New styles, new techniques and innovative takes on old standards are constantly emerging and continue to push the whiskey category forward. But Scotch, arguably one of the slowest categories to embrace change, has quietly been refining old-school tradition with a new generation of distillers looking to make their mark.
With 2019 coming to a close, we looked back at the best spirits we tasted and rated this year. From a stalwart estate single malt to a solera-aged reserve, Scotch is booming. These top selections prove why this whisky remains one of the most popular styles, imitated but never replicated, worldwide.
Our Best Scotches of 2019
Macallan Estate Single Malt Scotch. $250, 95 points. Delectable notes of oloroso Sherry, dried date, dried fig, caramel and toffee lead the nose. The palate opens with a roar of flavor—leather, dried date, cocoa powder and toffee. The finish is long and gentle with hints of honey, gingerbread and dried cherry, plus a cinnamon and cayenne tickle. A delicious and complex sipper. –Kara Newman
The GlenDronach 15 Year Single Malt Scotch. $84, 95 points. The nose on this copper-hued single malt shows caramel and a hint of smoke. The expansive, rounded flavors seem to gain intensity with every sip—dark toffee, espresso, cocoa and oak meld with peat smoke, leading into a warming, cinnamon-accented finish. –K.N.
Ardbeg Drum Special Committee Edition Single Malt Scotch. $120, 94 points. This special limited edition single malt was released for Ardbeg Day 2019. Expect a light gold hue and aromas of peat smoke and iodine. The palate is silky and slick, opening with a cloud of smoke punctuated by clove and black pepper. The luxuriously long finish exhales peat, espresso, vanilla and peppery spice, refreshed by a hint of citrusy astringency. –K.N.
Compass Box The Peat Monster Summer 2019 Scotch. $65, 94 points. A new year-round bottling, this is a blended Scotch that showcases several Islay distilleries, with an eye toward “depth and elegance.” Look for a pale gold hue and a floral, grassy, salt-breezy aroma that reflects a delicate hint of peat smoke. The palate is more robust; think shovelfuls of peat, though it pulls back just short of the overwhelm point, allowing hints of vanilla sweetness and grassy freshness to peek through. –K.N.
Glenfiddich 15 Unique Solera Reserve Single Malt Scotch. $60, 94 points. Scented with honey and baked apple, this single malt is big and rich, opening with fruit and just a puff of smoke, adding a distinct mouthwatering sea salt note midpalate, then stretching on into a long, butterscotch finish. It marries whiskies matured in Sherry, Bourbon and new oak casks in a solera vat, which has been periodically topped up with new whiskey since 1998—no wonder it’s so complex. –K.N.
Glencadam 21 Single Malt Scotch. $200, 93 points. This golden single malt offers aromas of ripe pear and vanilla. The palate opens with a burst of black pepper, moving into creamy honey, vanilla and baked pear flavors, finishing with peppery tingle. A dose of water pulls it all together, creating a vanilla cream pie effect. –K.N.
The Glenlivet 14 Cognac Cask Selection Single Malt Scotch. $53, 93 points. Bright copper in the glass, the sweet aromas suggest maple and allspice. The light, drying palate echoes that maple hint alongside grapefruit peel tones, finishing with a flurry of baking spice and mouthwatering lemon peel. A drop of water coaxes a gentle waft of smoke. Overall a delicate, ethereal sipper. –K.N.
Robert Burns Single Malt Scotch. $40, 92 points. Made by Isle of Arran Distillers and named for the national poet of Scotland, this light gold whisky offers a fresh apple scent mixed with a puff of peat smoke. The palate is brisk, drying and astringent. Oak, vanilla and subtle smoke gives way to a lingering finish laced with lemon peel and sweet spices. –K.N.