aka Afore Ye Go Top mover in the U.K. overall.

What is the most famous Scotch in Scotland? ›

For many years, The Famous Grouse has held the top spot as the biggest selling whisky in Scotland, making it the nation's top tipple in the category.

What is the difference between Scotch and Scotch? ›

Whiskey is the spelling in the United States and Ireland. Whisky is the spelling in Canada, Japan, and Scotland. What sets Scotch whisky apart from other whiskies is that Scotch whisky is entirely produced and bottled in Scotland. In this article, we will refer to Scotch whisky as simply Scotch.

What is the best selling blended Scotch whisky in Scotland? ›

Johnnie Walker

The world's best-selling blended Scotch whisky.

What is the best blended Scotch whisky in Scotland? ›

Jackton Distillery won the coveted Gold Award for the best blended Scotch whisky at the awards in Edinburgh for its RAER Oloroso Expression Blended Whisky, officially making it the best in the world.

What is the difference between Scotch and blended Scotch? ›

When someone says they prefer single malt, it simply means they like whisky made from a single distillery. Alternatively, blended whisky is made by skilfully combining different single malts and grain whiskies to make something rich and complex.

What American whiskey is closest to scotch? ›

Michter's US*1 Small Batch Bourbon

On the palate, it's similarly scotch-y, with a good dose of sweetness thrown in for good measure. Think oak, smoke and a whole sweet shop of toffee notes.

What are the top 5 whiskeys in America? ›

American Whiskies
  • Westland Garryana 5th Edition / 2020 Release. ...
  • Rabbit Hole Boxergrail Straight Rye. ...
  • New Riff Single Barrel Proof Bourbon (51.35%) ...
  • Jeptha Creed Straight Four Grain Bourbon. ...
  • Eagle Rare 10 Year Old. ...
  • Michter's US*1 Original Sour Mash Whiskey / Gift Box. ...
  • FEW Bourbon. ...
  • Maker's Mark Cask Strength (55.05%)

What is scotch made in the US called? ›

The Scotch Whisky Association, a trade group, says it works vigorously to “stop any misrepresentation that states or suggests a whisky is Scotch Whisky, or comes from Scotland, when that isn't the case.”

What type of Scotch is Macallan? ›

The Macallan distillery is a single malt Scotch whisky distillery in Craigellachie, Moray, Scotland. The Macallan Distillers Ltd is a wholly owned subsidiary of Edrington, which purchased the brand from Highland Distillers in 1999.

What type of Scotch is Johnnie Walker? ›

It's a blended malt Scotch whisky, and that means that no grain whisky was used: It's a blend of malts from single-malt distilleries.

What type of Scotch is Glenlivet? ›

All the whisky produced at The Glenlivet is, of course, pure single malt Scotch. “Out of all the 110-120 countries making whisky, Scotch is only made in Scotland. This makes it the most aspirational drink in the world. The only other drinks that have as much cachet are perhaps Champagne or Cognac.”

Is Scotch smoother than bourbon? ›

Bourbon tends to have sweeter, more mellow characteristics, with vanilla, oak, caramel, grain, nutmeg, and cinnamon notes. Scotch has a sharp, distinct flavor that's more of an acquired taste than bourbon. You'll find that blended Scotch is smoother and maltier with a spicy finish.

Do Italians like Scotch? ›

While the Scots were succumbing to the dubious charms of vodka, Italy became the third-biggest importer of Scotch in the mid-1970s, and number one for malts. Quite how this wine-drinking culture became so hooked on whisky after the Second World War is a fascinating and – outside Italy, at least – untold story.

What makes a Scotch smoother? ›

Glycerin is a “natural” byproduct of soap making, and although it is colorless and flavorless, it adds “body” to drinks and softens rough flavors, which tricks tastebuds into thinking the spirit is “smooth”.

Is Crown Royal considered top shelf? ›

Is Crown Royal top shelf? Crown Royal is a top shelf whisky; their finer varieties are as fine as any other whiskys in the world.

Which is better Glenlivet or Glenfiddich? ›

The Glenfiddich is a bit more fruity, while the Glenlivet is higher in vanilla so it comes down to a matter of personal preference of which flavor you prefer.

Is Crown Royal scotch? ›

Crown Royal doesn't fulfill the requirements to be a Scotch Whisky or a Whiskey. It is a blended Canadian whisky made from a mixture of corn, barley and rye distillates that are distilled and matured separately.

How much does a decent bottle of scotch cost? ›

But there is still an incredible variety to choose from. In fact, prices for Scotch whisky range from $18 a bottle to well over $300 and more. That means that there is a scotch for every price range!

What scotch to buy a scotch lover? ›

Best Scotch For Gift Giving
  • Johnnie Walker Red Label. 4.5 out of 5 stars. ...
  • Dewar's. 4.6 out of 5 stars. ...
  • Oban 14 Yr. 4.8 out of 5 stars. ...
  • Johnnie Walker Black Label. 4.7 out of 5 stars. ...
  • Glen Ness Single Malt Scotch Whisky. 4.1 out of 5 stars. ...
  • Lagavulin 16 Year. ...
  • Bunnahabhain 12 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky. ...
  • Glenlivet 12 Yr.

Does Costco sell scotch? ›

Costco is also one of the world's largest retailers of alcoholic beverages. It's also the single largest retailer of Scotch whisky in North America. Its Kirkland Signature brand of Blended Scotch Whisky and Single Malt Scotch Whisky ranks in the top 10 Scotch whisky brands, by volume, in the US.

Is single malt Scotch smoother than blended? ›

The most common blended whisky is blended Scotch, which combines malt whisky and grain whisky. There are also blended Canadian whiskies, Irish whiskies, and bourbons. Blended whiskies are usually less expensive than single malt whiskies (more on this later, we promise), and they often have a smoother flavor.

Can you drink 100 year old Scotch? ›

Drinking a whisky that was opened years ago will not make you unwell. It is down to what your taste preference is more than anything else. If a whisky noticeably no longer tastes as good as it once did, then it's probably time to dispose of the bottle.

How many years is a good Scotch? ›

Scotch is bottled at a variety of ages, from 3 years to 50 years. Grain whisky is most often used between 3 and 5 years old in blended whisky brands. It is also in demand at various other ages in blends: 5, 8, 12 years and older.

What is Johnnie Walker best Scotch? ›

The Blue Label is the most prestigious of the Johnnie Walker blends and as such comes with a much higher price tag than the other bottles in the range. The Blue Label was first introduced in 1994 and is now one of the most famous blended whiskies.

What is the most unique tasting Scotch? ›

1. Loch Dhu. Something of a cult whisky, Loch Dhu is known for its peculiarly dark colour and bold flavour profile. Loved by some and hated by others, Loch Dhu is one of the most distinctive whiskies to come out of Scotland.

Is single malt Scotch better than double? ›

Some people think that single malt is superior to a double malt because they believe that each batch of single malt has been distilled separately. Others prefer double malts because they think that blending creates a better whiskey. There is no right answer; it all comes down to personal preference.

Do you drink or sip Scotch? ›

Sip the scotch slowly, take your time. Scotch is a sipping drink; it is best enjoyed when you're not in a rush. The first sip may taste quite strong, but that's normal as your taste buds acclimatize to the unique flavor. As mentioned, you can add a little water, say a thimbleful, or you can sip water in between drinks.

Why is Glenfiddich so smooth? ›

One reason why Glenfiddich is so smooth is that it's made from high-quality barley. The barley is malted, which means that the starch in the barley has been converted into sugar. This sugar is then used to make the whisky. The water that is used to make Glenfiddich also contributes to the smoothness.

Is Glenfiddich smooth? ›

Glenfiddich 12 is a smooth, mellow whisky with a hint of fruitiness and a long, lingering finish.

Is single malt or blended Scotch better? ›

It also has a more complex flavor due to the different flavors of the malt and grain whiskies that are used in the blend. While there are many excellent blended Scotches on the market, single malt whisky is generally considered to be the superior product.

Is single malt or blended the best Scotch? ›

But again, the most common Scotch whisky on the market is your basic blended, which is whisky made from single malt and grain whisky sourced from different distilleries. Single malt, meanwhile, is often more prized, but not necessarily of higher quality.

Is Scotch smoother than whisky? ›

Flavor: Scotch tastes smoother than whiskey. This is a result of the way the distillery malts the grains. Grains: Whiskey is a distilled alcoholic beverage derived from barley, wheat, grain, or corn.

Why is older Scotch smoother? ›

The wood from the barrels a Scotch (or any whisky) is aged in tends to break down the rougher flavors in the alcohol, leaving you with a smoother taste. The longer the alcohol is in there, the smoother it gets. And yes, that is lovely.

What is the most popular scotch in Scotland? ›

These are the go-tos: (1) The Famous Grouse, aka The Low Flying Bird It's the top selling blend in Scotland. (2) Dewar's, aka The Drinking Man's Scotch Best seller in the U.S., top five in the world. (3) Bell's, aka Afore Ye Go Top mover in the U.K. overall.

Is Chivas Regal a single malt scotch? ›

At Chivas Regal, we use a blend of single malt and grain whiskies from Scotland's very best distilleries. These include the hugely respected Strathclyde and Longmorn distilleries, and of course, the legendary Strathisla distillery, which produces the single malt at the heart of our blends.

Why do people prefer single malt? ›

Traditional single malts do typically have a flavour advantage over grain whiskies though. This is why most scotch whisky connoisseurs quickly migrate to single malts, for the wide diversity of flavour they can provide.

Is Glenfiddich single malt or blended? ›

Glenfiddich Whisky: Single Malt Scotch Whisky - 12 to 50 Year Old.

What's the difference between scotch whiskey and scotch? ›

Whiskey is the spelling in the United States and Ireland. Whisky is the spelling in Canada, Japan, and Scotland. What sets Scotch whisky apart from other whiskies is that Scotch whisky is entirely produced and bottled in Scotland. In this article, we will refer to Scotch whisky as simply Scotch.

Is Macallan a single malt? ›

The Macallan distillery is a single malt Scotch whisky distillery in Craigellachie, Moray, Scotland. The Macallan Distillers Ltd is a wholly owned subsidiary of Edrington, which purchased the brand from Highland Distillers in 1999.

Is scotch easier to drink than bourbon? ›

Bourbon is considered easier to drink vs Scotch, which has a very distinct flavor. The breakdown in flavors is: Bourbon whiskey has a sweeter, more mellow flavor than Scotch, with notes of vanilla, oak and caramel.

What tastes better scotch or whiskey? ›

Scotch whisky has a bolder and more distinguished flavor when compared to other whiskeys. Blended scotch whisky often has a spicy but smooth finish with malty and buttery flavors. Single malt scotch, on the other hand, has a more oaky and woody flavor and is typically peaty or smoky.

Is scotch healthier than bourbon? ›

Bourbon and Scotch are identical in terms of nutrition. However, they're made from different grains, which afford them slightly different taste profiles.


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