Fans of Scotch whiskey tend to have a favorite, but you might be wondering which brands are considered the best. With so many options on the market, it can be difficult to know where to start. The truth is, the best Scotch brands are subjective and depend on personal taste. However, there are some brands that are consistently praised by critics and enthusiasts alike.
Whether you’re a seasoned Scotch drinker or a newcomer to the world of whiskey, there’s a brand out there for you. From smoky and peaty to smooth and sweet, there’s a wide range of flavors and styles to choose from. So, whether you’re sipping a dram on a chilly evening or enjoying a cocktail with friends, a good Scotch can be the perfect addition to any occasion.
Ardbeg is a historical Scottish distillery that dates to 1815 and remains in the same Islay location. Ardbeg produces various single and blended malts all aged a minimum of 4 years and up to 25 years. I tried the five-year-old Wee Beastie, with a bold smokey flavor that starts peppery with a chocolatey mouth taste and a salty finish.
A pioneering brand for malt scotches, Johnnie Walker is a century-old distillery with humble beginnings that has since become the largest whisky brand in the world. Johnnie Walker’s best-selling Scotch Whiskey is the red-label blended scotch, with a spicy pepper and cinnamon nose, a bright and sweet taste, and a smokey finish. It’s a smoother and lighter scotch blend heralded for its versatility.
Another Islay native distillery, Laphroaig lies on the shores of Lake Laphroaig and was founded in 1815. Laphroaig produces single malt whiskeys aged in oak or sherry casks for no less than 10 years. Laphroaig proclaims its whiskey varieties to be the most flavorful, their bestselling being the 10-year-old single malt scotch that has a bold smokey, and peaty flavor.
Founded by William Grant and Sons in 1892, Balvenie distillery upholds the ancient tradition of single malt barley scotch. They use locally sourced barley from Scotland and are one of only a handful of Scottish distilleries that grows and malts its own barley. The Balvenie whiskey features varieties aged from 10 to 30 years in a variety of casks, from port and sherry to oak. Its most decorated variety is the 15-year single barrel scotch.
The Macallan is a nearly 200-year-old distillery in Craigellachie, Moray, specializing in single malt whisky aged a minimum of 12 years. They originally only used sherry-seasoned oak casks but have since expanded their repertoire. This distillery is known for making some of the most rare and expensive scotch in the world. The triple cask matured scotch is one of their most popular varieties using sherry-oak casks, ranging in age from 12 to 18 years. They have a highly complex flavor with a smooth finish.
At 240 years old, Bowmore is the oldest distillery on the Scottish isle of Islay. They malt and grow their own barley on-site and put detailed attention to every stage of the fermentation process. Their 15-year-old single malt whiskey has a beautiful burgundy color with a smokey dried fruit nose, a rich chocolate middle, and a smooth smoky finish.
Glenmorangie is a single malt Scotch distillery from the highlands of Tarlogie Hills, containing the tallest stills in Scotland. They offer single malt whiskeys aged 10 years through 25 years. I recommend the 18-year-aged single malt that uses two different casks for aging. It has a rich and floral flavor with a dried fruit sweetness from the sherry oak casks and a nuttiness from the American oak cask.
Another Islay native distiller, Lagavulin originated in 1816 under the leadership of John Johnston and Archibald Campbell Brooks. They distinguish themselves from the competition by utilizing a slow fermentation process in Bourbon and sherry casks and pear-shaped stills. One of its most highly rated single malt whiskeys is the 15-year double-matured scotch with a peat and vanilla nose, a coffee and smoky palate, and a long-lasting oak and peat finish.
Talisker is a distillery from the Isle of Skye, with centuries of distilling history to back up its award-winning products. The Storm single malt whiskey is a whopping 91.6-proof whiskey with a uniquely sweet, malty taste. The nose offers a strong peat flavor, while the aging casks give the palate a bright vanilla palate.
The GlenDronach is a highland scotch distillery that continuously wins global spirit competitions with its expertly distilled selection of single malt scotches. The most recent winner from the Ultimate Spirits competition was their 12-year-old original single malt. Aged in Spanish sherry casks, the original 12-year-old malt has a beautiful amber color with rich vanilla and soft fruit flavors and a lingering nuttiness.
Founded in 1822 in the Livet valley of Scotland by George Smith, The Glenlivet has always had a reputation for innovation and creativity. Their 31 selections of scotch offer creative methods like using rum-finished liquid or aging the scotch in cognac casks to offer novel flavors. For the most unique single malt scotch, try the Caribbean reserve with flavors from tropical fruits to caramel toffee. You might even get a hint of a ripe banana on the nose.
Founded by William Grant in 1887, Glenfiddich sets its single malt scotch distillation apart with tear-drop-shaped copper stills. Their scotch uses barley and yeast, made in small batches. They have an extensive variety of bottles, from the flagship series to rare and vintage collections. I tried the 18-year-old flagship small batch whisky with a nose of baked apple and oak, dried fruit and candied date palate, and a warm finish.
Oban was founded in 1794 and is also one of Scotland’s smallest distilleries, with a mere seven employees, all masters of their craft. Their small casks create powerful concentrations of flavor for each single malt variety. The Oban Little Bay scotch was my pick, offering unique Christmas pudding and citrus spice notes and a rich dark-chocolate finish.
Another one of the Islay island distilleries, Bruichladdich is a single malt distillery and a gin distillery. The distillery still uses the original Victorian distilling equipment. If you want a super-smokey and peaty single malt scotch, try their Port Charlotte Heavily Peated. If you like a fruitier, sweeter scotch, try their Classic Laddie.
Founded by the Chivas brothers in 1786, Chivas Regal is the oldest distillery in Scotland and the most well-known and popular purveyor in Europe. Their small selection of scotches consists of single and blended malt. I recommend the Chivas Regal 13-year scotch, distilled in rye casks. It’s one of the smoothest and most delicate scotches out there to enjoy neat.
Highland Park is a highly decorated scotch distillery located on the Orkney islands and founded by a churchgoing butcher turned illegal whisky distiller and smuggler. The gold-medal-winning flagship 12-year scotch from Highland Park is a stunning golden liquid with unique notes of cookies, caramel, chocolate, honey, and dried fruit. You get a smokiness with each sip, and it goes down smoothly.
Founded in 1846 by Hector Henderson, Caol Ila is another isle of Islay distillery that distinguishes itself from its counterparts with a pale-colored single malt scotch that other distilleries use to elaborate blended labels. I tried the 17-year-old single malt with a bright gold color, a medium body, a balance of sweet fruit and ginger, and salty herbs on the palate.
The newest and most creative scotch brand to emerge, Compass Box is an American-founded company that creates whisky blends using single malts from Scotch distilleries. Their signature whisky line has whimsically named labels like “Peat Monster” and “Morpheus.” For their scotch blends, the favorite is the Glasgow Blend, with a full body, smoky palate, and notes of baking spices and wine.
Getting its name from a drooping shoulder condition brought on by a labor-intensive malting process, Monkey Shoulder is a blended whisky brand that uses pure barley single-malt scotches. Monkey Shoulder scotch blends are best used in mixed drinks. Their bourbon-cask aging process gives the blends a rich vanilla and orange flavor.
A former subsidiary of the Chivas Regal brand, The Glenallachie was founded in Speyside in 1967, producing single malt whiskeys for blends used by other companies. That said, their extensive collections have scotches that taste wonderful on their own. I enjoyed the 12-year-old French Virgin Oak aged scotch, with a bronze color, heather honey toffee, butterscotch taste, and a hint of tannins.
The Sassenach is a blended Scotch brand founded by the Outlander series star Jamie Fraser. The Sassenach may be a newbie, but its blends consistently win gold and double gold at international spirits competitions. One double-gold winner is the Limited Edition blend with a golden color, an initial taste of apricot almonds, peach, and honey, and a sweet and spicy finish.
Arran is a modern brand with two distilleries on the Isle of Arran. Their Lochranza distillery was constructed in 1993 and began producing the first batches of single malt scotch in 1995. They use locally sourced water from the island’s waterfalls to blend with malted barley. My favorite single-malt is the smooth and fruity “The Bodega” variety with a palate of ripe figs and cherries and a dark chocolate finish.
Located in Dufftown, Scotland, Mortlach dates to 1823 and creates a diverse line of single malt and blended scotch. Mortlach establishes a reputation for complexity. A case in point is the 16-year single malt scotch that uses sherry casks. Its robust palate has a well-rounded flavor profile that includes apricot and honey as well as leathery, earthy spiciness.
Speyburn is a Speyside distillery with 125 years of award-winning single malt scotches. They offer a small three-bottle line, each variety winning medals at the International Spirits Challenge. The gold medal winner is Speyburn’s 15-year-aged single malt scotch with a deep gold color, dark chocolate and raisin nose, and an orange, toffee, and vanilla palate.
Founded by James Flemming in 1879, Aberlour prizes its single malt scotches for their locally sourced ingredients and double-cask aging. They oversee every process of the scotch-making process, from the milling and mashing of the barley to fermentation. Their A’bunadh single malt scotch has garnered a wide following amongst elite scotch drinkers, offering a heavier and creamier mouthfeel than most whiskeys and a rich raisin palate.
Aberfeldy distillery was founded in 1898 by the Dewar brothers, drawing inspiration from their father’s wine and spirits shop and small-scale independent distilling. Aberfeldy was originally famous for its blended scotch but has new single malt scotches that rival the competition. I recommend the 21-year-old single malt scotch for its unique beeswax and macadamia nut palate with a finish of toasted coconut and orange.
Founded by a Scottish grocer named George Ballantine in 1827, Ballantine’s was a novel grocery store and whisky distributor that pioneered the idea of liquor home delivery. They offer flagship century-old bottles as well as new favorites from the current master distiller. I liked the new 12-year single malt, with sweet honey, oak, and vanilla aroma. The aroma carries into a creamy, oak, and honey palate.