Single Malt Whiskeys: Scotch and Beyond

Superior single malts aren't just the domain of Scotland anymore.

Although most of the following reviews focus on single malt Scotch, don’t be alarmed if you notice bottlings from a few other countries woven in: Australia, England, Ireland, France, India, Japan and the United States also produce noteworthy single malts.

How to define single malt? In Scotch speak, the single means it’s from one distillery, and the malt refers to the malted (germinated) grain. When whiskies from more than one distillery are mingled together, it’s considered a blended whiskey. Since most whiskeys made in America (and other countries) are made at a single distillery anyway, odds are you’ve probably sampled a single malt without it being labeled as such.

Declaring a single malt whiskey is a bold and specific statement for a non-Scotch producer.

So this month, we deliberately made the category definition vague, calling for single malt whiskeys instead of the usual single malt Scotch. In part, this was to invite surprises from outside the traditional Scotch universe—and there are plenty, including the super-silky Hakushu and Yamazaki bottlings from Japan and the fruity Sullivans Cove Double Cask, made in Tasmania.

But it also was a deliberate experiment: declaring a single malt whiskey is a bold and specific statement for a non-Scotch producer. Self-identifying within this category often signals that what’s in the bottle is similar to a single malt Scotch.

That’s the case at Seattle’s Westland Distillery, which is among those making intriguing Scotch-style whiskies entirely from barley (and more recently, peat) grown in Washington State. It’s also the case for France’s Armorik, which makes Breton single malts that capture the same elusive maritime essence—that briny-smoky balance—found in many island Scotches.

Of course, for traditionalists, there’s no shortage of single malt Scotch to enjoy, including a number of excellent new bottlings from The Glenlivet, Glenmorangie and Old Pulteney, among others.


Single Malt Scotch

Aberlour Double Cask Matured 12 Years Old (Scotland; Pernod Ricard, Purchase, NY); $50, 97 points. Aged in oak and former Sherry casks, this enticing Scotch has a ripe red-apple scent and rich salted caramel and butterscotch on the palate. It’s powerful, with a thick, buttery feel and a long finish of lip-smacking spice cake and sea brine notes.

The Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve (Scotland; Pernod Ricard, New York, NY); $45, 96 points. Delicate and complex, this newly released Scotch boasts scents of maple sugar and spice, and unfurls on the palate with a distinctly floral start that evolves into creamy vanilla, honey, sarsaparilla and baking spice. Light and silky, it almost feels effervescent on the tongue, finishing with a perky herbal note reminiscent of hops. Best Buy.

Glenmorangie Tùsail (Scotland; Moet Hennessy USA, New York, NY); $99, 96 points. Another delicious offering from the Glenmorangie portfolio, this whiskey is vibrantly golden in the glass. Look for light aromas of vanilla, custard, lemon cream pie and honeysuckle, with fleeting touches of banana and smoke on the back. This balanced sipper finishes with notes of nutmeg, cinnamon and citrus peel.

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Bowmore 15 Years Old Darkest Single Malt Scotch Whisky (Scotland; Beam Suntory, Deerfield, IL); $70, 95 points. No shrinking violet, this copper penny-hued Scotch hits the nose and palate with a robust but harmonious mix of toffee and peat smoke, in equal measures, finishing dry and spicy. Darkest is an apt description for a whiskey partly matured in former oloroso Sherry casks, which adds deep, raisiny tones.

The Dalmore Cigar Malt Reserve (Scotland; Whyte & Mackay Americas, North Miami, FL); $125, 95 points. Aged in a series of barrels—first American oak, then transferred to a former oloroso Sherry cask and finished in used Cabernet Sauvignon barriques—this Scotch is intended “to complement a fine cigar,” but it would be an outstanding dessert accompaniment too. Look for dusty cocoa and lots of Sherried dark fruit, like figs and dates, wrapped in caramel and baking tones that linger on the spicy finish.

Glenfiddich Excellence 26 Year Old (Scotland; William Grant & Sons, New York, NY); $500, 95 points. Light and silky, this Speyside Scotch, matured in former Bourbon casks for a minimum of 26 years, boasts scents of apples, pears, vanilla and a whiff of jasmine. There’s a sweet smoke tone upfront, while flavors of vanilla and custard-like sweetness unfold with each sip, fading to a more delicate floral and lemon curd finish.

Old Pulteney Navigator Single Malt Scotch Whisky (Scotland; Sazerac Company, Louisville, KY); $45, 95 points. Though it’s not intensely aromatic, showing only shy hints of caramel, fruit and smoke, this Scotch is concentrated on the palate and evolves with every sip. Add just a splash of water, and it sings with honeysuckle sweetness up front, turning smoky, then fruity, with Sherry-like accents that eventually fade into a smooth vanilla-caramel exit. Matured in former Bourbon and Sherry casks. Best Buy.

Auchentoshan Three Wood Single Malt Scotch Whisky (Scotland; Beam Suntory, Deerfield, IL); $65, 94 points. The name of this whisky is a nod to how it’s matured in three different casks: American Bourbon, Spanish oloroso and Pedro Ximénez Sherry. It’s robust, with a deep amber hue and rich caramel scent. The flavor profile shows toffee, campfire smoke and a mouthwatering butterscotch note on the exhale. It almost reads like a peated Bourbon.

The Balvenie DoubleWood Aged 12 Years Single Malt Scotch Whisky (Scotland; William Grant & Sons, New York, NY); $50, 94 points. Silky and downright succulent, this Scotch is made with two types of oak casks—as the DoubleWood name suggests—but it’s really all about the influence of the ex-Sherry cask. Aromas suggest golden raisins and dried apricots. The silky palate starts out moderately smoky, but glides into a richer, honeyed, nutty profile that finishes with cocoa and clove accents.

Glen Garioch 1797 Founder’s Reserve Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky (Scotland; Beam Suntory, Deerfield, IL); $45, 93 points. This silky Highland sipper seems to glide on the palate. Aromatics include vanilla and caramel, with a faint smokiness. This is echoed on the palate, with vanilla leading into butterscotch that’s tinged with a light saline note, turning to peat smoke on the exhale. Best Buy.

Speyburn Arranta Casks Single Malt Scotch Whisky (Scotland; Sazerac Company, Louisville, KY); $40, 93 points. Exclusive to the U.S. market, this single malt Scotch bursts with baked apple, vanilla and coconut aromas, with a light brush of peat. The palate shows vanilla sweetness and mouthwatering salted caramel, finishing brisk and moderately smoky. Best Buy.

Talisker Storm Single Malt Scotch Whisky (Scotland; Diageo, New York, NY); $66, 93 points. Made on Isle of Skye, this brisk, briny single malt carries honey and campfire smoke aromas on the nose. On the palate, a salted caramel flavor unfolds, with smokiness leading into the brisk finish that brushed with fleeting notes of citrus and rich espresso. It has plenty of alcohol punch, so be sure to add a generous splash of water.

Glenglassaugh Torfa (Scotland; Anchor Distilling, San Francisco, CA); $75, 92 points. Torfa is old Norse for “peat,” and this Scotch delivers on that promise with delicacy and finesse. Light golden in the glass, the nose shows a vanilla aroma tinged with peat smoke and oak accents. The palate is bright and briny up front, with a peat smoke character becoming more pronounced with each successive sip. That smoky-saline balance provokes cravings for oysters and aged cheeses.

Highland Park Odin (Scotland; Edrington Americas, New York, NY); $350, 92 points. The powerful aroma suggests gingerbread, molasses and chamomile tea. On the palate, the sticky-toffee note is enveloped by an intense wallop of peat. An undercurrent of Sherry and gingerbread sweetness runs underneath the smoke, entwining into a mesquite-like smoky-sweet and spicy finish. A splash of water coaxes out a subtle bacon note. Aged 16 years, this limited edition is named for the Norse god Odin and comes packaged in a wooden frame intended to evoke the contours of a traditional Viking long ship.

Glen Moray Elgin Classic Single Malt Scotch Whisky (Scotland; Prestige Wine & Spirits Group, St. Paul, MN); $23, 91 points. An excellent value, this Speyside spirit offers fresh apple and tropical fruit aromatics. It’s relatively sweet up front, showing maple and vanilla, though a citrusy note unfolds midpalate and it finishes crisp and bracing, with a faint puff of smoke. Ideal for mixing whisky highballs. Best Buy.

Oban 14 Single Malt Scotch Whisky (Scotland; Diageo, Norwalk, CT); $75, 91 points. Look for pleasant sweetness and spice up front, as the nose offers a complex mix of oak, maple sugar, fresh apple, clove, black pepper and cinnamon. The flavors dry to a spicy midpalate before exiting on a long, concentrated maple-like note.

Glencadam Aged 15 Years (Scotland; CIL US, West Palm Beach, FL); $85, 90 points. This golden, Highland single malt Scotch smells delicious, like honey, vanilla and fresh-cut apples. It feels light yet slick on the palate, balancing vanilla, honeysuckle, fruit and just the right amount of smoke. Each sip ends with a pleasantly peaty exhale, which seems to gently drift away on the palate little by little.

Laphroaig Aged 10 Years Original Cask Strength (Scotland; Beam Suntory, Deerfield, IL); $50, 90 points. Islay’s Laphroaig is famed for its intensely peaty profile, and this single malt Scotch delivers on that reputation. The amber spirit opens with a smoky aroma that’s underpinned by vanilla and light floral notes. There’s plenty of peat on the palate too, backed by olive brine, espresso and chocolate characteristics. Beware: Cask strength means that an overproof alcohol level delivers strong flavor but also a hefty burn.

Balblair 1990 (Scotland; Sazerac Company, Louisville, KY); $140, 89 points. The year on the bottle—1990—is not an age statement, but instead was the year this single malt Scotch was laid down. Robust and full bodied, this deep amber whisky has a powerful caramel aroma that’s accented by notes of cedar and resin. It’s quite drying on the palate, with flavors that suggest strong tea, oak and beer, all leading into the warm, chocolaty finish.

anCnoc Highland Single Malt Distilled 1975 (Scotland; Sazerac Company, Louisville, KY); $700, 88 points. Bottled in 2014, this complex amber-colored sipper has a dark honey aroma and a dry, tannic, slightly savory palate that mixes toasty oak, iodine, strong tea and molasses flavors with a bitter herb note that’s reminiscent of an amaro. It finishes lean and very dry, with allspice and clove.

 

Other Single Malt Whiskeys

Sullivans Cove Double Cask Single Malt Whisky (Australia; Purple Valley Imports, Pittsburgh, PA); $125, 93 points. Hailing from Tasmania, this golden single malt whiskey offers aromas of pear, banana and honey. Light, smooth and easy sipping, the palate shows fruity notes alongside hints of almond, vanilla wafer and just a wisp of smoke.

English Classic Single Malt Whisky (England; Purple Valley Imports, Pittsburgh, PA); $70, 92 points. Made at St. George’s Distillery in Norfolk, England, using 100% English barley, this straw-hued spirit is scented with fresh apple, vanilla and peat smoke. All three echo on the palate, with smoky peat taking center stage. It finishes spicy, with cinnamon and black pepper sizzle.

The Hakushu Single Malt Whisky Aged 18 Years (Japan; Beam Suntory, Deerfield, IL); $250, 91 points. This honey-hued single malt is soft and perfectly balances vanilla-caramel sweetness and peat smoke on the nose and palate. Add a splash of branch water to offset alcohol heat on the drying, spiced finish.

Armorik Breton Single Malt Sherry Finish (France; Heavenly Spirits, Lakeville, MA); $59, 90 points. This French single malt opens with aromas of caramel, honey and fresh pear. A surprising billow of smoke unfolds on the palate, mellowed by touches of honey and salted caramel. A splash of water provides balance to the fiery finish that pops with cayenne and alcohol heat.

Kinahan’s Single Malt Irish Whisky (Ireland; Winebow Group, New York, NY); $69, 90 points. This golden whisky offers a fresh, grassy scent. Matured in former Bourbon barrels for at least 10 years, it’s soft yet smoky on the palate, though not overwhelmingly so. The smoke leaves plenty of room to enjoy the breezy tropical fruit, almond and ginger notes, finishing with a mellow honeysuckle accent.

The Yamazaki Single Malt Whisky Aged 12 Years (Japan; Beam Suntory, Deerfield, IL); $85, 90 points. Smokiness is the defining characteristic of this golden single malt. The aroma is distinctly fruity, mixing fresh apple and tropical fruit with a touch of vanilla. But from the first sip, it’s all about the smoke, with just a little bit of fruit peeking through to the spicy, slightly hot finish.

Amrut Fusion Single Malt Whisky (India; Purple Valley Imports, Pittsburgh, PA); $70, 89 points. This Indian single malt is so named because it’s made with “a fusion of Indian and Scottish barley.” The aroma is deliciously fresh, suggesting crisp apple slices. It’s silky on the palate, showing plenty of caramel followed by a billow of peat smoke. It finishes dry, with an intriguing mix of cigar tobacco, leather, Baker’s chocolate, bitter orange peel and spice. At 100 proof, it’s predictably hot; be prepared to dilute it to taste.

Ransom The Emerald 1865 Straight American Whiskey (USA; Ransom Spirits, Sheridan, OR); $75, 88 points. Innovative craft distiller Ransom made this whiskey from an old mash bill sourced by cocktail historian David Wondrich and re-created by Ransom founder Tad Seestedt. It’s meant as “a modern interpretation of a mid-1800s Irish whiskey.” That seems to translate as a relatively lean, herbaceous whiskey, different from the vanilla-forward selections usually seen now. An amber color in the glass, it shows plenty of oak, eucalyptus, nutmeg and clove character, with a bracing, slightly warm finish.

Vicomte Single Malt Whisky Aged 8 Years (France; Venturi Brands, Weston, FL); $41, 88 points. Aged eight years in former Cognac barrels, this silky, French single malt has gentle pear, vanilla and almond extract aromas and flavors. It finishes with a faint puff of smoke on the dry, surprisingly hot finish.

Published on December 31, 2015
Topics: Irish Whiskey, Scotch Whisky, Whiskey
About the Author
Kara Newman 
Spirits Editor

Kara Newman reviews spirits and writes about spirits and cocktail trends for Wine Enthusiast. She's the author of several cocktail books, including Shake.Stir.Sip. and NIGHTCAP: More than 40 Cocktails to Close Out Any Evening, which debuts in September 2018. Email: spirits@wineenthusiast.net




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