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The Best Unpeated Single Malt Scotch Whisky, Blind Tasted And Ranked

Unpeated single malt whisky is a big gateway to Scotch whisky for a lot of American whiskey drinkers. The sweet malts are a little more familiar and welcoming than some of the peat monsters from Scotland, which are often brimming with medicinal, iodine, and ashtray notes (to name but a few).

Unpeated malt tends to lean more toward orchard fruits, dark sugars, honey, florals, and so much more, but always leans sweeter. To underscore those softer notes, I decided to blind taste test some delicious, new, and classic unpeated Scotch single malt whiskies.

When I say “unpeated” malt, I’m talking about whiskies made with malted barley that were malted with a neutral heat source that did not impart any phenols or roasty flavors during the process. On the flip side, “peated” malt is malted barley that’s made by using fresh or dried peat from a bog as the heat source, smoking the barley to halt germination and imparting various levels of phenols (smoked flavor notes) into the grain. From there, the unpeated or peated malted barley is fermented with yeasts and local water before double distillation and aging — but we don’t need to get into all of that today.

The gist of this blind tasting is to find a bottle that you might like. This is all about subtle flavors and familiar flavor profiles (if you’re already into bourbon or rye). I’ve chosen some average bottles, some high-end killers, and some one-offs to give a small but wide berth of options.

Our lineup today is:

  • Bruichladdich Bere Barley 2011 Aged 10 Years
  • The GlenDronach Cask Strength Batch 10
  • The Balvenie PortWood Aged 21 Years
  • GlenAllachie Aged 15 Years
  • The Glenrothes Whisky Maker’s Cut
  • Speyburn Arranta Casks

Let’s dive in and find you a great bottle for your weekend pour(s)!

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

Part 1: The Tasting

Unpeated Scotch Blind
Zach Johnston

Taste 1

Unpeated Scotch Blind
Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

The nose opens with a light graininess that leads to a whisper of barnyard funk before orange oils, orchard fruit, and a hint of mint round things out. The palate has a warm maltiness with a twinge of mint chocolate chip, spiced caramel sauce, sweet raisins, and maybe some Irish soda bread with a tiny bit of butter. The end is on the sweet side with a rock candy vibe next to soft spice and a hint of orchard fruit.

This is a pretty nice start. It’s a little grainy but very drinkable.

Taste 2

Unpeated Scotch Blind
Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

Backporch wicker vibes with soft prunes and spicy holiday cake with a clove focus next to soft sultanas and berries with an echo of dead fall leaves lurking underneath it all. The palate leans into the holiday cake with a matrix of ginger sharpness, cinnamon, nutmeg, candied fruits and citrus peels, and a roasted nuttiness with a hint of dates and black tea with soft toffee drizzle just touched with salt. The end leans back into that wicker from the nose with a supple sense of toffee-covered shortbread and stewed plums.

This is just straight-up delicious. I don’t even care that it’s summer and this is wintry, it’s that good.

Taste 3

Unpeated Scotch Blind
Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

Soft and juicy pear slowly turns into pear skins and stems on the nose as hints of dried roses, white peaches, and sour cherry tobacco round things out. The taste is lush with tart berries next to warming spiced malts (think clove and anise) with a slight buttery vibe that’s kind of like a pain au chocolat with sweet chocolate and a few specks of almond. The end leans into toffee apple candies with a leathery vibe connected to soft sour cherry tobacco with a whisper of overripe pear lurking at the end.

This is also delicious. These last two pours are going to be hard to beat.

Taste 4

Unpeated Scotch Blind
Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

Apple juice slowly boils down to a cinnamon-spiced apple sauce on the nose as a hint of dry firewood sneaks in. The palate is part warm malts and part sweet orchard fruit with a hint of burnt orange and more of the dry wood. The end is light but carries a hint of warm spice and sweet fruits.

This is nice but a little too one-note and indistinct to really stand out in this tasting panel.

Taste 5

Unpeated Scotch Blind
Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

The nose bursts forth with butterscotch. Once that fades, hints of worn leather, orange peels, and nutmeg mix underneath that butterscotch nose. The palate is nutmeg-forward with a spicy orange zest kissed with dark chocolate and vanilla. The end feels a bit like eggnog laced with orange zest and vanilla with a spicy warmth.

That butterscotch nose was a lot. There were a lot of nice notes beyond that though.

Taste 6

Unpeated Scotch Blind
Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

Pear candy and honey lead the way on the nose toward woody spices, light leather, and a hint of sour apple skins and stems. The palate is sweet and malty with a drive from pear flesh to pit, skin, and tree with floral honey and wet coconut leading to a hint of creamy vanilla sauce dusted with cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. The end leans into pears soaked in honey and nutmeg with a hint of old porch wicker and worn leather gloves on the finish.

This is pretty damn nice. It’s a little simple (a lot of honey and pear) but really good for what(ever) it is.

Part 2: The Ranking

Unpeated Scotch Blind
Zach Johnston

6. The Glenrothes Whisky Maker’s Cut — Taste 5

The Glenrothes Whisky Makers
The Edrington Group

ABV: 48.8%

Average Price: $83

The Whisky:

The bulbous bottle from The Glenrothes is all about the sherry. The expression spends an undisclosed amount of years in first-fill sherry casks. When those barrels are just right, the whisky is then batched and vatted before being proofed down only slightly.

Bottom Line:

I just couldn’t get past that big butterscotch nose, I guess. That said, this is a solid gateway single malt, especially if you’re into butterscotch. I’d recommend serving it a highball with plenty of ice and fizzy water to help that butterscotch turn creamier toward toffee and caramel though.

5. GlenAllachie Aged 15 Years — Taste 4

GlenAllachie 15
The GlenAllachie Distillers Co Limited

ABV: 46%

Average Price: $99

The Whisky:

This Speyside single malt is aged in ex-Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez sherry casks for, you guessed it, 15 years. Those barrels are selected for their distinct flavor profile and vatted, proofed, and bottled without filtering.

Bottom Line:

This was pretty nice overall but stayed a little one-note with the apple vibe. Don’t get me wrong, it’s amazingly drinkable but not very arresting for your senses.

4. Bruichladdich Bere Barley 2011 Aged 10 Years — Taste 1

Bruichladdich Bere Barley 2011
Rémy Cointreau

ABV: 50%

Average Price: $93

The Whisky:

The whisky in the bottle is hewn from Bere Barley grown up on the Orkney Islands by five different farmers for Bruichladdich. That grain is sent to Islay where the team at Bruichladdich creates this one-of-a-kind whisky after aging the hot juice for 10 years on the wind-swept island.

Bottom Line:

Again, this was really nice overall. It had a twinge of graininess that felt “young” but not off-putting by any stretch. Still, I’d likely use this more for cocktails than sipping.

3. Speyburn Arranta Casks — Taste 6

Speyburn Arranta
Inver House Distillers

ABV: 46%

Average Price: $45

The Whisky:

Arranta translates to “bold” and this whisky leans into that. The juice is aged for an undisclosed amount of time in first-fill ex-bourbon casks (that means this whisky was the first thing to go into those casks after they were emptied of bourbon). Those barrels were then vatted, proofed, and bottled without filtration.

Bottom Line:

This was really good. It wasn’t one-note but it was dialed into a clear flavor profile. It was also just really easy to drink. This feels like both a good on the rocks pour and a great cocktail base.

2. The Balvenie PortWood Aged 21 Years — Taste 3

William Grant & Sons

ABV: 47.6%

Average Price: $270

The Whisky:

This masterfully crafted expression from The Balvenie takes some serious time. The whisky is initially aged for 21 years in ex-bourbon casks. It’s 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. That whisky is then vatted in The Balvenie’s special old wooden tuns (large basins) for a spell before bottling as-is.

Bottom Line:

As I mentioned above, this is delicious. There’s really not much more to say. The only reason it’s not number is that it wasn’t quite as deep and nuanced as the next pour but only by a microscopic hair.

1. The GlenDronach Cask Strength Batch 10 — Taste 2

GlenDronach Batch 10
Brown-Forman

ABV: 58.6%

Average Price: $220

The Whisky:

The 10th release from the most-beloved The GlenDronach Cask Strength series is another instant classic. The juice in the bottle is blended by Dr. Rachel Barrie from whisky aged in Pedro Ximénez and Oloroso sherry casks. The whisky is then vatted and bottled as-is with no fussing.

Bottom Line:

This is the bottle you want to hunt down. It was just released in the U.S. in June, so you might be able to find some out there. Trust me, it’s worth it for a great Scotch whisky experience with something unique and delicious.

Part 3: Final Thoughts

Unpeated Scotch Blind
Zach Johnston

Overall, this was a good tasting. All of these whiskies had their virtues and there were no losers. If you come across any of these bottles, you’ll be in good shape.

All of that said, the top two are the truly special bottles. The Balvenie PortWood 21 is magic in its own way. The GlenDronach Batch 10 is about as perfect as single malt can get. Both deserve a prominent spot on your bar cart. But if you have to pick only one, get The GlenDronach as it’s a limited edition one-off we won’t see again.

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