As each day passes, the single malt world expands a little bit more — both in breadth and depth. The interesting thing about single malt whisk(e)y is that it can be made anywhere in the world. There are no regional laws that require aging in a specific place, meaning that anyone, anywhere can make single malt whiskies as long as they keep it 100% barley-based. That in turn means that single malt whisk(e)y might just have the most diversity (globally) of any style of whisky.
To celebrate that diversity, let’s blindly taste-test some single malt whiskies from all over the world!
For this blind tasting and ranking, I pulled eight single malt whiskies from Scotland, Ireland, Australia, Japan, Israel, and the U.S. It’s a wide mix of whiskies that each often carry unique characteristics. They’re also all unpeated to give a clear focus on similar flavor profile nuances. As for the ranking, this is purely about what tastes best.
Our lineup today is:
- The Dalmore Cigar Malt Reserve
- Virginia Distillery Co. Courage & Conviction American Single Malt Whisky Cuvee Cask
- Busker Irish Single Malt
- M&H Classic Single Malt
- Starward Vitalis
- St. George Single Malt Whiskey Lot 22
- The GlenDronach Batch 10 Cask Strength
- Yamazaki Mizunara
Okay, let’s dive in and find you a great and unique single malt to call your own this November.
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Part 1: The Tasting
The nose is openly complex from the first inhalation with a matrix of sticky toffee pudding spices — cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg — next to dried red berries with a slight earthiness, a touch of salted toffee candies, and a whisper of vanilla wafers. The palate opens with a chocolate maltiness next to a bowl of fresh and tropical fruits — pineapple, tart apples, sweet pears, plums, bruised bananas — with a mild nuttiness, sharp orange zest, and subtle winter spices. There’s a light mustiness on the back end that leads to soft and moist pipe tobacco with a thin layer of orchard fruits and stewed figs.
This is freaking delicious. It’s complex and soft while still being bold and engaging. Goddamn, this is a great way to kick things off!
Light hints of lemon and orange oils mingle with dark berry soda and spicy caramel malts on the nose. The palate leans into the citrus with a lemon meringue pie feeling next to sour cherries tossed in sea salt, mulled wine spices, and a light sense of creamed honey with a vanilla underbelly. The end leans into that sweet honey before adding in some woody cinnamon sticks and allspice berries with a whisper of minced meat pie tobacco and old worn leather.
This is pretty nice overall. I can see this bridging the world of easy sipper and solid cocktail base.
There’s a good sense of orchard fruit next to cinnamon sticks floating in apple cider with a clear maltiness that’s more like a Graham cracker dipped in light honey. The palate has a touch of chocolate malts that leads to more apples/pears with a hint of old doughnuts and powdered sugar.
The end is short and sweet with a touch of honey, nuts, and oats.
This was… fine.
There’s a nice sense of floral honey and old oak on the nose with a big hit of orange oils and vanilla cake. The palate leans into the vanilla as caramel sauce and more honey sweeten the maltiness toward a counterpoint of black peppercorns and wet oak. The end has a woodiness that’s oaky and soft with vanilla pods, cinnamon sticks, and orange balancing with the grainy maltiness.
This was also fine. I did like the orange vibes but the rest was pretty light overall.
There’s a balance of toffee and rum raisin next to dark chocolate, grilled pineapple, old apricot, and tangerine on the nose. The palate opens with a meaty date and black tea bitterness next to chocolate malts, prune jam, and tart red currants with a hint of that apricot in the background. The end has a touch of mango skins next to roasted coffee beans and mocha lattes with woody berry tobacco with a touch of cedar bark and old leather.
This was a super tasty sip of whisky. It didn’t quite reach the heights of taste one, but it’s not far off.
There’s a big note of lemon and lime oils on the nose with a burnt orange vibe leading to some espresso beans, walnut cookies, and maybe a touch of fennel or coriander. The palate is part nougat and part mocha latte with spicy gingerbread next to savory melons. The end has a nutty/sweet vibe that leads to more of that melon savoriness with a hint of lemon-lime tobacco.
This feels pretty crafty with all of that citrus. It’s not unbalanced or bad. It’s just really out of left field in this lineup and a tad one note.
This feels classic on the nose with spiced holiday cakes next to clove-stuffed orange peels, meaty prunes and dates, soft sultanas, and old orchard tree bark. The palate leans into that spiced holiday cake with ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg next to candied fruits and citrus peels, roasted almonds, and salted toffee sauce. The end meanders through shortbread and toffee next to old Christmas wreaths, stewed plums, and mulled wine with a spicy edge.
This is classic malt. It’s delicious, engaging, and feels full of fall/winter vibes.
This opens slightly tannic/wood-forward with old cinnamon bark next to whole cloves, allspice berries, star anise, and cardamom pods countered by creamy vanilla custard cut with dried lavender and sandalwood. The palate leans into the floral aspect slightly as sweet cinnamon and allspice mingle with sour mulled wine and dark honey. The end has a woody and spicy vibe with a creamy maltiness and an old and muted floral incense burning underneath everything.
This is pretty incredible. The floral aspects are pronounced but don’t overtake the whole profile. This is just good whisky.
Part 2: The Ranking
8. Busker Irish Single Malt — Taste 3
Average Price: $33
This budget single malt from Ireland highlights the brand’s ability to go old-school. The 100% malted barley whiskey is aged in both ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks before blending, proofing, and bottling.
This was fine but clearly a mixing whiskey.
7. St. George Single Malt Whiskey Lot 22 — Taste 6
Average Price: $99
This new release, Lot 22, is a blend made with single malts aged in used Kentucky bourbon barrels, used Tennessee whiskey barrels, and used American and French oak apple brandy, port, and California Sauternes-style wine casks. The ages of those barrels ranged from four-and-a-half years to eight-and-a-half years to 23 years old when blended.
This was very citrus-forward, which is fine. It just didn’t quite break through in this panel today, hence it ranking lower. All of that said, this was balanced and perfectly fine all things considered.
6. M&H Classic Single Malt — Taste 4
Average Price: $55
This Israeli single malt whisky is aged in ex-bourbon casks and red-wine casks sourced locally. Those barrels are blended and proofed before bottling.
Again, this was fine. It was a standard single malt that felt like a mixer.
5. Virginia Distillery Co. Courage & Conviction American Single Malt Whisky Cuvee Cask — Taste 2
Average Price: $85
This expression is made from 100% malted barley distillate that’s aged for three years in Cuvée wine casks in the foothills of Virginia’s Appalachia. Those barrels are vatted and proofed down with local water and bottled without filtration or coloration, letting the barrels shine in the glass.
This is where the nice stuff starts. This a very balanced and deep whiskey that really feels like a solid sipper or great cocktail candidate. The only reason it’s this low in the ranking is that the next four bottles are a little bit (to a lot) more refined.
4. Starward Vitalis — Taste 5
Average Price: $150
This brand-new limited edition whisky from Australia’s biggest brand celebrates the 15th anniversary of the distillery. The whisky in this bottle commemorates the brand’s finishing program that made it famous. The whisky was blended from six different barrel types, focusing on tawny port, rum, bourbon, and Apera barrels between 11 and four years old.
This is a delicious whisky. There’s a nice balance of fruitiness on the palate that really helps this one have serious depth. It’s not quite as deep as the next three but it’s really good anyway.
3. Yamazaki Mizunara — Taste 8
Average Price: $5,230
This is one of the most sought-after whiskies from Yamazaki. The juice spends over 12 years maturing in Japan’s super rare mizunara casks only, meaning that this isn’t some whisky that’s “finished” in old Mizurana casks for a few months. After over a decade of mellowing, the casks are hand-picked for their excellence, vatted, and just proofed before bottling.
Yup, delicious. It read as a little woodier on today’s panel which is why I ranked it third. But these top three are all stellar, I just liked the next two a little more as everyday sippers.
2. The GlenDronach Batch 10 Cask Strength — Taste 7
Average Price: $220
The 10th release from the most beloved The GlenDronach Cask Strength series is another instant classic. Dr. Rachel Barrie blends the whisky in the bottle from Pedro Ximénez and Oloroso sherry casks. The whisky is then vatted and bottled as-is with no fussing.
This was close to being number one. The higher proof added a little oomph to the whole affair but it didn’t add more depth, that’s why it was narrowly beaten by the next entry.
All of that said, this is delicious sipping whisky with real depth that’s also super easy to drink and rewarding.
1. The Dalmore Cigar Malt Reserve — Taste 1
Average Price: $240
This Highland whisky is a no-age-statement version of The Dalmore. The juice is made from Golden barley that grows on the island in the rich and very coastal soils. The ground malted barley is mixed with pure water from the Cromarty Firth nearby during the mashing process. After a couple of times through pot stills, the hot whisky is loaded into ex-bourbon casks, 30-year-old Matusalem Oloroso Sherry butts, and former Cabernet Sauvignon from the Saint-Estèphe appellation of Bordeaux. After 10 to 15 years, those barrels are vatted, the whiskey is proofed, and it’s bottled.
This is a phenomenal pour of whisky. This is a perfect sipper for backyard firepits, holiday parties, and rolling around in fall leaves. It’s just f*cking delicious.
Part 3: Final Thoughts
There was just no beating the top pour today. That The Dalmore Cigar Blend was so nuanced and delicate. It’s everything you want in high-end single malt that takes you on a journey with every sip.
I’d also highly recommend two through five on this list. Each one offers a little something different while also hitting high notes of damn near perfection. The rest you can pretty easily skip.