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To recap, 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. This is not The Best Scotches of All Time but rather an article that lets you know about the best whiskies you have a chance in hell of finding via an online retailer or at a top-notch liquor store.
From a very delicious Lagavulin to a yummy Glenfiddich 21 Year Old or a lip-smacking Craigellachie , here are ten best whiskies that aren’t too difficult to get and won’t break your monthly whisky budget.
Read part 1 here.
1. Lagavulin 16 Years Old
The most celebrated of the five whiskies in the Lagavulin range is the stuff of legend, for peat’s sake. Peat, of course, is the lifeblood of Islay whisky, and there’s nary a dram produced on that scotch-soaked isle that is as peat-forward as Lagavulin 16 (US$90/RM370). It’s a smoke show, simple as that. Okay, maybe not so simple. There’s a bit of sweetness to this whisky, and some seaweed and bacon notes, as well. Mouthfeel is slightly oily, the juice chewy. It’s the spiritual kin of the Shetland sweater – stylish, full of texture, and a source of great warmth.
2. Glenmorangie Signet
What makes this whisky such a standout is a singular stroke of genius by master distiller Bill Lumsden – marrying barley with chocolate malt to produce the mash. The designer casks made bespoke for Glenmorangie from American white oak play a key role, as well. Signet (US$200/RM822.60), the richest whisky in the brand’s expansive portfolio, smells of plum pudding and fresh coffee. The palate leads with sweet vanilla icing and then pivots to sizzling spices, lemon, and bitter mocha. The dramatic swing can be momentarily bewildering, but in the funnest, wiliest, whiskiest way possible.
3. Ledaig 1996 19 Years Old
Lest ye be mistaken for a whisky neophyte, remember that this single-malt scotch from the Inner Hebrides is pronounced “la-chayk" or even “la-chik" (“la-dayg," on the other hand, sounds like a Bond villain). Ledaig, “safe haven" in Gaelic, is handcrafted at the Tobermory Distillery, the only whisky production facility on the impossibly colourful Isle of Mull. The Ledaig 1996 19 Years Old (US$200/RM822.60) is what is often referred to as a “peat bomb," crackling with smoky goodness from sniff to finish. And bless the ole malt master’s heart for all the other wonderful things at play in this whisky – toffee and seaweed on the nose, with apple, orange and black pepper mingling on the palate. Finishes long, with peaty embers glowing.
4. Glenfarclas 17 Year Old
Glenfarclas can be challenging to pronounce, especially after a dram or two, but don’t let that deter you from going for it. This classic Speyside whisky is worth twisting the tongue over. The rich amber-coloured 17 (US$94/RM386.62) is full-flavoured and balanced, develops slowly, and brims with sweet malty notes and the intensely jammy flavour of a black mission fig – and with a touch of peat smoke and a hint of oak to boot. It combines the smoothness of the distillery’s younger whiskies with the depth of the older expressions.
5. Old Pulteney 21 Year Old
Old Pulteney, which was founded in 1826, is located way up in the Scottish Highlands near the royal burgh of Wick, making it the most northerly whisky-making facility on the Scottish mainland. Old Pulteney is known as “the Maritime Malt," and the 21 Year Old (US$190/RM781.47) certainly has its sea legs… er, sea mouth, as evidenced by its fish-oil-like texture and prominent briny notes. The bulk of the spirit that goes into the final blend was aged in ex-oloroso sherry casks, imbuing the whisky with rich toffee and vanilla flavour. There are biscuits, dates and baked apple in the mix, as well, with smoke and a hint of iodine on the lingering finish.
6. The Glenlivet 18 Year Old
The Glenlivet’s master distiller Alan Winchester has made many fantastic whiskies over the years, none more significant or awarded than the 18 Year Old (US$120/RM493.56). Winchester shepherds this expression through several different cask types, including both first- and second-fill American oak (for tropical fruitiness) and ex-sherry oak (for spicy complexity). It’s an intense whisky, full of ripe citrus and winter spice flavour. The Glenlivet 18 has garnered virtually every award of note handed out in the spirits industry, and deservedly so. It may well be the most complete mass-market whisky of all.
7. Ardbeg Corryvreckan
This whisky takes its name from a famous whirlpool that lies to the north of Islay, where swimming is definitely not encouraged. Like its namesake, the Corryvreckan single malt (US$95/RM391) is a deep and turbulent force, swirling with intense flavours such as vanilla, bacon, blueberry and black tarry espresso that coat the palate with rich, melted, dark fruits. The finish is long and powerful and delivers chocolate-coated cherries and hot pepper sauce. Awarded The World’s Best Single Malt in 2010 by the World Whiskies Awards.
8. The Glenfiddich 21 Year Old
The Glenfiddich distillery is synonymous with Speyside whisky, and this expression is ripe with the brand’s signature cereal grain and subtle oak notes. Ah, but malt master Brian Kinsman adds a sublime touch, finishing the 21 Year Old (US$200/RM822.60) in Caribbean rum casks that rouse exotic fruit flavours such as mango, lime and banana. Opens soft on the palate and then busts a move toward brisk and peppery, with smoke and ginger on a very long and warming finish.
9. Craigellachie 23 Year Old
Craigellachie was founded in 1891 but only recently entered the single-malt market with this powerhouse whisky, which won the Best in Show prize in 2015 at the prestigious San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Craigellachie 23 Year Old (US$300/RM1,234) has the fresh tropical fruit flavour you’d expect from a Speyside whisky, complemented by toasted oak and a zing of menthol freshness. And there’s pineapple, too. Delicious pineapple.
10. The GlenDronach Single Cask 1990 #2257, Aged 27 Years
This limited-edition single malt from the esteemed Highlands producer was released in 2018 and became an instant classic in the offhand opinion of at least one whisky-soaked observer (ahem!). The GlenDronach Single Cask 1990 (US$1,100/RM4,524) spent more than a quarter century resting inside a sherry butt, which was as consequential to the flavour profile as it is funny to say out loud. The sherry wood imparted nuttiness and dark fruit flavour. Time imbued the spirit with intensity. And make no mistake, this is a heavy-duty dram. Afford it the respect it deserves, or be prepared to pay a steep toll the next morning.