Published February 14, 2013
Scotch drinkers like to keep things simple. Sure, you can make a fantastic Scotch cocktail, but most Scotch drinkers want to enjoy the smoky flavor unadorned except perhaps for ice, water or a splash of soda. Instead of trying to find the best mixers, Scotch drinkers are trying to find the top distilleries in Scottish towns from the Highlands to the Lowlands that produce the best Single Malt Scotch. Whether we call it Top 10 Scotch or Top 10 Scotches or Top 10 Scotch Whiskeys or Top 10 Scotch Whiskies, rest assured that our list includes whiskies from the Scottish Isles that are hard to pronounce, but these are all names worth knowing. Enjoy our selection of Top 10 Single Malt Scotch Whiskies.
Springbank 10 Year Old 100 Proof
We start our list with an easy-to-pronounce whisky. Scotch connoisseurs are familiar with Campbeltown, Scotland, as the home of Springbank Distillery. The brand’s ten-year-old cask-strength Single Malt is a lightly peated, shining example of their craftsmanship which features a unique two-and-a half-times distillation process. On the nose it offers a complex bouquet with an array of aromas including a touch of honey, some fresh cucumber and a hint of brininess, finishing with smoke and peat along with some underbrush mixed with a sherried maltiness. Although it begins its life in Bourbon barrels, it finishes out in Sherry barrels, lending to its richness. The complexity of its bouquet compels you to anticipate a Single Malt of distinction, and it certainly delivers. The 100 proof is needed to support and balance this intense Scotch. The mouthfeel is full, luscious and a tad sweet with a lingering, long finish of smoke, peaty lemon zest and fall leaves.
Royal Lochnagar 12 Year Old
It's easy to slap the word "royal" into a product name, but this legendary Highland Single Malt really does have a royal connection. A favorite of both Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, this hard-to-find Scotch has long been held in high esteem in Britain, particularly for its classic flavor. Upfront you get earth, freshly cut grass, vibrant spice, a hint of sandalwood and hay. It finishes with light touches of fruit, juicy cereal barley, leather, brown sugar and a coffee maltiness. It makes for a perfect sipper to start off your evening, even if you're engaged in non-royal activities, like playing Texas Hold 'Me.
The Balvenie DoubleWood 12 Year Old
The Balvenie is one of the great distilleries of Speyside, Scotland. Founded in 1892, it is one of the pioneers of introducing various wood finishes to its malts. Their aptly named DoubleWood is a twelve-year-old Single Malt that spends most of its life in second-fill Bourbon casks prior to being transferred to first-fill Oloroso Sherry casks. There are three levels of flavor in this Single Malt. The original Balvenie imparts heather, honey and clean barley flavors. The Bourbon barrel adds vanilla, a sort of cookie-like taste, as well as marshmallow, caramel and toast. The Oloroso Sherry barrel’s influence is expressed via peach, marzipan, clover, a bit of honey and prunes. Complex and approachable, this Single Malt has a younger brother that's actually older The Balvenie 17 Year Old DoubleWood was first released in September of 2012.
Bunnahabhain 18 Year Old
On the northern shore of Islay, for more than 130 years, Bunnahabhain has been carving out an extra peaty niche in Scotland’s whisky flavor landscape. Unlike many Scotch whiskies, this elegant Single Malt is not chill filtered. (Chill filtering prevents the whisky from becoming hazy, but can affect the flavor.) The nose is a perfect balance of smoke and peat at a level of impact that’s both agreeable to a novice drinker and complex enough to please the connoisseur. The hints of subtle smoke, brine, malt sweetness, fruit and nuttiness bloom on the palate. The body of this spirit requires a stronger proof to ensure balance and full palate impact. The finish lingers and demands another taste, as the acidity is persistent and the flavors enticingly rich.
Highland Park 18 Year Old
It’s hard to believe that Highland Park’s 18-year-old Single Malt was first released in 1997, as its great reputation belies its youth. It’s an instant classic, thanks to its balance of light toffee flavors and long, lightly smoky finish. On the nose you get honey, Sherry and peat coupled with almonds and light smoke, which makes it not just approachable but irresistible. It is simultaneously subtle and complex while allowing the consumer to enjoy a smooth and dynamic expression of the Orkney Islands’ most prized distillery. It finishes with heather and honey mixed with earth, dried fruit and nuts. Balance and brilliance are the memories this malt leaves dram after dreamy dram.
The Macallan Cask Strength
Like "The Balvenie", "The Macallan" demands the definite article. (Bourbon whiskeys don't, as they do not seem classier if rechristened "The Wild Turkey".) The Macallan brand is synonymous with top-tier Single Malt Scotch, and the unsung hero of their portfolio is their cask strength. This malt hails from the Easter Elchies House of Macallan overlooking the River Spey. Like its better-known 18-year-old sibling, the cask strength has a sherried finish making it bright, rich and accessible; but this one explodes with caramel, brown sugar, toffee and vanilla so complex and intertwined it drinks like a dessert. It’s well balanced on the palate with a sweet, tawny port, cinnamon oatmeal bouquet. At this price point, we think it's a steal. Make that "The Steal".
Scapa 16 Year Old the Orcadian
Scapa is not just "the other distillery" on the Orkney Islands, having been founded as early as 1885 (more than a century before Highland Park came along!). Scapa makes legendary Single Malt in their 16-year-old "the Orcadian." Gorgeous to look at with its golden amber hue, this malt produces prodigious, thick, slow-flowing legs down the side of the glass. The nose dances with fresh berries and light smoke as the sea saltiness washes through. Approachable with its creamy honey and broken, subtle peat mixed in with chocolate and pepper, it has a memorable palate. With its dry, peaty and rich finish, this un-chill-filtered whisky has both the personality of a classic malt and the attitude of an innovator.
Glenkinchie 1991 Distillers Edition
Did you really think you'd make it through a Top 10 Scotch list without seeing one of the Glen's? Glenkinchie started making world-class Scotch in 1837. This being a Scottish Lowland Malt, we expected a grassy, slightly floral and full-bodied spirit, which is what we got — both on the nose and in the glass. The palate offers a pleasant, subtle mixture of leather, smoke, vanilla, honey, Sherry and stewed red berry fruit. It finishes with surprising strength, based in nutty molasses, brown sugar, smoke and caramel apples. Such complexity is rare for a Lowland whisky, but not for an exceptional Single Malt Scotch.
Lagavulin 12 Year Old Cask Strength
Lagavulin is the whisky for people who revel in sucking the marrow out of life. This cask strength Single Malt needs every bit of its extra punch to support the nose and palate. The former is an intoxicating and aromatic potpourri of peat, melon-y sea foam, pipe tobacco and Alsatian Riesling. The palate is rich, plummy, sweet, peaty and burnt-rubber-y, but in a good way. This stunning special edition was so well-received that Lagavulin Distillery is producing it as an ongoing mark for its loyal followers.
Glenmorangie 18 Years Old "Extremely Rare"
The Glenmorangie 18 Years Old spends fifteen years of its life in classic Bourbon oak barrels. A portion is then transferred to Oloroso Sherry barrels for the final three years of maturation. These barrels are then reunited to create this silky Scotch, tasting of nuts, dried sticky figs, dates and vanilla. These flavors meld together on the palate in perfect harmony, leaving a nice creamy finish with a hint of fruit, floral, almonds and vanilla. The flavor profile and quality of this exceptional Single Malt Scotch live up to its name: extremely rare.
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