There’s a lot of great whiskey in this weary old world of ours. The vast majority of that whiskey comes from Scotland. I know, it’s a tiny place. But the 140-odd distilleries produce an astounding amount of Scotch whisky each year. Finding the perfect Scotch whisky to drink, thereby, is no easy task. Special oak cask finishings, limited edition releases, cask strength bottlings, excellent malt blends, and very old age statements all add an aura to a whisky release (and can make it confusing when shopping). But what really is the best of all those variables? That’s where competitions like the International Wine & Spirits Competition (IWSC) come in.
The IWSC gathers some of the biggest names in the whiskey game every year to judge an incredible amount of spirits, especially Scotch whisky. These whiskies are judged double-blind by panels of judges that include huge names from distilling like Dr. Bill Lumsden (who makes Glenmorangie and Ardbeg) to Richard “The Nose” Paterson OBE (Master Blender for Whyte & Mackay for the last 50 years) to David Stewart MBE (who invented the special barrel finish at The Balvenie during his 55-year career — so far — in whisky). The judge panels also include influencers, critics, and industry pros who are unassailably in the upper echelon of the whiskey industry. Long story short (too late), the judges for these whiskeys are the people to listen to when looking for a new pour.
And now they have spoken — definitively — about what you should be sipping right now. Below, I’ve listed the 24 Scotch whiskies that achieved the acclaimed “Gold Outstanding” highest honor at the 2023 IWSC. These are the whiskies that achieved a 98 or 99-point rating out of 100. Amazingly, only one whisky got that coveted 99-point rating and you’ll have to scroll to the end to see which one.
Besides the list, I’ve included the tasting notes from the pros who judged the whiskies at IWSC this year and have included my tasting notes if I’ve tasted the whisky too. Sound good? Let’s dive in!
- The 50 Best Scotch Whiskies Of 2022, Ranked
- The Best Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whiskies Under $100, Ranked
- The Absolute Best Scotch Whisky Between $60-$70, Ranked
- Single Malt Whiskeys From Around The World, Blind Tasted And Ranked
- We Blind Tasted Single Malt Whiskies From All Over The World To Find A Champion
Loch Lomond Single Malt Scotch Whisky Aged 10 Years — 98 Points
Average Price: $32
This lightly peated single malt is aged in American oak. 10-year-old casks are chosen for their exacting flavor profile and vatted to create this low-proof local release.
“A fruit-driven nose showing tropical fruits, especially pineapple, combining with bonfire smoke aromas. Tropical fruits linger on the palate where the gentle smoke is integrated ending with a vanilla sweetness in the finish. Good malt character, estery and fruity.”
This is made for British grocery stores. So you’re not going to see it around the U.S. That said, this feels like a quality highball whisky to have on hand if you’re traveling around the U.K. this summer.
The GlenDronach Parliament Aged 21 Years Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky — 98 Points
Average Price: $279
Don’t let the name fool you. The “parliament” in this case is the collective noun for rooks — a type of European crow that nests above the distillery. That dark essence is rendered in the whisky through 21 long years of maturation in Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez sherry casks exclusively.
“Rich fruitcake on the nose with sweet and spicy cloves leading to a balanced palate of dark chocolate, savory notes, and firm tannins giving complexity and balance and finishing on a long juicy raisin mouthfeel.”
Our Tasting Notes:
Nose: A lot is going on with this nose, starting with blackberry brambles hanging heavy with ripe fruit leading towards a well-spiced oatmeal cookie, soft marzipan cut with hints of orange zest, a light sense of dark chocolate with a creamy edge, and soft vanilla cookies sprinkled with mint and lavender.
Palate: A sticky toffee pudding sweetness arrives (heavy on the black tea-soaked dates and nutmeg with a well-salted toffee drizzle) with flourishes of bitter dark chocolate notes and a sharp holiday spice matrix that leans into bark and berry botanicals with a dash of sweet nutmeg.
Finish: The end is very long and very velvety with hints of dark fruits, winter spice barks, soft marzipan, and a fleeting sense of a wildflower orchard.
This is a perfect whisky. No faults. It’s just delicious.
Deanston Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky 21 Years Old Sherry Cask — 98 Points
Average Price: $222
This cask-strength bottling is all about soft sherry cask finishing. The organic malt is finished in organic fino sherry casks (the wood is organic and the sherry was too). Those barrels are bottled with no fussing whatsoever.
“Wonderfully rich and bursting with spicy ginger and vanilla aromas. Sweet nutmeg and treacle toffee with hints of tangy orange fill the senses with a soft PX mouthfeel which lingers in the mouth with fabulous complexity.”
Deanston is one of those brands that is really gaining traction amongst dyed-in-the-wool whisky fans. This sounds delicious.
Tomintoul Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky Aged 21 Years — 98 Points
Average Price: $199
This is classic unpeated Speyside single malt. The whisky spends over two decades mellowing before it’s vatted, proofed with local soft Speyside water, and bottled.
“Intensely fruity with an excellent complexity. Spiced stem and sweet crystalized ginger enthuse on the palate with a supporting cast of brown sugar, orange blossom, rich dark chocolate, and luxurious vanilla notes. A taste sensation, embracing nutty sherry undertones, pastry, and oak on the journey towards the elegant finish.”
Spicy and dark fruit sounds delicious. I’m always weary of 40% or 80-proof Scotch, but this sounds like a winner worth checking out.
Balblair Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky Aged 21 Years — 98 Points
Average Price: $619
Balblair lets this malt rest for over 20 years in old bourbon casks. A batch of those barrels that actually survive is re-filled into old Spanish sherry oak for a final few years of rest before proofing and bottling.
“Warming first impression on the nose showing aroma characteristics of orange peel, blackcurrant, dried fig, dark chocolate, and oak influences shown as spice, nutmeg, and cloves. Full-bodied style showing balance with rich dried fruits and overall sweet indications; a woody finish.”
Balblair is a sleeper hit every time I taste it. I can’t imagine this not being a great pour of whisky.
The Scotch Malt Whisky Society 55.74 Crazy Flamenco Bravura Single Malt Scotch Whisky — 98 Points
Average Price: $122
This special bottling from The Scotch Malt Whisky Society (one of the most famous single cask bottlers in the game) is made from a one-of-a-kind barrel. The whisky in this bottle aged for 15 years in a first-fill Olorosso hogshead in Speyside. The Scotch Malt Whisky Society selected a single barrel and bottled it 100% as-is.
“A good balance of rich dark fruits with cereal notes, esters, and wood extracts on the nose combining with a spiciness, figs, and bourbon cask influences on the palate where the strength of the alcohol comes through. A balanced finish ending with oak.”
I’ve never had a bad pour from The Scotch Malt Whisky Society. I would confidently buy this without the award (and now more so because of it).
The Sassenach Blended Scotch Whisky — 98 Points
Average Price: $102
Yes, Scotch whisky has celebrity white-labeled brands too. This one comes from Outlander star Sam Heughan. The whisky’s recipe/build is under wraps so there’s not much more to say besides that Sam Heughan is not simply slapping his name on a bottle. He’s fully involved in the process as a deeply caring whisky fan who wants to put something special on the shelf.
“Exquisite nose of vanilla, toffee, and breadcrumbs. Lovely grainy quality on the palate with buttery apple puree, a refined sweetness, and luscious tropical notes. Floral, fruity, malty, and rich, finishing with orange peel and milk chocolate.”
Our Tasting Notes:
Nose: Lemon drops and Almond Joys drive the nose with a hint of honey, bourbon vanilla, and dried apricot.
Palate: That apricot gets leathery on the palate as the malts arrive with plenty of honey and cinnamon-forward spice next to a hint of eggnog nutmeg.
Finish: The finish is concise with a little cinnamon, honey, and almond rounding things out.
This is a classic blended Scotch whisky from top to bottom. I tend to like it over a big rock on a slow afternoon. It also works wonders in a simple whisky-forward cocktail.
Craigellachie Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky Aged 13 Years — 98 Points
Average Price: $51
Craigellachie is another classic Speyside malt that forms the backbone of Dewar’s Blended Whisky. This whisky ages for 13 years before it’s vatted, proofed, and bottled.
“Gentle orchard fruit on the nose that is well balanced with rich and complex dried fruit. Delicate palate of lovely sweetness, honey, and vanilla with punchy heat and subtle baking spices. Beautifully finished with oak and wood spiciness.”
Our Tasting Notes:
Nose: Dried apricots and grilled pineapple pop on the nose with a light sense of molasses over what feels like brown sugar basted ham with a thin line of barbecue smoke.
Palate: That hint of sweet smoke leads back to the dried fruit with a hint of creamy vanilla and soft winter spices (cloves and allspice especially).
Finish: Grilled pineapple, mango skins, and marmalade draw out the finish with a hint more of that molasses smokiness and singed winter spices.
This is a great cocktail whisky. It adds a subtle fruity/smoky punch to citrus-forward drinks.
Glen Moray Single Malt Scotch Whisky Elgin Limited Edition Aged 10 Years — 98 Points
Average Price: $81
This limited edition whiskey is made from 10-year-old Glen Elgin. The twist here is that this batch was finished in Chardonnay casks and then bottled as-is with a dash of proofing water.
“Soft fruits lead this drink to make an unforgettable statement. Magnificent lemon sherbet on the nose with butter icing and freshly sliced apple. The palate is spiced fruit cake building to the finish.”
Glen Elgin is another sleeper hit. It’s one of those whiskies that pops up and delivers and a great flavor profile. For this one, I’m interested in how deeply the buttery orchard nature of the Chardonnay cask goes.
Glenfairn Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky — 98 Points
Average Price: $23
Glenfairn is a small local bottler in the U.K. This whisky is made from vats of Highland malt. Beyond that, not much else is known.
“Wonderfully fragrant on the nose with a tropical mango base and a creamy toffee palate that is sweet and unctuous with great balance that finishes with a rich floral character that lingers.”
This is another very local U.K. grocery store whisky. I can’t see tracking this down unless I had nothing better to do.
Glenfiddich Single Malt Scotch Whisky Solera Aged 15 Years — 98 Points
Average Price: $89
This unique Glenfiddich has its own vibe. The whisky is aged in ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks for 15 years. Those barrels are then vatted in a special large-format solera barrel that’s never fully emptied as new whisky goes in. The whisky from that vat is proofed down and then bottled.
“Delicate nose with mineral notes, soft fruit is beautifully balanced with a perfect sweetness that continues to develop onto the palate. Baked green apple drizzled in butterscotch sauce with a hint of marzipan and cinnamon.”
Our Tasting Notes:
Nose: Dark dried red fruit mixes with old vanilla on the nose with a hint of orange and maybe some light winter spice.
Palate: Soft plummy fruit mingles with marzipan and vanilla with a light oaky spiciness that’s part spicy mulled wine and part mincemeat pie.
Finish: The holiday sweetness drives the finish with a sense of raisins, marzipan, and gingerbread cookies.
This is pretty nice but very light thanks to that low ABV/proof. I wouldn’t spend $90 on it but I wouldn’t turn a glass away if someone handed it to me.
Loch Lomond Inchmurrin Single Malt Scotch Whisky Aged 12 Years — 98 Points
Average Price: $45
This whiskey is made from three casks — American bourbon oak, re-fill oak, and re-charred oak barrels — that rest for 12 years. Those barrels are vatted and whisky is proofed before bottling.
“Matured impression on the nose with gentle smoke, vanilla sweetness, red currants, and new season strawberry aromas shining through combining with spice, chili, and smoke on the palate where the fruity body complements the overall complexity with a long finish.”
Loch Lomond tends to hit these low-age-statement whiskies out of the park with detectability. This is one I’m genuinely interested in tracking down — though I can see it leaning more toward cocktails than sipping.
Bunnahabhain Moine 2004 Tokaji Cask Finish Single Malt Scotch Whisky — 98 Points
Average Price: $212
This special release dropped at last year’s Fèis Ìle (Islay’s premiere whisky folk festival). The whisky in the bottle is classic Bunnahabhain that’s aged for just over a year in Hungarian Tokaji dessert wine casks.
“Rich and savory aromas predominate with underlying nutty notes and a touch of iodine leading to a soft, sweet, smoky palate and a streak of salinity and finely-tuned tannins. ‘The perfect whisky’.”
Our Tasting Notes:
Nose: Smoldering incense draws you in with a light sense of burnt white sugar, orange zest, and dried roses on the nose.
Palate: Smoldering vanilla pods and burnt pear skins drive the taste toward rich marzipan, soft red berries with a whisper of tartness, and a lush sense of marmalade and lemon curd.
Finish: The end circles back to the dried roses with a hint of sandalwood and singed cinnamon bark next to soft lemon cream with a touch of sawdust.
This is an inexplicable whisky that’s genuinely delicious. This is the bottle you pour from when you want to be challenged.
Old Pulteney Single Malt Scotch Whisky Aged 25 Years — 98 Points
Average Price: $594
This seaside whiskey spends over two decades mellowing in old bourbon barrels. For the last couple of years, the whisky rests in Spanish sherry oak before vatting, a touch of proofing, and bottling.
“A rich, sweet, and complex example with indications of maturity showing vanilla, honey, dried and exotic fruits on the nose and palate. Full-bodied style with oak influences shown as toast, dark chocolate, and spice, which keep on lingering in the finish.”
This is a gap in my Old Pulteney tasting log. That said, I can’t imagine that this isn’t an absolute banger. The price is high but the reward is likely just as high.
The Glenmorangie Palo Cortado 12 YO Single Malt Scotch Whisky — 98 Points
Average Price: $93
This whisky mellows for eight years in former bourbon casks. A blend of those barrels is then transferred to Palo Cortado casks (an extremely rare and old sherry). Once those barrels are just right, they’re batched, proofed, and bottled otherwise as-is.
“Classic style example with a well-balanced impression on the nose with aroma characteristics of milk chocolate, fudge, and caramelized apple combining on the palate with clear oak characteristics giving a lovely dry mouthfeel and creating complexity with a long spicy finish.”
This is a U.K.-only release as of now. It hasn’t reached these shores yet, but given the love for Glenmorangie over here, I can’t imagine this not arriving soon. I’m pretty excited to try it once it does.
Glencadam Reserva Andalucía Oloroso Sherry Cask Finish Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky — 98 Points
Average Price: $43
This bespoke whisky is made from special Andalucia sherry casks that are blended with malt aged in ex-bourbon casks. The final product is then finished in fresh Olorosso sherry casks before proofing and bottling.
“A wonderful rich single malt bursting with sweet orange marmalade aromas and ginger spice, giving a real tang to the palate; fine vanilla gives an elegant mouthfeel and there’s a hint of chili on the finish. An extremely attractive drop.”
This sounds like standard, good whisky. My guess is that it’s one of those that’s solid enough as a table whisky sipper or as a great highball base.
Chivas Brothers Royal Salute Key To The Kingdom 30 Years Old Blended Scotch Whisky — 98 Points
Average Price: $999
These are special editions of Chivas by the Royal Salute branding Basically, that means that these whiskies are made to celebrate huge anniversaries and events associated with the British monarchy. In this case, that’s a blended Scotch whisky made from whiskies from all over Scotland — both grain and malt whiskeys — that were over 30 years old.
“Nicely weighted and complex with flavors of bacon fat and barbecue sauce. Sweet spices shine through with hints of geranium leaf, candied ginger, polished oak, and figs. Well balanced, with a lovely traditional character.”
I’ve had a few of these over the years, and they’re always perfectly good whiskies. I guess if you’re a monarchist, these are very desirable.
Chivas Brothers Royal Salute 62 Gun Salute Blended Scotch Whisky — 98 Points
Average Price: $3,999
This is another Royal Salute brand from Chivas Brothers (which celebrates the 21-gun salute at the Tower of London during royal events). This one is made from unpeated Speyside whiskies that clock in between 40 and 44 years old.
“Old leather and polished mahogany on the nose with an intense sweet and spicy palate. Flavors of sultanas, dried figs, and nutmeg shine through. The finish is bright with some sugar and pineapple syrup. Outstanding.”
Again, these tend to be very solid blended Scotch whiskies. But yet again, I can’t see bothering with this unless I really cared about the British Crown, or wanted something super insider and show-off-y to drink during the last season of The Crown on Netflix.
Talisker Single Malt Scotch Whisky Aged 30 Years — 98 Points
Average Price: $1,560
Talisker’s seaside vibes are on full display in this beautiful bottle. The 2021 limited release (the 30-year is on a random release schedule) was around 3,000 bottles, making this a very rare expression from the Isle of Skye distillery. Those bottles were pulled from both ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks and masterfully blended right next to the sea at cask strength.
“Very bright, fresh, fruit-driven style. Stunning balance and mouthfeel. The nose is fragrant with delicate aroma oils and a slight waxiness. The palate shines with stewed fruits and marmalade. Lovely texture. Outstanding.”
Our Tasting Notes:
Nose: The nose is shockingly subtle and soft with velvety notes of smoldering dried nori next to matchsticks that have been dipped in a buttery and rich dark chocolate with sea salt gently sprinkled all over.
Palate: The palate leans into the dialed-back peat by bringing about a smoked cream with fire-seared peaches next to a hint of wet cedar, very old tobacco leaves, and a touch of almond or oat milk flecked with salt.
Finish: That salt drives the mid-palate towards a finish that’s like getting kissed by merfolk on a beach next to a campfire that’s heating a cauldron full of spicy stewed peaches in more of that cream.
This seaside peated malt is so subtle and deeply refined that you’ll always find something new and different with every nose and sip. And I promise you that there’s something to love in there if you take the time to find it.
The Glenmorangie The Accord Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky Aged 12 Years — 98 Points
Average Price: $231
This is classic Glenmorangie. It’s so classic that it’s aged in both ex-bourbon and ex-Olrosso sherry casks and is bottled at a lower proof.
“Rich and spicy sherry aromas with dried fruits to the fore tumbled with dark chocolate, sweet ginger, and cinnamon spice. Bold smoke gives complexity and the finish has praline and a hint of summer blackcurrants giving a fruity touch.”
This is a bottle that’s far cheaper in the U.K. — it’s far more of a table whisky for on the rocks sipping, highballs, and cocktails. Over here, the price is very over-inflated and, frankly, just not worth it.
The Balvenie The Week Of Peat Single Malt Scotch Whisky Aged 19 Years — 98 Points
Average Price: $699
For one week every year, The Balvenie distilled a batch of peated malt whisky (the old-school distillery is world-famous for its unpeated malt). That whisky is left alone in oak until it’s just right. In the case of this bottling, that took 19 years. The whisky was bottled as-is to highlight the subtle peatiness.
“Complex nose with mineral-led characteristics, coming from smoke and soot with well-integrated pine. The sweetness and complexity continue onto the palate well into the finish with vanilla, tar, and licorice.”
Our Tasting Notes:
Nose: Burnt pine forests and chocolate malted biscuits mingle with rich and almost burnt toffee next to smoldering cinnamon bark and a hint of old maple syrup.
Palate: Gingerbread dipped in vanilla icing mingles with rich and lush marzipan, soft burnt orange, and a sense of winter spices that were just lit on fire.
Finish: Dark smoked cherry and cinnamon dance with lush vanilla, salted black licorice, and subtle cedar plank wisping lines of smoke from an orchard wood fire.
This is a delicious peated malt that blends in soft and wintry spices and nuttiness. You cannot go wrong pouring this whisky. If you’re not into peated whiskies, this might change your mind thanks to all that lush vanilla, fruit, and nuttiness.
The Balvenie Single Malt Scotch Whisky PortWood Aged 21 Years — 98 Points
Average Price: $227
This masterfully crafted expression from The Balvenie takes some serious time. The whisky is initially aged for 21 years in ex-bourbon casks. That whisky is then transferred to small port pipes, which held port in Portugal for 30 long years. That’s a long, long time, creating some very rare and well-seasoned oak. The effect is singular and distinct.
“Deliciously fruity and expressive on the nose with crisp and vibrant green apple. The palate indicates excellent aging leading to a creamy mouthfeel with vanilla sweetness: like stewed apples and vanilla cream.”
Our Tasting Notes:
Nose: You’re pulled in by a gentle sense of ripe yet soft peaches next to wet rose petals and a small billow of cherry tobacco smoke from a pipe.
Palate: The palate, again, is gentle and carries notes of red, sweet, and tart berries, stewed plums, and tiny moments of velvety and buttery pain au chocolat.
Finish: The finish holds onto that chocolate as it slowly meanders through your senses, leaving you with dark fruits, a whisper more of that cherry tobacco, and a pure silk mouthfeel.
This is a great whisky for any old bourbon whiskey fan out there. There’s a clear continuity to the flavor profile between this and 10-plus-year-old bourbons. So if you’re a high-end bourbon fan looking to get into really good high-end scotch, you’ll be very happy with this bottle.
The Bowmore Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky Finished in Mizunara PX Sherry Cask Aged 31 Years — 98 Points
Average Price: $6,375
This lightly peated malt from The Bowmore was distilled back in 1990. The whiskey spent 30 years in old bourbon casks, mellowing slowly by the sea in Islay. The whisky that survived that long era was then refilled into Mizunara casks from Hokkaido, Japan, which held PX sherry in Spain before making it to Islay. That cask was then bottled as-is.
“A superior malt whisky with lavender and tropical fruit flavors. The floral nose leads to a lovely marzipan and sweet treacle palate with hints of sweet spice and rose. The finish is complex with gentle woodsmoke, sandalwood, and molasses. A masterclass of a malt.”
This is probably transcendent whisky. I’m wildly eager to try it.
The Glenturret Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky Triple Wood 2022 Release — 99 Points
Average Price: $58
This pretty standard malt is aged in both bourbon and sherry barrels alongside new American oak barrels, adding a bourbon-iness to it all. Those barrels are then vatted and proofed down before bottling.
“A summer Turkish delight of sweet raisin, marmalade, and orange blossom aromas with a rich fruitcake palate, hints of brown sugar and honey, with a creamy toffee texture on the finish.”
This is a whisky that you sometimes see in the U.S., but it’s way more prevalent in the EU and the U.K. Is it worth tracking down here? I guess since it’s the highest-ranked whisky from this year’s IWSC the answer is a “yes.”