Scotch Whisky: Where to Begin

by
July 27, 2017

I love Scotch whisky. If I had to choose just one drink to have for the rest of my life, it would most certainly hail from Scotland—which one I’d choose is a whole ‘nother story, but I digress. I admit, Scotch whisky can feel overwhelming, especially when you are first starting out. If you are given a whisky like Laphroaig as your first sampling, you might presume that all Scotch whisky tastes like band-aids and motor oil (Laphroaig, you know I love you, but you are not for everyone!).

For us devout Scotch whisky fans, we know that there is a wide world of flavors and styles to appreciate. But if you are just getting into the category, where do you begin? Here, I’ve compiled my recommendations for you to try—generally widely available, but all worthy of the hunt. Average US retail prices included.

DON’T OVERLOOK THE BLENDS

Blended whiskies and blended malts are often shunned by whisky snobs. Don’t listen to them. Below are great representations of their respective categories. They are versatile and do well on the rocks or in highball cocktails. The perfect drink to have neat when the sun is still shining.

Scotch Whisky Beginners: Compass Box AsylaCompass Box Asyla / Photo Credit: Compass Box

Monkey Shoulder ($38)

A blended malt, not a blended whisky. Honey, malt and orange marmalade make this a good one to add to your to-try list. Definite crowd pleaser.

Johnnie Walker Select Casks Rye Cask Finish ($46)

A relatively new showing from Johnnie Walker. This is one to seek out, especially if you are making the jump across the pond from the bourbon and rye camp over to scotch.

Compass Box Asyla ($52)

One of my all time favorite blends, Asyla has a larger than most (50%) malt-to-grain ratio and is aged in first-fill American oak. It highlights an elegant balance of bright citrus notes and vanilla.

SESSION WHISKIES

A session whisky refers to whiskies which are not meant to contemplate. They are ever so easy to drink. Just pour a dram, listen to music, chat with your friends, read a book, whatever.

Scotch Whisky Beginners: The Balvenie Doublewood 12 YearThe Balvenie Doublewood 12 Year / Photo Credit: Whiskytasters

Glen Grant 12 Year ($47)

Soft sweet notes of floral honey and malty goodness. A distillery that doesn’t get near the attention it deserves. It is a recent addition to their portfolio and just had to be included on this list.

Glenrothes Select Reserve ($49)

This Speyside distillery will typically release vintage dated whiskies—an unusual thing in the whisky world. This however, is a blending of several vintages and shows off lovely caramel and vanilla notes.

The Balvenie Doublewood 12 Year ($60)

This bottling was first introduced in 1993 and has become an icon of single malt whisky. Aged in refill bourbon barrels before finishing its final 9 months in sherry casks, it highlights flavors of toasted malt, vanilla and baking spices. This should be required drinking for everyone.

RICH, SWEET DRAMS

Have a bit of a sweet tooth? Looking for an after dinner dram to pair with your cigar? Look no further.

Scotch Whisky Beginners: Glenmorangie Nectar d’OrGlenmorangie Nectar d’Or / Photo Credit: Glenmorangie

Aberlour 12 Year Double Cask Matured ($55)

Aberlour is known for using a fair amount of sherry casks for their whiskies, and this whisky is no exception. Spending time in both bourbon and sherry casks, it is a fruitcake of a whisky (but in the best possible way).

The Macallan 12 Year ($60)

This whisky has definitely converted a great many folks on to the wonders of scotch. Lusciously fruity with almonds and baking spices, this is one to sip and fall down the rabbit hole.

Glenmorangie Nectar d’Or ($74)

Aptly named “gold nectar”, this whisky is aged for its final two years in French Sauternes dessert wine casks. Rich honey, golden apricots, peaches and on and on. Just do it.

LIGHTLY PEATED WHISKIES

If you’re ready to dip your toes into the wonderful world of peat, these lightly peated whiskies are a great place to start. They provide enough peat to give you an introduction to the category, and show that Islay isn’t the only place to use peat.

Scotch Whisky Beginners: Highland Park 12 YearHighland Park 12 Year / Photo Credit: Scotch Trooper

Ardmore Legacy ($44)

Representing the Highlands, Ardmore is an underrated distillery, so you may have to do a little hunting for this marque. Honey, heather and touches of salt with a light touch of smoke make this one a good entry level peated whisky.

Highland Park 12 Year ($55)

The peat used here is sourced from the Orkney Islands, where Highland Park resides. This whisky shows off its mix of vanilla, honey and citrus notes with the smoky peat flavors gently showing on the finish.

Springbank 10 Year ($64)

Springbank is the only distillery in Scotland to do 100% of the whisky making process on-site, from malting to bottling and everything in between. This Campbeltown distillery is definitely one to keep on your radar. If you want to take the peat level up a notch, check out their Longrow heavily peated whiskies.


Ready to start your Scotch whisky wishlist?

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