Fiddich Review Centre
Blended Whiskey

The 50 Best Scotch Whiskies of 2021, Ranked

Finding great scotch to savor isn’t particularly hard. There’s a lot of it out there. The biggest barriers are picking which cool new bottles to mix in with your rotation of classics and, of course, the price point. Whether we’re talking blended scotch or single malts, this stuff can get spendy pretty quickly.

Cost aside, there were a lot of great releases this year that we got to try and we’re eager to share the best of the bunch with you. Before we dive in, it should be said that 2021 was a good year for Scotch whisky. We got a new Talisker 30 release for the first time since 2017, Diageo dropped a whole new line of special releases, and Islay’s Laphroaig and Ardbeg continued to wow with new drops. Not a bad time to be a fan of the famous tipple from Scotland.

As with our bourbon list of the year’s 50 best, we’re looking at one major factor for these scotches: Did they taste good? Beyond that, these needed to be 2021 new releases or 2021 versions of classics. Accessibility and affordability were not a factor — this is just about “best.”

Let’s dive in!

Also Read: The Top 5 UPROXX Scotch Whisky Posts of 2021

50. Dewar’s Caribbean Smooth

Bacardi

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $30

The Whisky:

Rum cask finishing is nothing new, but it is all the rage. This blend from Master Blender Stephanie Macleod is a marriage of 40 whiskies that are vatted and finished in Caribbean rum casks. That final maturation gives the whisky a smooth feel, making it the perfect cocktail base.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a clear sense of burnt brown sugars and grilled pineapple on the nose, with hints of cloves and vanilla and maybe some dry grass. The taste edges towards a dark molasses rumminess with a touch of dried fruit, more cloves, and a slight mango sweetness. The end really embraces the rummier aspects while holding onto the tropical fruitiness on a fast fade.

Bottom Line:

This new line from Dewar’s is simple but delivers. The unique flavors shine through and make for a great highball whisky at a great price point.

49. SIA Blended Scotch Whisky

SIA

ABV: 43%

Average Price: $39

The Whisky:

SIA Whisky is the result of Carin Luna-Ostaseski’s passion for the good stuff from Scotland. Luna-Ostaseski successfully launched this whisky through Kickstarter, making the first crowd-sourced whisky. The actual juice in the bottle is a blend of Speyside, Highland, and Islay juices with a 60/40 grain whisky or malt whisky ratio.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a marrying of bright orange zest with a five-spice note lurking beneath. The citrus really brightens things up as hints of vanilla pudding, honey, buttery toffee, and fatty nuts balance out the flavor with a very distant wisp of that Islay smoke. The end is well-rounded, nutty, and full of vanilla cream, all finishing on a slightly sweet smoky note.

Bottom Line:

This blend continues to shine as something new in the world of blended scotch. I tend to use this pretty much just for highballs. But in that application, it always delivers.

48. Johnnie Walker High Rye

Johnnie Walker High Rye
Diageo

ABV: 45%

Average Price: $33

The Whisky:

This whisky leans into the moment rye is having worldwide. The blend is 40 percent single malts from Diageo’s stable of distilleries — particularly Cardhu, Glenkinchie, and Caol Ila — and 60 percent rye whisky aged in American oak. Those whiskies are vatted, proofed down, and bottled.

Tasting Notes:

The nose feels like the best of both worlds as a twinge of rye spiciness mingles with sweet smoky notes cut with orchard fruit and a hint of vanilla. The fruit drives the palate with tart apples spiked with clove and anise as a buttery caramel sweetens the sip. The finish moves on from that sweet note towards a dry sense of woody spices and a touch of dried and smoked apple slices.

Bottom Line:

This is a tasty whisky that will feel both familiar and new. The rye and American oak is present but veers into fruity and soft smoky Johnnie Walker territory and just works, especially on the rocks or in a highball.

47. Edradour Caledonia 12

Signatory Vintage Scotch Whisky Company

ABV: 46%

Average Price: $80

The Whisky:

This is a classic Highland single malt. The peated juice started off as a one-off single-barrel pick that became a yearly release. The whisky aged in ex-bourbon for about eight years. It’s then refilled into ex-sherry casks for about four more years of maturation before it’s proofed and bottled.

Tasting Notes:

The nose on this is figgy pudding with stewed plums, Christmas spices, sultanas, and plenty of brown sugar syrup with a hint of sweet sherry-soaked oak lingering in the background. The palate settles into honey-roasted almonds next to a bowl of ripe red berries in cream with a drizzle of summer honey leading towards this hint of dried mushroom.

Bottom Line:

This bottle feels rare but always delivers year after year. You can’t go wrong giving this Highland malt a shot as 2022 arrives.

46. Tamdhu 12

Ian MacLeod Distillers

ABV: 43%

Average Price: $78

The Whisky:

Speyside’s Tamdhu upped their game a few years back by replacing their 10-year expression with this masterful whisky. The juice is aged for 12 years in a combination of American and European oak that held sherry first. They use both first-fill and re-filled barrels in the aging process before vatting the results, proofing with Speyside’s rich water, and bottling.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a bit of a Christmas cake vibe with candied orange, plenty of dark spice (especially cinnamon sticks), a maltiness that feels bread-y, a touch of sweet oak, and maybe a hint of peppermint candy. The taste veers more into the ripe and red berries with that cinnamon still in play but the breadiness is more like a buttery sugar cake with sherry/plummy depth. The end offers an interesting fade — with everything dialed in, creating shortbread and raspberry jam that’s just touched by the faintest wisp of fruity smoke.

Bottom Line:

Tamdhu is one of those distilleries that always feels like it’s on the edge of blowing up. Their 12-year is a yearly masterpiece that deserves some attention, especially with its holiday vibes.

45. Balblair 15

InterBev

ABV: 46%

Average Price: $122

The Whisky:

This is a classic Highland single malt with a modern twist. These bottles were just relaunched in 2019 with age statements. Their 15-year was aged in both ex-bourbon and ex-sherry before marrying, proofing, and bottling in nice, squat bottles.

Tasting Notes:

You’re met with an initial nose of high-end Niedderegger marzipan covered in dark chocolate (yes, that brand specifically) next to touches of powdered ginger, honeyed malts, and a touch of citrus. That marzipan note leans more into the dark chocolate as the taste amps up the spices and gets fruity while holding onto the malty nature of the sip. The end is medium-length and leaves you with creamy vanilla, damp wood, and plummy sweetness.

Bottom Line:

I personally think these have gotten better every year since 2019. That might just be me getting used to the flavor profile or there’s a little refinement happening every year. It’s probably both.

44. Glenfarclas 12

J. & G. Grant

ABV: 43%

Average Price: $60

The Whisky:

Glenfarclas is a bit of an outlier. The whisky is distilled with old-school fire-heated stills (most stills use steam) to this day. The juice is then aged exclusively in ex-sherry casks for 12 long years.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a rumminess to the nose that touches on molasses, prunes, nuts, and jam. The taste holds onto that vibe to the point of having an almost spiced rum sweetness and clear notes of holiday spices, plenty of dried fruit, and a roasted almond element. The end is long and spicy, leaving you with a Speyside hug.

Bottom Line:

Every year, Glenfarclas puts out their 12-year-old and it always delivers. This is a great gateway whisky for anyone looking to dip their toes in the world of Scottish single malts thanks to its softness and dialed-in flavor profile.

43. Old Pulteney Huddart

Inver House

ABV: 46%

Average Price: $71

The Whisky:

This peated malt ups the ante on the peatiness. The limited-edition juice is first aged in ex-bourbon barrels. That whisky is then transferred to second-fill bourbon barrels that aged heavily peated whisky for a finishing maturation.

Tasting Notes:

The whisky’s nose sort of feels like someone dumped a handful of vanilla bean husks on a backyard campfire and then handed you an apple pie brimming with brown sugar, cinnamon, and drizzled with salted caramel. The taste keeps that pie filling vibe but the fruit mellows more towards a stonefruit as a hint of sea spray arrives on the back end of the smokiness. The finish really takes its time and leads you towards singed, dry moss and a final note of floral honey sweetness.

Bottom Line:

This year’s release of Old Pulteney Huddart was another homerun. It’s sweet and full of dried fruits but never overpowering, making it a great contender for mixing cocktails this season.

42. Compass Box Artist Blend Scotch Whisky

Compass Box

ABV: 43%

Average Price: $38

The Whiskey:

The lion’s share of this blend — 45 percent — comes from a single grain whisky aged in ex-bourbon from Cameronbridge Distillery. 22 percent is a single malt aged in ex-bourbon that comes from Linkwood Distillery. The rest is a mix of French oak and ex-bourbon single malts and blended malts from the Highlands, Clyneilish, Linkwood, and Balmenach. Those whiskies are vatted and then proofed down before bottling.

Tasting Notes:

This opens with a very clear and concise note of apple candy with a hint of salted caramel ice cream cut with a touch of eggnog spices. There’s a nice maltiness that leans into a creamy vanilla, soft holiday spice mix, butter toffee, and a hint of milk chocolate near the end. The finish is warming with a whisper of tobacco next to a woody apple, spice candies (maybe ginger), and a final hint of cocoa and caramel.

Bottom Line:

This year’s Artist Blend feels like quintessential scotch. The new label helped it stand out but it was that sweet and creamy juice in the bottle that elevated this release.

41. Arran Sherry Cask

Arran Sherry Cask
Isle of Arran Distillers Ltd

ABV: 55.8%

Average Price: $60

The Whisky:

This Islands whisky is aged exclusively in sherry oak for an undisclosed amount of time. The casks are slightly small format, allowing more of the flavors from the oak to impart into the spirit. The whisky is then vatted and bottled without filtration or cutting.

Tasting Notes:

Eggnog nutmeg draws you in with a touch of dark cherry, meaty dates, and old leather on the nose. The palate shifts towards oatmeal cookies with a hefty dose of cinnamon and plenty of soft sultanas as a hint of ginger lurks in the background. Then this big sense of green pinewood arrives and veers the taste towards orange rinds and a chewy and warm buzz.

Bottom Line:

The more I try this, the more it reminds me of a sticky and woody bourbon. It starts off soft and fruity but veers dramatically into the woodpile, which is growing on me. It really blooms with some water or in a highball, so start there.

40. Talisker 10

Diageo

ABV: 45.8%

Average Price: $75

The Whisky:

This is one of the most awarded single malts ever. The juice is matured in ex-bourbon casks in Talisker’s warehouse, which is literally feet away from the sea. The subtly peated malts take on a real seaside feel as those years tick past, creating a whisky that will not disappoint.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a distance to Talisker that draws you in on the nose — I like to describe it as campfire smoke smelled from a few hundred yards down a rainy beach. The sea spray mellows the smoky peat to a fine point as oyster shell minerality dances with pears rinsed in seawater, dried apricot, and rich malt. The end doesn’t overstay its welcome and reminds you of oysters, liquor, and that smoldering campfire two coves over.

Bottom Line:

This year’s Talisker 10 came with a complete revamp of the packaging to edge the brand towards total sustainability in the glass, paper, and plastic being used for packaging. Did that change the juice in the bottle? No, that’s still excellent. But it’s a great step in a positive direction.

39. Jura Seven Wood

Whyte & Mackay

ABV: 42%

Average Price: $86

The Whisky:

This whisky from the Isle of Jura is a one-of-a-kind that highlights both expert barrel work and blending. The juice is aged in ex-bourbon for an undisclosed amount of years. The whisky is then re-casked in seven barrels: first-fill ex-bourbon from the U.S. and Vosges, Bertranges, Jupilles, Allier, Tronçais, and Limousin barrels from France. The ripple here is that all of those French barrels were new (never held wine) when the whisky went in.

Tasting Notes:

This is shockingly un-woody. Instead, you get a burnt coffee note next to a dark chocolate bar cut with candied ginger and, maybe, a hint of strawberry. Black licorice arrives with a note of burnt orange peels and grilled peaches with a drop of honey next to a wisp of beach campfire smoke. The end lingers for just the right amount of time as the distant smoke fades, leaving a hint of sea spray, cacao, and burnt fruit.

Bottom Line:

This is a complex dram that sort of betrays the idea of being woody for the beautifully nuanced flavor notes those woods are meant to impart. It’s complex neat but really needs a little water to fully bloom.

38. BenRiach The Twelve Speyside Single Malt

Brown-Forman

ABV: 46%

Average Price: $75

The Whisky:

Dr. Rachel Barrie’s reimaging of BenRiach has been a stellar success. This dram marries 12-year-old malts that matured in ex-bourbon, ex-sherry, and ex-port casks before vatting, proofing, and bottling.

Tasting Notes:

Pear candy dominates the nose with hints of fresh maple syrup adding more sweetness as leather edges in next to … blueberry? The taste circles back to the pear but stews them in holiday spices next to sherry-soaked plum pudding. The finish has a warm malty oatiness that mellows towards orange-infused marzipan covered in dark chocolate.

Bottom Line:

These releases continue to grow and refine as Dr. Barrie tinkers with the barrels at her disposal. While her smoky varieties often get all the adoration, these sweet Sepysides are always delightful.

37. Cardhu Gold Reserve

Cardhu Gold Reserve
Diageo

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $50

The Whisky:

Cardhu is one of the oldest Speyside distilleries in the region. The juice in this bottle is a “cask selection” of their 12-year-old expression which basically means that these were the honey barrels that came together in the vat to create a heightened sense of the brand’s style and structure.

Tasting Notes:

Soft rings through this whole sip as the nose gently expresses toffee-covered apples next to light yet tart berries and a touch of suede. The taste has this chewy oatmeal cookie with plenty of spice and dried fruits vibe next to dark chocolate-covered toffee and apple cores on the very backend.

Bottom Line:

This is one of those sips where you ask yourself, “is this getting better every year?” While Cardhu was almost exclusively sold in Spain for ages, it’s finally getting the love it deserves in the U.S. And I do think this year’s release was better than previous years (if the empty bottle on my shelf is any indication).

36. The Glenlivet Nàdurra

Pernod Ricard

ABV: 61.3% (varies)

Average Price: $121

The Whisky:

Speyside’s Glenlivet always hits it out of the park. Their Nàdurra expression (“natural” in Gaelic) takes an unfussed-with approach to whisky. The juice is aged for 16 years in ex-sherry barrels. Then it’s bottled as is in small batches — no filtration and no cutting down to proof with water.

Tasting Notes:

Expect a nose full of raisins, nuts, cinnamon, and stone fruit with a hint of anise and maybe black licorice. The taste will dance between svelte vanilla cream, robust orange marmalade on buttered toast, and nutty dark chocolate that’s more smooth than bitter. The end is long and touches on notes of dry cedar with a real sense of orange oils, spice, and chocolate-covered salted nuts.

Bottom Line:

This is one of those bottles I always get when it comes out every year. It’s sweet and subtle and really leans into the beauty of soft, unpeated single malts.

35. Glenmorangie Nectar d’Or

Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy

ABV: 46%

Average Price: $82

The Whisky:

This dram from Glenmorangie is a much-loved Highland malt. The juice is matured in ex-bourbon barrels for an undisclosed number of years. The whisky is then transferred to French Sauternes barrels which held sweet dessert wines where it spends two more years finishing.

Tasting Notes:

This has that classic “shortbread cut with lemon and vanilla” vibe that makes some single malts so approachable. The sip has a buttery toffee nature that’s layered with subtle oak, mild brown spices, and more fruits tied into a creamy pudding body. The spice then leans a little towards ginger with that buttery shortbread as it slowly fades out.

Bottom Line:

This is another one of those bottles that takes up real estate on my bar cart. While the 2021 release wasn’t more refined or tinkered with, it was just as great as each year’s bottle and that’s the point.

34. Auchentoshan Three Wood

Morrison Bowmore Distillers

ABV: 43%

Average Price: $100

The Whisky:

Auchentoshan is a great example of a Lowland malt that harkens back to the old days of varied oak aging. In this case, the triple-distilled whisky is aged in ex-bourbon oak for around 12 years and then is finished in ex-Olorosso and ex- Pedro Ximenez sherry casks.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a fruitiness on the nose that speaks to blue and blackberries with slight tartness next to orange oils and a hint of prune. The taste has a toffee-covered-in-almond vibe, next to more of that dark fruit with an almost “maple syrup spiked with woody cinnamon sticks” note (hello, bourbon barrel). The end is surprisingly light, a little woody, and full of plenty of those berries as it slowly fades out.

Bottom Line:

The berries in this release seem to get more refined with each passing year. It’s a nice change-up and keeps this whisky very bright and summery, making it perfect for a refreshing highball.

33. Lagavulin 16

Diageo

ABV: 43%

Average Price: $120

The Whisky:

This is an “essential” scotch for any whisk(e)y drinker. The Islay expression harnesses local Port Ellen peated malts to create their smoky whisky. But it’s more than that. Aging on the sea and masterful barreling and blending brings about an Islay whisky that’s about much more than just smoke.

Tasting Notes:

The nose opens with a clear billow of smoke similar to an alder-fueled smoker (placed on a beach), dripping with brisket and salmon fats as it smokes those meats along with all the brown sugars, salts, and spices those meats were brined in. The palate holds onto those notes while drying out, a touch — with mild vanilla and fruit in the background. In the end, the sea salt, fatty smoked beef and salmon, and soft dry woods dominate the palate as this one fades slowly away.

Bottom Line:

Was 2021’s Lagavulin 16 better than last year’s? This year’s certainly won more awards. Tasting the two next to each other recently, I’d say “a little.” This year’s release was slightly subtler with more American smoker fats and sugars that might speak to an American palate a little more.

32. Royal Lochnagar Aged 16 Years, The Spring Stallion

Royal Lochnagar
Diageo

ABV: 57.5%

Average Price: $268

The Whisky:

This eastern Highland whisky is another cask strength drop from Diageo. The juice was aged in refill bourbon barrels and left alone for 16 long years. There was no finishing cask. The whisky was simply vatted and bottled as-is.

Tasting Notes:

Soft, soft, soft. That could be the notes on the nose, palate, and finish and we could move on. More deeply, the nose is full of mild notes of dates next to tart apples and orange peels that turn into an apple cobbler of sorts as this very mellow, almost damp, mossy earthiness peek in. That tart apple and orange zest drive the palate towards a soft malted cookie frosted with light powdered sugar and vanilla frosting. The end warms up with a slight pepper tobacco vibe next to a distant idea of a dry woodpile next to that tart fruit.

Bottom Line:

I’ve only sampled this twice so far this year and it’s growing on me. It’s deeply hewn with distinct flavor notes. Adding a little water really lets that earthiness bloom, adding to the depth of this solid dram of whisky.

31. Ardbeg An Oa

Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy

ABV: 46.6%

Average Price: $70

The Whisky:

This is a quintessential Islay peaty whisky. The juice is aged in a combo of Pedro Ximénez, charred virgin oak, and ex-bourbon casks before being married and rested again in Ardbeg’s bespoke oak “Gathering Vat,” allowing the whiskies to really meld into a cohesive dram.

Tasting Notes:

Imagine slow-smoked peaches, soft cherrywood on fire, and singed sage. That nose leads towards buttery but almost burnt toffee with hints of egg nog spices, savory leafy green veg with a bit of dirt, walnut shells, black tea, and a little bit of pancake syrup (the high fructose corn syrup kind). The finish is long, has hits of black licorice, and really brings the soft yet sweet smoke with an almost meat smoker edge.

Bottom Line:

Ardbeg An Oa seems to get better every year. Or I’m just really programming my palate to like this stuff. Either way, I found this year’s bottle far more palatable and enjoyable. Take that for what you will.

30. Aberfeldy 16

Bacardi

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $120

The Whisky:

Aberfeldy is at the heart of Dewar’s scotch. The juice here is a classic Highland whisky aged in American oak and finished in sherry casks. That whisky is then cut down to proof with water from Pitilie Burn, a bubbling stream with gold deposits next to the distillery.

Tasting Notes:

Aberfeldy is renowned for its honeyed nature and this shines through on the nose with hints of clove-studded oranges and a touch of that sherried wood. The palate holds onto the wet sherry wood while going full holiday cake with spices, nuts, dried and candied fruits, and a sweet maltiness. The end reveals a mild note of bitter dark chocolate next to the honey and spices as it fades fairly quickly.

Bottom Line:

Last year, I was all about the 18-year Aberfeldy. This year, the 16 felt like the sweet spot (no pun intended for the honey-laden whisky). This bottle was emptied pretty quickly in my house, mostly on the rocks (though in the occasional cocktail too).

29. AnCnoc 2009 Vintage

AnCnoc 2009
Inver House

ABV: 46%

Average Price: $68

The Whisky:

anCnoc (pronounced “a-nock”) is Knockdhu Distillery’s premiere line of Speyside whiskies. This new drop was distilled in 2009 and left to mellow in Spanish and American oak for 12 years. The juice was then bottled with no filtration or added color before proofing.

Tasting Notes:

Caramel apples, bourbon vanilla, and orange spiced cider draw you in on the nose. The palate leans into the apple with an equal measure of spicy (damn near hot) cider and apple candies next to light malts, butter toffee, a slight nuttiness, and a flutter of dark cacao. The finish lets that chocolate smooth out towards a sweet and almost creamy finish.

Bottom Line:

There are a lot of anCnoc whiskies out there and you’re safe in picking pretty much anyone of them. However, this year’s release is a winner all around with familiar notes for any bourbon drinker looking to expand their palate.

28. Aberlour 16

Pernod Ricard

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $109

The Whisky:

This small Speyside distillery has been producing quality whisky for over 200 years. This expression is aged 16 years in both ex-bourbon and ex-Olorosso sherry casks. It’s then married and proofed with soft Speyside water from the Highlands and bottled.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a matrix of dried dark fruits next to powdery dark spices with hints of walnuts and dried florals that draw you in on the nose. The taste delivers on those notes while adding a deep plummy jam cut with clove and slightly sweet wood. The end really holds onto that jammy fruit and spice as it slowly fades across your senses, leaving a velvet texture in your mouth.

Bottom Line:

This was another one where I asked, “is this better than last year’s release?” So again, I got these out and tried them side-by-side. And, I really think there’s a little more refinement in 2021’s release. It’s a little deeper with the dark fruits and spices while having a slightly softer texture.

27. Clynelish 14

Diageo

ABV: 46%

Average Price: $74

The Whisky:

Up on the cold northern coast of Scotland, you’ll find a little town called Brora. There used to be a distillery there of the same name, which made peat monsters up unit the 1980s. Clynelish took over the location and started making their own peated malts, this time while leaning more into the sea than the peat. And in this case, they’ve created a very lightly peated single malt that spends a decade and a half resting near that sea until it’s just right.

Tasting Notes:

This has a nostalgic sense of a cold, rainy beach. You’re not necessarily on that beach but you can remember to sea spray, the salt on your lips, the smell of dried seaweed, and a touch of old smoke from a nearly dead fire. The taste dances between notes of burnt orange peels, old leather tobacco pouches, and this soft mineral water mouthfeel that carries with it creamy vanilla just touched with sea salt. The end is medium-length, salty, and has this mildly bitter edge that’s akin to a cocoa bean pith.

Bottom Line:

This bottle needs to blow up in the U.S. because it’s delicious. I also asked a lot of American distillers what their favorite single malt is right now and this bottle came up a lot. The empty bottle on my shelf means that I agree.

26. Dalwhinnie 15

Diageo

ABV: 43%

Average Price: $74

The Whisky:

This entry-point bottle to the wider world of Dalwhinnie is a hell of an easy drinker. The juice is aged in Scotland’s coldest distillery, making the maturation process a severe one. The juice spends 15 years hiding in those barrels as the temperatures dip well below freezing across all those winters.

Tasting Notes:

Imagine a bowl of pear and apple peels sitting next to an open jar of floral summer honey on the nose. Dots of citrus oils mingle with that honey as a smooth vanilla character arrives on the back of sweet brown bread bespeckled with smoked walnuts. The nuts, sweet bread, and floral honey all converge on the finish as it slowly fades towards a final billow of sweet smoke at the back of your mouth.

Bottom Line:

If you haven’t tried Dalwhinnie yet, go out now and do just that. This is, by far, one of the easiest drinking peated whiskies on the shelf. If this doesn’t get you into peated whisky, nothing will.

25. The Singleton of Glendullan Aged 19 Years, The Siren’s Song

The Singleton 19
Diageo

ABV: 54.6%

Average Price: $182

The Whisky:

This Speyside malt — which is getting pushed pretty hard on the U.S. market right now — is all about the honeyed and heather notes of the region. This expression rested in former bourbon barrels for nearly two decades before it was transferred to a cognac cask. After that final maturation, the whisky was bottled at cask strength.

Tasting Notes:

The nose on this is one of the fruitiest out there, with strong notes of apricot next to dried figs, orange oils, old raisins, and candied fruits that lead towards a rummy fruitcake with a tube of marzipan running through it and a light flourish of fresh heather flowers. The palate really holds onto the fruit with the candied fruits and citrus rinds leading the way as apple cores and stems veer the taste towards a woodier note of cedar with a slight echo of white grape juice. The mid-palate holds onto the sweetness of that juice as the malts kick in with a slight tobacco spice that’s just touched with a hint of dried and candied ginger.

Bottom Line:

I kind of can’t believe this brand new bottle from The Singleton is only 25th. It’s a good bifurcation point though. This is where things get stellar but still tied to whether you dig the peat or not. That being said, this unpeated whisky is a goddamn delight and turns into Christmas in the glass with a little water.

24. Bowmore Legend

Beam Suntory

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $36

The Whisky:

Bowmore is Islay’s oldest distillery, dating back to the mid-1700s. Their Legend expression, incidentally, is their youngest release. It’s a peated malt that’s aged for around five years in ex-bourbon casks before it’s vatted, proofed down, and bottled.

Tasting Notes:

This doesn’t feel young for such a relatively young scotch. The nose opens with a murky billow of smoke that’s infused with sea spray and a hint of dry hay. There’s a sweet and waxy saltwater taffy sweetness on the palate that’s followed by rich and almost salmon-belly-fat smoke with a touch of floral honey and vanilla underneath it all. The end is short, leaving you with a bit of iodine and ash next to a soft mineral water smoothness.

Bottom Line:

It’s another year and this means it’s time for another Bowmore Legend — though this is the last year for the label in the U.S. (which makes this a bit of a collector’s item). If you grew up near the ocean, this might be your new favorite whisky. It does lean into the peat pretty hard by the end, but it’s tied to the ocean and fatty fish more than astrigent smoke.

23. Bunnahabhain Toiteach A Dhà

Distell Group Limited

ABV: 46.3%

Average Price: $90

The Whisky:

This smoky Islay peated malt means “smoky two.” Well, that’s what “Toiteach A Dhà” translates to anyway. The whisky is a peated malt that’s matured in ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks and then married with an eye cast towards the sea and all that sherry wood.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a clear sense of sweet and stewed plums with a focus on cinnamon sticks and an almost spicy smokiness. The palate shifts towards a savory fruit (think pumpkin) with flourishes of dark chocolate next to meaty dates and lightly salted sardines. The end leans back into the spicy and very briny smokiness as the malts ebb and flow between sweet and dry with a plummy texture.

Bottom Line:

I don’t know why this works but it just does. I don’t reach for this that often, but it has its place. By that I mean, I pour a dram about once a year when the new bottle arrives and enjoy it/respect it but then go back to the sweet Speysides I love.

22. Kilchoman Sanaig

Kilchoman Distillery

ABV: 46%

Average Price: $70

The Whisky:

Kilchoman is one of the newer distilleries on Islay, named after the creek near the stillhouse. The juice in the bottles is rendered from ex-bourbon and (primarily) ex-Olorosso sherry casks.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a mix of toffee, espresso bitterness, and dark, almost savory tropical fruits on the nose that lead towards a very earthy (almost vegetal) note of spicy peat. The taste leans into peaches and cream with dark chocolate-covered raisins next to hints of tart red berries and more of that spicy smoke. The end is long and folds in a touch of sea salt into the spicy smoke and all that fruit.

Bottom Line:

This year’s drop was much darker with the dried fruits and chocolate taking center stage. Then the smoke was more like burning spices, which was a nice touch.

21. Port Askaig 110 Proof

Port Askaig

ABV: 55%

Average Price: $76

The Whisky:

Port Askaig selects prime barrels of peated Islay whisky for their drops. This expression is a cask-strength release of Islay peaty malts with a focus on ex-bourbon cask aging. The juice is then bottled as is — without any filtering, cutting, or added color.

Tasting Notes:

There’s an old smoker vibe with all the burnt sugars, apple cider vinegar, and fatty brisket of years past coming through the smokiness. The palate pops with a rush of lemon-lime-orange oils as smoky bacon fat leads back towards a mix of cumin-forward spices and maybe a touch of dried mint. The finish is long and returns to the apple and burnt sugars as the fatty smoke builds and eventually fades.

Bottom Line:

This really feels like it’s getting more and more dialed into a Texas BBQ palate with each passing year. That’s not a slight. I dig that, a lot. This also works as a great pairing whisky for Tex-Mex.

20. Mortlach Aged 13 Years, The Moonlit Beast

Mortlach 13
Diageo

ABV: 55.9%

Average Price: $182

The Whisky:

This year’s Mortlach leans into the “beast of Dufftown” moniker the brand has earned by being bold and unique. The whisky in the bottle is a spirit that spent 13 years aging in both refill bourbon casks and new oak. Those barrels were vatted to create this beast of a whisky and it was bottled at cask strength.

Tasting Notes:

This starts off very unexpectedly with a nose full of Thanksgiving dinner — the roasted turkey with sage, thyme, and rosemary leads towards a bowl of cranberry sauce cut with holiday spices and a touch of sweetness next to the bold tartness of the berries while candied fruits, floral honey, and varnished cedar round out the nose. The palate builds on that vibe and adds in a vanilla-chili note that attaches to a dry cedar box full of fruity and sticky tobacco. That spice really leans into freshly cracked black pepper as the fruitier notes from the nose return to mellow everything out on the long finish.

Bottom Line:

We made it to the top 20! This Mortlach release is perfect for right now. Though I can’t see ever reaching for this outside of the holiday season, and that’s the only reason it’s top 20 and not top ten.

19. Compass Box Glasgow Blend Scotch Whisky

Compass Box

ABV: 43%

Average Price: $38

The Whisky:

This expression is a marrying of whiskies from all over Scotland. 65 percent of the juice comes from single malts from a “distillery near the town of Aberlour,” Laphroaig, and Clynelish. The rest is part Highland malt blend (from the Glen Moray, Tomatin, and Balmenach distilleries) and a grain whisky from Cameronbridge distillery. Those whiskies were barreled in sherry and bourbon casks with a French oak barrel thrown in too.

Tasting Notes:

The nose draws you in with this subtle peaty malt that feels more kissed by a hint of smoke than drowned in it in a malting room. There’s also a light stewed stone fruit vibe in play — kind of like a prune sitting next to a nutmeg bulb. Going back to the nose, a very faint cherry arrives. The first sip is “malty scotch!” That then leads to dry straw, very mild plum, the memory of opening up a bag of charcoal, and almond shells. The taste really leans into the malts. But again, you don’t feel much smoke. Instead, you’re left with a slightly sweet straw and a buzzing maltiness that is more reminiscent of a cleaned-out fireplace than “smoke.”

Bottom Line:

Yes, this is blended scotch and I 100 percent stand by it being ranked this high. This is a delightful dram that works neat, on the rocks, or as a cocktail base. It’s also one of those “ah-ha!” drams that’ll dial in your palate for great blends.

18. Aberlour A’bunadh

Pernod Ricard

ABV: 56.2% (varies)

Average Price: $95

The Whisky:

A’bunadh (ah-boon-arh) means “the original” in Gaelic and the juice in this Highland bottle represents that for Aberlour. The whisky is matured in old Olorosso sherry casks exclusively. The juice then goes into the bottle at cask strength, unfussed with.

Tasting Notes:

That sherry plumminess is evident right up top, with hints of bright orange oils, clumps of dark chocolate, honey, and nuts, and a hint of oak. The taste shines with notes of dark, ripe cherries, prunes, more bright orange zest, dark chocolate, and a good measure of svelte vanilla. The slow finish leaves you with a creamy mouthfeel next to bitter chocolate next to sweet cherries and plums, all of which lead towards a warming spice on the tongue at the end.

Bottom Line:

This juice is just phenomenal. Each year, I fall more and more in love with this whisky, and 2021 was no different. I’d also argue this is the perfect whisky gift bottle.

17. The Dalmore 18

Whyte & Mackay

ABV: 43%

Average Price: $246

The Whisky:

This is more than just an 18-year-old whisky. The juice in this case spent 14 years maturing in ex-bourbon casks. Then the whisky was filled into Matusalem sherry casks that held sherry for 30 (!) years for four more years of maturation. The casks, from Bodega González-Byass, are exceedingly rare and impart something truly unique into this whisky.

Tasting Notes:

Dried roses meet your nose as orange-zest bespeckled dark chocolate dances with hints of old book leather, vanilla husks, and sultanas. The taste holds onto the orange and chocolate tightly as a nutty, peppery, syrupy vibe takes over with a light touch of oakiness. The chocolate zeroes in its bitter qualities on the end, with a little bit more vanilla sweetness and a savory counterpoint that’s kind of like saline (or wet salt).

Bottom Line:

There were a lot of great The Dalmore released to choose from this year. But, we’re going classic with this year’s 18 release. This is just one of those old-school whiskies that never ceases to wow. It’s really hard to find a single fault in this bottle.

16. Johnnie Walker Black Label: The Jane Walker Edition

Jane Walker
Diageo

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $39

The Whisky:

Master Blender Emma Walker created this blend with Cardhu — a Speyside distillery — at its core. Cardhu was famously founded and run by another female pioneer in whisky, Elizabeth Cumming, back in the 1800s. The juice is a blend of malts that aged at least ten years from the Diageo stable of Scotch single malts.

Tasting Notes:

The sip has a nose with a clean maltiness next to raisins and peach juice with a hint of leather coming in late. The palate is light, almost airy, with stewed apples floating in rich cream next to a touch of milk chocolate. The finish has a very faint hint of Johnnie Walker peat next to dry reeds, more malts, and a bitter chocolate powder.

The Bottom Line:

This is another blended scotch that lives up to the hype and supports important women’s issues worldwide with every bottle sold.

15. Bruichladdich Port Charlotte 10

Rémy Cointreau

ABV: 50%

Average Price: $70

The Whisky:

Bruichladdich really has fun with peated whisky. This expression keeps the peat phenols in the mid-range, leaning high. The casking is a mix of first and second-fill bourbon barrels and second-fill French wine barrels. That utilization of second-fill oak means there’s a very light touch of wood on this peated whisky.

Tasting Notes:

Imagine a dark chocolate orange drizzled in salted caramel and served on a wet leaf of seaweed and you’ll be on the right track for the nose. The smoke kicks in on the palate with a vibe that feels like those wet seaweed leaves thrown on a smoldering pile of pine to create a massive billow of smoke everywhere, as hints of buttery white wine and strawberry jam-covered scones linger in the background. The finish leans into the bready nature of the scones with a dry straw edge that’s followed by a mouthful of the seaweed heavy grey smoke.

Bottom Line:

While this isn’t exactly for my palate, I respect the hell out of it. It’s complex, engaging, and really embraces the depth of Islay peat. Give it a shot, you might become enamored.

14. Highland Park Cask Strength Release No. 2

The Edrington Group

ABV: 63.3%

Average Price: $105

The Whisky:

This yearly drop is part of a new line from the Orkney Island’s distillery. The juice is a blend of single malts that are aged exclusively in old American oak that previously held sherry. The barrels are married and bottled as is, to assure you’re getting all the nuance and flavor of their malts meeting that oak.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a light sense of wildflowers on the nose with a rich vanilla husk that leads towards a touch of peat. The taste is surprisingly silken (for a cask strength) with rich and buttery toffee next to honeysuckle, eggnog spices and creaminess, and a small dose of orange zest as a counterpoint. The end holds onto the creaminess and spices as the peat just edges in with a whisper of resinous pine smoke.

Bottom Line:

This late-summer drop continued Highland Park’s excellent cask strength journey. This Viking-inspired whisky feels like the perfect balance of sweet and peated malts. Make sure to add a little water to let the citrus, spice, and fruit really shine through the smoke and you’ll see what I mean.

13. The Balvenie DoubleWood Aged 17 Years

William Grant & Sons

ABV: 43%

Average Price: $155

The Whisky:

The Balvenie continually hits it out of the park with their lineup. This expression spends 17 long years maturing in old American oak before it’s transferred to old sherry casks for about a year more of maturation. The results are then proofed with that soft Speyside water and bottled in the brand’s iconic, stubby bottle.

Tasting Notes:

You’re greeted with a clear sense of Granny Smith apple peels that are still fresh, next to oily vanilla, fresh honey, and a slight touch of cedar. The taste indulges in the vanilla, creating a creaminess, while a deep Christmas cake vibe of dried and candied fruits, almonds, dark spice, and orange arrives. The end is long and luxurious with more of that spicy, nutty, and fruity holiday cake dancing through your senses on the slow fade.

Bottom Line:

This is an unparalleled single malt. It hits every note so clearly while building to a big yet comforting finish. It’s also the perfect post-holiday-dinner dram.

12. Talisker Aged 8 Years, The Rogue Seafury

Talisker 8
Diageo

ABV: 59.7%

Average Price: $120

The Whisky:

This year’s Talisker sticks with the classic age statement of 8-years while leaning into the smokier side of the Island whisky. The build on this expression is a marrying of the “Smokiest Reserves” from the Talisker warehouse. That juice is vatted and bottled at cask strength.

Tasting Notes:

You get this medley of smoked fruits on the nose — think smoked plum and apricot — that leads towards a rush of sea spray, iodine, and nori that braces your senses for this billow of wet forest and granite on fire like a mountain overlooking the ocean that’s been set ablaze. The palate calms down only slightly with a pink sea salt that’s been accented with dried roses while that smoke puffs through your sense with a green pepper spiciness and an almost sweet, wet fir tree bark with an earthy edge that almost feels like damp black dirt. That earthiness imparts a soft peatiness to the malt on the end with a slight tobacco chewiness followed by a final kick of spicy smoke.

Bottom Line:

This just goes to show you how much difference a year can make in Scotch whisky. Last year, Talisker 8 Special Editon was my favorite overall Scotch dram of 2020. This year, it didn’t crack the top ten. And this is still a steller whisky, don’t get me wrong.

11. Cragganmore Distillers Edition

Diageo

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $85

The Whisky:

Cragganmore is an iconic Scottish distillery. The whisky is matured in sherry casks for 12 years. It’s then transferred into American oak casks that held port for a final maturation phase before proofing and bottling.

Tasting Notes:

Fennel leads to some dried fruits and fresh apples on the nose. The taste, on the other hand, leans into sweet oak, figs, pear candies, and a softness that’s almost hard to believe. The end is full of sweet fruits and has just the right touches of oak, vanilla, and savory greens as it fades at a good clip.

Bottom Line:

These Distillers Editions just dropped (and were overshadowed by the Diageo Special Releases drops) so I’m still getting to know them. Still, this is my favorite hidden gem release of the year. It’s so unique and truly delicious.

10. Ardbeg Traigh Bhan 19 Year Batch 3

Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy

ABV: 46.2%

Average Price: $360

The Whisky:

This is Ardbeg’s yearly release of special batches of 19-year-old peaty malt. The whisky is Ardbeg’s signature peated whisky that’s bottled during a “haar.” That’s a thick and briny foggy morning on Islay, which imparts that x-factor into the whisky as it goes into the bottle.

Tasting Notes:

You’re drawn in with a super subtle waft of soft smoke with hints of sour cream, fennel, and cold-smoked salmon on a pine cutting board that’s been washed in the sea. The palate holds onto that briny seaside vibe as it veers towards sea salt-laden dark bricks of fudge bespeckled with dried orange zest and lavender. The end circles back around to a sooty smoke that feels like a warm granite rock that’s been dipped in the sea and then rolled around in the dying embers of a fire.

Bottom Line:

This year’s Traigh Bhan was stellar. Again, I don’t care for these peat monsters. But this was subtle and funky enough that it really entranced me. Please, don’t take the peatiness as a sign that you won’t like it. Give it a shot, you might be as surprised as I was.

9. Laphroaig Càirdeas 2021

Laphroaig Cairnes
Beam Suntory

ABV: 58.9%

Average Price: $120

The Whisky:

Laphroaig is always innovating its line. This year’s Càirdeas is a triple matured cask strength whisky. The whisky first mellowed in ex-bourbon casks before being moved to quarter casks and, finally, finished in Pedro Ximénez sherry casks. That whisky was then bottled as-is.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a lot going on with this nose from a starting point of fresh Band-Aids to rich marzipan with plenty of rose water to apples stewed in holiday spices with hazelnut and caramel to a light touch of bourbon vanilla and maybe a hint of cherry tobacco. The palate takes that Band-Aid and turns it toward a sharp but very fatty smoked bacon vibe while a medley of smoke apples, salted licorice, and eggnog spices mingle beneath that bacon. The mid-palate leans into a very dry cedar as notes of nori, fennel, and sharper brown spices, almost Red Hots, warm the backend of the finish.

Bottom Line:

This is a big and very bold smoke monster. Still, that bacon fat, fruit, and botanical nature help make this bottle shine. Again, this isn;t exactly for me and my palate but I respect the hell out of it.

8. Caol Ila Distillers Edition

Diageo

ABV: 43%

Average Price: $88

The Whisky:

This yearly release from the tiny Islay distillery, Caol Ila, is all about the finish. The 12-year-old juice is finished in Moscatel sherry casks to give it a truly deep fruitiness next to that briny Islay peat.

Tasting Notes:

This really draws the peat far into the background as notes of smoked apricots, star anise, and honey-soaked almonds on the nose. The palate has a slight anchovy oil edge that leads towards a very distant whisp of smoke from a campfire far down a rainy beach next to orange oils, smoked salt flakes over buttery toffee, and a touch of more of those honey almonds. The end holds onto that nuttiness and sweetness with a good spray of seawater as the campfire smoke draws nearer and picks up a few more of those stone fruits along the way.

Bottom Line:

This year’s distillers edition is among my favorite whiskies of the year overall. It’s just a beautiful sip of whisky that truly highlights the distillery.

7. Dewar’s Double Double 27 Year

Bacardi

ABV: 46%

Average Price: $120 (half bottle)

The Whisky:

Master blender Stephanie Macleod created another masterpiece through this “Double Double” four-step aging process. Step one: aging single malt and single grain whiskies for 27 long years. The malts are then blended, the grains are blended, and they both rest again. Next, all of that is blended together in a vat and rested. Finally, the juice is finished in ex-Palo Cortado sherry casks.

Tasting Notes:

You can really tell this has an Aberfeldy backbone with a floral honeyed nose that imbues summer breezes full of fragrant flowers. That floral honey leads to an almost lemon-honey vibe with hints of cinnamon and cedar next to light pear tobacco and dry grass. The end turns into pure silk as the florals, honey, pear, and spice slowly flow across your tongue as it fades away.

Bottom Line:

This is one of the softest and most engaging blends of the year. Definitely worth checking out to experience the heights of a truly great blended whisky.

6. Johnnie Walker Blue Label Year Of The Ox

Diageo

ABV: 46%

Average Price: $225

The Whisky:

This is the mountaintop of Johnnie Walker’s whiskies. The blend is a marriage of ultra-rare stock from extinct Diageo distilleries around Scotland. That’s cooler than Brad Pitt wearing work boots and aviators on his motorcycle. This expression is all about barrel selection and the mastery of a great noser and blender working together to create something special.

Tasting Notes:

Dried fruit with a plummy sweetness mingles with a very soft and almost dry waft of smoke. The palate then veers in a completely different direction — folding in orange oils, marzipan, rose water, honeycombs, and even a dusting of bitter cacao once a drop of water is added. The end is slow, smoky, and full of dry fruits, nuts, with a malty nature.

Bottom Line:

This is Blue Label, sure. But this bottle is truly magnificent. The hand-painted art on the bottle is worth the price of admission alone. This really is a great collector’s item with a stellar whisky inside.

5. The Macallan 18 Double Cask

The Edrington Group

ABV: 43%

Average Price: $350

The Whisky:

This single malt from Scotland’s famed and stunning Highlands is matured for 18 long years in two separate cask programs. Part of the juice rests in American oak casks that were sent to Spain to hold sherry for a spell before they’re sent up to Scotland to hold this whisky. The other casks are European oak that also held sherry in Spain before their trip to the Highlands. Each wood brings a unique character to the mix that helps this single malt really shine.

Tasting Notes:

There are very delicate notes of American oak on the nose with hints of dry vanilla, orange oils, and buttery toffee next to the finer European sherry woodiness, with candied fruit and a touch of eggnog spices, especially clove and nutmeg. The palate leans into the soft vanilla with a cut of raw ginger spice, golden sultanas, more orange, and a touch of salted caramel with a pure silk texture. The mid-palate hones those spice notes towards a mildly dry wood with the candied and dried fruit bringing a sweetness and velvet texture. The very end has a candied orange peel bitterness and sweetness that sits with you for a while, reminding you to go back for another sip sooner rather than later.

Bottom Line:

This is the year I became a convert to the very hyped The Macallan. I tried this year’s release and was hooked. This really is the nectar of the whisky gods.

4. Talisker 30

Diageo

ABV: 45.8%

Average Price: $845

The Whisky:

Talisker’s seaside vibes are on full display in this beautiful bottle. The last limited release was around 3,000 bottles, making this a very rare expression from the Isle of Skye distillery.

Tasting Notes:

The nose is shockingly subtle and soft with velvety notes of smoldering dried nori next to matchsticks that have been dipped in a buttery and rich dark chocolate with sea salt gently sprinkled all over. The palate leans into the dialed-back peat by bringing about a smoked cream with fire-seared peaches next to a hint of wet cedar, very old tobacco leaves, and a touch of almond or oat milk flecked with salt. That salt drives the mid-palate towards a finish that’s like getting kissed by merfolk on a beach next to a campfire that’s heating a cauldron full of spicy stewed peaches in more of that cream.

Bottom Line:

It’s always an exciting year in whisky when we get a new Talisker 30. The very limited and randomly released whisky is the mountaintop of Talisker that bridges being both highly collectible and very drinkable. We’d argue that you should buy two — one to hide in the vault and one for celebratory pours throughout your life.

3. Lagavulin Aged 26 Years, The Lion’s Jewel

Lagavulin 26
Diageo

ABV: 44.2%

Average Price: $2,220

The Whisky:

This is a very rare and unique expression. First, it’s the first 26-year-old Lagavulin released. Next, there are only 7,500 of these bottles in existence. Lastly, the whisky was built from a combination of first-fill Pedro Ximenez and Oloroso sherry casks. Those barrels were married after over two decades of mellowing and bottled at a very accessible cask strength of 44.2 percent.

Tasting Notes:

The nose on this opens as if you’ve taken a freshly emptied red wine barrel, torn the staves from the metal, and thrown those wet staves onto a campfire and then sat down to eat some figs wrapped in nori and drizzled with rich butterscotch while someone else threw an old boat rope onto that fire and then started up an outboard motor on the dock just a few feet away.

From there, the taste mellows out considerably as a vibe of smoked dates flaked with sea salt takes over and this clear sense of the oil from a sardine can arrives with plenty of salt and black pepper to help it go down easy. The finish mellows even further as this wet and earthy note arrives that’s one part forest mushroom, one part wet green moss, and one part smoldering wet cedar branches with a slight peppery tobacco dryness and warmth on the very end.

Bottom Line:

This Lagavulin is mind-blowing. There’s so much going on that all somehow works (try making a pairing of dates and sardines work on its own). What’s amazing is that the peatiness of this whisky is so faint yet earthy and exact that it’ll convert any peat-hesitant whisky drinker out there.

2. The GlenDronach Parliament Aged 21 Years

Brown-Forman

ABV: 48%

Average Price: $262

The Whisky:

Don’t let the name fool you. The “parliament” in this case is the collective noun for rooks — a type of European crow that nests above the distillery. That dark essence is rendered in the whisky through 21 long years of maturation in Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez sherry casks exclusively.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a lot going on with this nose, starting with blackberry brambles hanging heavy with ripe fruit leading towards a well-spiced oatmeal cookie vibe and cut with hints of orange zest and vanilla. A sticky toffee pudding sweetness arrives (heavy on the dates) with flourishes of bitter dark chocolate notes and a sharp holiday spice matrix. The end is very long but very velvety with hints of dark fruits and spices warming your body as it fades away.

Bottom Line:

This whisky is perfect. Well, let’s qualify that — “as an unpeated malt, this is perfect.” This is definitely a bottle you want to enjoy and expand your palate with.

1. Oban Aged 12 Years, The Tale of Twin Foxes

Oban 12
Diageo

ABV: 56.2%

Average Price: $142

The Whisky:

Oban’s location on the Scottish coast, next to both the Islands and Highlands, allows it to harness the best of both regions when making its whisky. This year’s 12-year release is built on the backs of both ex-bourbon casks and refill bourbon casks, allowing the stronger notes of those new bourbon casks to get a light mellowing from the refill wood. The results are bottled at cask strength.

Tasting Notes:

Briny — that’s the draw here. The nose has this mellow mix of spicy nori crackers that lead towards an old wooden cutting board that’s slick with olive juice, fish oils, salt, and black pepper that you then take a heel of bread to mop up while a slight note of smoked haddock or cod lingers on the very backend. On the palate, a burst of citrus oils arrives to cut through all that umami, oil, and brine as a light malty fruitiness adds a little tart and sweet to the mix, with a sense of cedar chips soaked in mild chili oil driving a sense of warmth. The finish lets that spice build towards a dry pepperiness thanks to the wood as the fruit ties itself to a very mild tobacco leaf and another note of that smoked fish sneaks in on the very end.

Bottom Line:

This was the shock of my year and sort of came out of nowhere. But, I do love Oban and this special release is everything anyone could want in a subtle, seaside whisky that has a pirate character with the softness of a grandparent’s warm embrace on a cold day.

It’s a whisky that conjures a whole dang story — that’s special.

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