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All The Scotch Whisky Finalists From The San Francisco World Spirits Competition

In the immortal words of Ron Burgundy, “I love scotch. Scotchy, scotch, scotch. Here it goes down, down into my belly.” At it’s best, Scotch whisky can be pretty great. Yet, as with anything in this weary old world of ours, there’s just as much out there that’s bad as there is good or even mediocre.

The great stuff is pretty fleeting… though, it is out there. You just have to know where to look. To that end, I’m going to call out all the Scotch whiskies that made it into the finals of this year’s San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

For a little clarity, these are all double-gold medal Scotch whiskies. However, these are the double golds that the judges thought had a chance of winning “best in class” in their respective categories. In this case, those categories are Best Blended Scotch — No Age Statement, Best Blended Scotch – 16 Years and Older, Best Single Malt Scotch – No Age Statement, Best Single Malt Scotch – Up to 12 Years, Best Single Malt Scotch –13 to 19 Years, Best Single Malt Scotch – 20 Years and Older, Best Independent Merchant Single Malt, and Best Blended Malt Scotch Whisky. Of the hundreds of Scotch whiskies that were entered, only 18 bottles actually made it to the finals this year. That’s a pretty elite group of great whiskies.

I’m adding my tasting notes (or the distiller/blender/bottler’s where necessary) to all 18 bottles, below. Hopefully, you’ll be able to find a new scotch that makes you as excited as Ron Burgundy was.

Let’s dive in!

Also Read: The Top 5 UPROXX Scotch Whisky Posts of The Last Six Months

Dewar’s Double Double 32 Blended Scotch

Dewar's 32
Bacardi

ABV: 46%

Average Price: $170 (half bottle)

The Whisky:

Master Blender Stephanie MacLeod really hits it out of the park with these blends. This one starts with 32-year-old barrels of both single malt and single grain whiskies. Then all the single malts are blended and re-barreled in an “exhausted” barrel (meaning the barrel has aged its last whisky and would otherwise be repurposed). MacLeod does the same with the grain whiskies. Those grain and malt whiskies are then blended and put into another exhausted barrel for a spell. Finally, those barrels are blended and filled into an ex-Pedro Ximenez sherry barrel for a final maturation.

Tasting Notes:

The nose opens with a rich sticky toffee pudding full of black-tea-soaked dates, sharp cinnamon, nutmeg, buttery toffee sauce, and vanilla ice cream with hints of orange zest, wicker, and an old leather tobacco pouch. The palate largely delivers on the nose’s profile with meaty dates, figs, and prunes countered by woody spice, dark fruit leather, and a touch of honey barrel staves. The finish is shorter than expected with all that dark and dried fruit leaving you with a sweetened and wintry vibe.

Bottom Line:

This is a pretty killer whisky and one that’s worth getting excited about. This is on the rarer and spendy side but has a deep flavor profile that’s as rewarding as it’s accessible to the palate.

Clansman Blended Scotch

Clansman
Clansman

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $13

The Whisky:

This blended scotch from Loch Lomond is as bottom shelf as you can get in the U.S. That said, this blend takes barrels of grain and malt whiskies from the famed Loch Lomond distillery and aims them towards a fruity and sweet nature before proofing and blending.

Tasting Notes:

A slight note of bourbon vanilla shines through on the nose with hints of citrus, almonds, and watered down honey — kind of like stirring honey into a tepid glass of tap water. The palate has a mix of dried fruits — raisins, prunes, and maybe dates — with more watered down honey syrup, a touch of Almond Joy, and a hint of mulled wine. The end leans into the dried fruit and mulled wine spices with a final note of what feels like smoked honey.

Bottom Line:

If you’re mixing whisky and Cokes or any highball, this is the bottle to get.

Pure Scot Midnight Peat

Pure Peat
Pure Peat

ABV: 44.5%

Average Price: $80

The Whisky:

This is another Scotch whisky that’s blended and bottled for the Australian whisky market. The malt and grain whiskies are blended and then finished in barrels that held spice and peat-forward whiskies. That whisky is then blended, proofed down, and bottled as-is.

Tasting Notes (from the bottler):

NOSE: Creamy toffee, floral with citrus apples. PALATE: Rich campfire smoke with toffee apples, honey, and custard. FINISH: Medium with spicy, sweet mouthfeel and tingle from the campfire smoke.

Bottom Line:

Since this is an Aussie release, it’s going to be pretty fleeting outside of that market. Still, if you’re heading to Oz anytime soon, keep an eye out for it.

Johnnie Walker Green Label Blended Malt

Diageo

ABV: 43%

Average Price: $63

The Whisky:

This whisky was actually taken off the market in 2012 and people lost their shit. Diageo came to its senses and brought it back by 2016. The juice is a blend of single malts only, making it a “pure malt” and not a “blended scotch whisky” (that’s blended malts and grain whiskies). The juice primarily comes from Speyside, Highland, Lowland, and Island malts with a focus on a minimum of 15-year-old Talisker, Caol Ila, Cragganmore, and Linkwood.

Tasting Notes:

Cedar boxes full of sweet fruits lead the nose toward black peppercorns and vanilla pods with an underlayer of sweet green grass. That soft cedar leads the taste with support from grilled tropical fruits, dried roses, spiced malts, and chewy apple tobacco. The mid-palate sweetens with a honeycomb vibe as earthy smoke, singed cedar bark, dark cacao nibs, dry reeds, and an echo of sea spray round out the finish.

Bottom Line:

This is probably the most accessible and easy-drinking scotch on the list. You can find this pretty much anywhere. It’s not overly expensive. And, well, it’s just really good as a sipper or mixer.

Black Hound Blended Malt

Black Hound Scotch
Black Hound Scotch

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $42

The Whisky:

This blended malt is made for the Australian market. There’s not a whole lot of information about it other than it’s a blend of the “finest” Highland malts.

Tasting Notes (from the bottler):

This whisky is approachable and accessible — fruity and framed by a great balance of spice and vanilla and finishes with a subtle smoky aroma.

Bottom Line:

This is pretty much an “I’ll try it when I’m there” whisky. I’m not going to take the time to find this in the U.S. but will give it a shot the next time I’m Down Under.

Loch Lomond ‘The Glengarry’ 12

The Glengarry
Loch Lomond Distillery Company

ABV: 46%

Average Price: $76

The Whisky:

This single malt from the famed Loch Lomond Distillery is all about the aging process. The hot juice is loaded into ex-bourbon, re-fill bourbon, and re-charred oak barrels for 12 long years. Those barrels are then blended and the whisky is proofed down with Highland spring water.

Tasting Notes:

The nose is a mix of white summer flowers and a lot of fruit kind of like a fruit salad out of the can. The palate really amps up the fruitiness with overripe peaches, bruised pears, and plenty of grilled pineapple next to a rummy spiced cocktail vibe with a little bit of vanilla, allspice, and woody cinnamon. The finish keeps it easy with more canned fruit syrup, a hint of sweetgrass, and a bit of malty spice.

Bottom Line:

This is too fruity to really keep my attention. That said, I could see using this in a citrus-forward cocktail.

Lindores Abbey MCDXCIV Single Malt Scotch

Lindores
Lindores

ABV: 46%

Average Price: $300

The Whisky:

This Lowlands whisky is all about tradition and patience in a nearly-thousand-year-old abbey setting. The wash is made from Kingdom of Fife barley with an extra-long fermentation period. After distillation, the juice is loaded into ex-bourbon barrels, ex-wine barriques (casks from Bordeaux), and sherry butts. Those barrels are batched and blended before proofing and bottling as-is without filtration or coloring.

Tasting Notes:

A pile of grilled tropical fruits greets you on the nose with pineapple and mango being the most distinct alongside wintry spices, a touch of vanilla, old leather gloves, and a hint of sweet oak. The taste largely follows that path and layers in fresher orchard fruits, some dried-out dates, more dark spice, and a touch of dry vanilla tobacco. The end is a distillation of the sugars from the tropical fruits with a line of spicy malts tying it all together.

Bottom Line:

This is a fruit bomb from top to bottom. If that’s your jam, grab a bottle. If not, you can probably skip this one.

Port Charlotte Heavily Peated 10-Year-Old Single Malt Scotch

Rémy Cointreau

ABV: 50%

Average Price: $70

The Whisky:

Bruichladdich really has fun with peated whisky. This expression keeps the peat phenols high, but not “out of this world” high. The casking is a mix of first and second-fill bourbon barrels and second-fill French wine barrels. That utilization of second-fill oak means there’s a very light touch of wood on this peated whisky.

Tasting Notes:

Imagine a dark chocolate orange drizzled in salted caramel and served on a wet leaf of seaweed and you’ll be on the right track for the nose. The smoke kicks in on the palate with a vibe that feels like those wet seaweed leaves thrown on a smoldering pile of pine to create a massive billow of smoke everywhere, as hints of buttery white wine and strawberry jam-covered scones linger in the background. The finish leans into the bready nature of the scones with a dry straw edge that is followed by a mouthful of the seaweed heavy grey smoke.

Bottom Line:

This is a peaty masterclass on the tongue. There’s a lot going on and it’s divisive yet, I think, enticing. The dark fruit jams, seaweed, and old smoke just work even though it sounds like they shouldn’t. Still, this is for a slightly more advanced palate that’s been exposed to some serious peat already.

Highland Park 18

Edrington Group

ABV: 43%

Average Price: $148

The Whisky:

This Viking whisky from high up in the Orkneys takes barreling one step further. Their 18-year expression is matured in casks made from American and European oak specifically for Highland. Those bespoke vessels are sent to Jerez, Spain to age sherry for three years. The same barrels are then sent back to Orkney to age this whisky for 18 years.

Tasting Notes:

This really feels like a classic scotch at every step. You’re greeted with notes of marzipan, dark berries, honey, and light lines of smoke on the nose. Those notes hold on as buttery toffee arrives with a dark chocolate counterpoint, leading towards ripe red cherries and floral honey. The end embraces distant billows of sweet smoke with a dry and earthy undertow on the slow, sweet, and berry-filled fade.

Bottom Line:

Highland 18 is one of those subtle masterpieces that might just hook you in for life. The peat is there but it’s so subtly layered in with more earthiness than anything else. Pour this over a single rock and you’ll be all set.

Lagavulin 16

Diageo

ABV: 43%

Average Price: $123

The Whisky:

This is the most recognizable Lagavulin out there. The malts are smoked just down the road from the distillery at Port Ellen and the juice is crafted expertly by the sea at the famed and beloved Lagavulin Distillery. Finally, the whisky spends 16 long years mellowing in old American and Spanish oak before being blended and proofed with spring water from a creek just outside the distillery walls.

Tasting Notes:

Imagine a beach fire that’s using dried seaweed as fuel next to mugs of honeyed black tea and a clump of wet moss on the nose. The taste of this dram meanders through dried pipe tobacco smoke laced with hints of vanilla and tart apple while notes of briny caramel lead towards an oyster shell minerality. The finish is pure silk as the seaweed grows wetter and the smoke sweetens towards that caramel, vanilla, and apple.

Bottom Line:

This is the good stuff, folks. This is also a great gateway peaty that’s subtle and deep enough to really capture your attention without blowing out your palate on heavy and funky peatiness. That’s not to say this isn’t funky — it is. It’s more that it’s so much more than just its peated foundations.

Give it a shot, you might be pleasantly surprised by the depth of this one.

Loch Lomond 14

Loch Lomond 14
Loch Lomond Distillery Company

ABV: 46%

Average Price: $70

The Whisky:

This Highland whisky is a supple stop between the brand’s entry-level 12-year and their bolder 18-year. In this case, the single malt spends 14 years mellowing in ex-bourbon before it’s transferred to French Limousin casks for a final touch of maturation.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a nice mix of fresh apple fritters with yeasty cinnamon rolls with a vanilla frosting trying them together as a quiet note of winter spice and old cedar planks mingle on the nose. The palate leans into the apple with a spiced apple cider with plenty of anise, clove, and cinnamon that’s countered by a svelte nougat, a touch of leather, and more of that old wood. The end is part of apple pie and part creamy nougat with a tiny whisper of fireplace smoke on the very end.

Bottom Line:

This is one of those whiskies where you automatically say, “well, that’s nice!” There’s a bit of a bourbon vibe with all that stewed and spicy apple and vanilla, making this a good bridge between the two styles.

Glen Scotia Victoriana Cask Strength Single Malt Scotch

Glen Scotia
Loch Lomond Distillery Company

ABV: 54.2%

Average Price: $120

The Whisky:

This Campbelltown whisky is a rarity, like most whiskies from the tiny region. This whisky spends a final 12 months maturing in 30 percent Pedro Ximenez sherry butts and 70 percent heavily charred American oak before bottling truly as-is — no proofing, no filtering, no coloring.

Tasting Notes:

The nose on this is thick with a lot of savory fruit — figs, summer squash — next to sweet oranges, overripe pineapple, and robust but fresh florals. On the palate, that floral nature takes in a nasturtium vibe with a layer of spice next to a thin line of saltwater taffy wax paper wrappers, rum-soaked cinnamon sticks, and a thin layer of creamy vanilla. The end has a vibe that’s kind of like malt-soaked tropical fruit next to spicy vanilla pudding with a whisper of singed apple bark lurking in the background.

Bottom Line:

This is just interesting. It’s fruity but so boldly so that it’s also intriguing. Though, I do recommend pouring this one over a single rock to calm down those ABVs a tad.

Smokehead Islay Single Malt Scotch

Smokedhead
Smokehead

ABV: 43%

Average Price: $55

The Whisky:

This whisky is an independently bottled expression. Beyond that, not much more is known besides that it’s from Islay and heavily peated.

Tasting Notes (from the bottler):

The aroma of something powerful and fiery awaiting you. Thick, heavy woodsmoke. Rich, earthy peat. Extremes of spice and sweetness. Fresh lemon, zesty ginger, rich plum jam. An explosion of breathtaking peppery, peaty heat, soothed by honeyed sweetness before the smoke comes to the fore again. Exotic spices and a curious citrus tang of mandarin, both lulling you into a false sense of calm as the peat roars back to hit your senses again.

Bottom Line:

This sounds “intense, brah!” For me, this feels like something I’d try a dram of at a trade show — there are so many of these types of bottles out there — and then… often forget it exists.

GreatDrams Islay Single Cask Single Malt Whisky

Great Drams Cask Strength
Great Drams

ABV: 48.2%

Average Price: $94

The Whisky:

This new release from the much-lauded Great Drams — an independent bottler in the UK — is another winner. The Islay whisky in this case was aged in ex-bourbon casks before making its way to the Great Drams blendery where it was bottled as-is.

Tasting Notes (from the bottler):

Beautifully balanced, classic Islay peated whisky notes as well as lovely soothing vanilla and citrus fruit notes along with cinnamon and warming spice notes too.

Bottom Line:

Great Dram releases tend to be some of the best independent bottles on the market. I can’t imagine this doesn’t live up to the brand’s great reputation. Though, you’ll need to act quickly as there are only 331 bottles of this one.

Ardbeg 25

Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy

ABV: 46%

Average Price: $1,190

The Whisky:

This expression from Ardbeg also happens to be their oldest expression (on their current lineup). The whisky is the epitome of peat on Islay. What makes this expression so special and extremely rare is that it was distilled and casked when Ardbeg was on its knees as a company, in the early 1990s. They simply weren’t making that much whisky back then and there’s hardly any of it left. That makes this a one-and-gone whisky with only 278 bottles, 90 of which were sent to the U.S.

Tasting Notes:

Heavy cream, smoked toffee, lemon pith, and ashes from last night’s campfire open this one up on the nose before veering toward soft sea-filled air, a touch of muddy bog, and old shovel handles from a well-worked farm. On the palate, there’s this deep sense of potting soil that’s still in the plastic from the garden shop next to uncooked smoked bacon rashers with plenty of black pepper and a slightly sour edge leading back to that heavy cream and smoked toffee by the mid-palate. Finally, hefty/spicy packed tobacco chewiness brings about a full-on head buzz — it’s a wild sensation.

Bottom Line:

I had this again recently at a tasting I was hosting and it was just phenomenal. While the Johnny Green might be the most accessible, this is probably the best overall, peated or not, on this list in my estimation.

Benriach The Twenty Five Four Cask Matured Single Malt Scotch

BenRiach The Twenty Five
Brown-Forman

ABV: 46%

Average Price: $500

The Whisky:

This whisky is a masterclass in maturation and blending by Dr. Rachel Barrie. The whisky spends 25 long years in sherry, bourbon, virgin oak, and Madeira casks before Dr. Barrie finds just the right ones to make this superior blend of single malt whisky.

Tasting Notes:

This feels fresh on the nose with caramelized apple mingling with leathery smoked apricots, espresso macchiatos, and brandied cherries dipped into very dark chocolate. Saffron-stewed pears lead the way on the palate as woody winter spices mix with burnt orange peels, a hint of oily vanilla, and a silky layer of smoked salted toffee with smoky almonds. The thin whisper of smoke leans sweet as the leather apricot and brandied cherries dominate the finish with a sweet and subtle dark fruitiness with a thin line of cherrywood smoke and a creamy hint of something medicinal.

Bottom Line:

This is hard to beat. Where the Ardbeg 25 brings the funkiness, this is all nostalgia and puppies. Moreover, don’t be afraid of the “peated” aspects of this. It’s almost exclusively tied to the sweet and lush dark fruit.

Benromach 40

Benromach 40
Gordon and MacPhail

ABV: 57.1%

Average Price: $1,218

The Whisky:

This Speyside distillery is for the whisky nerds out there. This particular release just dropped last summer with only 1,000 total. The whisky in those bottles was produced in 1981 and then spent four decades chilling out in old Oloroso sherry casks before going into the bottle as-is.

Tasting Notes (from the distiller):

Our first Benromach 40 Years Old displays rich ginger and stewed fruit aromas, Sevilla orange, red apple, and demerara sugar flavours before finishing with citrus zest and a subtle hint of charred oak.

Bottom Line:

It’s not every day that you get to drink a whisky this old. If you’re lucky enough to come across this one (likely at a high-end whisk(e)y bar), pay for a pour. There’s no way it won’t be worth it.

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