For the gift-giving season, single malt Scotch often tops wish lists. Compared to blended Scotch, the single malt category— that is, Scotch made by a single distillery, using only malted barley, yeast and water, in a pot still—is considered more rare and often is regarded as a status symbol.
Indeed, many of the newest single malt releases are limited editions, and with that can come a hefty price tag. These recently reviewed selections also span in age range from five years old, like the Ardbeg Wee Beastie, to five decades, as in a pair of special editions from The Last Drop.
For those who love both whisky and wine, take note: Two top scorers were finished in French wine casks, to very different— but delightful—effect. Aberfeldy finished its 18-year-old single malt in casks that previously held Côte-Rôtie—a Syrah from the Rhône Valley—which lends earthy aromatics to a nutty, spiced whisky core. On the other end of the spectrum, Bruichladdich finished its latest edition of super-peaty Port Charlotte in Pauillac casks. It’s part of an ongoing project to age Islay Scotch in barrels sourced from famous Bordeaux estates. As a result, subtle fruit enlivens the whisky’s dark chocolate and smoked chipotle tones.
Collectors also should keep an eye out for limited editions from independent bottlers, such as The Last Drop and The Perfect Fifth. Of note, these entities don’t distill spirits, but source parcels made by others—including some big-name distilleries. Some might blend casks together before bottling and selling these whiskies under their own label. While independent bottling isn’t a new tradition in Scotland, it’s less well known here in the U.S. It’s yielding some stellar bottles, such as the 28-year-old single cask from Islay’s Bunnahabhain and the 1970 bottling from Speyside’s Glenrothes.
Most likely, there’s a bottle below that’s just right for whoever’s on your gift list this year. Cheers!
The Perfect Fifth Distilled at Bunnahabhain Aged 28 Years Single Malt Scotch Whisky; $750, 98 points. Almond and honeysuckle aromas lead to a palate that opens with honeyed sweetness. Adding water brings ginger and lemon cream pie notes forward, finishing long and mouthwatering, with a brush of smoke on the exhale. It’s surprisingly lithe and lively for such a long-aged single malt.
Aberfeldy 18 Years in Oak Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky; $120, 97 points. This starts off with earthy, oaky aromas. The palate opens dry in tones of cedar and a hint of tingly spice. Adding water brings mouthwatering vanilla forward, along with coconut and a nutty tone reminiscent of pecan pie. The finish is long and drying, with plenty of baking spice and ginger tingles. Finished in Côte-Rôtie red wine casks.
Port Charlotte PAC: 01 2011 Heavily Peated Islay Single Malt; $130, 97 points. Look for a tawny hue and a distinctly coconut-driven aroma. Add water to tame the alcohol intensity and the reward is orange and dark chocolate flavors, with hints of chipotle, charred oak and saline. The finish is long, complex and delicious. It was aged eight years and finished in red wine casks from Bordeaux.
Benriach The Twelve Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky; $60, 96 points. What’s in the bottle is a 12-year-old single malt aged in a combination of Sherry, bourbon and Port barrels. Expect a tawny hue and almond and fresh red apple aromas. The palate opens brisk and bold, showing caramel and baked apple flavors. A splash of water brings out mocha tones alongside cinnamon and ginger. Overall, this is a lightly sweet sipper, warming and delicious.
The Last Drop 1970 Glenrothes Single Malt Scotch Whisky; $6,250, 96 points. Olive brine, dark chocolate and faint peat tones entice the nose and palate. A splash of water unfurls almond and a funky aged-cheese umami note. Overall, this is a complex sipper with unusual flavors. This rare bottling is made from three single casks from Speyside distillery Glenrothes.
The Glen Grant 18 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky; $135, 95 points. Coconut and pineapple aromas lead into a flavorful palate brushed with tropical fruit and caramelized brown sugar. Adding water unleashes crème brûlée and a darker plum tone, finishing with a moderately smoky exhale.
The Macallan Double Cask 18 Years Old Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky; $350, 95 points. Assertive caramel and toffee aromas lead the nose. On the palate, vanilla and creamy caramel are enlivened by a hint of orange peel. Adding water creates an even bigger and richer effect, bringing more caramel center stage, finishing long with a sprinkle of cinnamon and cocoa powder. This easy sipper is an 18-year-old single malt rested in ex-Sherry casks.
Old Pulteney Huddart Single Malt Scotch Whisky; $70, 94 points. Sea air, toasted almond and subtle peat smoke mark the nose of this single malt. The palate opens assertively smoky and savory, mixing bacon and mesquite with almond, honey and spice. This was aged in ex-bourbon casks and finished in casks that previously held peated whisky.
Glenfarclas 17 Year Old Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky; $94, 93 points. Baking spice aromas lead the nose. The palate opens with lemon peel acidity and Granny Smith apple tartness. Adding water pulls out mild nutty tones, finishing long with nutmeg, cinnamon and vanilla.
Ardbeg Wee Beastie 5 Years Old Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky; $50, 91 points. A distinct mesquite smoke note leads the nose of this Islay single malt. The ferocious palate opens with almond, spicy honey and peat smoke, plus a hint of barbecue sauce twang. Each savory sip finishes warming and intense, laced with eucalyptus, sea salt and cayenne. Released in 2020, this is a permanent addition to the Ardbeg core range. Best Buy.