Scotland is to whisky what France is to wine. Simply put, no matter where your journey in the world of whisky begins, once you truly come to appreciate the various styles of whiskies in the world, scotch whiskies will hold a particular fascination. These are the best scotches that I've tasted in the past year.
- Blended Scotch
Isle of Skye, this 8 year old offering from Ian Macleod is one of the most complex, masterful blended whiskies ever produced. Hints of smoke wafting through a Chinese tea house delight the palate before settling in for a surprisingly long finish for a blended scotch whisky. An absolutely delightful dram, well suited for special occasions but modestly priced to allow you to enjoy regularly.
- Vatted Malt
Johnnie Walker Green Label offers wonderful fruit notes and a slightly malty sweetness before giving way to the classic Johnnie Walker smoke profile and just the right amount of oakiness. One of the great whiskies of the world, a tribute to just how good a vatted malt can be.
- Island Single Malt
While not classically defined as its own region, the single malts produced in the islands of Scotland are so unique and distinctive that I believe they deserve their own category. While there are a number of wonderful single malts from the islands of Scotland, Highland Park 18 is simply one of the finest single malts anywhere. Rich, full bodied, with honeyed overtones and subtle spice notes, this is a single malt that can be enjoyed by both novice and experienced scotch enthusiasts alike.
- Islay Malt
The only island in Scotland that is recognized for a regional style, Islay malts are classically big, smoky, and sometimes medicinal in taste. Laphroaig's 18 year offering, which recently replaced their 15 year old offering in the United States, is a study in complexity and depth. Seaweed and salt spray burst forth on the palate, giving way to smoky peat and a slightly sweet, almost honeysuckle and orange peel note, before a more honeyed and creosote finish appears. In one word, elegant.
- Highland Malt
Dalmore 12 year is surprisingly affordable given the level of quality that this dram offers up. Dalmore's entire range of single malt offerings are fantastic, but the 12 year old is the classic definition of a Highland malt. Robust, on the nose this dram offers up hints of sherry and brown sugar, and the palate offers up dates, dried plums and sultanas intermingled with hazelnut and almond notes. Finally, Dalmore 12 year offers up a pleasingly sweet finish, with chocolate and more hazelnut flavors appearing. One of the great values in single malt scotch, Dalmore is my choice to sip in front of the fireplace on a cold rainy night.
- Speyside Malt
Tie. Gordon & MacPhail's Benromach 10 year offers up a creamy, slightly tight nose, but on the palate there are wonderful flavors of mandarin oranges, black tea, clotted cream, cinnamon and, surprisingly, bicycle inner tube before giving way to a rich, warm and long finish. Really one of the more interesting drams I've had in some time. Glenlivet's 1991 Nadurra Triumph uses an older, two row strain of barley that's fallen out of favor in modern times. Soft and gentle as a baby's blanket, this single malt is a study in subtlety. Nice oak and fruity notes appear on the nose and continue through to the palate before a soft landing on the finish of demerara sugar and apples.
- Campbeltown Malt
Springbank 15 year is the consummate Campbeltown malt. Full bodied, with oak, black strap molasses, a bit of smoke and sea spray, when it comes to Campbeltown malts, Springbank literally is Campbeltown.
- Lowland Malt
No award. While I've had some interesting Lowland malts this past year, none have been so distinctive as to merit an award. I tend to think that the best Lowland malts come from Auchentoshan, and would recommend one of their offerings if pressed.