The 5 Best Single Malt Scotch Whiskies

Updated on November 27, 2017
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Paul has been a passionate fan of Scotch whisky for over thirty years. Born in the UK, he currently lives in Florida.

I've been a whisky drinker for over thirty years and am a big fan of single malts. They present you with a taste experience which is both complex and subtle. It never ceases to amaze me the variety of whiskies achieved.
I've been a whisky drinker for over thirty years and am a big fan of single malts. They present you with a taste experience which is both complex and subtle. It never ceases to amaze me the variety of whiskies achieved. | Source

I've been a passionate fan of Scotch whisky for over thirty years. Although I do love a blend, there really isn't anything that quite compares with a high quality single malt. For me single malts offer the most complex, subtle and flavorsome taste experiences available.

Single malts are typically made from malted barley and distilled using a traditional pot still, before being aged in oak casks for at least three years. They are most commonly associated with Scotland, but also produced in Ireland and a handful of other places. Whisky distillation has been going on for centuries, with records in Ireland mentioning it as far back as 1405.

For hundreds of years, beginning in the 15th Century, Scottish whisky was heavily taxed, resulting in most of the production of single malts becoming illicit. However, after the introduction of an act of parliament in 1823, which allowed licensed distillers in Scotland to become profitable, the production of whisky came back into the open.

Nowadays there are many distilleries exporting single malts all over the world. Below is my personal list of what I believe to be the 5 best single malt Scotch whiskies.

Whisky is actually clear by nature and was consumed in this form for many centuries.  It was the introduction of barrel storage in the latter stage that gave whisky the distinctive golden color that we now all associate with it.
Whisky is actually clear by nature and was consumed in this form for many centuries. It was the introduction of barrel storage in the latter stage that gave whisky the distinctive golden color that we now all associate with it. | Source

My Top 5 Single Malt Whiskies

Here is a summary of my selections.

  • Aberlour 18 Year Old: Creamy and Fruity
  • Lagavulin 16 Year Old: Powerful and Peaty
  • Glenmorangie Signet: Dry and Decadent
  • Talisker 10 Year Old: Smoke, Sea Air and Garden Fruit
  • Balvenie DoubleWood 12 Year Old: Sweet and Spicy Finish

I give more details and explain my decisions below, following a brief discussion of the different spellings of "whisky".

Whisky vs Whiskey?

It's an umbrella term for a type of spirit distilled from a mash of fermented grains, but what is the correct way of spelling it?

The answer is not straightforward and varies from country to country:

  • American and Irish liquor producers usually spell it: "whiskey"
  • Canadian, Scottish, and Japanese producers usually spell it: "whisky"

As we are dealing with Scotch in this case, I have chosen to spell it without an "e"!

Aberlour 18 Year Old. Finished in sherry barrels, this Speyside single malt pleases my palate with its rich taste of apple and orange, followed by a smooth chocolaty finish.
Aberlour 18 Year Old. Finished in sherry barrels, this Speyside single malt pleases my palate with its rich taste of apple and orange, followed by a smooth chocolaty finish.

Aberlour 18 Year Old: Creamy and Fruity

The Aberlour distillery is one of my personal favourites. Their 18 Year Old has been available on the general market since 2008 (before that it was only available in France) and quickly became a star of its class.

The nose for me is definitely fruity with some vanilla and a hint of rum. You can tell this Speyside malt's been sherry-casked to finish it. The mouthfeel is creamy with more fruitiness, including orages, apples and sultanas, followed by hint of caramel and then a chocolatly finish.

Quite possibly the smokiest of the single malts, Lagavulin is a powerful and peaty single malt whisky from the island of Isla. The finish is long and glorious with plenty of smoke and a hint of figs.
Quite possibly the smokiest of the single malts, Lagavulin is a powerful and peaty single malt whisky from the island of Isla. The finish is long and glorious with plenty of smoke and a hint of figs.

Lagavulin 16 Year Old: Powerful and Peaty

The Lagavulin distillery is sited on the island of Islay, famous for its smokey, peaty tasting single malts. Lagavulin is famous for its pear-shaped wash stills and the employment of a deliberately slow distillation speed.

The nose for this 16 Year Old is perhaps the smokiest I've experience and is accompanied by bacon aromas. The smokey bacon flavour intensifies when it hits the palate and is followed by a subtle hint of fruit and spice. The finish is long and beautiful, peat smoke with hints of vanilla and dates.

Glenmorangie Signet. Probably the most decadent whisky I've listed. I love to have a bottle of this around at Christmas for a special treat. The finish really is excellent, with a lingering dry fruitiness to savor.
Glenmorangie Signet. Probably the most decadent whisky I've listed. I love to have a bottle of this around at Christmas for a special treat. The finish really is excellent, with a lingering dry fruitiness to savor.

Glenmorangie Signet: Dry and Decadent

Boasting the tallest stills in Scotland, the Glenmorangie distillery can be found in Tain, Ross-shire and is categorized as a Highland distillery. The Ardbeg Distillery on island of Islay is also owned by the Glenmorangie Company.

Glenmorangie Signet is a dry and decadent single malt. The nose for me possesses aromas of chocolate raisins, cocoa, and burnt peels. Take a dram and the cocoa intensifies on my palate, and brings with it a malty sweetness, along with oranges. The superb finish is fruity and dry.

Talisker 10 Year Old. This is a great whisky for taking the edge off the day, in my experience. It's produced on the Isle of Skye using water from local springs.
Talisker 10 Year Old. This is a great whisky for taking the edge off the day, in my experience. It's produced on the Isle of Skye using water from local springs.

Talisker 10 Year Old: Smoke, Sea Air and Garden Fruit

Tilisker is an Island single malt Scotch whisky distillery situated in Carbost on the Isle of Skye. Originally founded in 1830 and built the following year, the distillery had to be rebuilt in 1960 after being destroyed by fire.

The nose for me is fresh and fragrant with plenty of sea air and garden fruit. The palate forms a very delicate balance between peaty smokiness and fruits. I also tasted pepper breaking through intermittently, then a long bonfire finish with toasted malt.

Balvenie DoubleWood 12 Year Old. This classic single malt Scotch whisky is great for converting non-whisky drinkers in my experience, thanks in part to its long, sweet and spicy finish.
Balvenie DoubleWood 12 Year Old. This classic single malt Scotch whisky is great for converting non-whisky drinkers in my experience, thanks in part to its long, sweet and spicy finish.

Balvenie DoubleWood 12 Year Old: Sweet and Spicy Finish

Another Speyside distillery, Balvenie single malt whiskey is produced in Dufftown, Scotland. Balvenie produces whisky in a traditional style and the distillery is one of only seven in Scotland that has its own malting floor.

Balvenie DoubleWood 12 Year Old is a classic single malt, and in my experience is a great drink for converting non-whisky drinkers to single malts.

The nose aromas for me include raspberry, cherries and chocolate, layers of honey. The palate has more red fruit flavours with an added nutty sweetness. The finish is sweet and spicy with warmth.

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    • CyclingFitness profile image

      Liam Hallam 4 years ago from Nottingham UK

      Nice introduction. For a tour I would recommend Edradour- Scotland's smallest distillery has a fantastic visitor centre and tours. They also sell some very unique bottles. I picked up two cask strength bottles which had been finished in chateau neuf du pape and Barolo casks which ooze a glorious fruity red wine edge.

      I love Ard'beg myself and peaty varieties if I'm buying for me. They're great for a wrestle after a hard day.

    • Budman610 profile image

      Budman610 5 years ago from Ohio

      You like the peat! Highlander is a good affordable scotch.

    • profile image

      Mike Smith 6 years ago

      Hi, I need some advice. I want to buy a gift for someone and I know they like Single Malt Scotch Whisky but am unsure of any brand they may like. Could someone suggest a Whisky around $200-$250.

      Thanks

    • PaulGoodman67 profile image
      Author

      Paul Goodman 6 years ago from Florida USA

      Thank you for the invite, T Cronin Moore, your tasting event looks great!

    • T Cronin Moore profile image

      T Cronin Moore 6 years ago from Sarasota, Florida

      Hello,

      I see that you're in Florida. I host regular single malt tastings in Sarasota, so let me know if you'd like more info or feel free to share with your friends in the area. Thanks!

      Turner

      http://www.localwineevents.com/events/detail/40208...

    • SanneL profile image

      SanneL 6 years ago from Sweden

      Single malt Scotch whiskey, either you like it or not!

      I have tasted it but I can't say that i liked it.

      However, I enjoyed reading this hub and learning about the different kinds of malt whiskey. Someday I may also enjoy drinking it.

      Thank you for a very informative hub!

      Sannel

    • PaulGoodman67 profile image
      Author

      Paul Goodman 6 years ago from Florida USA

      Yes, the Islay whiskies are not cheap. Although there some reasonably priced 10 year old single malts on ebay - you don't have to buy the really old and expensive ones to obtain a decent quality dram.

    • hush4444 profile image

      hush4444 6 years ago from Hawaii

      Very interesting hub! The "peaty", smoky single malts are my favorite, but they're so expensive!