Cask strength single malt Scotch whisky is usually the rarer stuff. The vast majority of single malt whisky is proofed down to 46% or 43%. Generally, if you’re looking at a 46% ABV bottle, you know it wasn’t filtered. 43%, it was. Cask strength single malts are often only released as limited edition batches or special yearly one-off releases as a sort of highlight of the brand’s wonderful, lesser-seen barrels.
All of this is to say that it’s time for another blind taste test, and this time I’m reaching for single malt Scotch whiskies that are bottled at cask strength. That makes our lineup today the following bottles:
- The GlenDronach Cask Strength Batch 10 Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky
- Octomore 13.3 Edition Aged 5 Years Super Heavily Peated Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky
- Oban Single Malt Scotch Whisky Aged 10 Years 2022 Special Release
- Cardhu Single Malt Scotch Whisky Aged 16 Years 2022 Special Release
- The GlenAllachie 10-Year-Old Cask Strength Batch 7
- BenRiach Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky Malting Season Second Edition
- Clynelish Single Malt Scotch Whisky Aged 12 Years 2022 Special Release
- Talisker Single Malt Scotch Whisky Aged 11 Years 2022 Special Release
When it comes to ranking these, it’s all about the taste, folks. Peated and unpeated whiskies have equal value, depending on what you’re looking for. Well-made whisky is a well-made whisky whether it’s peated or not and whether you like it or not. So, I’m mixing some great peaties in with the sweeter unpeated malts for this one. In the end, I’m just looking at which bottles have the deepest and most enticing flavors.
It’s that easy so let’s dive in a rank some single malt!
Also Read: The Top 5 UPROXX Scotch Whisky Posts of The Last Six Months
Part 1: The Tasting
Nose: Backporch wicker vibes with soft prunes and spicy holiday cake with a clove focus next to soft sultanas and berries with an echo of dead fall leaves lurking underneath it all.
Palate: The palate leans into the holiday cake with a matrix of ginger sharpness, cinnamon, nutmeg, candied fruits, and citrus peels, and a roasted nuttiness with a hint of dates and black tea with soft toffee drizzle just touched with salt.
Finish: The end leans back into that wicker from the nose with a supple sense of toffee-covered shortbread and stewed plums.
This has a heavy bourbon vibe. It’s pretty great if you’re looking for a dark, spicy, and fruity whisky that will feel familiar to an American whiskey drinker. But does that take away from the “scotch” of it all?
I’m on the fence.
Nose: The nose is a subtle mix of salted caramel with sweet caramel malts, apricot jam, gingerbread, and a touch of nasturtium with a whisper of smoked apples and pears before the ashen peat starts sneaking in with a sense of a BBQ pork rib rack smothered in BBQ sauce.
Palate: The palate opens with smoked brown sugar next to rich marzipan with a hint of Almond Joy next to Kiwi boot wax, orange marmalade, dried roses, lemon pepper, and a hint of oyster liquor.
Finish: The end has a caramel maltiness that’s just kissed with sea salt and potpourri cut with mild dark spices and more of that marzipan, finishing on a light fruit soda vibe.
This had me at BBQ pork ribs. Beyond that very familiar note, it’s also just complex and rich with a lightness that keeps things fun for the senses. This is good whisky.
Nose: There’s a lithe sense of lemon/lime saltwater taffy and Whether’s candies wrapped in white wax paper with a hint of lime leaves and wild sage next to salted smoked lemons and tangerines with a hint of really good and cloudy extra virgin olive oil speckled with smoked sea salt and freshly cracked red peppercorns.
Palate: The palate is silken and full of layers of smoked grapes, smoked plums, and salted chili pepper candies with a fleeting sense of violet and lavender creaminess tied to a lush vanilla underbelly.
Finish: The end has a mild woody chili pepper spiciness that’s dry and leads to a limber finish with warmth, lightly caramelized malts, and smoked apricot jam with brandy cream.
This is pretty nice. The butterscotch on the nose was subtle and felt real. By the end, you felt like you were drinking candied malt.
Nose: There’s a definite sense of aura of funky rumminess with a hint of barrel char and grilled tropical fruits with plenty of brown spices — clove, allspice, nutmeg — surrounded by creamy lemon meringue pie, mango lassi, and freshly washed sheets flapping in the summer breeze (it’s wildly engaging and kind of weird but I love it).
Palate: The palate has a rummy butterscotch syrup mood with spiced rum cocktails cut with banana bread, walnuts, and brown butter with a hint of brandy-soaked oak staves.
Finish: The end has a light black pepperiness with more of that rummy barrel funk and soft and sweet (not acidic) tropical fruit.
That butterscotch was a little better on this sip. Overall, this was complex and had a great feel with a wonderfully nuanced finish that sticks with you.
Nose: Subtle notes of honey and raisins mingle with cinnamon sticks and nutmeg with a hint of dark chocolate orange balls and maybe even some orange mocha frappuccino on the nose.
Palate: That dark chocolate dominates on the early palate as rum raisin, figs, and stewed plums with plenty of winter spice and orange zest dance with each other.
Finish: The end has a gingerbread vibe with more dried dark fruits and a very mild maltiness.
This ended very mildly. It felt a little thin but still perfectly okay overall.
Nose: 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.
Palate: 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.
Finish: 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 was also perfectly okay all things considered.
Nose: There’s a subtle mix of mincemeat pies, syrupy pears from the can, floral honey, and a herbal note of maybe bay leaf or sage with a whisper of mint on the nose.
Palate: The palate has a waxy saltwater taffy vibe tied to vanilla with a soft pepperiness and woody winter spice warmth next to soft toffees.
Finish: The end is lightly spiced with dried chili pepper and peppercorns next to that soft and waxy vanilla saltwater taffy on the spicy finish.
This was a fruity and classic malt whisky. I felt quintessential from the nose to the finish and really delivered a nice experience.
Nose: There’s a clear sense of seaside campfires far down a rainy beach next to a fruit orchard with a hint of nori sheets, old boat rope, and a dash of brown wintry spices on the nose.
Palate: The palate leans into the oiliness of the nori with a slightly singed salmon skin vibe, smoked fish oils, and a touch of that distant campfire next to smoked plums and apricots with a hint of salted pear chips and dry red chili pepper.
Finish: The end has a long meander through a pebble beach with sea salt, smoked pear, and briny seaweed salad next to a hint of fatty smoked salmon bellies with a black and red pepper crust.
This was on another level. There was a depth and complexity to this pour that just blew the last seven pours out of the water (no pun intended). It’s just perfectly balanced whisky.
Part 2: The Ranking
8. The GlenAllachie 10-Year-Old Cask Strength Batch 7 — Taste 5
Average Price: $108
Aged in a combination of Pedro Ximénez and Oloroso sherry puncheons, Rioja barriques, and virgin oak casks, all personally selected and blended by esteemed Master Distiller Billy Walker. without added coloring or chill filtration
This very much slotted into the “fine” column today. I can see this working in cocktails perfectly well but would pass on it as a sipper.
7. BenRiach Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky Malting Season Second Edition — Taste 6
Average Price: $232
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 also “fine” but had a little more moxie to it than the above pour. There was a nice sweet porridge vibe that was enticing on the nose and delivered a citrus-forward maltiness that was overall pretty nice.
6. Oban Single Malt Scotch Whisky Aged 10 Years 2022 Special Release — Taste 3
Average Price: $135
This lightly peated Highland whisky from the tiny Oban Distillery is rendered from refill and new American oak barrels. That whisky is vatted and then refilled into Amontillado-seasoned casks for a final rest before batching and bottling as-is.
This had a nice balance of peat and sweet malts that ended very sweet with a “candied malt” vibe. If you’re looking for that sweetness with a hint of peat, then this is the bottle for you.
5. Cardhu Single Malt Scotch Whisky Aged 16 Years 2022 Special Release — Taste 4
Average Price: $353
This Speyside unpeated malt was aged in refill and re-charred American oak bourbon barrels for 16 years. That whisky was then refilled into Jamaican pot still rum-seasoned casks for a final rest before vatting and bottling as-is.
This had a clean and deep flavor profile. The sweetness was tied to a lot of great fruit and spice with a classic maltiness. In the end, this is a pretty easy-going sipper that’s sure to please (just not “wow”).
4. Clynelish Single Malt Scotch Whisky Aged 12 Years 2022 Special Release — Taste 7
Average Price: $221
This unpeated Highland malt was mellowed in refill American oak barrels that held bourbon and then finished in Pedro Ximenez and Oloroso sherry-seasoned casks.
This was a classic unpeated malt whisky. It’s fruity, sweet, and lush. It’s kind of everything you want from a classic, well-made single malt in every sip.
3. The GlenDronach Cask Strength Batch 10 Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky — Taste 1
Average Price: $121
The 10th release from the most beloved The GlenDronach Cask Strength series is another instant classic. The whisky in the bottle is blended by Dr. Rachel Barrie from whisky aged in Pedro Ximénez and Oloroso sherry casks. The whisky is then vatted and bottled as-is with no fussing.
I really like this but it is 100% a bourbon drinker’s single malt. Which is totally cool, yo. Because this is such well-made whisky that I don’t even care if it has a bourbon aura about it.
That said, if you’re looking for a bridge between American bourbon whiskey and unpeated Scotch single malt whisky, this is the bottle to grab.
2. Octomore 13.3 Edition Aged 5 Years Super Heavily Peated Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky — Taste 2
Average Price: $226
This new limited edition Octomore from Bruichladdich is all about Islay. The whisky is made from heavily peated malts grown on the island (most malts are shipping in from the mainland) back in 2015. In 2016, the whisky was distilled right by the sea at Bruichladdich and then loaded into first-fill, ex-American whiskey casks and second-fill European oak casks from the Rivesaltes region of France and the Ribera del Duero region of Spain. After five years, the casks were vatted and then bottled completely as-is.
This is just good whisky. It’s very peated, sure. But that peat expresses itself in very familiar ways via that BBQ pork rib vibe. There are touchstones that help this one shine, especially on an American’s palate.
1. Talisker Single Malt Scotch Whisky Aged 11 Years 2022 Special Release — Taste 8
Average Price: $142
This classic lightly-peated Talisker is aged by the sea in American oak, ex-bourbon first fill, refill casks, and wine-seasoned casks. Those barrels are batched and then bottled as-is after 11 years of quiet mellowing.
This is a perfectly balanced whisky that just slaps from top to bottom. Nothing on this list came close to this pour.
Part 3: Final Thoughts
Yes, this list was full of great whiskies. Each one had its own feel and worth. But that Talisker really had no competition today. It was just so hauntingly brilliant and balanced.
That said, if you’re looking for a big and familiar peated whisky, the new Octomore is a great play, especially with spring BBQ season just around the corner. I also really dig The GlenDronach as a bourbon drinker. It’s just that little bit extra.
In the end, get the Talisker. It’s a truly fantastic whisky and — at that price — a pretty great value.