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If you’re in the market for the best single malt whisky (or whiskey) you can find, there are some factors to consider. While there are some differences depending on the country of origin, the through-line is that the whiskey is produced at one distillery from a mashbill of 100 percent malted barley and aged in barrels for some amount of time (often a minimum of three years). Then there are factors like cask finish, peat level and ABV to take into account. The good news is that there are so many excellent choices of single malt distilleries and brands out there for you, so we’ve put together this list to help steer you towards some of the best bottles to buy in different categories. Happy hunting, and cheers.
Our Best Single Malt Whisky Picks
Best Overall Single Malt
This 15-year-old whisky is one of the best sherry cask matured single malts you can find, and indeed one of the very best single malts period. The GlenDronach ages this whisky in a combination of Pedro Ximenez and Oloroso sherry casks, imbuing it with a range of flavors from chocolate to spice to dark dried fruits. No color is added to the whisky, which gets everything it needs from a lengthy maturation period and careful distillation. Fans of The Macallan or The Glenrothes, both great distilleries in their own right, should give this bottle a try.
Best Cask-Finished Single Malt Whisky
Cask finishing is a common practice in the world of single malt scotch, meaning the whisky is placed into a secondary cask after initial maturation to pick up new flavors. The Balvenie was one of the originators of this practice when malt master David Stewart created the 12-year-old DoubleWood which is finished in sherry casks. This incredible 21-year-old expression was first released in 1996, and has been a favorite or many whisky drinkers in the years since. The port pipe finish brings an array of flavors to the palate, including notes of honey, raisin, almond and dark cherry notes.
Best Cask-Strength Single Malt Whisky
Cask-strength means that the whisky has not been proofed down before bottling, so it’s as close to coming to drinking straight from the barrel as you can get without actually doing so (a very fun thing to do, by the way). There are many bottles in this category to choose from, but Aberlour A’bunadh (“the original” in Gaelic) is one of the best. It comes out in batches—the latest is number 74—so each release varies slightly in proof and flavor. It was matured entirely in sherry casks and bottled at 60 percent ABV, which is strong but manageable (especially with a drop of water). Look for prominent notes of marmalade, espresso, dark chocolate and a bit of spice on the finish.
Best Single Malt Whisky Under $100
Islay is the best known region for smoky single malts, but the Isle of Sky has Talisker which should definitely be included in the conversation. And for less than $100 you can pick up a bottle of the 10-year-old expression, a peated malt that strikes a lovely balance between spicy, sweet, fruity and smoky. This whisky doesn’t pack the PPM punch of some others, but that’s not the point here, and it delivers on all counts.
Best Best Single Malt Whisky Under $50
Old Pulteney is proud of its ocean-adjacent location, so much so that the nickname for this single malt is “the maritime malt.” You might even taste a bit of that brininess in this affordable and delicious whisky, that’s matured for a full 12 years in bourbon barrels. There’s a nice balance of honey, citrus, vanilla and spice on the palate, which drinks as complex as a whisky twice the cost.
Best Single Malt Whisky for Cocktails
Glenmorangie The Original, the 10-year-old core whisky in the distillery’s lineup, is uncomplicated and approachable—and that is meant in the best way possible. It’s aged entirely in bourbon barrels, and has a light texture, color and flavor profile that makes it an excellent whisky for mixing up some cocktails. Gone are the days when single malt was considered off limits to use in an Old Fashioned, Highball or Rob Roy, so sub this whisky for bourbon, rye or a blended scotch and see for yourself how it transforms these drinks.
Best Peated Single Malt Whisky
Laphroaig is an Islay distillery famous for its smoky single malt that gets labeled with tasting notes like acrid, burning rubber, iodine and smoldering campfire—and these are all compliments, make no mistake. In this new expression from a few years back, the intensely peated character of the core 10-year-old whisky gets a boost of flavor from a finish in sherry casks, creating a melange of dried fruit, spice and candied orange that swirls around that smoky base.
Best American Single Malt Whiskey
There are many American single malts to choose from these days as the category continues to grow and the TTB comes close to giving it a legal definition. Stranahan’s, High West, Westward and Hillrock all make some contenders, but the most interesting and tasty of the bunch has to be the annual Garryana release from Westland in Seattle. The sixth edition is available now (number seven arrives next month), and is defined by the five malts used in the mashbill and the array of casks used to mature the whiskey—including the Garry oak native to the Pacific NW. It’s a really tasty dram with a complex palate ranging from dark chocolate notes to bright dried fruit to a splash of vanilla spice.
Best Japanese Single Malt Whisky
Japanese whisky, as you seasoned imbibers well know, exploded in popularity over the past half decade or so. Bottles are pricy and in limited supply, although this seems to possibly be changing a bit. Suntory is the main company making Japanese whisky, followed by Nikka, and while Yamazaki has a popular and high-quality lineup, Hakushu is arguably the better of the two. This mountain distillery makes gently smoky and brightly flavored single malts, with the 12-year-old anchoring the lineup. Green apple, lemon, vanilla and caramel notes intermingle, making this a whisky you won’t soon forget.
Best Irish Single Malt Whiskey
The most popular whiskey from Northern Ireland’s Bushmills distillery—the oldest licensed operation in the world—is an affordable workhorse blend. But the fact is that this distillery only produces single malt whiskey, and the core range of age statement expressions are fantastic. Scotch drinkers, take note—Irish single malt should not be ignored. The 21-year-old expression is aged in bourbon and sherry casks, and then blended and finished in Madeira barrels for an additional two years. This brings a deep richness to the palate with notes of fig, spiced apple, lemon and some buttery caramel.
Best Indian Single Malt Whisky
We’ve covered Indian whisky here a few times before for one reason—it’s really, really good. There are several distilleries making single malts that are at the top of the whisky game, including this expression from Rampur. Double Cask is just what it sounds like—aged in bourbon and sherry casks, and brings a balance of flavors from the two different types of wood. This is a great introduction into the world of Indian whisky, and once you start this is a journey you’ll certainly want to continue on.
Best World Single Malt Whisky
Denmark is better known for its snaps than its whisky, but the exceptional quality of Stauning’s single malts might change that. The distillery’s Kaos expression is one of the best, made from locally grown barley and rye that have gone into a blend of malt whiskies—peated, unpeated and rye. It was aged for four to five years in both virgin oak and ex-bourbon barrels and is unfiltered and non-chill filtered. The flavor is alive with smoke but not overpowering and supplemented with notes of spice, citrus, vanilla, fresh wood and chocolate. This is a bold whisky that is clear about its intention to make its own mark instead of just mimicking the scotch style.
Best Single Malt Whisky Aged Over 20 Years
This is the fourth collaboration between Bowmore and Aston Martin. The base whisky is a 21-year-old single malt aged in first-fill Pedro Ximenez and Oloroso sherry casks that makes up 61.8 percent of the blend. The remaining percentages are exact ratios of whisky that include some more than 35 years old, matured in ex-bourbon barrels, Pineau des Charentes barriques, white port barriques and second-fill Oloroso hogsheads. The peat level of the whisky is in line with the relatively tame character that this Islay distillery is known for, with some smoke and sweet butter greeting you on the nose. The palate opens up with orange, cherry, subtle campfire and some dark chocolate, with a slightly tannic finish that doesn’t become overly dry. Indeed, this is very different from the Bowmore core lineup, something that isn’t always the case with these special releases.
What is single malt whisk(e)y?
There are some key requirements for a whiskey to be called a single malt, depending on where it’s produced. Scotland is the best known for its single malts, and here they must be made from 100 percent malted barley at one distillery and aged for a minimum of three years in barrels. Other countries follow suit for the most part, with the main difference being where they are distilled and aged—Irish single malt must be made in Ireland, for example. In America, the category is getting close to being legally defined by the TTB, and will likely have similar rules as far as production and mashbill.
How should you drink single malt?
The short answer is however you like it. There is no wrong or right way to enjoy a single malt whisky. If you prefer cocktails, there are plenty of options and certain single malts goes well with other ingredients. But consider trying single malt on its own as well to explore the flavors. A Glencairn glass is a good way to nose and taste it neat, and some people like to add a splash of water. A tumbler works just fine if you’d like to add some ice. Just remember to drink it in the way that you like best.
How did we choose the single malts on this list?
We considered different factors when picking these whiskies, with the emphasis being on taste. Because after all, despite a bottle’s availability or the hype surrounding it, that is the most important thing. Tasting single malt involves a combination of sensations, including the nose, palate, mouthfeel and finish. And each category has different characteristics, so part of the process is to consider how an individual pick fits into its style overall. The bottles on this list represent the best single malts based on all of these options, providing a good overview of selections you can easily purchase in person or online that are good examples of each individual category.
Why should you trust us?
Jonah Flicker has been writing about whiskey and other spirits for nearly a decade, visiting distilleries around the world to meet the people behind the bottles and find out more about their stories. He is a judge for the John Barleycorn Awards, and his work has appeared in many national other lifestyle outlets besides Robb Report, including Esquire, Food & Wine, CNN, USA Today and more.