Finding the best Scotch whisky to drink can be an expensive endeavor. The juice from the other side of the pond isn’t cheap and comes with a lot of variation. If you’re going in blind, you could easily get stuck with a spendy bottle that you simply don’t like. That’s where our blind taste tests come in — we’re here to help you find the right bottle for the season.
To do that, I grabbed eight bottles of newer Scotch whiskies — both single malts and blended whiskies — from my shelf. These are all good to great bottles and have higher visibility in the U.S. market than some smaller and more niche brands. That means that you should be able to actually find most of these bottles, depending on your regional availability.
Our lineup today is:
- The Classic Laddie
- Dewar’s French Smooth
- Old Parr 18
- Bowmore 18
- GlenDronach Grandeur Batch 11 Aged 28 Years
- BenRiach Malting Season Second Edition
- Mortlach 20
- Buchanan’s Red Seal
As for the blind tasting and ranking, I’m going solely on taste. There are some killer blended whiskies and single malts at play here. So, separating them doesn’t really matter. I also grabbed a new edition of a very lightly peated whisky, Bowmore, to see how it stands up against all the non-peated variations on this list. Let’s dive in!
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Part 1: The Tasting
There’s a clear sense of wild honey with a floral vibe next to oatmeal cookies, salted caramel, and orange oils with a dash of potpourri on the nose. The palate has a light sense of salted apple chips next to dark treacle and mild dried citrus peels. The end adds that salt to the floral honey with a note of sweet malts.
This was pretty nice overall. It didn’t wow but was pleasant.
This opens with a thin sense of apple pie filling with a touch of lemon oil and cinnamon next to mild maltiness and a hint of raisin. The palate remains pretty thin/watery with a touch of orange oils, cinnamon bark, and toffee sweetness. The end is pretty blank overall but touches on orange toffee candy.
This was super watery and light.
There’s a clear sense of dates and figs on the nose with a touch of blackberry jam and scones with clotted cream next to a hint of woody winter spices and roasted root vegetables with a hint of sage. The palate hints at classic soft malts with a touch of caramel next to spiced plum cake with a dab of vanilla. The end has a woodiness to it but is ultimately pretty light-footed.
This was deep and nicely made but didn’t quite land the finish for me.
There are creamy toffees on the nose with a mix of dried cherry and plums with maybe a touch of black currant next to bourbon vanilla and apricot jam. The taste has an Almond Joy vibe next to oatmeal raisins cookies by way of maltiness and a sweet sense of peaty smoke. The end has a hint of smoked plum and dried roses next to old porch wicker with a hint of black mold next to singed orchard bark.
This was very good with a very mild peatiness (hello, Bowmore). I liked this.
The nose opens with a sense of black-tea-soaked dates blended with Saigon cinnamon and freshly ground nutmeg next to blackstrap molasses, walnut cake, old oak staves soaked in floral honey, moist marzipan laced with orange oils and dipped in salted dark chocolate, and a little twinge of bourbon vanilla cherries. The palate pops with dark cherry cordial on the palate next to stewed plums with anise and clove, old leather tobacco pouches, and a touch of creamy espresso. The end is a mix of dark chocolate and brandy-soaked cherries next to spent oolong tea leaves, walnut shells, and salted black licorice with a whisper of spiced caramel malts.
This is a phenomenal whisky.
There’s a nice sense of rich caramel malts on the nose with a sense of distiller’s beer from the washback next to fresh tangerine skins, almond shells, and a touch of macadamia nut cookies. The palate leans into fresh and lightly piney honey with a sense of apple bark and orange oils next to creamy caramel malts and vanilla malts. The end leans into marzipan laced with lemon oils next to plums and apricots dipped in that fresh honey and spun with thin lines of apple tobacco.
This is also freakin’ delicious.
Freshly baked apple pie with cinnamon bark and nutmeg leads to black raisins, fatty walnuts, grilled pineapple, and sea-salt-infused dark cacao sauce with a hint of vanilla and pear on the nose. The palate leans into the lard pie crust under that apple pie with a hint of powdered sugar icing next to mint chocolate chip, old vanilla pods, and banana’s foster with a smidge of clove and allspice thrown in. There’s a light sense of caramel malts on the end that leads to a walnut cake full of raisins and cinnamon with a buttery vibe next to a savory note that’s part green herbs and part extra virgin olive oil.
Yet another delight. The back half of this tasting is crushing the first half.
The nose opens with a lovely sense of a malting house with warm and sugar malts next to an almost sour distiller’s beer cut with warm and spicy apple cider next, rum-raisin, and a light note of fresh orange skins. The palate dried out the apple toward salted chips, candied ginger, and lime leaves next to caramel malts and quark doughnuts dusted with cinnamon sugar. The end has a hint of burnt orange that leads to mild sweet oak and apple tobacco cut with a thin line of dark chocolate.
This was very nice but didn’t quite hit the heights of the last three pours.
Part 2: The Ranking
8. Dewar’s French Smooth — Taste 2
Average Price: $26
This is part of Dewar’s “Smooth” line. The juice takes classic Dewar’s and finishes it in Calvados casks from Normandy, France. Those barrels are then batched and proofed way down for bottling.
This is 100 percent meant to be a highball whisky and it tastes it. I can see this shining with Martinelli’s Apple Cider, a dash of bitters, and a slice of Granny Smith.
7. The Classic Laddie — Taste 1
Average Price: $56
Bruichladdich’s philosophy on whisky making is pretty unique. Each batch highlights local, unpeated Scottish barley that’s fermented and distilled on Islay. That juice then goes into some combination of ex-bourbon, ex-sherry, and ex-wine casks for a varied amount of time. That means each batch is unique. Bruichladdich then provides a code on their bottles so that you can go to their website and find out what makes the bottle in your hand special.
This is really nice as a mixing scotch. It’s a little thin on the palate to be a go-to sipper. I prefer it in a cocktail to build more flavors on what’s already there.
6. Old Parr 18 — Taste 3
Average Price: $94
This old-school brand just expanded into 18-year territory this year for the U.S. market. The juice is made from malts and grain whiskies mostly pulled from the famed Cragganmore distillery. Those whiskies are vatted/batched, proofed, and bottled in this old-school stubby bottle.
This was the last of the “fine” pours in this lineup. There was nothing wrong with this, it simply felt more like a cocktail base than a sipper.
5. Bowmore 18 — Taste 4
Average Price: $185
Islay’s Bowmore has one of the lowest peated levels of any whisky from the famed island. This whisky spends 18 long years maturing in both ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks before those barrels are blended, proofed down with Islay’s soft groundwater, and bottled.
This was pretty delicious. The peat was barely there and only via sweeter notes, which makes this a great bottle to try if you’re interested in getting into Islay but afraid of the peat monsters out there.
4. Buchanan’s Red Seal — Taste 8
Average Price: $175
This blended whisky is an amalgamation of 21-year-old barrels of whisky from Diageo’s stable of distilleries. The recipe for this one goes back to the British Royal Family’s preferred recipe from the Victorian era. Basically, Diageo pulls the best “out of series” barrels (those barrels that don’t fit the brand’s primary flavor profiles) from their unpeated whiskies around the country for this expression.
This was great. It felt like the quintessential whisky on the rocks pour. The only reason it’s a tad lower is that it wasn’t as great as the next three.
3. BenRiach Malting Season Second Edition — Taste 6
Average Price: $122
The second edition of BenRiach’s Malting Season series is also made with barley malted fully in-house at the distillery in Speyside. The barley in this case is Concerto barley grown for this release. Once distilled, the hot juice went into 30 first-fill bourbon barrels and was rested for around nine years before batching and bottling as-is.
This was lush and light while delivering a great flavor profile. It was gorgeous neat and I could see this really blooming with a little water or a single rock.
2. Mortlach 20 — Taste 7
Average Price: $240
Dufftown’s Mortlach is one of those distilleries that may just make you fall in love with scotch. The mash is distilled 2.81 times, according to Mortlach’s unique distilling methods. That juice is then loaded in sherry casks and left to do its thing for 20 long years. The results are vatted, brought down to proof with that soft Speyside water, and bottled.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, this whisky is perfect.
1. The GlenDronach Grandeur Batch 11 Aged 28 Years — Taste 5
Average Price: $800 (Very Limited)
The GlenDronach Grandeur Batch 11 was created by Dr. Rachel Barrie (who also created the BenRiach above). Dr. Barrie hand-selected a tiny number of rare Pedro Ximénez and oloroso Sherry casks that were filled with The GlenDronach malt almost 30 years ago. Those barrels were vatted and bottled with a touch of water into just over 3,000 bottles.
This was next-level. Yes, it was a perfect pour of whisky. But it transcended. It transported. It was divine.
Part 3: Final Thoughts
I know it’s cliche, but if you get only one bottle of Scotch whisky this year, make it The GlenDronach Grandeur Batch 11. That pour might be my favorite of the year (as of now) and I’ve had over 1,000 whiskies so far this year. That’s how well it stands out (and how good it is). Wait for it. But it’s going to be really hard to find.
It’s super rare and not cheap by any stretch of the imagination.
As for the rest, you really cannot go wrong grabbing any bottle between seven and two on this list, especially if you’re looking for a good gift bottle. I will die on the hill that Mortlach 20 is the perfect whisky. Plus, you might be able to actually find that one pretty easily right now.