Some whiskey aficionados may find it challenging to get a handle on which bottles are worth the effort to seek out due to the complexity of whiskey’s history, the differences between expressions and age declarations, and the frequently fervent opinions of whiskey’s most ardent fans.
Scotch has an intimidating reputation because of the stringent regulations that must be followed throughout manufacture. All aspects of scotch production, including classifications, production methods, ingredients, legally protected geographical indicators, bottling, labeling, packaging, and even the types of wood allowed for aging, are governed by some very strict rules.
Highland, Lowland, Speyside, Islay, and Campbeltown are the five officially recognized regions in Scotland where distilleries are located. While there is a wide range of styles and blends within each region, there are defining characteristics that have become familiar to scotch drinkers from each. These include the distinctive peaty notes of Islay whisky and the smoother profile of Lowland scotch.
Single malt, single grain, blended malt, blended grain, and blended scotch whisky are the five recognized categories within which Scotch can be made. Blends can be made by combining single malt and/or single grain scotch whiskies, while the first two categories specify the distillery and components used to make the scotch. Many drinkers have strong preferences, yet none is objectively superior than the others.
Our VanHootem Experts on Scotch whiskey have compiled a short list of the 6 essential bottles any connoisseur should have on hand.
Compass Box Glasgow Blend
Compass Box exploded onto the whisky scene in 2000, and its creative approach to blending, aging, and being open with customers has led to a resurgence of innovation in blended Scotch whisky. Since the company is not a distiller itself, it gets its whiskies from other distillers. It then blends and ages these whiskies until it reaches the profile it wants.
As it does with all of its blends, Compass Box publishes a full list of the whiskies and percentages that go into the Glasgow Blend. These whiskies come from Laphroig, Clynelish, Cameronbridge, Aberlour, and other distilleries. The result is a scotch with a lot of smoke, spice, and sherry notes that stands up well in cocktails, working well with other ingredients instead of being overpowered or pushed aside by them.
Glen Scotia Victoriana
Victoriana is a modern interpretation of a classic Victorian style Campbeltown Malt Whisky. It makes a superb introduction to the classic Glen Scotia style that will surprise and delight whisky explorers and connoisseurs alike.
Glen Scotia was born in a place like no other – a small town on the west coast of Scotland that was to become the ‘Victorian Whisky Capital of the World’. Glen Scotia prevailed against the odds where some thirty other local distilleries fell. Today it stands proudly among the last of the many, by virtue of the community spirit that defines Campbeltown.
Highland Park 12 Year
Matured predominantly in European and American sherry seasoned oak casks, our iconic 12 Year Old single malt whisky is spicy and well-rounded, packed with the flavors of sun-kissed Seville oranges and rich fruitcake spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves; you’ll find molten heather honey in this whisky’s waves of leathery peat smoke. Why not try it with a handful of wasabi peas on the side or alongside a sizzling, pan-fried rib-eye steak or with smoked salmon and sour cream.
Springbank, which hails from the smallest of Scotland’s official whisky-producing regions, Campbeltown, was once a well-kept secret among scotch connoisseurs. Springbank’s 10 Year remains the producer’s flagship introduction to its whisky range, but drinkers willing to splurge for some of the producer’s rarer bottlings will find a wealth of depth in the producer’s lineup, which includes 12-, 15-, 18-, 21-, 25-, and 30-year old whiskeys.
Macallan 12 Year
The Macallan 12 Year is a classic sherry-cask-matured Speyside that is an excellent entry point into the single malt category. Fruitcake, warmed bread, soaked raisins, and clove flavors lead to a warm, medium to long finish with notes of pear, cigar, and peppery clove.
The 12-year sherry-oak-cask bottling represents Macallan at its most basic. Previously, all expressions of the brand were aged exclusively in oloroso sherry casks sourced from Jerez, Spain. The dried fruits and baking spices take the lead, but there’s just enough body and spice to keep things interesting throughout the medium-length finish.
Johnnie Walker Black Label
Even single malt snobs will enjoy Johnnie Walker Black Label, a blended scotch. It’s a solid, dependable option that can be found in most bars and retail stores around the world. Johnnie Walker is one of the most well-known and respected names in scotch. J.W. is best known for its color-coded label expressions, which range from the mixable and inexpensive Red Label to the opulent Blue Label and beyond.
Its gentle, restrained smokiness is an ideal entry point for the novice whisky drinker interested in learning more about peated malts. Its sweet-malty-smoky flavor profile is an excellent starting point for anyone looking to delve deeper into scotch.
Lagavulin 11 Year Old Offerman Edition
Lagavulin has been officially in business since 1816, but it is very likely that it was distilling whisky for decades before that. It’s one of the most well-known distilleries on Islay, the rocky, sparsely populated Scottish island known for its peaty, smoky whiskies. This 11-year-old Single Malt Scotch Whisky was aged in heavily charred ex-bourbon and ex-red wine casks, making it the ideal accompaniment to any medium-rare steak. This whisky not only shines on its own, but highlights and accentuates those perfect steak flavors with hints of vanilla, red berries, sea salt brine, and Lagavulin’s signature smore.