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People get hung up on the word “best," especially when that word comes attached to a phrase like “Here Are The Best Whiskies You Can Buy Right Now." You can practically hear the protests already – “But if there are 20 of them, how can they all be ‘best?’" To these people I say politely (and with infinite patience): Pipe down. There are as many expressions of scotch as there are angels nipping at every whisky cask in the Hebrides and as there are snooty grammarians who want to take the fun out of the pursuit of incredible liquor.
Speaking of pursuit, it’s worth pointing out another important caveat to this list. This is not The Best Scotches of All Time. It does not, for example, include The Macallan Valerio Adami 1926, of which there are only 12 bottles in the world – the last of which sold for just over US$1 million at auction. I’m not discouraging you from chasing those bottles, of course, but my purpose here is to let you know about the best scotches you have a chance in hell of finding via an online retailer or at a top-notch liquor store. Given a modicum of motivation, every one of the whiskies on this list is eminently gettable. In fact, I suggest you treat this article sort of like an adult version of Pokémon Go, but instead of wandering into traffic while trying to bag a Charmander, you should wander into the welcoming arms of your local hoochmonger in search of The Glenlivet 18 Year Old. If you do somehow manage to capture every single one of these semi-rare beasts, tag me with the evidence at @RobbReport. And if you do, we have another challenge for you – pursue all the bourbons on this other list.
As far as “best" goes, while the term is inherently subjective, if there is a person alive who can’t find their own personal “best" in here, I’d like to have a chat with them, preferably over a dram of Lagavulin 16 and explain to them, gently and with an excess of solicitude, that they should try more new things. Oh, and one other caveat: No two products from the same distillery could appear in the list, because fairness. See you in the Hebrides, my sweet angels.
1. The Macallan Triple Cask Matured 18 Years Old
This legendary single malt, formerly known as Fine Oak 18 Years Old, is an amalgam of spirits aged in a trio of different oak casks – sherry-seasoned European oak, sherry-seasoned American oak and American ex-bourbon barrels. Of the many brilliant expressions produced by the Macallan, Triple Cask Matured 18 (US$288/RM1,185) -arguably, of course – best exemplifies the identity of the brand’s core range: scotch that is exceedingly smooth, elegant, and adorned with disparate tastes that somehow come together in perfect harmony. Dominant flavours include rich dark chocolate, dried coconut and orange with subtle notes of vanilla, nutmeg, and wood smoke. Best enjoyed neat with a side of toasted marshmallows dipped in Pedro Ximénez sherry.
2. The Balvenie DoubleWood 12 Year Old
The inimitable David Stewart has been at The Balvenie going on 60 years. He’s the longest-tenured and most highly decorated malt master in the business and has had a hand in the development of some legendary whiskies, from the Tun 1401 series to the DCS Compendium, a collection of 25 handpicked casks curated by Stewart that include vintage single malts spanning his illustrious career. But of all the whiskies he’s made, Stewart once told me, he’s most proud of DoubleWood 12 Year Old (US$55/RM226), which changed the way the industry approached spirit maturation. It’s aged in two types of barrels: American oak and European oak sherry. Today, virtually every whisky distillery in the world has similarly aged whiskies in their portfolio, but only one is the true original.
3. Highland Park Odin
Released in 2015, Odin (US$350/RM1,440) out-muscled Freya, Loki and Thor as “Top God" in Highland Park’s Valhalla Collection, commemorating the Orkney-based distillery’s Norse heritage. Aged 16 years in a combination of first-fill sherry casks and refill hogsheads, it’s a robust whisky imbued with Highland Park’s trademark dense fruitiness, tinged with a subtle peaty component. There are other tasty treats in the mix, as well, including toasted walnuts and baking and wood spices. It’s rich and chewy and drinks like a meal. An estimable dram tailored to fit serious scotch drinkers. Bottled at 111.6 proof, it’s the highest proof of any Highland Park release.
4. Aberlour A’Bunadh
Every February, for as far back as anyone can recall, the folks at Aberlour in Speyside have been emptying a bottle of whisky into the River Spey to “bless" the beginning of salmon fishing season. And wouldn’t you know it, the salmon haven’t once raised an objection. A’Bunadh is Scottish Gaelic for “of the origins," a nod to Aberlour’s founder, James Fleming. This full-bodied, creamy expression is produced one batch at a time and matured exclusively in first-fill oloroso sherry casks. The nose offers mixed spices, praline, and citrus zest. On the palate is a cornucopia of bright fruit flavour spiked with ginger and dark chocolate. It’s bottled at cask strength, which hovers around 122 proof, varying slightly from cask to cask. Truly a game changer in the whisky world, Aberlour A’Bunadh (US$100/RM411) has commanded a cult-like following since it was introduced in 1997.
5. The Dalmore 15 Year Old
With its emphasis on rich chocolate and orange notes resulting from sherry-cask ageing, the Dalmore 15 (US$125/RM514) is the epitome of this Highland producer’s house style. In this case, the liquid is split between three barrel types for ageing, all culled from one of Spain’s most well-known sherry bodegas, González Byass, purveyor of Tío Pepe Fino Sherry. The Dalmore 15 presents a host of felicific flavours, including cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla and green apple. It’s a holiday party in a snifter. A stroll through a field of pine trees in December. A whisky that feels like a joyous homecoming.
6. Bunnahabhain 25 Year Old
The island of Islay is renowned for peat-heavy scotch made by the likes of Bruichladdich, Laphroaig, and Ardbeg. The region’s most notable outlier is Bunnahabhain, where, since 1881, it’s produced exceptional whisky with nary a hint of peat influence. Bunnahabhain 25 (US$700/RM2,879) is an exemplar of elegance and balance. Aged in ex-bourbon, scotch, and sherry casks, it offers aromas of polished leather, rich dried fruits and spiced oak. Primary flavours are sweet berries, roasted nuts and cereal, with a touch of sea salt on the finish. In 2010, Bunnahabhain upped the proof from 86 to 92.6, providing an extra measure of oomph to this world-class whisky.
7. Talisker 10 Year Old
This briny beauty is a classic island whisky from the oldest distillery on Skye, founded in 1830 on the south shore of Loch Harport, a gorgeous area that yields beautiful whisky. The nose on Talisker 10 (US$50/RM206) opens with a surge of peat smoke followed by hints of salty seawater and citrus. With a full-bodied and rich mouthfeel, it’s a whisky that offers considerable warmth. The flavour profile is highlighted by dried-fruit sweetness, smoke and cereal grains. Pepper has a go at the back of the tongue, producing a long finish that strikes a balance between sweet and spicy.
8. Oban 14 Years Old
Oban (pronounced “OH-bin") is a port town in western Scotland known as the gateway to the Hebridean islands. Its eponymous distillery, established in 1794, produces whisky with a flavour profile that straddles the smoky style of the Scottish islands and the livelier, more toothsome malts made in the Highlands. Oban 14 Years Old (US$75/RM308) is a wee bit oily and quite a bit weighty. Smells like lemons and pears sprinkled with sea salt, set atop a table that had recently been on fire. Tastes like dried figs dipped in honey up front, followed by some oak and malt dryness. Begs to be paired with oysters and smoked salmon.
9. Bruichladdich Black Art 1990, Edition 6.1
The sixth commercially available version of this mythic whisky is an unpeated Islay malt aged 26 years in cask types Bruichladdich prefers to keep secret. What is manifest, though, is that Black Art (US$350/RM1,440) is an exceptionally rare and unique dram. The aromas are plentiful, among them raisin, apple, blackberry jam, brown sugar and charred oak. The vitality of the oak and the fruit is sensational. It’s a whisky that twists and changes constantly. Mysterious and inscrutable, it delivers an assortment of tastes that surprise and delight, from honeycomb to ginger-nut biscuits to tobacco. It is non-chill-filtered and bottled at a cask strength of 93.2 proof.
10. Bowmore 15 Year Old
Located along the shores of Loch Indaal, Bowmore holds the distinction of being the oldest licensed distillery on Islay. At 15 years old, though, the finest whisky in the portfolio is just a pup. Bowmore’s centuries-old stone warehouse, the No. 1 Vaults, famously begets whisky of impeccable balance, complexity, and beauty, as exemplified by the 15 Year Old expression (US$76/RM313). Breathe in and delight in aromas of toffee, ripe berries, and charred oak. Savor the brininess on the tongue and the taste of pineapple dipped in chocolate, seasoned with salt. And, of course, the whole blessed deal is enwreathed in Islay’s signature smoke.