Where Kentucky boasts more aging barrels of whiskey than living inhabitants, Scotland can counter with having one distillery for every 40,000 inhabitants (according to my back of the envelope arithmetic, at least). More than any other nation or region, Scotland stakes a credible claim as being the home of whisky — with or without the “e”.
At a quick glance, the category can seem intimidating. There are various regions to explore, from Speyside to Islay. Then there are the different styles: single malts; blends and blended malts; peated and unpeated. Where to begin?
Thankfully, you’ve come to the right place. Within this list, there’s something for every palate, budget, and occasion. Whether you’re looking for a single malt that overdelivers on price, or you finally want to take the first steps into a fiery peated exploration, you’ll find the perfect partner listed below.
Without further ado, here are the 30 best Scotch whiskies for 2021.
Mossburn Speyside Blended Malt Scotch Whisky
Mossburn employs an interesting barrel regimen for the aging of this Speyside blend of single malts, the specifics of which are detailed on the bottle label. Most notable is a second period of aging in oloroso sherry butts, which are topped with charred new American oak cask heads. Oak proves to be the guiding force from nose to palate, but don’t worry about losing out on vibrant fruit character. Average price: $36.
Dewar’s 15 Year Old Blended Whisky
A blend of single malt and single grain whiskies, this 15 year old release shows signs of both age and youth. The aromas are a dead ringer for toffee apples, while the inclusion of grain whiskey adds vibrant citrus and orchard fruit. The palate brims with honeyed sweetness and culminates with a crack of black pepper. Average price: $41.
Old Pulteney 12 Years Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Distilled and aged in the far northern reaches of mainland Scotland, this single malt spends its entire maturation period in former bourbon barrels. Bold vanilla and fruit aromas therefore arrive as little surprise, while the palate is unctuous and round, with a spray of sea salt that balances its sweetness. Average price: $45.
Wemyss Malts The Hive Blended Malt Scotch Whisky
Scotch blending house Wemyss Malts names each of its expressions after the character of the liquid in bottle. This release, a fusion of up to 16 single malts aged at least eight years, gains its moniker from its luxurious honeyed character. Expect an abundance of baking spices, too, and lively texture as the whisky meets the palate. Average price: $46.
anCnoc 12 Year Old Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Though light in color, this single malt is stunningly complex. It kicks off with nutty aromas and a hint of smoke. Apricot, tropical fruit, and vanilla define its energetic palate, which culminates with tart, dried cranberries. Average price: $55.
Arran Barrel Reserve Single Malt Scotch Whisky
This non-age-statement single malt combines 7 to 8-year-old whiskies with more aged expressions, resulting in a bright and citrusy, youthful dram. The older malts shine through on the palate, lending a vanilla richness and a sweet kiss to the finish. This is an excellent summer sipping whisky. Average price: $55.
Bruichladdich The Classic Laddie Unpeated Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Unlike most Islay whiskies, Bruichladdich arrives without the influence of peat. Its aromas begin with a spray of briny sea water, then settle among vibrant orchard fruits. There’s an earthiness to the palate and invigorating spice and energy, before sweet dried fruits bring a final touch of luxury to the finish. Average price: $59.
Glenfiddich Bourbon Barrel Reserve 14 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Doubling down on American influence, this single malt ages 14 years in ex-bourbon casks then spends a brief spell in charred new American Oak barrels. Toffee and stone fruit aromas rise to the fore followed by vanilla and baking spices. The palate is bold and rich without ever feeling cumbersome. Average price: $59.
Glenglassaugh Revival Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Not just an evocative name, “Revival” pays homage to the Glenglassaugh distillery sitting idle for decades before its stills were fired up again and fine whisky started trickling out once more. Aged in red wine and bourbon barrels, this release is finished in sherry casks. It is intensely fruity, rich in sweet malt flavors, and coats the palate with a velvety texture. Average price: $60.
The Glenlivet 14 Year Cognac Cask Selection Single Malt Scotch Whisky
The influence of the Cognac casks used to finish this expression leap out from the get-go and continue well onto its finish. If you like fruit cake and are looking for something to savor on a fall evening, this is absolutely your jam. Average price: $60.
Talisker 10 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Produced at the oldest distillery on the Isle of Skye, this peated single malt evokes a beachside bonfire. Though powerfully smoky at its core, the palate delivers whispers of sea water and sweet malt, which add layers and intrigue. Average price: $60.
The Balvenie 12 Year Old DoubleWood Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Matured in whisky and sherry casks, this dram will appeal to those who like their whisky on the richer and bolder side. Powerful honey and golden raisin aromas are seasoned with a kiss of toasted oak. The palate is burly, though not tired, ensuring a little sip goes a long way. Average price: $65.
BenRiach The Smoky Twelve Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky
This Speyside single malt brings together multiple components in one harmonious, enjoyable sip. Composed of peated and unpeated whiskies, the spirits age in bourbon, sherry, and Marsala wine casks. Its smoky character is delivered like a spray of perfume — not so thick that you can’t appreciate its red currant and spice notes, and the influence of oak. This whisky has bags of personality, despite its relatively young age, but never overwhelms the palate. Average price: $68.
Speyburn 15 Years Old Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Aged in American and Spanish oak, this 15 year old single malt is bold and perfumed. Dried red berries and a seasoning of baking spices lead the nose, followed by rich malt and decadent dried fruits on the palate. The pleasant 46 percent alcohol content energizes the palate and keeps the finish lively. Average price: $68.
Compass Box The Spaniard Blended Malt Scotch Whisky
Masterful blending is apparent on the nose of this whisky, with notes from the base malts and fortified Spanish wine casks used for aging allowed equal prominence. Approachable and enjoyable to the point that it brings a smile to the face, each sip is defined by sweet nuttiness and luscious golden honey. Average price: $70.
Glenmorangie The Quinta Ruban 14 Year Old Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky
This Highland single malt ages in bourbon and port casks. The latter adds ruby reflections and a delicate seasoning of red wine. Beginning with earth and spice, the palate shows definite signs of age via caramelized nuts and dried flavors. The port cask finish adds clear character to this whisky without distracting from its core spirit. Average price: $70.
Port Charlotte Islay Barley 2012 Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Brought to you by the same folks that distill Bruichladdich, this heavily peated single malt is striking and graceful. Peated smoke is just one of the range of notes it delivers, delving also into fruit (dried and fresh), toasted oak, and rustic earth. Average price: $82.
Johnnie Walker 18 Year Old Blended Scotch Whisky
Can a whisky that retails for close to a hundred bucks be considered a bargain? Based on the evidence of this dram, we’d say yes. Old enough to legally imbibe in its homeland, this blended whisky tastes like a greatest hits of all the different Scotch styles. A splash of seawater, a bold streak of peat, and rich fruit all await in the glass. Average price: $89.
Oban 14 Year Old West Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Distilled in a tiny town on Scotland’s west coast, this whisky is notably mighty by contrast. Its aromas lean into the vibrant tropical fruit that typically comes with substantially more age, while the palate is concentrated, complex, and oozing with honeyed sweetness. Average price: $89.
Bowmore 15 Years Old Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Should you seek a quote-unquote approachable step into the world of peated whisky, this should be the first destination. Sure, it’s pricey, but its aromatic profile is among the most dazzling you will ever encounter. Red berries, violets, golden raisins, and just a whiff of peat begin the show. The palate then kicks into gear with rich, powerful character. Peated notes hold everything together, while a fresh berry finish adds a gleaming smile. Average price: $90.
Lagavulin Offerman Edition: Guinness Cask Finish Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Yes, this whisky comes with celebrity association — Nick Offerman, of “Parks and Rec” fame — but the liquid shines on its accord. Decadent toffee aromas counter its peated smokiness, with brambly red fruits and sweet malt notes also present. The palate is creamy and well rounded, much like a properly poured Guinness. Average price: $93.
Ardbeg Corryvreckan Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Arriving at a whopping 57.1 percent ABV, the alcohol in this whisky is seamlessly incorporated. Maple syrup and toasted oak aromas lead the charge, followed by a hint of earth and red berries. Only on the palate do its heavy bonfire smoke notes emerge, but there they linger for an eternity. Average price: $95.
Aberlour A’bunadh Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Bottled at a cask-strength 61.2 percent ABV, this is a truly memorable dram, delivered by means of delicacy and power. Fresh flowers and orchard fruit aromas kick off the experience, before the palate explodes with concentration and depth. Each sip tastes like dried stone fruits dipped in honey, with a hint of toasted oak rounding out the experience. Average price: $100.
ABERFELDY 16 Year Old Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky
This Highland single malt captivates with luxurious decadence. The nose takes an unexpected turn from toffee and butterscotch aromas to vibrant flowers. There’s depth and complexity to the palate, with alluring toasted oak driving the finish. Average price: $105.
Laphroaig Càirdeas 2021 Pedro Ximénez Casks Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Laphroaig’s annual Càirdeas release is something of a calendar event for peated whisky lovers, and this year’s edition lives up to the hype. Finished in Pedro Ximénez sherry barrels, the cask-strength (58.9 percent ABV) whisky arrives with ruby reflections and brimming with dried berry aromas. The balance of peat, fruit, and alcohol on the palate is nothing short of exceptional. Make room on your bar cart for this stunning limited-edition release. Average price: $105.
The Macallan Double Cask 15 Years Old Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Even if you were to taste it blind, The Macallan’s signature sherried style is evident a mile off. The 15 year old release drinks like a whisky five or 10 years its senior — in a good way. Pouring a dark toffee hue, intense dried apricot and golden raisin aromas relay its extensive time in cask. It’s a similar story on the palate, which remains energetic, richly concentrated, and effortlessly luxurious. Average price: $138.
The Glenrothes 18 Years Old Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Matured exclusively in sherry casks, this single malt sings a song of sweet dried fruit and nuts. The palate is remarkably well rounded, with a spray of sea air and fresh berries adding nuance to its rich baking spices. The whisky continues to evolve in the glass and on the palate, which makes you feel like you’re getting your money’s worth. Average price: $158.
The GlenDronach Allardice 18 Years Old Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Another 18 year old release that’s aged only in sherry casks, sipping this Highland single malt is like sitting in front of a blazing fire while a storm rages outside. Its aromas and flavors twist and turn, but elegantly so, switching from sweet vanilla and dried red fruits to dark chocolate and mocha on a dime. Bright fruit on the finish lures you in to take another sip. Average price: $190.
Mortlach 20 Year Old Cowie’s Blue Seal Single Malt Scotch Whisky
“Tamed” for 20 years reads the label on this exceptional single malt, but don’t take that as an indication of prudence or lack of character. Violets and sweet raspberries set the tone on its scintillating nose, followed by honeyed oak, vanilla, and baking spices. You’ll be wanting something remarkable from a whisky this age and this price, and this spirit delivers. Average price: $240.
Bruichladdich Black Art 1994 Unpeated Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Seldom do we include two bottlings from the same brand in our roundups, and rarely do we recommend something quite so expensive. But this whisky is an exception. Unbridled joy captured in a glass, this 26 year old expression emanates intense tropical fruit aromas. The experience is intoxicating before a drop of alcohol has been sipped. So much energy and fruit remains on the palate despite its age, and there’s no signs of oak overpowering things; instead it dazzles with endless complexity. Buy this bottle for special occasions or a special someone. Average price: $550.