There’s a lot of scotch out there, folks. Currently, 36 bottles of Scotch whisky are shipped around the world every second. That’s well over a billion bottles hitting shelves each year. And remember, all of that whisky comes from only 134 distilleries across Scotland. It’s kind of mindboggling (and far eclipses bourbon’s numbers).
Today, we’re tasting eight single malts from Scotland with two throughlines. One, all of these whiskies are unpeated single malts, sometimes referred to as sweet single malts. Two, all of these bottles should cost less than $100 at most stores. Beyond that, we’re ranking each expression based on taste alone.
Our lineup today includes:
- Glenmorangie Nectar d’Or
- Cardhu Gold Reserve
- GlenDronach 12
- Aberfeldy 12
- Arran Sherry Cask
- BenRiach 12
- Aberlour 16
- Balblair 12
Let’s get to it!
Also Read: The Top 5 UPROXX Scotch Whisky Posts of 2021
- A Blind Ranking Of Affordable Blended Scotch Whiskies
- Our Favorite Scotch Whisky At Every Price Point From $30 To $500
- We Blind Tested Blended Scotches In The $40 Range And A Clear Winner Emerged
- The Best Bottles Of Scotch Whisky Between $50-$60
- Blind Scotch Taste Test — Which 12-Year-Old Single Malt Whisky Is Best?
Part 1: The Tasting
There’s a very soft opening with shortbread cut with lemon and vanilla with a clear butteriness and touch of fruit. The palate leans into buttery toffee with light oak and a soft spiced red berry pudding with a ginger/vanilla cookie sticking out of it.
Soft rings through this whole sip as the nose gently expresses toffee-covered apples next to light yet tart berries and a touch of suede. The taste has this chewy oatmeal cookie with plenty of spice and dried fruits vibe next to dark chocolate-covered toffee and apple cores on the very backend.
This opens with spicy berries next to tart apples with a hint of lemon/lime and old leather. The sip leans into a honey sweetness with vanilla beans, dark plums, and spicy malts. The finish smooths out with a mineral water softness as old cedar boards mingle with a raisin tobacco chewy spice on the very end.
This is pure leather and honey on the nose with hints of raisin-filled malt crackers just touched with vanilla extract. The taste delivers on that honey promise with a honey wafer cracker vibe next to a thin line of orchard fruits (especially apples and pears) with a very light brown spicy edge warming the end.
Eggnog nutmeg draws you in with a touch of dark cherry, meaty dates, and old leather on the nose. The palate shifts towards oatmeal cookies with a hefty dose of cinnamon and plenty of soft sultanas as a hint of ginger lurks in the background. Then this big and almost overpowering sense of green pinewood arrives and veers the taste towards orange rinds and not much else besides a chewy and warm buzz.
Pear candy dominates the nose with hints of fresh maple syrup adding more sweetness as leather edges in next to … blueberry? The taste circles back to the pear but stews them in holiday spices next to sherry-soaked plum pudding. The finish has a warm malty oatiness that mellows towards orange-infused marzipan covered in dark chocolate.
The nose on this one is all dark berries, old leather, and big chunks of nutty and fruity holiday cake with plenty of spice. The palate delivers on that while layering a lightly dried rose vibe next to clove-heavy plum jam, sweet cedar, and velvet mouthfeel. The end embraces those dark and spicy fruits with a jammy feel as a slight note of cellar cobwebs arrives on the backend.
Apple cores and lemon candy hit on the nose with a touch of malty warmth. The taste leans into spiced honey with a touch of orange oils and woodiness. That wood turns into a dry cedar as an old leather pouch full of rich, spicy, and slightly sticky tobacco emerges on the finish.
Part 2: The Ranking
8. Balblair 12 — Taste 8
Average Price: $70
This entry-point single malt from the Highlands is an easy drinker. The juice is aged in a combo of ex-bourbon casks and “double fired” or charred, used American oak barrels. The results are touched with a little water to bring it down to proof and then bottled.
I’ve had a really hard time getting into this whisky. Part of that is the hardness of the nose. It’s also a little one-note for me and feels more like a solid cocktail mixer than a sipper.
7. Arran Sherry Cask — Taste 5
Average Price: $60
This Islands whisky is aged exclusively in sherry oak for an undisclosed amount of time. The casks are slightly small format, allowing more of the flavors from the oak to impart into the spirit. The whisky is then vatted and bottled without filtration or cutting.
I was really digging this until that over-powering raw wood note took everything over on the mid-palate. I definitely need to try this again on its own and add some water to see what’s going on.
6. Aberfeldy 12 — Taste 4
Average Price: $45
This Highland malt is the cornerstone of the much-beloved Dewar’s Blended Scotch. This whisky is a very accessible single malt that spends 12 years resting before it’s married and proofed with that soft Highland water and bottled.
This didn’t necessarily fall flat today. It’s more that it felt a little thin compared to the other offerings. That being said, it was still very tasty with all that lovely honey, fruit, and spice.
5. BenRiach The Twelve Speyside Single Malt — Taste 6
Average Price: $75
Dr. Rachel Barrie’s reimaging of BenRiach has been a stellar success. This dram marries 12-year-old malts that matured in ex-bourbon, ex-sherry, and ex-port casks before vatting, proofing, and bottling.
This went down very easily but there wasn’t a wow factor anywhere in this sip. That’s not saying it isn’t good but just not as big as I wanted it to be.
4. GlenDronach 12 — Taste 3
Average Price: $67
This Highland malt is blended by Dr. Rachel Barrie, the brand’s Master Blender to highlight the beauty of those Scottish Highlands. The juice is a blend of whiskies aged for 12 years in Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez sherry casks before vatting, proofing, and bottling.
This being in fourth place doesn’t mean much. I think had I been in a different mood or the weather been different, this could have been number one or two. It’s a solid sipper that’s really hard to find a single fault with.
3. Cardhu Gold Reserve — Taste 2
Average Price: $50
Cardhu is one of the oldest Speyside distilleries in the region. The juice in this bottle is a “cask selection” of their 12-year-old expression which basically means that these were the honey barrels that came together in the vat to create a heightened sense of the brand’s style and structure.
This was so soft and lush while still being distinctly flavored. It’s hard not to really like this whisky but it didn’t quite hit the top rank today. That is in no way disparaging. This stuff is pretty delicious.
2. Glenmorangie Nectar d’Or — Taste 1
Average Price: $82
This dram from Glenmorangie is a much-loved Highland malt. The juice is matured in ex-bourbon barrels for an undisclosed number of years. The whisky is then transferred to French Sauternes barrels which held sweet dessert wines where it spends two more years finishing.
This remains one of my favorite single malts at this price point. It really is just a wonderful dram that drinks incredibly well.
1. Aberlour 16 — Taste 7
Average Price: $96
This small Speyside distillery has been producing quality whisky for over 200 years. This expression is aged 16 years in both ex-bourbon and ex-Olorosso sherry casks. It’s then married and proofed with soft Speyside water from the Highlands and bottled.
This is delicious. Maybe it’s the season but this dram was far and away the whisky I wanted to drink more of right now. In fact, it’s going to be hard not to finish this bottle as the snow starts to fall and the holiday candy arrives.
Part 3: Final Thoughts
I don’t know if I can say I was surprised the Aberlour 16 won. That brand has been killing it lately with their whole line. Also, it was the oldest and most expensive bottle on the list. So it’s not a shocker.
Overall, this was a welcome break from all the bourbons I’ve been drinking lately. The softness of every single one of these single malts was delightful. I felt comforted while still getting to drink some serious whisky. It was a nice change of pace.