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10 Essential Scotch Whiskies Everybody Should Have Tried

by Oliver Klimek on June 17, 2011

Yesterday’s 10 Essential Things About Scotch Whisky Everybody Should Know was the theory. Here comes the practice.

This is a selection of ten Scotch whiskies that every aspiring Scotch whisky lover should have tasted at least once. It is not supposed to be a Top Ten list of the best whiskies ever, rather a completely subjective cross-section of the enormous number of Scotch whisky bottlings, specially tailored to encompass a wide range of styles.

The Quintessentials

1. Johnnie Walker Red Label

If someone only knows one Scotch, it will be most likely this one. This blended whisky conquered the world due to its reliable quality and clever marketing.

Colour: Dark amber
Nose: Fresh but shy, raisins, vanilla, porridge, hints of nuts and nutmeg.
Palate: Caramel, honey, vanilla, raisins, just hints of other fruits, spices and smoke .
Finish: Medium long, sweet and slighty fruity, minimally smoky.
Overall: This top selling blend is obviously designed not to offend any palate. There are some interesting flavours, but they are hidden underneath a layer of sweetness.

Rating: 67/100 – ABV: 40% – Price Tag: €12 to €20

Buy Johnnie Walker Red at Master of Malt

Buy Johnnie Walker Red at The Whisky Exchange

2. Glenfiddich 12 yo

Glenfiddich is the pioneer for the global expansion of Scotch single malt whisky, and their 12 year old is still the best selling single malt in the world.

Colour: Bright amber
Nose: Fresh orange peel, apple, honey, hints of cinnamon and vanilla.
Palate: Raisins, vanilla, orange, walnuts, tannins, hints of pepper and nutmeg.
Finish: Long, fruity and slightly dry.
Overall: The palate can’t quite keep up with the very pleasant nose. The flavour profile is really nice, but there is a driness that I find a little disturbing for such a rather young malt.

Rating: 76/100 – ABV: 40% – Price Tag: €25 to €30

Buy Glenfiddich 12 at Master of Malt

Buy Glenfiddich 12 at The Whisky Exchange

Fruit & Nuts

3. Glenlivet 15 yo

Colour: Dark gold
Nose: Walnuts, vanilla, caramel, hints of apples, grapes and cinnamon.
Palate: Caramel, lemon zest, walnuts, raisins.
Finish: Long, sweet and slighty fruity.
Overall: The trademark fruity creaminess of Glenlivet is joined by nutty and caramel notes imparted by the French Oak casks. Very sippable

Rating: 83/100ABV: 40% – Price Tag: €35 to €40

Buy Glenlivet 15 at Master of Malt

Buy Glenlivet 15 at The Whisky Exchange

4. Glengoyne 17 yo

Colour: Bright amber
Nose: Raisins, apples, hints of malt and old leather .
Palate: Baked apples with Christmas spices, raisins, oranges.
Finish: Long,  fruity and spicy.
Overall: The taste reminds me of German Bratapfel, an oven baked apple with a filling of nuts, raisins and spices that is usually served around Christmas. Quite complex and quite enjoyable.

Rating: 84/100 – ABV: 43% – Price Tag: €45 to €55

Buy Glengoyne 17 at Master of Malt

Buy Glengoyne 17 at The Whisky Exchange

Sherry & Port

5. Macallan 12yo

Colour: Very dark amber
Nose: Prunes, dark chocolate, leather and a hint of pipe tobacco..
Palate: Dried fruit, chocolate, black currant, caramel, a little cinnamon.
Finish: Very long and fruity.
Overall: Much creamier and noticeably more mature than the 10 yo Sherrry Wood. The nose is terrific, and it’s also intensive on the palate despite the 40% bottling strength. The best value of the Macallan standard range.

Rating: 85/100ABV: 40% – Price Tag: €40 to €45

Buy Macallan 12 at Master of Malt

Buy Macallan 12 at The Whisky Exchange

6. Balvenie 21 yo Port Wood

Color: Dark amber
Nose: Raisins, cherries, a hint of apples, old oak and polished leather.
Palate: Tea, cherries, dark chocolate and a slight herbal note .
Finish: Long, dry and spicy.
Overall: This malt has got that “old-fashioned” taste you associate with sitting in a heavy leather chair in front of a warm fireplace. Very nice.

Rating: 87/100ABV – 40% – Price Tag: €80 to €90

Buy Balvenie 21 Port Wood at Master of Malt

Buy Balvenie 21 Port Wood at the Whisky Exchange

Peat & Smoke

7. Highland Park 18 yo

Colour: Dark gold
Nose: Enjoying a slice of toast with honey sitting on a leather chair in front of a fireplace.
Palate: Gentle peat, honey, caramel, orange zest, vanilla, pepper and a little chili.
Finish: Very long and smoky.
Overall: A marvelous dram for relaxing on a cold evening. This one has got it all: Peat, smoke, fruit, sweetness, spice. The best value of the HP standard range.

Rating: 90/100 – ABV: 43% – Price Tag: €55 to €65

Buy Highland Park 18 at Master of Malt

Buy Highland Park 18 at The Whisky Exchange

8. Lagavulin 16 yo

Colour: Dark amber
Nose:
Predominantly smoked ham, but also some seaweed and a hint of dark berries
Palate: Peat punch at first, then it gets a bit sweeter and fruitier, even traces of chocolate and honey can be tasted.
Finish: Very long, fruity peat
Overall: The epitome of an Islay malt, smoke, peat, fruit, sweetness, Lagavulin has it all.

Score: 90/100 – ABV: 43% – Price Tag: €45 to €55

Buy Lagavulin 16 at Master of Malt

Buy Lagavulin 16 at the Whisky Exchange

Advanced Blending

9. Whyte & Mackay 19 yo “Old Luxury”

Colour: Copper
Nose:
Quite intense, tea, tobacco, dark chocolate, cassis, a wee bit of smoke
Palate: Dry and slightly sweet, caramel, oriental spices, just a faint fruitiness
Finish: Very long and slightly smoky
Overall: A very richly flavoured sherried blend. The nose is impressive, but the palate could profit from a few more ABV points. This is miles away from the standard supermarket or pub blends. The aged grain whisky has lost all of its roughness and caters for a delicate silky smooth mouthfeel.

Score: 84/100 – ABV: 40% – Price Tag: €40 to €50

Buy Whyte & Mackay Old Luxury at Master of Malt

Buy Whyte & Mackay Old Luxury at the Whisky Exchange

10. Compass Box Hedonism

Colour: Bright gold
Nose: Honey, peaches, apricots, vanilla, hints of cinnamon.
Palate: Honey, peaches, apricots, vanilla, hints of cinnamon.
Finish: Very long and fruity.
Overall: An excellent blended grain whisky with an amazing congruence of nose and palate. It is rather light in character but has strong flavours nonetheless.

Rating: 85/100 – ABV: 43% – Price Tag: €50 to €60

Buy Compass Box Hedonism at Master of Malt

Buy Compass Box Hedonism at The Whisky Exchange

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Mark Friedman June 22, 2011 at 3:30 am

Both lists are excellent. Thanks for putting them together. I am putting a link to them up on my website and facebook page.

Reply

bsod August 6, 2011 at 1:00 am

funny, i also prefer johnny walker over dewars for blended

Reply

John December 14, 2011 at 2:56 am

If you like peaty, smoky whiskies (even if you don’t) you must try the Laphroaig original cask strength at least once in your lifetime.

Reply

W L Flesher December 12, 2012 at 4:59 pm

et al,
Glenfiddich was my into to Scotch about 3 years ago, I’ve tried several years and drams. I wish I could track down a bottle of the “Snow Phoenix” to taste. There is a fairly new scotch not many are talking about and that is the Glennorangie “10 year”… yes I said “10 Year”. I was offer a dram and actually turned my nose up to it but took anyway…. This is FINE 10 year scotch. Wonderful nose, nice on the palate and resonably priced. I highly recommend it as a “traveling” scotch. Throw it in a flask and take to the course while whacking a feathery! :)

Reply

Keith Lamble August 2, 2014 at 9:04 pm

I think your Glennorangie should read “Glenmorangie”
Regards, Keith.

Reply

Keith Lamble August 2, 2014 at 5:44 pm

I think the spelling should be Lagavulin, not Lavavulin!!

Reply

Oliver Klimek August 2, 2014 at 8:39 pm

Oops, nobody seems to have noticed for 3 years…

Reply

Keith Lamble August 2, 2014 at 8:55 pm

Lagavulin has always been my favourite malt whisky so I went to my dining room and checked the spelling on my bottle, then I Googled your spelling and back came Lagavulin. I was not sure if you had brought out a whisky with another name!! Best regards, Keith!

Reply

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