Whether you’re a hardened peaty tipple drinker searching for your next treat or a complete scotch novice buying a gift for someone special, you needn’t look any further to find the whisky of your dreams.
We’ve tasted our way across Scotland so you don’t have to (which, admittedly, wasn’t much of a hardship) pulling together this shortlist of eight incredible Scotch whisky brands for you to try.
So order a bottle and fill your glass! Slàinte Mhath!
What makes Scotch Whisky unique?
All whisky is alcohol made from distilled grains, but not all whisky is Scotch.
Similar to Champagne’s strict guidelines, there are certain rules all Scotch follows. It must have been distilled in Scotland and aged for at least three years, though often it matures for a lot longer.
Though all Scotch has a shared distillation process, the flavour difference between types is impossible to understate.
Scottish distilleries are spread across five separate regions: Islay, Speyside, Campbeltown, Highland and Lowland.
They all put their own particular stamp on Scotch production, but we couldn’t pick just one style for you to try!
See below for suggestions from eight of our absolute favourite distilleries across a few of these different styles.
Best Overall Scotch Whisky
The crown for best Scotch Whisky is an almost impossible call to make, but the regal, the classic, the unbelievably delicious, Talisker 25-year-old single malt lands high on everybody’s lists.
All of Talisker’s whiskies are tasty, but Talisker 25 sets a Skye-high bar for tastiness.
The balance is perfect – salty to start, with a timeless oaky backdrop that gets steadily brightened by delicate berry flavours.
It’s sweetened with notes of Highland heather honey and a gentle spice to finish.
As a bottle will set you back around £300, this is a whisky worth savouring every sip.
Best Value Scotch
Award-winning whiskies don’t all have Talisker’s hefty price tag. To get the best value from your bottle, you’re generally looking at younger casks. It’s less prestigious, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to miss out on flavour!
We love the delicate complexity of Glenfarclas’s 10-year-old offering, which took home a gold medal at the 2020 International Spirits Challenge.
Its sherry sweetness is balanced by a wonderfully smokey malt flavour. Big yum.
Best Aged Scotch
Thirty years of patience has gone into the creation of Bunnahabhain’s 30-year-old single malt, and, trust us, it’s worth the wait.
Each delicious dram has spent 3 long decades maturing in sherry casks on Islay until it’s rich with notes of salted caramel and stewed berries, mouthwateringly ginger-sweet and oak-spiced. A triumph of properly aged whisky.
If you’re wondering which is the smoothest Scotch, this is the place to start.
Best Single Malt Whisky
For our favourite single malt, it’s time to ditch the traditional.
Nc’Nean is one of the newest highland ventures, and their focus is on producing outstanding whisky with minimal environmental impact.
Everything used to create Nc’Nean Single Malt is totally organic as well as carbon neutral and ethically packaged in recycled glass.
Your first sip will reward you with lemon curd loveliness, rounding into fruity apricot flavour with a white pepper finish.
A new whisky made into an instant classic.
Best Cask-Strength Scotch Whisky
Cask strength whisky is not for the faint of heart. Cask whisky is bottled straight from the barrel, which means a higher alcohol content and a hefty kick of flavour. Our favourite cask strength offering is a classic Laphroaig 10-year-old.
Laphroaig smoke their whiskies in a peat flame fed from Islay mosses, heathers and lichens to create their unique and distinctive flavours.
This 10-year cask strength dram starts strong and peaty and leaves you with a kiss of sweetness that will keep you sipping.
Best Grain Scotch Whisky
The labour-intensive nature of malt whisky makes it unfriendly for mass production. That’s where grain whisky comes in.
Grain whisky is made from grains other than barley, often including wheat, rye and corn.
It’s cheaper and quicker to make, because the process is easier to automate. It also produces a whisky with a purer alcohol flavour, although this is often at the cost of character.
The vast majority of Scotch produced today is a blend of single malt and grain whisky, balancing the body of single malt with the economical smoothness of grain.
There are, however, some delicious pure grain offerings available. Our favourite is Compass Box Hedonism – soft, creamy and eminently drinkable.
Best Islay Scotch Whisky
Islay is the undisputed home of peated whisky, with every sip you take unlocking a distant shared memory of campfires and sea breezes saturated by the tang of salt.
Belying its meagre size (it’s just 25 miles end to end) Islay boasts no fewer than nine active distilleries, with two more planning to open before 2025.
The flavours of Islay Scotch range wildly, but we love the Lagavulin 11-year-old single malt as an entry point into peat.
This whisky might look like a celebrity gimmick, but it is, simply, great.
If Nick Offerman’s face on the label offends any anti-celebrity sensibilities you might have, we suggest pouring another dram and spinning the bottle to face the wall.
Best Speyside Scotch
Speyside is a region in the Northeast of Scotland, named after the River Spey, and is renowned for putting out some of the most sophisticated and diverse Scotch around.
There are more than 50 active distilleries hard at work across Speyside, but it’s damned hard to beat a Glenlivet.
Glenlivet was the first (legal) distillery in Speyside, and the Glenlivet 18-year-old single malt is one of our all-time favourite tipples.
It’s an unbelievably decadent whisky, with a dark chocolate nose followed up by creamy fruits and citrus sharpness. It’s a gold standard whisky that definitely deserves a place on your shelf.
Scotch Whisky Brands: There’s always more to explore
The craft of distilling Scotch has been maturing for hundreds of years, and it’s not finished changing yet.
That’s why there’s so much variety on offer, and that variety is what makes Scotch great. It’s also what makes a list like this so hard to make!
So feel free to take this selection of eight cracking whiskies as a starting step on your Scotch journey, but make the destination your own.
Looking for Whisky gifts? Check out our gift guide for Whisky lovers.
Rhian Davies-Kenny is a content writer, storyteller and whisky sipper