Scotch is one of those acquired tastes, and people typically either love or hate it. It’s a specific type of whisky made in Scotland but enjoyed worldwide for its peaty flavor. I’ve been collecting scotch and whiskey for several years now, tasting them, talking to the distilleries, and learning more about them. I also keep an eye out for scotch in Hollywood, as it’s often used to show a refined (typically male) person.
If you’re looking to start a scotch collection or just taste some of the more unique bottles, here’s a guide to 10 bottles that stuck out to me over the years.
The exact bottles I have are just one expression created by a distillery, and they range from low to high end within each distillery’s collection. Which bottle you choose from that distillery is up to you, but these are among the best I’ve tasted.
1. The Dalmore
The Dalmore is one of the more beautiful bottles from an aesthetic standpoint. The royal stag emblem comes from the Mackenzie Clan, whose descendants took over The Dalmore distillery back in 1867. This 12 year single malt is matured in American white oak casks once used for bourbon and finessed in oloroso sherry casks to produce a unique citrusy taste.
The highland village of Tomatin was established and sustained by the Tomatin distillery, which produces a range of lightly peated single malts from 12 through 36 years old. They also have some rare limited editions and an archive with even more rarities.. Think of it as the equivalent of mountaineer moonshiners in a southern American state like Tennessee or Kentucky. This 12 Year is a smooth scotch whisky with less peat and the subtle flavors of apple, pear, and nuts.
3. The Macallan
The Macallan is a single malt scotch created in a Speyside whisky distillery in Craigellachie, Moray. The company believes in Six Pillars of quality, and it shows in the impressive collection of flavors it releases. The bottle pictured is one of many rare, special limited edition releases the distillery does. This one in particular is Edition No. 2, created with the Roca brothers. It’s a spicy liquorice flavor with a slow, warm finish. Any Macallan you can get your hands on will age well.
Ardbeg is a town and distillery on the south coast of the isle of Islay, Argyll and Bute in Scottland. Believe it or not, it’s owned by Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy (LVMH), and it’s an acquired taste even for discerning scotch lovers. This bottle is pronounced “oog-a-dahl,” and it’s a smoky, sweet, and complicated flavor that you’ll never forget.
Cardhu is a Speyside scotch distillery near Archiestown, Moray that was founded in 1824. There are a handful of expressions, including 12, 15, and Amber Rock. The brand took some heat after being acquired by Diageo, but it’s still a solid taste. The bottle pictured is a special edition release of the Cardhu Gold Reserve released in collaboration with HBO’s Game of Thrones Winter 2019 season. It’s a smooth blend of fruit and dark chocolate with a spicy twist.
6. The Glenlivet
The Glenlivet distillery produces exquisite single malt scotch in the parish of Glenlivet near Ballindalloch in Moray. It’s one of the biggest malt whiskey brands in the world, and The Glenlivet Archive 21 above is one of my personal favorite scotches. It’s matured in American Oak and ex-Sherry Oak casks to produce a full-bodied flavor that’s smooth, warm, and has subtle hints of fruit and spice.
7. Virginia Distillery Co
Being based in Virginia, United States disqualifies this highlands whisky from calling itself a scotch. Some scotch connoisseurs will balk at this entire list because of its inclusion, but it deserves to be here. This port cask-finished bottle marries 100 percent malted barley whiskey made on site with whisky from Scotland to create a distinct taste that’s worth having in your collection, even if to see if anyone can tell.
Another Islay classic, Laphroaig distillery has been in the business since 1815 and is known for its peaty, smoky flavor. This Cairdeas Madeira Cask bottle is a discontinued 2016 limited release that you’ll probably never get a chance to taste. It’s made with 100 percent malted barley mash in ex-bourbon and ex-madeira casks, giving it the look of rosé wine, the smell of bacon, and the taste of smoked paprika and licorice.
Lagavulin distillery makes Islay single malt scotch whisky in a village of the same name. It releases a variety of expressions ranging from 8 to 37 years, but its 16 Year bottle is the most accessible and famous. This is partly because of the love Ron Swanson (Parks and Recreation) has with it. So I of course had to get a bottle to drink with a few steaks and bacon to make an evening of it. It’s a rich, dry dram with salty undertones, just like Swanson.
The Speyside Glenfiddich distillery is located in the glen of the River Fiddich in Duffown, Scotland and uses a stag that’s admittedly not as cool as The Dalmore’s. Still, this is the best of the “generic” scotch you’ll find in just about every grocery store in North America. The bottle pictured above is the 14 year old Bourbon Barrel Reserve, which is my personal favorite. It’s sweet and vibrant with notes of citrus, and the perfect way to cap off a night.