The beauty of single malt whiskey is that it can be from anywhere. While there are location-specific rules for some whiskeys — scotch needs to be made in Scotland, for instance — single malt only requires one common denominator. It has to be made with 100% malted barley. That means that when you take a global look at single malt whisky, you’ll find so many varieties that…well, it’s kind of baffling.
But we’re here to help. That’s right, folks, it’s time for another blind taste test.
Today, I’m lining up 8 killer bottles of single malt whisk(e)y from all over the world. I’m not looking for what’s cheaper but still good, just what tastes the best. Also, I’m not doubling up on any countries. I’m tasting whiskeys from Scotland, the U.S.A., Australia, Ireland, India, New Zealand, Japan, and Israel.
That makes our lineup today the following bottles:
- The Dalmore Cigar Malt Reserve Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky
- St. George Spirits 40th Anniversary Edition Single Malt Whiskey
- Starward Vitalis 15th Anniversary Limited Release Single Malt Australian Whisky
- Waterford Irish Single Malt Whisky Heritage Hunter
- Indri Single Malt Indian Whisky Trini — The Three Wood
- Pōkeno New Zealand Single Malt Whisky Single Cask Double Bourbon Cask
- The Yamazaki Single Malt Whisky Spanish Oak 2022 Edition “Tsukuriwake” Selection
- M&H Apex Single Malt Whisky Small Batch Dead Sea
When it comes to ranking these fine whiskeys, it’s straightforward. “Does it taste good?” is important, sure, but how much depth does it really have? Does it take me on a journey? Is there a surprise that helps it stand out? I’m looking for both quality and complexity.
Sound good? Let’s dive in!
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Part 1: The Tasting
Nose: The nose is complex with a matrix of sticky toffee pudding spices — cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg — next to dried red berries with a slight earthiness, a touch of salted toffee candies, and a whisper of vanilla wafers.
Palate: The palate opens with a chocolate maltiness next to a bowl of fresh and tropical fruits — pineapple, tart apples, sweet pears, plums, bruised bananas — with a mild nuttiness, sharp orange zest, and subtle winter spices.
Finish: There’s a light mustiness on the back end that leads to soft and moist pipe tobacco with a thin layer of orchard fruits and stewed figs.
Damn, this is delicious, and clearly The Dalmore. In a Scotch single malt tasting, this would be hard to beat. But there are some killers in this lineup so let’s see…
Nose: The nose pops with a dark orange soda vibe next to a dark chocolate mocha latte, brown butter, salted caramel, and a hint of dry incense cut with red berries and more dark orange citrus.
Palate: Fancy Almond Joy mingles with walnut cake drizzled with dark chocolate sauce and spiced caramel next to a hint of pecan waffle, cinnamon-spiked apple cider, and a whisper of grilled pineapple.
Finish: The end is dry — think figs and prunes — with a blood orange citrus vibe next to dried woody spice and leathery old Fruit Roll-Ups and a twinge of toasted marshmallow.
This was nice and very different thanks to all that citrus. All that citrus kind of leads me to believe that this is an American single malt. It’s good… but a little on the thinner side.
Nose: The nose opens with rich, buttery toffee candy next to rum raisins, salted dark chocolate bars, grilled pineapple, bruised apricots, and tangerine skins.
Palate: The palate leans into the raisin vibe with black-tea-soaked dates, stewed prunes, and mashed dried apricot next to tart red currants with a hint of mango skin and savory papaya.
Finish: That’s all countered by a mid-palate full of toasted coffee beans and creamy mocha latte notes next to a hint of dark and warm spiciness on the back of the finish with a dash of tart berry tobacco.
This is really good, classic, and bold malt. It takes you places and has serious depth. I like it a lot.
Nose: There’s a sense of old black potting soil on the nose with a rush of freshly bailed hay, bushels of red apples, orange marmalade, and a whisper of fresh rain on slate roofs.
Palate: That orange turns into an orange upside-down cake with a cinnamon/clove caramel drizzle next to old prunes, oatmeal cut with raisins and brown sugar, salted butter, and a twinge of old cedar planks with singed edges and a faint echo of sage.
Finish: That sage leads to a green pepperiness and a hint more of savory green herbs with plenty of honey and dried fruits next to a final note of soft spice.
This felt a little all over the place. It’s very good but lacked focus for me. It’s also very Irish with those orchard fruits, oats, and honey.
Nose: The nose greets you with a hint of Earl Grey next to rich toffee with a nice sense of apricot jam with a line of cinnamon and clove next to creamed honey and a touch of tangerine rinds and passion fruit-infused malts.
Palate: The palate opens with a sweet oakiness next to vanilla pods before a hint of bruised peach arrives and slowly boils down to fresh mango, seared pineapple, and a hint of pomelo pith.
Finish: The end dries out toward rummy macerated peaches and mango with a hint of dried banana leaves and warm brown spices.
This was very solid and felt damn near classic while still taking my palate on a journey with all that tropical fruit. I liked this a lot too.
Nose: Old vanilla pods and dark cacao nibs mingle with honeysuckle, nasturtium, and old sweet oak staves with a hint of nutmeg, espresso, and creamed salted caramel filling out the deep nose.
Palate: That honeysuckle and dark cacao drive the malty palate toward a rich sense of malted cookies dipped in toffee candy and rolled in spice barks and dried red berries with a whisper of coconut tobacco lurking in the far background.
Finish: The finish leans into the spice barks and old sweet oak staves with a fluttering of seaside rocky brininess that somehow just works with the sweet and spicy malts, providing a lovely balance on the finish.
This is really freaking good. That brine on the finish comes out of nowhere and takes this to the next level.
Nose: The nose opens with a medley of sultanas, dates, prunes, dried cranberries, and maybe some candied grape before veering toward a big umami note that’s halfway between a sun-dried tomato and a dash of powdered mushroom.
Palate: The palate opens with a rich sticky toffee pudding with plenty of winter spices, black tea-soaked dates, and almost creamy toffee next to orange oils and a hint of dark roasted espresso beans.
Finish: The end takes on a buttery vibe as creamy dark chocolate attaches to those espresso beans and a final hint of orange sneaks in late.
Shit, this is delicious too. This is a pure classic with a sense of perfectly balanced single malt whisky from the top to bottom. It never overplays its hand while offering serious depth the whole way through.
Nose: There’s a sense of mocha lattes and spiced biscuits next to spearmint tobacco, cedar boxes, and a touch of orange dark chocolate balls all dancing on the nose.
Palate: The taste is subtle and builds layers of woody winter spices over coriander seeds, white pepper, and spearmint next to wet Earl Grey tea leaves, cinnamon-apple tobacco, and a sense of sweet and old oak staves.
Finish: There’s a light gingerbread sharpness to the finish with a hint of honey, cinnamon bark, and a flake of saltiness.
This is also very good. It’s unique for sure and has a wonderful balance thanks to the whisper of salt at the end.
Part 2: The Ranking
8. Waterford Irish Single Malt Whisky Heritage Hunter — Taste 4
Average Price: $129
This new release from whiskey-nerd-beloved Waterford out in Ireland is named after pioneering plant breeder Dr. Herbert Hunter. The initial grow for the barley for this whiskey was started with a 50-gram bag of Hunter barley. Over several seasons, they produced enough barley to fill 50 barrels of whiskey with the help of two other almost extinct heritage barley varieties, Goldthorpe and Old Irish. Finally, the whiskey in the bottles ended up being a blend of 45% first-fill ex-bourbon, 19% new American oak, 21% French oak, and 15% Vin Doux Naturel barrels (a Southern French sweet wine).
This was a solid whisky all around. On this panel, it just didn’t quite land and ended up being the thinnest pour.
7. St. George Spirits 40th Anniversary Edition Single Malt Whiskey — Taste 2
Average Price: $599
This very rare release from California’s St. George Spirits celebrated 40 years of distilling. The mash is made from St. George’s now-iconic recipe of 100% Two-Row barley that’s roasted to four different levels, creating pale malt, crystal malt, chocolate malt, and black patent malt that’s mixed with alder and beechwood-smoked malt from Bamberg, Germany. That juice is aged in ex-bourbon and French oak barrels before finishing in a combination of Cognac, apple brandy, house-made tawny port, sherry casks, California Sauternes-style, and umeshu barrels/casks. The latter was a barrel that held Japanese plum wine.
Very long story short (too late), those barrels are expertly blended to create this once-in-a-lifetime release.
This was a lot. It was very good whiskey though, so I’m not mad at it. I want to go back to this one and find more as it felt like a bottomless pour of flavors to find.
6. Indri Single Malt Indian Whisky Trini — The Three Wood — Taste 5
Average Price: $62
This whisky starts off with Six-Row malted barley grown in Rajasthan. The whisky is then filled into three types of casks — ex-bourbon, ex-wine, and ex-sherry casks — and left to rest through extreme temperature shifts from season to season, ranging from 120+F in the summer to freezing in the winter. That, in turn, allows for a lot of expansion and contraction of the wood, which lets the spirit have more direct contact and rest with/from the wood.
This was classic malt with a tropical fruit (almost hazy IPA) vibe. It didn’t go far beyond that so it’s ranked a little lower. That said, you won’t be disappointed if you reach for this pour. It’ll make a nice highball or cocktail while also shining over some ice.
5. Starward Vitalis 15th Anniversary Limited Release Single Malt Australian Whisky — Taste 3
Average Price: $150
This limited edition whisky from Australia’s biggest brand celebrates the 15th anniversary of the distillery. The whisky in this bottle commemorates the brand’s finishing program that made it famous. The whisky was blended from six different barrel types, focusing on tawny port, rum, bourbon, and Apera barrels between four and 11 years old.
Again, this felt like a stone-cold classic. It was really tasty, had serious depth, and took me somewhere. I can see sipping this neat or on the rocks and being pretty happy about it. The only reason it’s fifth instead of first is that it didn’t go beyond “classic.”
4. M&H Apex Single Malt Whisky Small Batch Dead Sea — Taste 8
Average Price: $163
Milk & Honey Whisky Distillery is putting Israel on the single malt map. This expression is their standard malt that’s wholly aged at the Dead Sea, the lowest place on earth. Besides the pressure and salt in the air, the temperature also takes huge swings from near freezing to above 120F, which helps accelerate and deepened the aging process.
This was just damn good whisky. Again, the malt was classic but didn’t wow. Drink it over some rocks, in a cocktail, neat — whatever floats your boat — and you’ll be in good hands.
3. The Dalmore Cigar Malt Reserve Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky — Taste 1
Average Price: $199
This Highland whisky is a no-age-statement version of The Dalmore. The juice is made from Golden barley that grows on the island in the rich and very coastal soils. The ground malted barley is mixed with pure water from the Cromarty Firth nearby during the mashing process. After a couple of times through pot stills, the hot whisky is loaded into ex-bourbon casks, 30-year-old Matusalem Oloroso Sherry butts, and former Cabernet Sauvignon from the Saint-Estèphe appellation of Bordeaux. After 10 to 15 years, those barrels are vatted, the whiskey is proofed, and it’s bottled.
This is great whisky. It’s a damn near-perfect single malt. It’s pretty much the gold standard of unpeated Highland malt. The only reason it’s not number one today is that it’s only that and doesn’t really surprise or take you beyond being a classic whisky. So pour some in a Glencairn or over a rock or two and enjoy.
2. Pōkeno New Zealand Single Malt Whisky Single Cask Double Bourbon Cask — Taste 6
Average Price: $112
The New Zealand malt is made with local barley. That hot juice is then aged in first-fill bourbon barrels for just under 3 years before it’s re-barreled in fresh first-fill bourbon barrels for an additional six months of mellowing. One barrel was then bottled completely as-is for this special U.S.-only release.
This was the biggest surprise on the list. It had those classic malt whisky notes but went beyond that with the brine on the finish. It was fun and fresh while still delivering a really good whisky-tasting experience. I want to go back for more and find the other surprises lurking in that whisky’s deep palate and nose.
1. The Yamazaki Single Malt Whisky Spanish Oak 2022 Edition “Tsukuriwake” Selection — Taste 7
Average Price: $3,999
This Japanese single malt is all about marrying fine Japanese whisky with Spanish oak. The whiskies are aged exclusively in oak from Northern Spain. After the flavor profile hits the exact right depth, the barrels are vatted and proofed with a dash of water for bottling.
This is almost too good. It’s a perfectly balanced whisky that is just plain f*cking delicious. I want to drink this stuff every day and never have to think about which whisky to drink ever again.
Part 3: Final Thoughts
The top six whiskeys on this list are all killers. You’ll be in a good place if you grab any of those six bottles. Seriously. They’re all that good.
The bottom two entries aren’t bad by any stretch. They’re both complex and tasty. They just couldn’t quite stand up to the heights of the rest of the bottles on this panel today.
All of that said, I’d really try and add that Pōkeno New Zealand Single Malt Whisky Single Cask Double Bourbon Cask to your bar cart. It’s unique and delicious with a truly fun and fresh profile that’s surprisingly deep. And if you have the means, get some Yamazaki Spanish Oak. It’s really that good.