Spending money on good Scotch whisky isn’t that hard. There’s more than enough of it on the shelf. Still, when spending big money on any whiskey, you kind of want to know what you’re spending all that hard-earned cash on. Sometimes just seeing “cask strength” or “20 Years Old” on a label isn’t enough information. Plus, you don’t want to bring home a bottle that you don’t love. Otherwise, you could be spending all that cash on something that’s just going to collect dust on a shelf.
To help you avoid that, I’m going to blindly taste eight big-time top-shelf Scotch whiskies that cost a pretty penny. I raided my liquor shelves and ended up with eight killer bottles of Scotch whisky that all hit high marks (awards, critical darlings, big sellers, etc.) and also cost a mint — hell, some of these cost a small fortune.
That makes our lineup today the following top-shelf Scotch whiskies:
- Bowmore Masters’ Selection Aston Martin Aged 22 Years Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky
- The GlenDronach Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky Cask Strength Batch no. 12
- Linkwood Single Malt Scotch Whisky 31-Year-Old Lady Macduff Thanes Series Macbeth Act One
- Glenfiddich Grand Yozakura Aged 29 Years Single Malt Scotch Whisky
- Glenglassaugh Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky 46 Years Old
- The Dalmore Cigar Malt Reserve Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky
- Mortlach Single Malt Scotch Whisky Aged for 20 Years
- The Glenlivet 21 Years of Age Single Malt Scotch Whisky The Sample Room Collection
After I taste-tested these whiskies blindly, I ranked them according to their taste. And, ho boy, was that a difficult task. All of these whiskies were f*cking fantastic. Two pours did stand out, but the other six were all basically equals that I had to go back over two or three times and split some serious hairs to actually rank. Who knew super expensive Scotch whisky was so damn good? Right?!?!
I kid, I kid. Still, read through those tasting notes and find one that speaks to you. Then hit that price link to see if you can find a bottle in your neck of the woods. 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
Part 1 — The Top Shelf Scotch Whisky Tasting
Nose: Gently smoked cherries and smoked orange come through on the nose with a mild sense of smudging sage ash next to bourbon vanilla and apple fritters with a soft powdered sugar glaze.
Palate: That sweetness presents on the palate with a smoke chocolate powder vibe next to spiced malts, singed vanilla husks, and more of those smoked cherries but this time they have a twinge of tartness with a pinch of salt.
Finish: The finish combines the tart yet salty smoked cherries with the dark chocolate next to a deep sense of oak and spicy malts.
This is a nice peaty with a subtle Islay edge. The smokiness is more earthy and plays second fiddle to the boldly spiced malts, dark fruits, and caramelized sweetness. It’s a great balance of flavor notes is what I’m getting at.
Nose: Scoops of decadent dark chocolate powder draw you in with a hint of espresso cream, burnt orange, and marzipan with a moist sticky toffee pudding vibe next to a faint whisper of dried rose.
Palate: The palate is lush with a roasted and rich espresso bean vibe with salted dark chocolate, chinotto orange, and more rich and moist marzipan with a dash of ginger candy dipped in clove and allspice tea.
Finish: There’s a rich vanilla underbelly that smooths everything out on the end with a sense of rum raisin and faint bourbon cherry tobacco layered with soft cedar and mocha lattes.
This is pretty damn good whisky. The choco-coffee bitterness does peak pretty high by the mid-palate, taking away from the creaminess of the mouthfeel a bit. But that’s just the high ABVs poking you in the ribs. This feels like it’d turn into rich chocolate malted pudding cream at Christmas dinner with a little water or ice.
Nose: The nose opens with a beautiful sense of ripe apricot (fresh from vine clarity) with creamy lemon curd, fresh spearmint, lavender lemonade, soft saddle soap, buttery brioche, and … I swear … freshly washed sheets hanging out on a line on a sunny day.
Palate: Fresh pears and sweet apples counter the apricot on the palate as buttery scones just touched with rose water smeared with vanilla brandy butter with a light toward of floral honey and very dry champagne.
Finish: The pear layers into the champagne while the floral honey creates a luxurious mouthfeel next to soft moments of winter spice barks, marmalade, apricot leather, and creamy salted buttercream just kissed with vanilla and summer flowers.
This is a delicious whisky with an amazing mouthfeel. It’s like this creamy, silky, succulent pour that just keeps getting softer and softer with insanely deep flavor notes. So good.
Nose: The nose is immediately amazing with deep notes of caramelized orange and grapefruit peels rolled in roasted almonds, allspice, and salt with a hint of confectioner’s sugar leading to this toffee maltiness and dark leathery fruitiness just kissed with creamy vanilla/chocolate before a hint of dried savory herbs sneaks in with a touch of old oak.
Palate: That ultra creamy vanilla and toffee lean into that soft oakiness and caramelized maltiness with a hint of green apple tartness and old wicker baskets full of tree barks next to date tobacco and salted caramel chocolate ganache.
Finish: That tobacco takes on a sticky toffee pudding and mincemeat pie vibe as the creaminess just keeps getting creamier on the long spice malt finish.
This is next level on all counts. It’s wildly delicious.
Nose: This is almost … fresh on the nose with a sense of tart and woody black currants, fresh plum, mango juice, and red grapes that then veers into the abyss with a sense of old boot leather, maple wood dipped in varnish, and waxy sense of ambergris (I swear) — think boot cream, fresh tobacco, and sandalwood with a hint of salt.
Palate: The taste takes the fruit and tosses it into a fruit salad that’s cut with seawater and nori that’s then countered by menthol tobacco and sharp citrus oils with a whisper of cherry-flavored cream soda.
Finish: A twinge of grapefruit oil drives the finish toward this fleeting sense of cellar dirt, more ambergris, and mint chocolate chip ice cream that’s laced with pipe tobacco and black currants.
Again, this is amazingly delicious. I just shook my head when I smelled and sipped this one. It’s so … everything you want it to be. You truly felt the … I want to say … wealth while drinking it. I guess true “richness” maybe? I don’t know how else to explain it.
Nose: The nose is openly complex from the first inhalation 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.
This is right up there with the last two pours. It’s so delicate yet runs powerfully deep. It’s a tad less rich than the last two, but that’s me splitting some microscopic hairs.
Nose: Freshly baked apple pie with cinnamon bark and nutmeg lead to black raisins, fatty walnuts, grilled pineapple, and sea-salt-infused dark cacao sauce with a hint of vanilla and pear on the nose.
Palate: The palate leans into the lard pie crust under that apple pie with a hint of powdered sugar icing next to mint chocolate chip, old vanilla pods, and banana’s foster with a smidge of clove and allspice thrown in.
Finish: There’s a light sense of caramel malts on the end that leads to a walnut cake full of raisins and cinnamon with a buttery vibe next to a savory note that’s part green herbs and part extra virgin olive oil.
This is delicious but didn’t hit as hard as the last three pours. It’s still damn near perfect though. Oh, and it’s delicious.
Nose: Leather and winter spices lead the way on the nose with a hint of saffron-stewed pears, ripe peaches, and lush eggnog next to boiled beans with a bay leaf.
Palate: The palate leans into the peaches and pears but puts them in a pie with plenty of cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg next to apricot jam and rum-raisin.
Finish: The mid-palate hits a pine resin note before descending toward brandied cherries and dark chocolate with fresh ginger sharpens and a dash of cinnamon candy.
It’s great. I’m not sure what else I can say. Okay, maybe it was a little on the thin side thanks to some low ABVs, but it was still really tasty. So who cares what the ABVs are?
Part 2 — The Top Shelf Scotch Whisky Ranking
8. Bowmore Masters’ Selection Aston Martin Aged 22 Years Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky — Taste 1
Average Price: $999
This is the next step in the much-lauded high-end Aston Martin series from Bowmore. The whisky is batched from special barrels of Bowmore’s famed barely-peated whisky into a final product that’s refined and just kissed with that iconic Islay spring water.
This being 8th was almost me throwing a dart at a name to place here. This is really good whisky. The only reason I could justify it being here is that the peatiness kind of distracted from the overall profile beneath. Though as I write it, even that’s a stretch.
My dramatics aside, this is a wonderfully tasty whisky with beautifully subtle peat that marries to the soft malts damn near perfectly. And hey, if you’re into cool classic cars, this is a must-have. So there’s that.
7. The GlenDronach Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky Cask Strength Batch no. 12 — Taste 2
Average Price: Coming Soon
This brand-new batch from Dr. Rachel Barrie at The GlenDronach is all about long aging. The whisky is left to mellow in Pedro Ximénez and Oloroso sherry casks from Andalucía, Spain. The age statement is on the bottle, but the blends tend to lean over a decade. The final mix is then bottled at cask strength to really highlight that Spanish oak.
The only reason this is this low is that it was a little sharp/bitter/warm on the palate. I could have used a single cube of ice or a drop or two of water. After that, it probably would have skyrocketed to the top of the list. But alas, I was tasting this neat without any of that so here we are.
6. The Glenlivet 21 Years of Age Single Malt Scotch Whisky The Sample Room Collection — Taste 8
Average Price: $299
This redesigned The Glenlivet is still a classic whisky. The hot juice is aged in a triple combination of first-fill Oloroso sherry, Troncais oak Cognac casks, and vintage Colheita Port casks. After 21 long years (at least), the barrels are vatted and proofed down before bottling.
The hair I split on this one was the low ABV. That made this less powerful a sip but it was still 100% a satisfying one. It didn’t need a rock or water. It was a very well-rounded sip. And look, most times you don’t want that big ABV punch. So this is going to satisfy a lot of easy-going whisky drinkers out there.
5. Mortlach Single Malt Scotch Whisky Aged for 20 Years — Taste 7
Average Price: $289
Dufftown’s Mortlach is one of those distilleries that may just make you fall in love with scotch. The mash is distilled 2.81 times, according to Mortlach’s unique distilling methods. That juice is then loaded in sherry casks and left to do its thing for 20 long years. The results are vatted, brought down to proof with that soft Speyside water, and bottled.
Inside the vacuum of my home, this is a perfect whisky. I still believe that. Today, it didn’t pop quite as much as other pours on this panel. That hasn’t changed my mind at all. This is a perfect Dufftown malt.
4. Linkwood Single Malt Scotch Whisky 31-Year-Old Lady Macduff Thanes Series Macbeth Act One — Taste 3
Average Price: $792
This whisky is from a super whisky nerd distillery, Linkwood. If you know, you know. The whisky in the bottle was chosen by Elixir for its Macbeth lineup this year. The whisky is hewn from four ex-bourbon barrels that held the malt for at least 31 years (it’s a small miracle that any survived). Those barrels were vatted and bottled as-is.
This was kind of crazy. It is an amazing pour of whisky. It also kind of came out of nowhere. I had no idea what it was but I wanted more immediately. But since my palate is quite attuned to it yet, I feel like I missed some deeper components that I need to revisit down the road.
Basically, I’m saying that this is the sort of whisky you need to spend a few sessions with to fully get into. So it’s a little lower ranked on this panel.
3. The Dalmore Cigar Malt Reserve Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky — Taste 6
Average Price: $285
This Highland whisky is a no-age-statement version of The Dalmore. The whisky is made from Golden barley that grows on the island in 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.
Delicious. Buy a case.
2. Glenglassaugh Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky 46 Years Old — Taste 5
Average Price: $4,800
Glenglassaugh is a reborn distillery in Scotland — having operated from the 1800s to the 1980s before getting mothballed for over two decades before its resurgence in 2008. This is important to know that the whiskey in this bottle was made in 1975 during the last years of the distillery’s 20th-century heyday. Living legend Master Blender Dr. Rachel Barrie found this barrel (a bourbon cask) in the stocks, and by some sort of whisky miracle, there was juice in the barrel. That whisky was bottled as-is at barrel strength and sent exclusively to the U.S.
This was almost laughably great. Like, how dare they make a whisky this good? It is one of the best examples of unpeated depth and perfection I think I’ve ever encountered. But it did stay in the “classic” lane, which endears me to it all the more thinking back now.
1. Glenfiddich Grand Yozakura Aged 29 Years Single Malt Scotch Whisky — Taste 4
Average Price: $1,899
This brand-new limited edition from Glenfiddich is their first foray into Japanese barrel finishing. After 29 years (!) in American oak and re-fill oak, the whisky is vatted and refilled into an ex-Awamori cask — which is an Okinawan rice spirit of sorts — for another nine months of mellowing. Those barrels were then batched and bottled with a hint of proofing water.
This was otherworldly good. It was classic at first then veered off into new territory while still feeling comforting and nostalgic. It’s just an amazing pour of whisky.
Part 3 — Final Thoughts on the Top Shelf Scotch Whisky
So, the top five are the core bangers of this panel. I’d argue that you can get any of them and you’ll be in for an amazing treat.
And look, I get it. Of the top three, two of the bottles are amazingly rare and amazingly expensive. So I’d say, grab The Dalmore Cigar Malt Reserve. It’s a phenomenal pour of whisky and you should be able to actually find it pretty easily. The same goes for the Mortlach 20. You will not be disappointed for a single moment with either of those whiskies even though they weren’t ranked “first” on this list.