There are over 130 distilleries in Scotland producing whisky of all kinds: grain spirit, blends, and single malts, matured in all sorts of wood. With so much uisge beatha (water of life), as the ancient Celts called it, to choose from, it can be a bit tough to pick a Scotch from your local liquor store shelf. So, what makes a great Scotch whisky?
“The world of Scotch whisky is so diverse and nuanced that there is no one answer, and it often comes down to personal preference and taste,” says Rachel Barrie, master blender for The GlenDronach, BenRiach, and Glenglassaugh distilleries. “To my nose, the greatest Scotch whiskies have an integration of balance and complexity, with expectations always exceeded on taste.”
We couldn’t agree more. So, without further ado, here are the best Scotch whiskies that will spark up your taste buds, put a fire in your belly, and just plain knock your socks off.
Johnnie Walker Black Label
Can a bar even be called a bar without a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black Label? In production for over 200 years, since Johnnie Walker's son blended his first whisky in 1820, the brand is now a global juggernaut. Not only is the striding man an icon of Scotch whisky, but it also serves as a benchmark for the style. A 12-year-old blend of malt and grain varieties, it’s a creamy glass with pops of toasted oak and char that balance a caramel toffee sweetness. A good dose of smoke and citrus on the finish gives it a dynamic quality worth stocking a large format bottle.
Best Blended Grain
Compass Box Hedonism Whisky
Some Scotch snobs eschew blends entirely. That’s their choice, to be sure, but it’s always a good idea to keep your mind as open as your palate when you’re searching for truly excellent whisky. Otherwise, you’re apt to miss out on some quality hooch. Hedonism from London-based blender Compass Box is one such expression. The recipe is 100 percent grain whisky from a trio of distilleries using first-fill ex-bourbon barrels and re-charred American oak casks. The result is a beautiful dram, fruity, and chock-full of vanilla notes and a touch of coconut on the finish that will leave you clamoring for another glass.
Best Under $100
Aberlour 16 Year Old Scotch Whisky
One of the storiedSpeysideproducers, Aberlour makes a number of delicious expressions mostly using two types of casks to season the spirit. The brand's 16-Year-Old is no exception; it does its aging in both Spanish sherry butts and American oak. The result is money. Creamy and floral, this whisky boasts excellently balanced notes of plum and oak that play against honey and spice. This finish is one to ponder as the spice and fruit rally for an encore long enough to pour another glass.
Best Under $50
Glenmorangie The Original
Distilled in the tallest stills in Scotland by the men and women of Tain, Glenmorangie's The Original is a great go-tosingle malt. The Highland maker’s spirit is aged ten years in ex-bourbon barrels, as well as a few custom Missouri-made, air-dried casks. Crisp and fruity, this whisky both starts and finishes strong. An initial wave of vanilla reverberates into flowing fruity notes with a hint of spice. It’s a hard bottle to beat.
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Best Under $500
Ardbeg Traigh Bhan 19 Year Old Whisky
Ardbeg Traigh Bhan is a magical dram well worth its hefty price tag. It’s the kind that can change your entire perception of what whisky can taste like. This 19-year-old single malt is a melange of spirit aged in American oak and Spanish Oloroso sherry casks. True to its Islay roots, the smoke is thick and powerful, but through that veil emerges a cascade of pineapple, chocolate, and spice that will shock your taste buds and leave you wondering why you didn’t score a second bottle.
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Bruichladdich Scottish Barley, Classic Laddie
The progressive Hebridean distillers of Bruichladdich make some fine whisky. The island of Islay, on which the brand is based, is traditionally known for the smoky flavor imparted by the peat fires to dry the barley before fermentation. While Bruichladdich does make some extremely peaty whiskies, this Islay maker also makes some non-peated expressions, including The Classic Laddie.
A stellar daily drinker, the folks at Bruichladdich allow youto check out the ingredients, from barley origin to the cask types used, of your bottle, since each vatting is different and the flavor profile varies from batch to batch. That gives the drinker a better idea of where the flavors, such as fruit, vanilla, and malt, are coming from and just how subtle an art form whisky-making is.
Best for Peat Fans
Lagavulin 16 Year Scotch
Serious peat fans likely know and have enjoyed the Lagavulin’s 16-Year Islay Single Malt. It’s a classic, and for them, this is a reminder to revisit this familiar favorite. For the uninitiated, this is a great place to start your journey. The opening salvo is, as you’d expect, an explosion of peat smoke, but in its wake, your palate will discover awesomely sweet notes of vanilla, caramel, and fruit against hints of iodine, brine, and tea. It’s a beautifully layered whisky and a stellar choice for smoke aficionados, new and old.
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Best for Sherry Bomb Lovers
GlenDronach Parliament 21 Year Old
For those who like their whisky well-aged in ex-sherry casks, The GlenDronach Parliament 21 Years is a righteous treat. Matured long enough to drink itself in Pedro Ximénez and Oloroso casks from Andalucía, the decades slumbering in the Spanish wood give the whisky luscious flavors of dried fruits, rich chocolate, and delectable spices. Named not for the governmental body but rather a flock of rooks that make their nest near the distillery, GlenDronach Parliament is a big, beautiful sherry bomb worth a place of honor on any home bar.
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Best for Cocktails
Balvenie 14 Year Old Caribbean Cask
It's been more than 50 years since The Balvenie single malt's release in 1971, and decades later, it still wows our palate. This particular Caribbean Cask expression from the Speyside stalwart spends its first 14 years aging in traditional whisky casks. When it’s done, the spirit is transferred to barrels seasoned with rum from the Caribbean. The result is a well-balanced single malt with rich notes of vanilla, nuts, and tropical fruits. While this Balvenie is definitely a righteous sipper, thanks to the deeply luscious fruit notes, we also love it in a Scotchold-fashionedor arefreshing highball.
What to Look for in a Scotch Whisky
Single Malt or Blended
Scotch whisky falls into two main categories, single malt and blended. Single malt is made from water and malted barley, and blended Scotch whisky is malt whisky mixed with grain whisky. Single malt is the priciest and most sought-after Scotch whisky, but that does not necessarily mean that it's the best choice for you. The majority of Scotch whisky sold is blended Scotch. Single malt is smooth, but it also has a peaty, smoky flavor. A blended Scotch whisky is less strong, gentler, and a tad sweeter. It is also more affordable.
Alcohol by Volume (ABV)
The ABV (alcohol by volume) on the Scotch bottle indicates the alcohol contents. Scotch whisky ranges start at 40 percent ABV (which is the legally required minimum) and can go up to 57 percent. Higher ABV does not necessarily mean it’s a better choice. An ABV of 43 percent is a good middle-range choice.
Age is an important criterion when selecting a Scotch whisky because it determines the depth and richness of the flavor. By law, all Scotch whiskies must be aged for at least three years, but they are often aged much longer. The longer the Scotch ages, the stronger the flavors. In addition to the time length, the type of casks in which the Scotch ages—most Scotch matures in casks that were previously used in other industries, such as in sherry production—also influence the flavor profile. You can often find maturation information on the bottle. If you prefer a Scotch on the moderate to lighter side, a whisky that has aged for five years is a good place to start.
There arefive Scotch whisky regions—Campbeltown, Highland, Islay, Lowland, and Speyside—and the region where the spirit is produced has a significant impact on the flavor. Campbeltown whisky is robust and rich, with notes of salt, smoke, vanilla, and toffee. There is no single set of characteristics for Highland whisky as both light and salty malts are produced here. Similarly, a wide range of whiskies is produced in Speyland, ranging from light to peaty whisky, with fruity notes of pear, apple, or honey. Lowland whisky is the softest and smoothest of all. Meanwhile, Islay whisky, strong and heavily peated, is at the other end of the spectrum.
How is Scotch different from whiskey?
Scotch is a type ofwhiskymade in Scotland from barley and other grains, yeast, and water.
How do you drink Scotch whisky?
In Scotland and the U.K., Scotch whisky is often served neat, with a glass of cool, bottled water so you can cleanse your palate between sips. But there are many other ways to enjoy it.
Which whiskey is smoother, Scotch or bourbon?
American bourbon is usually aged in brand-new oak barrels, which impart more flavors andtannins to the whisky. In Scotland, distillers mature their spirit in barrels that are used multiple times, which produces a softer and smoother whisky.
Why is Scotch more expensive than bourbon?
Scotch is made from barley, and bourbon is made from corn, which is cheaper. That, and the different raw material prices in Scotland and the U.S. leads to the price difference between the two spirits.
How should I store my Scotch whisky?
Store the bottle out of direct sunlight and make sure the bottle is tightly closed to prevent evaporation.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
Nicholas McClellandis a passionate whisk(e)y drinker who has written about spirits for Men's Journal, Fatherly, and InsideHook. His bar is deep with rare single malts, hard-to-find bourbons, and ryes, but he doesn't believe there's anything too precious to share with friends.
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What Scotch should I have in my bar? ›
- Bruichladdich Octomore. Liquor.com / Laura Sant. ...
- Compass Box Glasgow Blend. Liquor.com / Laura Sant. ...
- Glen Scotia Victoriana. ...
- Glenfarclas 12 Year. ...
- Highland Park 12 Year. ...
- Tamdhu Batch Strength. ...
- Loch Lomond 18. ...
- Springbank 10.
- Auchentoshan 21 Year Old.
- Balvenie 14 Year Old Caribbean Cask.
- Buffalo Trace Bourbon.
- Bushmills 21 Year Old.
- George Dickel 13-Year-Old Bottle-in-Bond.
- Glenlivet 12 Year Old.
- Glenmorangie 18 Year Old Extremely Rare.
- Knappogue Castle 1995.
Here's one of the most famous Scotch cocktails of them all: the Rusty Nail. This slow sipper got popular in the 1960's, pairing whisky with Drambuie, a Scotch-based liqueur. All you need is two ingredients and you get lots of flavor: honey, herb and sweet notes from the Drambuie, and a spicy finish from the Scotch.Do most bars carry scotch? ›
Most bars and restaurants will have a handful of scotch whiskies on the menu or on display. Don't be afraid to have a good gander and ask the bartender for a recommendation – they're the experts after all. Share which spirits you usually go for or the typical flavours you enjoy in your drink.What is a bartenders least favorite drink to make? ›
- We recently asked bartenders of the BuzzFeed Community to tell us what drinks they hate making. ...
- Mojitos. ...
- Long Island Iced Teas. ...
- Piña Coladas. ...
- Lemon Drops. ...
- Bloody Marys (during non-brunch hours) ...
- Old-Fashioneds. ...
- "Gin and Juice"
- Dry Martini.
- Stinging Vesper.
- Jungle Bird.
- Angel's Envy Rum Cask Finished Rye Whiskey. ...
- Crown Royal Blenders' Mash. ...
- WhistlePig Whiskey Homestock. ...
- Jameson 18 Year Old Triple Distilled Irish Whiskey. ...
- Orphan Barrel Fable & Folly 14 Year Old Whiskey. ...
- Kaiyo Mizunara Oak Aged Cask Strength Whisky. ...
- Brenne Estate Cask French Single Malt Whisky.
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.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.What is the #1 Scotch? ›
Johnnie Walker blended scotch is the global best selling whisky brand by sales and market share, accounting for almost one in every five bottles of whisky sold worldwide.
What is the most premium scotch? ›
The Macallan Lalique 72 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky
The Macallan Lalique is one of the most expensive and rare whiskeys on the market.
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.Which is the world's No 1 Blended scotch? ›
|Rank||Brand||Est. volume 2016 (000s of 9-litre, 12-bottle cases)|
The Macallan is James Bond's whisky of choice and as two renowned global brands, we share many synergies, most notably as modern innovators linked by our Scottish heritage.What scotch does Tony Stark drink? ›
Iron Man's Past Form
Over these movies we've seen Tony sipping on single malt scotch on many occasions, including showing off his portable suitcase bar that he took out to Afghanistan as a free gift for his missile sales.
As a tribute to this, The Macallan 12 Years Old single malt is appropriately priced at 10 Scottish Pounds per glass – about $16. £10 is the only establishment in the world where one can enjoy a glass of the world's most expensive whisky, The Macallan 64 Years Old single malt, priced at $60,000 per shot.What is the biggest selling scotch in the world? ›
The world's best-selling Scotch and Diageo's flagship brand Johnnie Walker keeps going from strength to strength, with sales rising from 14.1m to 19.1m in 2021, a massive rise of over 35% keeping it in the top spot.What is a whiskey and coke called? ›
A popular version of the drink is Jack and Coke (also referred to as JD and Coke or Jack Coke), where the Jack Daniel's brand of whiskey is used. The drink is especially popular in the American South.What is the hardest drink to make for a bartender? ›
1. Commonwealth. With a grand total of 71 ingredients (yes, you read that correctly), the Commonwealth is, without a doubt, the most ingredient-heavy drink on this list. In truth, we're not entirely sure how so many ingredients fit into a standard coupe glass.What not to order at a bar? ›
- Long Island Iced Tea. MelanieMaya/Getty Images. ...
- Ramos Gin Fizz. ...
- Mojito. ...
- Frozen Drinks. ...
- Appletini. ...
- Bloody Mary. ...
- New York Sour. ...
- A “Surprise”
What is the most ordered drink at a bar? ›
Practically synonymous with the term, Fernet is the handshake of choice for many a bartender — and some non-industry laypeople might say that the taste is not for the faint of heart, but then again, neither is the bartending industry.
Cognac, the World's Most Sophisticated Spirit.What are the 4 types of Scotch? ›
There are five Scotch Whisky regions - Campbeltown, Highland, Islay, Lowland and Speyside.What are the top 5 whiskeys in America? ›
- 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%)
The world's best-selling Scotch and Diageo's flagship brand Johnnie Walker keeps going from strength to strength, with sales rising from 14.1m to 19.1m in 2021, a massive rise of over 35% keeping it in the top spot.
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.
- the quality of the cask in which the whisky has been matured.
- whether the whisky has been chill filtered.
- the age of the whisky.
- whether additives have been added.
According to The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), France imported 176 million bottles of whisky last year, making it the biggest market for the spirit by volume. India was next with 136 million bottles, followed by the United States (126 million), Brazil (82 million) and Japan (56 million).Is Scotch whiskey the same as Scotch? ›
First things first, scotch is actually a whiskey, er, whisky. 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.
Is Glenfiddich a good Scotch? ›
It has (in my opinion) remained true to its origins; Glenfiddich is a very good whisky that you can buy at a pretty reasonable price on nearly every shelf in Scotland With one million cases reportedly sold annually I suggest they are not doing too much wrong; he distillery has a glowing reputation that easily matchea ...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 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.Is Jameson A Scotch or bourbon? ›
Is Jameson A Scotch or bourbon? No. Jameson is an Irish whiskey produced, distilled and matured in Ireland. However some of our whiskeys use Bourbon barrels, such as Jameson Black Barrel.Is Scotch a sipping whiskey? ›
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.What is better single or blended Scotch? ›
Flavor profile: Expect different whiskeys to taste unique, regardless of whether they're single malt or blended. Single malt whiskey will likely have a more uniform taste because of its single origin, while blended whiskeys might mix a variety of flavors.What is the difference between single malt Scotch and Scotch? ›
To be called “scotch,” the whiskey must be produced in Scotland. To be called a “single malt scotch,” it must come from a single Scottish distillery.What is the most popular Scotch in England? ›
|Name||Critic' Score||Brand / Producer|
|Johnnie Walker Blue Label Blended Scotch Whisky Blended||94 / 100||Johnnie Walker|
|Johnnie Walker Red Label Blended Scotch Whisky Blended||86 / 100||Johnnie Walker|
|2017 The Macallan 18 Year Old Sherry Oak Single Malt Scotch Whisky Single Malt||92 / 100||The Macallan|
After a recent retrofit, Bladnoch released two new blended Scotch whiskies: Pure Scot, and Pure Scot Virgin Oak 43. In addition, the distillery produces three single malt Scotch whiskies: Samsara, Adela, and Talia. Pure Scot Blended Scotch Whisky is the subject of this review.Does Costco sell Macallan scotch? ›
Costco is the world's largest retailer of The Macallan, Johnnie Walker Blue, and Dom Perignon, for example.
Does expensive scotch taste better? ›
Besides the pure cost considerations, there are genuine variations in quality and taste that can be produced by different processes. This means that premium whiskies do not just cost more, they taste better to the drinker.Is Irish or Scottish whiskey better? ›
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 is Scotch called in Scotland? ›
|Related products||Irish whiskey|
Traditionally, scotch is served with a side of spring water (tap water may interfere with the taste). Add water, if desired, little by little to your taste. If you do prefer cold scotch however, fill your glass with ice rather than adding one or two cubes.How do you ask for scotch at a bar? ›
Scotch, Neat – served in a rocks glass at room temperature with no ice. Scotch on the Rocks – serve with ice cubes. Some scotch connoisseurs may specify how many rocks they'd like. Scotch with a Water Side or Water Back – served neat with a small glass of water on the side so water can be added to desired taste.How do you drink scotch at a bar? ›
The simplest way to enjoy your whisky is neat, cleansing your palate with cool water between sips. Some people also add a few drops of water to their whisky, which can open up the flavors as the liquids combine. Experiment to see what works for you, but go slowly. Don't add too much water at once.What alcohol should a bartender have? ›
For House, the top-shelf liquor basics include good bourbon, rye, tequila, gin, vodka, Scotch whisky, an amaro, and bitters (both potable and aromatic), along with small bottles of sweet and dry vermouth, which she recommended keeping in the refrigerator.What do you say when drinking scotch? ›
There are so different ways to say “cheers” in many countries all over the world, however, in Scotland, it's Slàinte Mhath!What is scotch with water called? ›
On the Rocks – This simply means that whiskey will be served with ice. Whiskey with Water – This is just it – whiskey with water. This helps in improving the taste of your whiskey to your liking. It's best to try and taste the whiskey first if it needs water.Is scotch better on rocks or neat? ›
Overall, Moyher's insight suggests that “neat” is for the serious drinker who wants the most out of a whisky or Scotch's flavors, where “on the rocks” is more appropriate for a refreshing, social option. And both choices have their place at the dinner table.
Do you drink scotch neat or on the rocks? ›
From there, whisky can be enjoyed "neat," which is without any mixer or ice. Neat whisky is usually a two-ounce serving at room temperature in a lowball glass. Many aficionados will add a few drops of water which enhances the aromas and softens the finish.Do you sip or shot scotch? ›
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.What is the 50% rule in bartending? ›
The 50 rule in bartending is a very simple one. It refers to 50% of a drink that is still in a customer's glass. Once the glass is halfway empty from consumption, you can serve another drink. This is very important to consider and it will be essential in a bartender's career.What's the hardest drink for a bartender to make? ›
1. The Commonwealth. With a grand total of 71 ingredients, the Commonwealth is, without a doubt, the most ingredient-heavy drink on this list. We're not entirely sure how so many ingredients fit into a standard coupe glass.What is the #1 scotch? ›
Johnnie Walker blended scotch is the global best selling whisky brand by sales and market share, accounting for almost one in every five bottles of whisky sold worldwide.What is the number one Scotch whiskey? ›
Best choice scotch whiskies in the world
Johnny Walker Red Label takes the cake for the world's number one scotch whisky. However, just because it's the top-selling scotch doesn't necessarily mean that it's the best.
There are five Scotch Whisky regions - Campbeltown, Highland, Islay, Lowland and Speyside.