If you love your Scotch, you’re in the right place. Welcome to our regular roundup of the best whiskies from none other than Scotland, the land of Braveheart, kilts and haggis
Ah, Scotch, that luscious golden liquid that warms bellies and the cockles of your hearts. From the rugged Highlands to the unspoiled island of Islay, where the distilleries throb with living pot stills and the precious distilled vapour of malt, peat and yeast, there’s always something for everyone. Yes, Scotland is indeed the mecca of whisky. But as the proof is always in the pudding, or in this case, luscious golden liquid, you’ll have to drink up to find out. Check this space regularly for our ever-growing list of great Scotch.
Tamdhu 15 Year Old
What about: Hike the Speyside Way – it follows Scotland’s River Spey from the central highlands and meanders towards the North Atlantic – and respite from the long days of trekking can be found in the many distilleries which litter Strathspey. Distinctive pagoda roofs pierce the tree-lines (these oriental looking peculiarities traditionally allowed the peat smoke burning from distillery fires to waft away) and when following long abandoned railway tracks towards Craigellachie, the air thickens with an unmistakable, malty scent. Tamdhu Distillery will quickly come into view. Its presence affirmed by the hundreds of oak, rain weathered casks sitting outside.
Receiving their first shipment of sherry casks from Spain in 1898, Tamdhu has carved a niche for itself, focusing on producing heavily sherried Scotch single malt whisky. While much of the industry’s sherry casks are made of imported American oak before being seasoned with sherry in Southern Spain, the majority of Tamdhu’s are crafted from European oak which contains up to three times the tannin level of American wood, resulting in a much dryer and spicier style of whisky. We could wax lyrical all day about this distinguished Speyside distillery, but we thought best to crack open a bottle and put it to the test.
Taste test: Matured exclusively in those Spanish sherry oak casks, Tamdhu’s limited edition 15 Year Old (S$185) is probably one of our all-time favourite Speysiders. Bursting with orange notes on the nose followed by fresh, summer fruits on the palate this whisky serves as a reminder that as a style, heavily sherried Scotch is not as one-dimensional as some may think.
While many sherry-matured drams are indeed unforgivably rich and spicy, this expression from Tamdhu is demonstrative of the lighter, nutty and fresh flavours that high quality sherry seasoned wood can impart. More striking still is its decadently long and warming finish; no doubt also a feature that caught the attention of the judges in 2020’s World Spirits Competition in San Francisco who awarded this stunning whisky a double gold award. Another one of those please, bartender.
Old Pulteney 21 Year Old
What about: Old Pulteney, which was founded in 1826, is located way up in the Scottish Highlands near the royal burgh of Wick, making it the most northerly whisky-making facility on the Scottish mainland. Old Pulteney is known as “the Maritime Malt,” and the 21 Year Old (S$608) certainly has its sea legs… uh, sea mouth, as evidenced by its fish oil-like texture and prominent briny notes.
Taste test: The bulk of the spirit that goes into the final blend was aged in ex-Oloroso sherry casks, imbuing the whisky with rich toffee and vanilla flavour. There are biscuits, dates, and baked apple in the mix, as well, with smoke and a hint of iodine in the lingering finish.
The Macallan Triple Cask Matured 18 Year Old
What about: This legendary single malt, formerly known as Fine Oak 18 Year Old (S$390), is an amalgam of spirits aged in a trio of different oak casks – sherry-seasoned European oak, sherry-seasoned American oak, and American ex-bourbon barrels. Of the many brilliant expressions produced by the Macallan, Triple Cask Matured 18 – arguably, of course – best exemplifies the identity of the brand’s core range: scotch that is exceedingly smooth, elegant, and adorned with disparate tastes that somehow come together in perfect harmony.
Taste test: Dominant flavours include rich dark chocolate, dried coconut, and orange, with subtle notes of vanilla, nutmeg, and wood smoke. Best enjoyed neat with a side of toasted marshmallows dipped in Pedro Ximénez sherry.
The Balvenie DoubleWood 12 Year Old
What about: The inimitable David Stewart has been at The Balvenie going on 60 years. He’s the longest tenured and most highly decorated malt master in the business and has had a hand in the development of some legendary whiskies, from the Tun 1401 series to the DCS Compendium, a collection of 25 handpicked casks curated by Stewart that include vintage single malts spanning his illustrious career.
But of all the whiskies he’s made, Stewart once told me, he’s most proud of DoubleWood 12 Year Old (S$120.80), which changed the way the industry approached spirit maturation. It is aged in two types of barrels: American oak and European oak sherry. Today, virtually every whisky distillery in the world has similarly aged whiskies in their portfolio, but only one is the true original.
Taste test: Inspect the gold, light amber hues before dunking your nose in for a deep inhale. Enjoy the oak and heather notes then slowly savour the smooth, sweet and spicy flavours. Add a dash of water for a little more wood on the nose, this will not do anything to the palate.
What about: Every February, for as far back as anyone can recall, the folks at Aberlour in Speyside have been emptying a bottle of whisky into the River Spey to “bless” the beginning of salmon fishing season. And wouldn’t you know it, the salmon haven’t once raised an objection. A’Bunadh, which is Scottish Gaelic for “of the origins,” is a nod to Aberlour’s founder, James Fleming. The full-bodied, creamy expression is produced one batch at a time and matured exclusively in first-fill Oloroso sherry casks. Truly a game changer in the whisky world, Aberlour A’Bunadh (S$107.55) has commanded a cult-like following since it was introduced in 1997.
Taste test: The nose offers mixed spices, praline, and citrus zest. On the palate is a cornucopia of bright fruit flavour spiked with ginger and dark chocolate. It’s bottled at cask strength, which hovers around 122 proof, varying slightly from cask to cask.
Bunnahabhain 25 Year Old
What about: The island of Islay is renowned for peat-heavy Scotch made by the likes of Bruichladdich, Laphroaig, and Ardbeg. The region’s most notable outlier is Bunnahabhain, where, since 1881, it’s produced exceptional whisky with nary a hint of peat influence. Bunnahabhain 25 (S$2,475) is an exemplar of elegance and balance.
Taste test: Aged in ex-bourbon, scotch, and sherry casks, it offers aromas of polished leather, rich dried fruits, and spiced oak. Primary flavours are sweet berries, roasted nuts, and cereal, with a touch of sea salt on the finish. In 2010, Bunnahabhain upped the proof from 86 to 92.6, providing an extra measure of oomph to this world-class whisky.
Oban 14 Year Old
What about: Oban (pronounced “OH-bin”) is a port town in western Scotland known as the gateway to the Hebridean islands. Its eponymous distillery, established in 1794, produces whisky with a flavour profile that straddles the smoky style of the Scottish islands and the livelier, more toothsome malts made in the Highlands.
Taste test: The Oban 14 Year Old (S$127.90) is a wee bit oily and quite a bit weighty. Smells like lemons and pears sprinkled with sea salt, set atop a table that had recently been on fire. Tastes like dried figs dipped in honey up front, followed by some oak and malt dryness. Begs to be paired with oysters and smoked salmon.
Bruichladdich Black Art 1990, Edition 6.1
What about: The sixth commercially available version of this mythic whisky is an unpeated Islay malt aged 26 years in cask types Bruichladdich prefers to keep secret. What is manifest, though, is that Black Art (S$980) is an exceptionally rare and unique dram that is non-chill-filtered and bottled at a cask strength of 93.2 proof.
Taste test: The aromas are plentiful, among them raisin, apple, blackberry jam, brown sugar, and charred oak. The vitality of the oak and the fruit is sensational. It’s a whisky that twists and changes constantly. Mysterious and inscrutable, it delivers an assortment of tastes that surprise and delight, from honeycomb to ginger-nut biscuits to tobacco.
Lagavulin 16 Year Old
What about: The most celebrated of the five whiskies in the Lagavulin range is the stuff of legend, for peat’s sake. Peat, of course, is the lifeblood of Islay whisky, and there’s nary a dram produced on that Scotch-soaked isle that is as peat-forward as Lagavulin 16 (S$250). It’s a smoke show, simple as that. Okay, maybe not so simple.
Taste test: There’s a bit of sweetness to this whisky, and some seaweed and bacon notes, as well. Mouthfeel is slightly oily, the juice chewy. It’s the spiritual kin of the Shetland sweater – stylish, full of texture, and a source of great warmth – and it goes swimmingly with any aged blue cheese.
Ledaig 1996 19 Year Old
What about: Lest ye be mistaken for a whisky neophyte, remember that this single-malt scotch from the Inner Hebrides is pronounced “la-chayk” or even “la-chik” (“la-dayg,” on the other hand, sounds like a Bond villain). Ledaig, meaning ‘safe haven’ in Gaelic, is handcrafted at the Tobermory Distillery, the only whisky production facility on the impossibly colourful Isle of Mull. The Ledaig 1996 19 Year Old (price on ask) is what is often referred to as a “peat bomb,” crackling with smoky goodness from sniff to finish.
Taste test: Bless the ole malt master’s heart for all the other wonderful things at play in this whisky – toffee and seaweed on the nose, with apple, orange, and black pepper mingling on the palate. Finishes long, with peaty embers glowing.
Glenfarclas 17 Year Old
What about: Glenfarclas can be challenging to pronounce, especially after a dram or two, but don’t let that deter you from going for it. This classic Speyside whisky is worth twisting the tongue over.
Taste test: The rich amber-coloured 17 (S$158) is full-flavoured and balanced, develops slowly, and brims with sweet malty notes and the intensely jammy flavour of a black mission fig – and with a touch of peat smoke and a hint of oak to boot. It combines the smoothness of the distillery’s younger whiskies with the depth of the older expressions.
The Glenlivet 18 Year Old
What about: The Glenlivet’s master distiller Alan Winchester has made many fantastic whiskies over the years, none more significant or awarded than the 18 Year Old (S$166). Winchester shepherds this expression through several different cask types, including both first- and second-fill American oak (for tropical fruitiness) and ex-sherry oak (for spicy complexity).
Taste test: It’s an intense whisky, full of ripe citrus and winter spice flavour. The Glenlivet 18 has garnered virtually every award of note handed out in the spirits industry, and deservedly so. It may well be the most complete mass-market whisky of all.
What about: Ardbeg has a history that stretches back to 1815, and things wasn’t always peachy for the distillery. The ’80s and ’90s saw shutdowns and sporadic operation, and it wasn’t until 1997 that the distillery rose again. Today’s Ardbeg largely owes its identity to Glenmorangie, and has since launched a series of limited releases and a trio of single malts, known as their Ultimate Range. One of which is the Corryvreckan (S$168), which takes its name from a famous whirlpool that lies to the north of Islay, where swimming is definitely not encouraged.
Taste test: Like its namesake, the Corryvreckan single malt is a deep and turbulent force, swirling with intense flavours such as vanilla, bacon, blueberry, and black tarry espresso that coat the palate with rich, melted, dark fruits. The finish is long and powerful and delivers chocolate-coated cherries and hot pepper sauce.
Glenfiddich 21 Year Old
What about: The Glenfiddich distillery is synonymous with Speyside whisky, and this expression is ripe with the brand’s signature cereal grain and subtle oak notes. Ah, but malt master Brian Kinsman adds a sublime touch, finishing the 21 Year Old (S$249) in Caribbean rum casks that rouse exotic fruit flavours such as mango, lime, and banana.
Taste test: It opens soft on the palate and then busts a move towards brisk and peppery, with smoke and ginger on a very long and warming finish.
The GlenDronach Master Vintage 1993
What about: Our friends over at Whisky magazine recently anointed The GlenDronach’s Rachel Barrie Master Distiller of the Year for 2020, and we second that laudation. At one of Scotland’s oldest licensed distilleries, Barrie and her team consistently turn out world-class drams such as The GlenDronach Master Vintage 1993 (S$3,200), a sterling example of sherry cask ageing and true Highland single malt style.
Taste test: Master Vintage 1993 (48.2 per cent ABV) offers marzipan and toasted raisin bread on the nose, priming the palate for a delightful mélange of flavours including mocha latte, brioche and prune oil, brightened by a twist of baked orange rind.
The BenRiach Cask Strength Peated: Batch 2
What about: Cask Strength Peated: Batch 2, the latest release from under-the-radar Speyside producer The BenRiach, is a single malt Scotch whisky that will test the intestinal fortitude of the heartiest hooch drinkers. Weighing in at a whopping 120.6 per cent ABV, this husky dram is struck through with heavy smoke and wood flavour and dense vegetal notes. Think of the biggest, brightest bonfire you’ve ever seen, and then try to imagine all that white-hot intensity being bottled for consumption.
Taste test: Fortunately, with a bit of dilution, the whisky’s oomph abates. Adding just a few drops of water reveals all sorts of pleasantries on the palate including butterscotch, crème brûlée, apple and star anise. These more delicate attributes work in harmony with the peat smoke to really bring the whiskey into balance. Relieved of some of its cask strength, the BenRiach’s Peated: Batch 2 (price on ask) becomes whisky for the ages.
Glenmorangie Grand Vintage Malt 1991
What about: The fourth limited release in Glenmorangie’s much-ballyhooed Bond House No. 1 Vintage collection, Grand Vintage Malt 1991 (price on ask) rates among Glenmorangie’s legendary director of distilling, Dr. Bill Lumsden’s finest achievements. Lumsden is a leading pioneer in wood finishing, and here he combines two vastly different whiskies to yield one damn tasty dram. One parcel, finished in Oloroso sherry casks, offers sweetness and spice, while the other, drawn from burgundy casks, delivers earthy, truffle notes.
Taste test: It opens with a burst of fruity flavours intermingled with chocolate, apples and raspberry. The mouthfeel is round and spicy, and the whisky finishes with a refreshing citrus zest.
Johnnie Walker Blue Label
What about: Arguably the best-known premium blended Scotch in the world, to many a whisky lover Johnnie Walker Blue Label is like a favourite pair of Levi’s – comfortable, reliable and always in style. The folks at the House of Walker claim that only one out of every 10,000 casks in their stocks will make the cut for this blend, and many of those come from distilleries that are no longer in operation. So this is indeed a rare treat.
Taste test: The Blue Label (S$230) is soft and mellow, with sherry, honey and vanilla notes. One of the great sipping whiskies that’s ever been, it’s best enjoyed neat right after a sip of ice-cold spring water.
Craigellachie 19 Year Old Single Cask
What about: Part of parent company Bacardi Limited’s new Exceptional Cask Series, Craigellachie 19 Year Old Single Cask (price on ask) is an extremely limited one-time-only release from a Speyside producer that’s been distilling since the 1800s but only recently got into the single malt game. While the majority of Speyside whiskies are known to be fruity and floral, Craigellachie is a bit of an outlier, crafting spirits that are rich and robust.
Taste test: The 19 Year Old was matured in second fill Sherry butt casks and offers creamy vanilla and malty sweetness, tinged with liquorice and cinnamon notes. At 55.2 per cent ABV this is a potent potable indeed.
Glen Grant 15 Year Old Batch Strength
What about: Back in the sixth century, the Arabs of Mesopotamia were distilling spirits from grapes for medicinal reasons and perfume. Celtic missionaries got a whiff of the stuff and summarily brought those distilling techniques to Scotland. So we have two diverse cultures to thank for the likes of Glen Grant 15 Year Old Batch Strength (price on ask), legendary whisky expert Jim Murray’s 2018 Scotch of the Year.
Taste test: The experience is pure joy from the fruity, dessert-like aromas, to the explosion of pear slices and vanilla on the palate. Behold, a 100-proof, autumn-gold beauty from a 180-year-old brand that continues to get better with age.
Pittyvaich 29 Year Old
What about: Do you believe in ghosts? Well, one sip of this elusive liquid from a long-shuttered Dufftown distillery is sure to make you shudder. Pittyvaich was built in 1974 by Arthur Bell & Sons for the primary purpose of providing malt whisky for blends. The distillery was demolished in 2002. The Pittyvaich 29 Year Old (price on ask) was double matured in Pedro Ximenez & Oloroso sherry seasoned bodega casks, and is the only such whisky the distillery ever produced. This just-released rarity is the stuff of collectors’ dreams – a never-again bottling of exceptional quality.
Taste test: There are hints of milk chocolate and brown sugar on the nose, and a rewarding palate of citrus, malt, caramel, orange and buttery pastry.