The Best Scotches to Try from Taster's Club
Picture this: you’re having some friends over for some drinks, and maybe a game or two. They happen to be fans of Scotch whiskey, but you’ve only tried the drink a handful of times before. How do you choose what to serve your guests? With so many Scotches to try on the market, it can feel downright overwhelming when you stand in that liquor store aisle, scanning the options in front of you. Don’t fret — we’ve got you. Here’s your personal guide to the things that make a good Scotch stand out, along with five solid Taster’s Club picks that will give you ultimate points with your pals.
What Makes Scotch Stand Out?
Many factors make a particular Scotch stand out. Of course, we all have different tastes and preferences, so this will mean something entirely different from person to person. Here are some common factors to consider:
- Age and maturation
- Type and notes
- Use of artificial colors or chill-filtration
Age and Maturation
Usually, the older the Scotch, the more it stands out. Try to opt for bottles at least 10 years old, unless you happen to know that a younger bottle is particularly good. How and in what type of cask a Scotch is matured will enhance it as well. For example, American oak or ex-bourbon barrels typically give a lighter, creamier profile, while sherry casks typically produce fruity and tannic notes.
Type and Notes
The type of Scotch whiskey will also affect how it stands out to you. You might have a preference for single or blended malts, single or blended grains, or a blended Scotch. Tasting notes will impact your experience with a Scotch, and you’re better off knowing about them in advance. Some distillers do a better job of this than others. Many smoky Scotch whiskies will say “peat”, “bonfire” or “smoke” and deliver a heavier body.
If the alcohol by volume (ABV) of a Scotch is between 40 and 50 percent, it means water was added before bottling. Anything above 50% is “cask strength”, meaning it was bottled without extra water, which many people prefer. However, older cask strength Scotch whiskies (typically over 25 years old) can still be considered cask strength even if ABV is less than 50%.
Use of Artificial Colors or Chill-Filtration
The majority of Scotch whiskies contain artificial coloring, and much of it, including anything below 46% ABV, is chill-filtered as well. Some distillers add caramel coloring to darken the liquid and entice drinkers. While this can make a Scotch noticeable on the shelf, it doesn’t necessarily indicate quality. Chill-filtration is a process of chilling the spirit to freezing or below, before it warms up again, and filtering it to get rid of small particles. The process creates a haziness that doesn’t actually affect flavor but the appearance can put people off, so it’s done for cosmetic reasons.
Scotch’s History and Broad Appeal
People have been making and enjoying Scotch since as early as the 15th century. Scotland’s earliest documented record of distilling is from tax records of 1494, the Exchequer Rolls, where an entry notes, “Eight bolls of malt to Friar John Cor wherewith to make aqua vitae.” This ended up being enough malted barley to make nearly 1,500 bottles of the spirit, which was then improved in the coming years.
There’s something nostalgic and magical about Scotch whiskey. From its long-standing, proven creation and production methods comes an undeniable quality that people recognize across the globe. Aside from a romanticism stemming from the rich heritage and history of master distillers, there’s also prestige and exclusivity that comes with Scotch whiskey. Since it can only be produced in Scotland, it’s that much more desirable than whiskies produced elsewhere. Plus, the physical qualities of the regions in which it’s produced, including their climate and geology, and how distilleries use them give uniqueness to Scotch whiskey that simply can’t be replicated elsewhere, despite similar distillation techniques being used.
At Taster’s Club, we totally understand this love affair with Scotch. In fact, we feel so strongly about it that we offer both a standard club and a pro club for the serious connoisseur! Check out our top 5 recommendations for Scotches to try for a versatile sipping experience, and you’ll understand too.
Taster’s Club Scotch Recommendations
Single Cask Nation Undisclosed Speyside Distillery 28-Year-Old Single Malt Scotch Whiskey
This feature Scotch comes from the northeastern Speyside region, home to the densest concentration and over half of all distilleries in Scotland. A single cask, 28-year-old single malt from an undisclosed distillery is brought to us by Single Cask Nation, an independent bottler specializing in Scotch whiskey. While we can’t say for certain where it’s from, it is pretty darn close in taste to Dailuaine’s signature rich, sweet, sherry-cask-influenced style.
The 28-year-old single malt was distilled in September 1989 and aged in a refill Oloroso sherry cask, then bottled in December 2017. The cask provided a mere 488 bottles at 54.3% ABV, resulting in a unique and potent combination of chai tea, dried fruit, candied orange, cola, clove, honey and incense notes among rich malt, oak spice and pepper. It’s golden amber in color with a powerful, nuanced body and long finish of incense smoke, oak spice and coffee.
Why is this Scotch pick so special? Though sherry cask finishing is common in Scotland, whiskies like this that are 100% aged in former sherry casks are pretty rare. It’s much cheaper to use ex-bourbon barrels instead, so many distillers do so prior to a quick finish in sherry casks. But when given enough time in sherry casks, as this Speyside distillery has, you’ll get the exotic flavors of incense, chai and honey you simply can’t achieve any other way.
Gordon & MacPhail Glenrothes 11-Year-Old Single Malt Scotch Whiskey
Gordon & MacPhail Glenrothes 11-Year-Old Single Malt Scotch Whiskey is aged in bespoke ex-Sherry European oak casks, which give notes of dried fruit and spices with a nutty character. Amber in color and creamy in body, you’ll smell zesty orange, cinnamon and clove, along with stewed berries, plum, and cherries with a touch of milk chocolate. On the palate, you’ll taste cracked black pepper, with dark forest fruits, spice, marmalade, roasted walnut, and toasted oak. The spirit finishes with long-lasting chocolate and orange
For over 125 years, Speyside’s Gordon & MacPhail have nurtured long-standing friendships and partnerships with 100+ Scottish distilleries. Their Discovery Range resulted from this and is the ideal introduction to single malt Scotch whiskies like this 11 year-old gem, which falls into the series’ “Sherry” category. Its makers suggest first sipping this one neat and letting your palate adjust to the flavors.
Tullibardine The Murray Marsala Finish Single Malt Scotch Whiskey
Tullibardine’s The Murray Marsala Finish Single Malt Scotch Whiskey is a new limited-edition release, first distilled in 2006, aged for about 12 years, and bottled following extra-maturation in sweet Sicilian marsala wine casks.
A complex but accessible Scotch that’s rose-colored, you’ll get oak, vanilla, ginger, spice, red wine, apple, plum, pear, and nuts on the nose. Flavors include fig syrup, cherries, blackcurrant, prune juice, chocolate orange, clove, and a bit of espresso. The single malt offers a syrupy, rich, and sweet body and finishes with a lingering creamy orange and dark chocolate.
This pick is the fourth whiskey in the Highland distillery’s Marquess Collection, which mimics the distillery’s focus on experimenting with different types of wood and casks.
Adelphi Clynelish 17-Year-Old Single Malt Scotch
This rare 17-year-old Clynelish single malt bottled at cask strength of 59.5% has no coloring or chill filtration, which gives a pure taste of the Highland distillery’s signature subtle, waxy, floral malt, which makes it truly stand out.
Dark straw with copper highlights and a silky, full body, you’ll get honey, paraffin wax, cantaloupe, cotton candy, and sea salt on the nose, along with tart and sweet flavors of dried chili, honeycomb, beeswax, cocoa and licorice. The spirit finishes medium length with anise, dark chocolate and beeswax.
Murray & McDavid Bowmore 15-Year-Old Single Malt Scotch
The Coleburn Distillery in Speyside is home to Murray McDavid, where they carry on their tradition of bottling artfully-matured Scotch whiskey. The makers are quite well-known for their “ACEing” (additional cask evolution, now referred to as Art of Maturation) process. It involves matching the spirit for different periods at different maturation stages with unusual and characterful casks typically sourced from the wine industry.
There are only 935 bottles produced of this 15-year-old single malt. Originally aged in a 500-liter sherry cask for a soft oaky spiciness and dried fruit flavors. It’s a gold hay color, with a somewhat oily, medium body. On the nose, you’ll get notes of sea spray and peated smoke, and you’ll taste bittersweet, earthy, medicinal, and sweet smoke notes.
Now that you have a better understanding of how to choose a great Scotch, you’re on your way to being the host with the most. And if these Taster’s Club picks sound appealing, don’t forget to check our Scotch club. You can easily give a Taster's Club membership as a gift to those Scotch-loving friends, or check out our bottle shop for other unique Scotches.