If you’ve never tried Scotch whisky, now is the time. Depending on where (and from which distillery) you get a bottle, whether it’s the Highlands, Lowlands, Speyside, Campbeltown, or Islay, there’s something to appeal to (most) every palate. This is especially true for fans of sweeter bourbons, who might have previously steered clear of Scotland’s native whisky because they worried about the famed “smokiness.”
Fear not, fans of vanilla and caramel-driven bourbons! You can definitely get your sweet teeth soothed by Scotch. Though the flavor notes will differ, the softer, sweeter flavors are certainly there, if you pick the right expressions.
While sweeter bourbons are typically known for their caramel, vanilla, and sweet corn flavors, Scotch has more honey, floral, and dried orange peel notes predominating. But Scotch gets added dessert-like flavors (and gains some crossover appeal) from being aged in ex-bourbon barrels. Also, many brands mature or age their juice in former sherry butts or wine casks — those fruits end up supplying more dessert-like notes to the final products.
To find the best options for sweeter scotches, we decided to ask our friends behind the bar for some recommendations. We tasked a handful of our favorite bartenders to tell us their picks for the most dessert-like Scotch whiskies on the market. Check them all out below and click on the prices to buy a bottle!
Eoghain Clavin, brewery ambassador for Guinness
Oban 14. Oban is one of Scotland’s oldest licensed distilleries. It was founded in 1794 and only has seven employees. Oban has gorgeous flavors of rich fruits, delicious, honeyed spice, a bit of a smoky dryness and you get a whiff of sea salt, as Oban is located where the highlands meet the sea.
Average Price: $90
Dennis Shea, beverage director at Fish & Fire Food Group in Washington, DC
Notes of honey often appear in whisky matured in American white oak and first-fill bourbon barrels—the result of sweet esters produced during fermentation. Fans of honey in their single malt will love the whiskies of AnCnoc, especially the 18-year-old one. Gentle spices and the intense sweetness of dried fruits are topped with chocolate, ripe oranges, and oiled leather on the nose. Full-bodied and bold, aromatic spices fruit and candied lemon are followed by a surge of honey, vanilla, and caramel on the palate.
Average Price: $139
Bruichladdich Port Charlotte 10
Tom Garvin, beverage manager at Tribeca’s Kitchen in New York City
Personally, I really like bigger, smokier single malts. My favorite right now is probably Bruichladdich’s Port Charlotte 10. While the scotch is heavily peaked and made from exclusively Islay Barley, it does have a really tasty finish of roasted nuts and honey — which conjures a lighter, more savory dessert.
It’s also great for cocktails as the smokiness is delightful when mixed with fresh citrus.
Average Price: $70
The Dalmore 12
Chandra Richter, vice president of beverage development & chief mixologist at Drinkworks
If you are a fan of honey (like me), look for a Scotch with rich, buttery caramel notes and lighter smokey notes. Dalmore Single Malt Scotch — especially the 12 — does this really well and it is one of my go-to’s. This is a great sipping Scotch, but I also love using it in a Penicillin cocktail for that added combination of Scotch and sweetness.
Average Price: $65
Glenmorangie Nectar D’Or
Matthew Lawson, bar manager at Culaccino Italian Restaurant + Bar in Franklin, Tennessee
A very balanced yet unique Highland single malt, The Glenmorangie Nectar D’Or is finished in Sauternes barrels, lending incredible tropical, citrus, and honey flavors to the dram that plays nicely with the usual baking spice and malt notes of the whisky.
Average Price: $80
Bruichladdich Classic Laddie
Austin Zimmer, bartender at Le Privé in New York City
The Bruichladdich Classic Laddie has a mix of sweet nose, combines salty and sweet oak, barley, green fruits, vanilla touch along with sweet malt, honey, and some extra sweetness at the end.
Average Price: $60
The Macallan 12 Double Cask
Francisco Fonseca, bartender in Puerto Rico
For all the fans of single malt scotch whisky, The Macallan 12 Double Cask will rock your world. In classic dried fruit territory, sherry oak, and aromatic butterscotch it’s also creamy and honeyed with some marmalade cinnamon and warm pastries. Pure dessert.
Average Price: $75
Glenmorangie The Original
Dean Hurst, beverage director for Datz Restaurant Group in the Tampa Bay
Glenmorangie The Original 10 Year has all the makings of the perfect sweeter, entry-level Scotch whisky. If it was your first, you will never forget the floral nose and delicate finish. If you are just now finding it, slow down and appreciate how well it is made with all the subtle trappings that make you a Scotch whisky drinker.
Average Price: $45
Maren Nazera Erickson, bartender in San Antonio, Texas
Fans of dessert-style spirits would love Aberfeldy 12 Year Highland Single Malt. It’s an affordable bottle and packed full of honey notes with spice and some orange. Drink this neat or on the rocks and savor the sweet, lasting finish.
Average Price: $45
Johnny Swet, bartender at owner at Jimmy at the James Hotel in New York City
Hands down, I prefer Dalwhinnie 15. It’s not peaty and has big honey and vanilla flavors. I also taste some heather and lavender in there as well as a subtle hint of smoke. To me, it’s a nice, sweet sipper.
Average Price: $75
The Balvenie Doublewood 12
Joseph Fredrickson, bartender at Society Lounge in Cleveland
The great thing about single malt scotch is the diversity, but if you’re looking for a dessert tone, check out The Balvenie Doublewood 12. The used American oak and sherry gives it a sweetness and honey tone along with notes of nuttiness, vanilla, and sherry. It is incredibly smooth. This Scotch is readily available yet not over-utilized so it makes a great addition to any bar.
Average Price: $70
Glenmorangie Tale of Cake
This aptly named whisky is filled with flavors like milk chocolate, almond cookies, honey, vanilla, and buttercream frosting because it’s finished in Tokaji, a dessert wine from Hungary.
Average Price: $100
As a Drizly affiliate, Uproxx may receive a commission pursuant to certain items on this list.