Single malt Scotches—whiskies made from a single distillery—continue to be among of the most sought-after spirits around. In addition to some favorite everyday drams, this month also brought a number of rare and limited-edition bottles that collectors will want to add to their shelves.
To name a few pours that might grab your attention: The Glenfiddich Gran Reserva 21 Years Old, finished in rum casks, offers enticing cocoa and orange peel sweetness, sipping almost like a cocktail; Glenmorangie’s Extremely Rare 18 Years Old is complex and fruity, finishing on delicate tinges of violet, cinnamon and brown sugar; and for peat-lovers, The Classic Cask Bunnahabhain 18—a single cask bottling produced at Islay’s Bunnahabhain Distillery—comes well-recommended, with its powerful rush of smoke and oceanic brininess mingled with vanilla and tingly spearmint.
Many single malts are available in finite quantities—and that’s part of their charm.
I also had the good fortune to sample a few extra drams for this month’s feature about whiskies made on Scotland’s isles.
While I’ve visited distilleries on a number of these rugged, breathtakingly beautiful islands, I haven’t yet collected the full set—a condition I hope to remedy in the near future.
For completists who want to try every whisky in a particular producer’s portfolio, a growing number of whiskey-focused bars around the country offer library-like collections, such as Copper & Oak in New York City, Canon in Seattle and Jack Rose in Washington D.C. Visiting one of these encyclopedic whiskey bars offers a way to sample a wide range of Scotches without investing in a full bottle—a great way to see how various styles stack up.
Some spirits categories are valued for their consistency. By comparison, many single malts are available in finite quantities—and that’s part of their charm. This holiday season, open a special bottle and toast with those you care about most.
Recommended Single Malt Scotches
Glenfiddich Gran Reserva 21 Years Old Scotch (Scotland; William Grant, New York, NY); $180, 97 points. Finished in rum casks, the honey and orange zest aromas suggest a cocktail, not a straight pour of Scotch. These flavors are echoed on the silky palate, opening with cocoa and leather and evolving into a luscious, fudge-like finish, with hints of orange peel and cinnamon. Enjoy with a big rock of ice and a piece of orange peel, it needs no other adornment. abv: 40%
BenRiach 10 Year Scotch (Scotland; Brown-Forman, Louisville, KY); $62, 96 points. This rich and nuanced single malt entices with butterscotch and fresh apricot aromas. The palate delivers plush layers of vanilla, butterscotch and mocha wrapped in campfire smoke, finishing with baking spice. abv: 43%
Glenmorangie Nectar D’Or Scotch (Scotland; Möet Hennessy USA, New York, NY); $75, 96 points. “Or” means gold in Gaelic; this 12-year-old single malt was finished in casks that previously held Sauternes, the golden sweet wine of Bordeaux. Smooth and elegant, look for a honey hue and notes of vanilla and lemon cream on the palate, finishing with baking spice and a puff of smoke. Adding water unleashes more creamy vanilla and citrus. abv: 46%
The Balvenie Doublewood Aged 17 Years Scotch (Scotland; William Grant, New York, NY); $150, 95 points. This sherry cask-finished Scotch offers creamy vanilla and crème brûlée, plus a mouthwatering citrus astringency on the midpalate and baking spice finish. Adding water pulls it all together, blending together lemon cream, almond and a gently spiced exhale. abv: 43%
Glen Grant 12 Scotch (Scotland; Campari America, San Francisco, CA); $47, 95 points. This burnished gold whiskey shows apple and pear drizzled with butterscotch on the nose and palate, plus campfire smoke and gingerbread spice on the exceedingly long exit. A splash of water tames the heat and transforms the oak into vanilla and buttery brioche. Best Buy. abv: 43%
Bowmore 18 Years Old Scotch (Scotland; Beam Suntory, Chicago, IL); $130, 94 points. Complex and contemplative. The enticing scent mixes iodine, sea breeze and salted caramel, while the light, soft palate shows smoke, cocoa and dried fig notes, drying to clove and black pepper sparks. Water softens the overall impression to mocha and spice, with a mild blanket of campfire smoke on the exit. abv: 43%
The Balvenie Portwood Aged 21 Years Scotch (Scotland; William Grant, New York, NY); $220, 94 points. A port cask finish gives this Scotch a copper penny hue. The aroma suggests baked apple, while the palate has a chewy, concentrated vanilla-oak profile, leading to walnut, leather and espresso. The rounded finish sings with sherry and spice. Adding water coaxes out baked apple sweetness and dials back the oak. abv: 43%
The Classic Cask Ben Nevis 17 Scotch (Scotland; Spirit Imports, Sunrise, FL); $144, 94 points. The bright aroma suggests vanilla, white flowers and fresh-cut pear. Starting out juicy, the smoky midpalate is a bit of a surprise, winding into a long vanilla finish accented by clove. Adding water integrates the spice notes and pushes back the smoke to more subtle levels, allowing the fresh pear note to shine through. Single cask; 312 bottles. abv: 46%
Glendronach 12 Year Scotch (Scotland; Brown-Forman, Louisville, KY); $67, 94 points. Aged in former American whiskey casks, then finished in barrels that previously held PX and oloroso sherries, this single malt balances sweetness, spice and oak. Caramel and vanilla aromas are echoed on the velvety palate, plus cocoa and espresso, finishing with clove, cinnamon and a hint of lemon peel. abv: 43%
Glenmorangie Extremely Rare 18 Years Old Scotch (Scotland; Möet Hennessy USA, New York, NY); $120, 94 points. Despite the rich, buttery scent this single malt sips relatively dry. Rounded pear and sherry notes lead the palate at first, drying to leather and cigar wrapper and finishing long, with lemon zest and ginger zing. Water brings out more fruit, a tinge of violet, sprinkles of brown sugar and cinnamon sweetness, and a smoky whiff on the finish. Amazing complexity.