Single malt scotch is often regarded as a rarefied drink—something to be approached with reverence. Few people seem to be intimidated by good ole bourbon or humble Irish whiskey, but single malt is different. Especially among new whisky drinkers, it can be seen as too fancy, expensive, or sophisticated to take a chance on.
That thinking is simply not true. Sure, single malt can offer a greater range of flavors than bourbon or rye, but not all of it is of the aggressive, house-on-fire peated variety that many scotch newcomers ascribe to the whole category. Many single malts have fruity, floral, sweet, and silky flavor profiles that make for easy first—and successive—sips.
These reasonably priced single malt scotches each offer something that anyone can approach without hesitation—whether you are already well into a whisky-drinking career, or have just decided to make single malt your starting point.
Scotch 101: Start Your Education With These Whiskies
Macallan Double Cask 12 year old—90 points, $65
Macallan is one scotch that can intimidate drinkers on name and reputation only. However, there’s a reason the Speyside brand became the quintessential “luxury” whisky—it’s consistently great quality. And although you aren’t likely to start with a $7,000 bottle of The Macallan M, the younger offerings hold plenty to love. This newish entry to the core lineup—number 17 in Whisky Advocate’s 2017 Top 20—shows how enjoyable a heavily sherried scotch can be, expressing itself with a pleasant earthiness and tons of cocoa notes.
Glenmorangie Original 10 year old—87 points, $40
It would be virtually impossible for even the most ardent scotch avoider to dislike Glenmorangie’s core single malt. Sweet and malty, it has a wide range of flavors: a ton of fruit, a little spice, and lovely floral notes explode on the palate. Never too aggressive in any one direction, this Highlands offering is definitely smooth, going down almost too easily.
Aberlour 12 year old—87 points, $55
Maturation in a mix of bourbon and sherry casks makes this Speyside single malt dessert-like in flavor. With notes of figs on the nose, more dark fruits enter the fray upon the first sip: raisins and dates, backed by caramel and milk chocolate. The lower proof ensures a finish that, while lingering, goes down easy and can thus be enjoyed neat by just about anyone.
Highland Park 12 Year Old—90 points, $55
For neophytes who want to try something with a kiss of peat, this option from the Orkney Islands is the perfect pour. Fruity and floral on the nose, partial maturation in ex-sherry casks adds balance to the local peat, which runs toward the floral side of smoke, rather than iodine and seaweed.
Dalwhinnie 15 year old—86 points, $65
One of the more delicate scotches on the market, this Highlands dram is a great choice to get your toes wet. The distillery calls its single malt the “gentle spirit” and, indeed, this refined bottling doesn’t offer any of the more challenging notes (like smoke) that turn off so many beginners. Instead, it’s liquidized honey, citrusy on the nose with a touch of dried fruit on the palate, all delivered with a creamy, inviting mouthfeel.
Auchentoshan 12 year old—84 points, $48
This Lowlands malt—one of Scotland’s few triple-distilled whiskies—might be one of the most well-balanced whiskies out there. Tropical fruits like pineapple and mango explode on the nose, while the palate is nutty, backed by baking spices, and just a hint of vanilla. Despite the proof of 40%, this is easy to drink thanks to its viscous mouthfeel.
Caol Ila 12 year old—89 points, $65
“Peat” and “beginner” are two terms that rarely meet, but there are examples of peaty drams that even newbies can handle—and this is one. Saline and grassy on the nose, the palate offers a peatiness that is clearly present but not overwhelming—more like the taste of good bacon than an overwhelming bog fire. The full-bodied, oily texture only adds to the enjoyment.