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The Nine Best Scotch Whiskies For Beginners. Slainte Mhath!

My idea of working out is drinking whiskey instead of beer – Travis Fimmel 

Slainte Mhath! The Nine Best Scotch Whiskies For Beginners

Whenever you think about whisky, the first place that probably springs to mind is Scotland. After all, it’s the birthplace of the famous spirit and whisky has been distilled in the highlands and on the islands of Scotland for hundreds of years.In fact, as the first recorded instance of whisky, or as it was called at the time (and still is in some places) Aquae Vitae, which means ‘water of life’ in Latin, was produced in the highlands occurred in fourteen ninety-four. It’s safe to say that Scotland, in the intervening half a millennia has, through a dedicated process of trial and error, perfected the art of distillation. The globally famous reputation of Scotch whisky, and the way that it’s often talked about in a hushed and reverential manner in bars all over the country, is well earned and deserved.

It isn’t an easy drink to get to grips with, as the number of distilleries and different whiskies that they produce can be more than a little intimidating, but then you probably already knew that didn’t you? Trying to find the right scotch that’ll help you to discover the pure, unadulterated joy of the ‘water of life’ isn’t just difficult, it can seem like it’s nigh on impossible.

3384 scotch whiskies

But it’s time to stop worrying, put your best kilt on, adjust your sporran and get ready to dive headlong into the world of whisky, which as frightening as it can seem, is actually pretty easy to navigate when you know what you’re doing. Having been guided down the path to whisky heaven by a number of master distillers, and having shoveled more than our fair share of grain into mash tuns and spent an invaluable amount of time heaving casks in out of warehouses, we’re going to pass on some of what we’ve learned during that time to you.

The Exception To The Rule – Johnnie Walker Black Label

Okay, so when we said that it was important to steer clear of blended Scotch whiskies, what we really meant was it’s important to give all of them a wide berth except for Johnnie Walker’s Black Label. It is, and always has been for us at least, an ideal introductory  Scotch as its flavor profile is perfect for preparing anyone who drinks it for the next step on their whisky journey. 

Bottles of Johnnie Walker

As soon as you crack the bottle open, you’ll be greeted by the sweet aroma of vanilla, and depending on how good your sense of smell actually is, an undercurrent of slowly ripening fruit. The first sip, whisky is meant to be savored and never gulped, should release an instant toffee flavor that’s accompanied by a mild, spicy heat the latter of which will linger for a while before you raise your glass for your next sip. It’s everything that Scotch should be at a price point that won’t rip your pocketbook to pieces.  We have to hand it to Johnnie Walker Black. It’s still the only blended Scotch that we’ll drink. 

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The World Famous Highlands – Glenmorangie X

You don’t have to break into the vault of your bank to enjoy a good single malt, and while a lot of Glenmorangie’s whiskies might cause you to go weak at the knees when you look at their price, Glenmorangie X is the exception to the rule. Distilled in Glenmorangie’s giant copper stills that help to infuse it with the raft of flavors that it’s famous for, X as we like to call it is a whisky for all occasions that is meant to be enjoyed by all and sundry. 

Matured in a wide variety of bourbon and char oak casks, X has a wonderful subtle heat that’s accompanied by an explosion of fudge, pear, and vanilla. It’s an exquisite drinking experience that manages to combine flavor with a reassuringly medium ABV (alcohol by volume) that once tried will become a firm, lifelong favorite. 

The Way Forward – Aberfeldy Twelve Year Old Whisky

Founded by John Dewar in eighteen ninety-eight, the Aberfeldy distillery still stands in its original location, which is just three miles from where their founder was born and lived for his whole life.  Tradition and time are two of the most important ingredients (the others being water and barley) in Aberfleldy’s Twelve-Year-Old whisky, and after being distilled on-site, it’s stored for twelve years (which is where it gets its name from) in handmade oak casks, that are reused after every batch is ready.

The longer it’s left, the better it becomes. An unusual and less conventional whisky that’s dripping in flavor and mild heat, Aberfeldy’s gentle combination of fruit, syrup, and fudge flavors toys with your pallet and leaves it better off for having tasted this warm, inviting single malt.  And unlike so many other smaller distilleries, a little taste of Scottish heaven from Dewar’s won’t cost you a month’s paycheck and make you push your bills back, and shouldn’t leave a bigger hole in your bank account than a good bottle of bourbon would. 

From Bourbon To Whisky – Auchentoshan American Oak Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Distilled on the banks of the Clyde in Glasgow, Auchentoshan’s American Oak Single Malt is the perfect way to transition from bourbon to whisky. Triple distilled and stored and matured solely in bourbon barrels, Auchentoshan’s single malt is aimed at transforming the way that people view whisky and bourbon, and how they drink both. 

As soon as you smell this single malt, you’ll know it’s something different. It has the merest scent of bourbon (which comes from the barrels it’s matured in and not the whisky) that’s carried by a rich, vibrant vanilla aroma that in turn is fortified by coconut and citrus fruit. And when you sip it? The combination of vanilla cream, peaches, and coconut and low, slow heat will explode in your mouth and transport you to the altar of the Church of the Single Malt, where you’ll willingly and happily join the congregation of whisky devotees. With nearly two hundred years of distilling experience under their collective belt, Auchtentoshan has at long last created a bridge between highland tradition and Applachian know-how. 

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The Viking Tradition – Highland Park

Founded on the island of Orkney, which is about as far North as you can travel in Scotland and still be within its borders, in seventeen ninety-eight by Magnus Eunson who was equal parts Highlander and Viking descendent, Highland Park is single malt whisky that was born from the tradition of smuggling and invention. 

A peat-heavy single malt, Highland Park has a deep, smoky aroma that’s imbued with a sense of history and purpose, and when sipped and savored reveals a complex flavor profile that revolves around ripening oranges and vanilla cream. The warm comforting embrace of its liquid heat will transport you back to an age when watching the stars fill the night sky was reward enough for a hard day’s toil and good company and conversation was all that really mattered. We may have slightly over-romanticized the delicate balance of flavor and aroma that makes this single malt so special, but it’s an incredible whisky with which to take your first steps into the wider world of the water of life. 

Traveling To Islay – Ardberg Ten Year Single Malt

From the Northernmost island in Scotland, we’re heading south to the island of Islay and their world-famous distillery, Ardberg.  All of Ardberg’s two hundred years of tradition, knowledge, and experience is suffused into every bottle of their Ten-Year-Old single malt, which has forged a global reputation for being the peatiest, smokiest, and one of the most complicated single malts in the world. 

But just because it’s complicated, it doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy this vibrant, flavor-filled throwback to a different age, that combines a smoky aroma with a natural, and welcoming sweetness. The complex flavor profile combines equal parts lemon, lime, toffee, and pepper and offers a unique glimpse behind the veil that separates whisky from bourbon and whiskey, and catapults you straight into the beating heart of the remote Scottish islands. The taste of the brine from the ocean is never far from a bottle of Ardbeg, and every mouthful is a reminder that the best things in life are worth waiting for, and in the history of whisky, the ten years that this single malt is stored for is but a mere blink of an eye. It is, as a wiser man than us once said, a taste worth dying for. 

A Little Caribbean Flavor – Balvenie Fourteen Year Old Caribbean Cask Single Malt

Everything that whisky is, is due to tradition and time. Take Balvenie for instance, they’ve been distilling whisky for more than one hundred and twenty-five years, and even with all of their experience and knowledge, they’re still searching for new and exciting ways to elevate the way that whisky tastes.

And we’re glad that they do what they do, because, without their continued endeavors, this fourteen-year single malt wouldn’t exist. Matured in traditional whisky casks for fourteen years and then finished in rum barrels, this flavor driven whisky combines vanilla, mango, brown sugar, and citrus with a sweet, comforting heat that ensures each and every sip is a taste filled delight that’s better than the one that preceded it.  History doesn’t mean that you can’t innovate, and Balvenie is right at the forefront of whisky evolution. 

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Added Sherry – The Macallan Twelve Sherry Oak Single Malt

One of the first licensed distilleries in Scotland, The Macallan is obsessed with quality rather than quantity. Every bottle of whisky that they distill is created and crafted with staggering attention to detail, which is exemplified by their Twelve Year Sherry Oak single malt. 

As its name suggests, this single malt is matured in Sherry oak cask for twelve years before being allowed to enter the world, and despite its relatively high price tag, is much sought after by whisky connoisseurs all over the globe. The sweet peppery heat of the whisky is offset by a hint of sherry that blends well with the dense fruit flavor that it’s saturated in. It’s a beautifully complex beast that embraces everything that whisky could, and should be. 

The Spirit Of Adversity – Talisker Single Malt

Like all of the best single malts, the Talisker story is one that’s built on centuries of tradition, adversity, and challenge. From the depths of ruination to the stage of world domination, Talisker’s incredible single malt that’s distilled on the Isle of Skye mixes a rich plummy aroma of butterscotch and toffee with a smoky, sweet taste that ends in a heat filled chili catch at the back of your throat. It’s a best of both worlds whisky that places equal value on flavor and history and makes the most of both to create a uniquely satisfying Scotch that will convert even the most fervent non-believer to the whisky cause. 

What You Need To Know 

Before we start talking about whisky, there’s a couple of things that we think you, and anyone else who may be keen to dip their toes into the water of life, need to know about Scotch and whisky. 

It’s Whisky, Not Whiskey

If a whiskey has an “e” on the end of the word, it means it’s been distilled in either Ireland or the United States. If the whisky in question ends in “y” that doesn’t have an “e” before it, then it was distilled in either Canada, Japan, or Scotland. There is no Scotch Whiskey, there’s only Scotch Whisky.

Single Malt Or Blended

You’ve probably seen both terms being used by whisky distilleries and producers, and in case you’re wondering what the difference is, we’re going to tell you. Single malt means that the whisky has been distilled, stored, and bottled by the same distillery, while blended whisky is a combination of the product of two or more distilleries. And the only one of the two you really need to pay any heed or show any interest in as far as Scotch is concerned is single malt.  Don’t be tempted by the blended. Now that that quick lesson in whisky basics is done and dusted, it’s time to start talking about one of the finer things in life and to introduce you to the Scotch whiskies (the “e” on the end is fine in plural form) that will change your life… 

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Written by Brian Nagele

Brian attended West Virginia University, then started his career in the IT industry before following his passion for marketing and hospitality. He has over 20 years experience in the restaurant and bar industry.

As a former restaurant owner, he knows about running a food business and loves to eat and enjoy cocktails on a regular basis. He constantly travels to new cities tasting and reviewing the most popular spots.

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