For the connoisseurs out there, you don’t need an introduction to scotch whisky. But for the rest of us, there seems to be some confusion as to what exactly scotch whisky is.
Americans in particular (no offence!), seem to confuse brandy and whisky. They are two totally different spirits, although to the newbie out there they might seem the same, so here’s a little introduction to whisky.
What exactly is Scotch Whisky?
To make it really simple, Scotch Whisky is a spirit which is made in Scotland using water and malted barley, aged in oak casks for at least three years. The Scotch Whisky Regulations, or SWR, are very strict and reinforced regularly.
Other grains different from barley can be used, but they must be whole grains. Also, no other substance other than water and caramel coloring are allowed to be added to the spirit, and the final ABV has to be 40% or more.
The five Scotland regions known for their distilleries are: Campbell Town, Highland, Islay, Lowland and Speyside. Each of the five regions has their own signature taste.
Although the regulations are very stringent, distillers have some room to play with the type of cask in which the whisky is aged, whether it is chill-filtered or non-chill-filtered or whether they decide to undergo additional maturation. It really depends on the distillery house, and there are over 100 of them in Scotland at the last tally.
Types of Scotch Whisky
Here’s some basic information you might be interested in when experimenting with the different categories of this spirit:
- Single Malt: It must be made from a single mash of 100% malted barley at one single distillery.
- Single Grain: It can mix in other whole grain cereals into the mash, but it must be distilled at a single distillery.
- Blended Malt: A blend of single malt from two distilleries
- Blended Grain: A blend of single grain from two distilleries.
- Blended Scotch: A blend of single malt and single grain .
Most scotch whisky sold in the world is a blend, and each distillery has their own signature. You have to taste each scotch and be the judge of which one is the best for you.
Here are the 12 best scotch whisky brands you must enjoy right now:
12. The Glenlivet
From the region of Speyside, this famed distillery has been around since 1824. The second best selling single malt Scotch whisky in the world, their most famous core is the 12-year old.
This region is mostly known for its fruity accords of pear and apple, honey, vanilla and spice. Matured mostly in Sherry casks, they offer a sweeter perfume.
11. Highland Park
Orkneys, a windswept archipelago located in the North of Scotland is home to one of the oldest distilleries in the country. The distillery’s location is one of the reasons their flavour is so exquisite. They have mastered their technique with a distinctive profile since 1798.
For the most demanding palate, the 18 year old Scotch is their one of a kind accord, but it’s quite pricey. Their 12 year old is also an excellent choice and a little bit more affordable.
Bowmore is another scotch whisky brand which is considered one of the best scotch brands in the world. Originally from the island of Islay, where most of its inhabitants are into whisky production, it has been around since 1779.
Being surrounded by sea water allows the casks to breathe in the saline air which enhances its fiery taste. It also offers hints of lemon zest with a slightly smoky finish enveloped by flowery, honey and spicy flavours.
One of the most awarded single malts in Scotland, Glenmorangie has been a staple distillery for over a century. From the Highland region, they have always put great emphasis on the types of casks they use in the aging process.
Their 10 year-old Glenmorangie distinguishes itself with intense notes of candied pear, peaches, white pepper and vanilla.
8. Johnnie Walker
If you haven’t lived in a cave for the last few decades you’ve probably heard of Johnnie Walker. Founded in 1820, the Walker distillery became what it is today because of the great marketing wisdom Johnie Walker’s sons possessed.
Those of you who had the privilege of tasting the top of the line but ridiculously expensive Blue Label will have a hard time going back to their other expressions.
Neighbour to the popular distillery Lagavulin, Laphroaig is another Islay island staple. Founded in 1815, this distillery has become one of the best houses in Scotland because of their versatility.
Every few years they come up with a new release and collaboration, their signature expression is by far the 10 year. This full-bodied smoky accord is not for the weak at heart.
One of the most affordable and reliable scotch brands on the market, Glenfiddich is always a great choice. Rich textures of honey, sweet malt and butterscotch are smooth on the palate.
The light smokey aromas are likely due to the oak casks they use for their maturation process. All in all, one of the best Single Malt Scotch Whisky on the market.
A popular peaty Islay malt, Ardberg’s undeniable quality awakens your palate with its smoky flavours. This fine scotch whisky is a favourite among the ones who prefer a stronger accord – you will surely enjoy this one.
Their 10 year old has been perfected over the last 200 years, so be sure to pick up a bottle.
4. The Balvenie
A whisky connoisseur is probably going to get a bottle of The Balvenie 12 year old Doublewood without hesitation. This much appreciated expression offers a perfect mix of creamy and classic notes with a hint of woody smoke.
From the region of Speyside, this distillery has been around for over 100 years.
This Islay distillery founded in 1881 went through a major overhaul in 2001. Master Distiller Jim McEwan introduced a few new releases since then, both of the peated and non-peated variety.
The iconic Black Art Series has brought the brand back to the top of the market, but their Port Charlotte and Classic Laddie are also excellent choices which will not break the bank.
2. The Macallan
The Macallan is the corporate world’s drink du jour. Its smooth taste is one of the reasons this established brand still makes the top of list for many. It is not a budget friendly spirit though, so be warned.
If you want to treat yourself to a good quality single malt you can probably go for the 12 year old.. If you want to splurge you can pick up the 18 year old Sherry Oak Cask and enjoy!
Lagavulin is a renowned distillery from the south side of Islay, one of the longest running in the area. Famous for its peaty and smoky character typical of the region, it has a complex yet harmonious personality.
The brand’s 16 year-old has become recognizable because of actor Nick Offerman for its notes of dried fruit combined with seaweed, wood and ash. Lagavulin is definitely a great choice for those who love a smoky and spicy finish.
This is our version of the best scotch whisky list, but you probably will come up with your own if you experiment with the different expressions. Have fun trying them out, but drink responsibly. Cheers!