Incredibly, the first known mention of Scotch whisky is in a book from 1494. For hundreds of years, the people of Scotland have been distilling malted barley to create unique and dimensional Scotch whisky for sipping. Currently, there are more than one hundred and thirty distilleries in Scotland.
Scotch whisky must age for at least three years in oak barrels to be legitimate. Also, the whisky must be at least forty percent alcohol by volume to qualify as authentic Scotch Whisky.
Within the few strict rules, distilleries have discovered how to make subtle production changes that greatly impact the flavor. For instance, you might see labeling explaining the whisky is “single cask” or a “blended malt,” both of which can enhance resulting flavors.
We tried many different blends and brands to determine the best Scotch whiskies
available. From the well-known Johnnie Walker and Lagavulin to the rarer Oban, we have listed some of the best scotches for novices or connoisseurs to enjoy.
Laphroaig 10 Year Old
Donald and Alexander Johnston founded the Laphroaig distillery in 1815, and the distillery stayed in that family until 1954 when an employee became the owner.
In 2019, the Laphroaig 10 Year Old won the gold medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Awards. The ten-year whisky is the distillery’s foundational spirit; they offer others with slight variations, like one whisky with a sherry cask finish.
When poured neat into a glass, you will smell notes of caramel, smoke, and light citrus. Immediately you know this will be a complex sip of Scotch whisky. The first taste is filled with a predominant flavor of smoked butterscotch, then citrus and honey flavors take over at the back of the mouth.
In 1798, the Ardbeg distillery began producing whisky. The product was used as a component in blended whisky for many years rather than a stand-alone single malt. In 1997, the distillery underwent a makeover when new owners breathed life into the operation.
The taste is distinctive and is reminiscent of caramelized pears and salt. The whisky leaves your palate with a distinct sweetness, similar to honey.
Three brothers, William, John, and Robert Harvey, built the Bruichladdich distillery in 1881. While the Harvey family owned multiple distilleries near Glasgow, the brothers aimed to construct a state-of-the-art facility. The Bruichladdich of 1881 was unique; it was built from stone and situated by the seashore.
The Bruichladdich Distillery produces various Scotch whiskies, but the primary spirit is the Bruichladdich “The Classic Laddie.” The distillery uses barley and oak barrels but aims for subtle differences annually based on available crops and materials.
The pour I sampled was delicious; it smelled like clove, malt, and vanilla and tasted a bit fruity and oaky simultaneously.
Chivas Regal Chivas 12
The roots of Chivas Regal can be traced back to the 1850s when the Chivas Brothers began blending other whiskies to create a unique, smooth blend. The brothers discovered a talent for making Scotch whisky, and their legacy lives on at their distillery in the Speyside region of Scotland today.
The Chivas Regal Chivas 12 year is a blend of malt and grain whiskies, like Strathisla single malt and Strathclyde single grain. Once the Scotch is poured, it has a heavy smell of vanilla with a light nuttiness.
It tastes like spice, honey, and robust citrus on the palate. A bit of smokiness lasts after the taste has dissipated, and the flavors offer a medium fade out in the mouth.
Hugh and Kenneth MacAskill opened the distillery in 1830. It was rebuilt in 1960 after a stillhouse fire destroyed much of the building. During the rebuild, five replicas of the original stills were constructed and are still in use.
The taste expands on the sweetness and incorporates a smokey flavor. The whisky is medium-bodied and finishes nicely like a bite of salted caramel.
First, Johnnie Walker is a real person! He was born in July 1805, and at just twenty years old, he was selling rum, whisky, and other spirits to grocery patrons. Johnnie has a knack for blending whiskies for specific clients’ preferences. While he died in 1857, his family and name lived on through the modern distillery.
Keeping with the namesake’s skill for blending, Johnnie Walker is a blend of grain alcohol and single malts, each component of which is at least 12 years old. It smells like caramel, smoke, and cherry licorice.
The taste is special, with a sherry-like sweetness. Try the variations as well, like Blue Label or Red Label.
Oban 14 Years
John and Hugh Stevenson opened the distillery in 1794. It is one of the smallest distilleries in Scotland, with only two pot stills. Oban is crafted with one hundred percent barley and aged in used bourbon barrels. Follow Oban on social media for news about releases and events.
The Oban 14 Years offers a distinct smell of malt, nuts, and sage. When poured over a single large ice cube, the taste expands and offers flavors like orange candy, spice, and apples.
It is a perfect sip of scotch whisky for a cold winter night and the perfect holiday gift for the whisky drinker in your life.
GlenDronach 12 is aged in Oloroso sherry casks and finished in Pedro Ximenez casks to increase sweetness in the final flavor. The distillery is 188 years old and is located in the Highlands of Scotland.
The distillery is named after the source of water used to craft the scotch whisky, the Dronac burn. Rachel Barrie is the master blender at the distiller; she has been working with whisky for 26 years.
The smell of GlenDronach 12 is one heavily of ripe, dark fruit. The taste is warm and inviting, with raspberry, sherry, and smokey notes. The maturation process sets this Scotch whisky apart and enhances the flavor profile.
The Macallan Double Cash 18yo
The Macallan Distillery is in Speyside, Scotland. The distillers craft tasty single malts with various aging lengths. The distillery prides itself in being environmentally friendly, and it encourages guests to visit to see the distilling process, the brilliant building, and the eco-friendly policies in person.
The Macallan Double Cask 18 Years Old is matured in a sherry oak cask. The smell of the whisky is robust, with dried fruits and cinnamon dominating the nose.
I tried the whisky neat and enjoyed the clove, orange, and general spiciness the distillery achieved within eighteen years. It is also delicious to enjoy over a single ice sphere.
Duncan McCallum and F.W. Brickman founded Benromach distillery in 1989. The distillery’s motto is barley, water, yeast, people—which are precisely the tools they use to create the outstanding Benromach 15 Years Old.
Through depression and war, the distillery has withstood challenges and delivered quality Scotch whisky.
The whisky is aged for fifteen years in both bourbon and sherry casks. Its flavors include cherry, oak, pepper, and dark chocolate. It is primarily sweet with other main notes like spice and fruit. It is a tasty glass of scotch to sip and savory.
The distillery is located in Tain, Scotland, an area where spirits like whisky have been produced since the middle ages. Tarlogie Springs has been the primary water source for distilling since the company’s inception.
While Glenmorangie has changed hands a few times during its many years of existence, the Macdonald family controlled the production for more than 90 years.
Glenmorangie Signet is bursting with coffee flavor with a hint of mocha and butterscotch. It is aged in charred oak casks and retains some bourbon and sherry qualities. In 2020, it won gold at the World Whiskey Awards.
Lagavulin 16 Year
The Lagavulin distillery was first built in 1816, but some local legends state the spirit was being distilled as early as 1742. The San Francisco World Spirits Competition has repeatedly given Lagavulin 16 Year double gold and gold medals.
The brand has also been referenced in various ways in pop culture, most notably as the character Ron Swanson’s preferred beverage on the hit series Parks and Rec.
The first smell of whisky is filled with caramel, peat, and orange notes, and as you take the initial sip, the orange smell transforms into flavor alongside toffee, cinnamon, and caramel. There is a hard-to-put-your-finger-on quality about Lagavulin 16 Year that keeps you coming back for more.
Bowmore Darkest 15 Year Old
Originally, a local merchant opened the Bowmore distillery, but soon after that, ownership was assumed by James Mutter, who leapt at the chance to operate a fine distillery. Indeed, he also purchased a small iron steamship to import barley from the mainland and to export whisky to Glasgow. In the 1960s, the distillery changed hands again and experienced great success.
The Bowmore Darkest 15 Year Old is darker than other scotch whiskies due in part to aging for its final three years in sherry casks.
The whisky smells like vanilla, raisins, and vermouth on the nose. When you take the first sip, the scotch whisky opens up to reveal a ripe fruit sweetness and a refreshing brininess.
William Grant opened the Glenfiddich Distillery in 1886 near the River Fiddich.
Interestingly, in the 1950s, the Grant family hired on-site coppersmiths to maintain the stills, and today the distillery is one of very few to keep one as a full-time employee, which is a good thing because the distillery has thirty-one copper still pots!
Glenfiddich is a single malt Scotch whisky made with malted barley. The scotch smells strongly of sherry with notes of strawberry and vanilla. It tastes like crisp pears and fresh apples on the palate with a hint of oak and warm sugar.
Scotch whisky is unique to Scotland. The process takes a minimum of three years but often requires a decade for the flavors to fully develop in an oak cask. Many distilleries use a combination of bourbon and sherry casks to develop flavor. Still, the true influence on flavor are the Scotland water sources which add a unique layer of brininess to the whisky.
If you are eager to learn more about whiskeys from around the world, read about the 13 Best Irish Whiskey Brands. Or, if your favorite scotch whisky didn’t make our list, we are always ready to add to our reviews. Leave us a comment and let us know!