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Every Scotch Whisky Brand From Diageo’s Massive Portfolio, Ranked

This ranking was almost impossible for several reasons. One, ranking every Scotch whisky from drinks giant Diageo barely makes sense. Is it even possible to rank an Oban over a Talisker? Or a Mortlach over Lagavulin? What about the blends? Or the fact that Diageo owns 35 Scotch whisky brands with a bajillion expressions between them all?

See, this is already a dizzying prospect and we haven’t even started yet. Is there any shot at creating a method or will it all just be madness?

Come what may, I’m going to press on. That said, it’s kind of amazing that the easiest part of this ranking is the fact that I’ve actually tasted all of these brands. Diageo is really good at putting out deep cuts from their various distilleries over the years. The Rare By Nature and Flora and Fauna collections make it surprisingly easy (though expensive) to try otherwise impossible to find bottles from very small Diageo distilleries from around Scotland.

Well… maybe “easy” is a bit of an oversell. The point is that they are out there and it’s not as hard to track them down as it might seem.

For this ranking, I’m relying on my tasting notes from each brand. Then, I’m calling out the one bottle to try from each shingle. In some cases, I’ve only tried one bottle — so that’s the one I’m calling out (again, we’re talking some truly rare brands from tiny distilleries here). Taken all together, this is an attempt to make some sense of one of the world’s largest collections of distilleries and blenders under one giant corporate umbrella.

Let’s see how it goes! Click on those prices if you want to try a bottle yourself!

Also Read: The Top 5 UPROXX Bourbon Posts Of 2021

35. Vat 69 — Vat 69 Gold

Diageo

ABV: 45%

Average Price: $16

The Whisky:

Vat 69 is a blend of mostly grain whiskies from all around Scotland. The name refers to a contest with 100 unique vats of whisky where the 69th blend won the big prize. Other than that, this is bottom-shelf whisky with no frills.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a weird faux strawberry shortcake with a spray can whip cream on top that could be construed as vanilla flavored. The palate has a bit of orange candy sweetness with a bitter edge and a slight spice. The end is short, hot, and very malty.

Bottom Line:

Besides nostalgia for a grandparent, I can’t really see a reason to try this but at least the Gold isn’t overly astringent if you’re mixing it with Coke.

34. Grand Old Parr — Grand Old Parr Scotch Aged 12 Years Blended Scotch Whisky

Diageo

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $35

The Whisky:

This old-school blend is built around Cragganmore and Glendullan single malts. The whiskies mellow for 12 years before they’re vatted and proofed for this bottling.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a bit of cinnamon apple cookies on the nose with a touch of honey. The taste is very malty with a touch of cedar, tobacco spice, and more honey/apple/cinnamon. The end is warm, malty, and slightly sweet thanks to the honey.

Bottom Line:

This is fine. It’s a mixing whisky, so mix it if you come across it. Otherwise, you’re not missing much.

33. Bell’s — Bell’s Original

Diageo

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $20

The Whisky:

This near-bottom-shelf blend is based on Blair Athol malts with a supporting cast of Caol Ila, Glenkinchie, Dufftown, and Inchgower malts and various grain whiskies in the mix.

Tasting Notes:

This is clearly malty with a hint of lemon honey candies, woody spices, and a hint of vanilla. The palate doesn’t offer much else but does amp up the malts, spice, and vanilla towards a soft finish.

Bottom Line:

This isn’t bad if you’re looking for a cheap highball base. Beyond that, there’s not really much more to say.

32. Justerini & Brooks — J&B Rare Blended Scotch

Diageo

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $32

The Whisky:

J&B is a back bar mainstay. This old-school blend became hugely popular in the U.S. after Prohibition and still sits on most American bar shelves to this day, though often just collecting dust. The juice is a mix of 42 single grains and single malts that lean heavily into Speyside whiskies.

Tasting Notes:

The nose is malty with a flourish of orange zest next to cedar bark and sweet, buttery toffee. That sweetness carries and folds in fatty nuts and a bit of red fruit. The oak and spice kick in late as the sip fades fairly quickly while warming you up.

Bottom Line:

This is another throwback bottle. It’s perfectly fine for highballs or a scotch on the rocks and that’s about it.

31. Copper Dog — Copper Dog Speyside Blended Scotch Whisky

Diageo

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $35

The Whisky:

This is a new-ish release from Diageo that utilizes a lot of Speyside whiskies. Eight single malts are chosen for this blend to specifically highlight the small region within the Scottish Highlands.

Tasting Notes:

This is classic Speyside from nose to finish with apple and honey dominating the whole way through. The palate adds a warm malt and spice next to a very slight nuttiness and maybe a touch of orange marmalade. The end is short, warm, and slightly honeyed.

Bottom Line:

This is another good highball candidate that isn’t too shabby in a cocktail, either.

30. Strathmill — Strathmill 12 Flora & Fauna

Diageo

ABV: 43%

Average Price: $48

The Whisky:

This whisky is the base of J&B above. The malts are rarely ever seen on the open market as a single malt bottling, making this 12-year-old drop from the Flora and Fauna line pretty damn rare.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a medley of nuts, dark chocolate, and orange peels on the nose that support deep earthiness that’s damn near mushroom-y. The palate leans more towards the chocolate and nuts with a touch of dark spices and maltiness. The end is short, somewhat bitter, and has a citrus-y vibe.

Bottom Line:

This is one of those bottles that makes you go “hum… that’s interesting.” You kind of get into it and play with the juice in highballs, cocktails, and on the rocks until the bottle is empty. And then you never think about it again.

29. Royal Lochnagar — Royal Lochnagar Game of Thrones House Baratheon Aged 12 Years

Diageo

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $80

The Whisky:

This 12-year-old single malt is all about representing the Highlands. The distillery is close to Cairngorms National Park and was rumored to be a favorite of Queen Victoria back in the day, giving this and old-school vibe.

Tasting Notes:

The malts come through with a hint of vanilla, orange peels, and dry wicker. Burnt sugar drives the taste while a very thin wisp of smoke carries you towards ginger beer and cinnamon toast with a buttery feel. The end circles back around to that dry wicker with a final note of honey.

Bottom Line:

Overall, this is pretty decent stuff that I wish there was more of. Still, it’s best suited for a highball and cocktails but will do in a pinch for an on the rocks drink.

28. Black & White — Black & White Blended Scotch Whisky

Diageo

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $28

The Whisky:

Good ol’ Black & White. This used to be Dean “The King of Cool” Martin’s go-to whiskey — so there’s a bit of panache that still goes with drinking it. The black and white dogs on the label have become damn near synonymous with whisky in the U.K. to this day. The juice leans into Speyside grain whisky more than malt and is pretty damn dialed in.

Tasting Notes:

The bready grains come through with a note of lemon curd and a wisp of smoke. The lemon carries on and is married with a Christmas cake spice and caramel sweetness in the body of the sip. The end is short and sweet both literally and figuratively.

Bottom Line:

For a cheap blend, you could do a lot worse (looking at you, Vat 69). There’s a certain charm to this whisky that’s very easy-going and easy-drinking.

27. White Horse — White Horse Blended Scotch Whisky

Diageo

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $18

The Whisky:

This whisky is another throwback blend. Islay’s Lagavulin is at the foundation of this juice with various other malts and grain whiskies popping in to add some depth.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a smoked salted caramel vibe on the nose next to woody apples and a touch of cedar. The taste leans away from the smoke towards wet-grain malts, more apples, and a touch of rich, creamy honey. The end smooths out towards a vanilla pudding spiked with eggnog spices and a final puff of smoke-laced caramel.

Bottom Line:

This is one of those bottles that you’ll either love or hate. It’s very deep for being a damn-near bottom-shelf dram but doesn’t “wow” in any way really.

26. Haig — Haig Club Deluxe

Diageo

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $52

The Whisky:

This grain whisky hails from Cameronbridge Distillery. The mash is a 90/10 split of wheat and malted barley that’s aged for about seven years.

Tasting Notes:

This is very fruity with stewed apples mingling with banana bread, orange, and lemon. The palate adds an eggnog spice vibe to the mix with a nice vanilla depth and a touch of cedar. The spiciness peaks with a bit more banana bread and walnut on the end.

Bottom Line:

This is an interesting way to get into grain whisky, which is usually buried in blends under malt whiskies. It’s fairly easy-drinking, unique, and makes one hell of a highball.

25. Cardhu — Cardhu Aged 11 Years 2020 Rare By Nature

Diageo

ABV: 56%

Average Price: $110

The Whisky:

Every year, Diageo releases their Rare By Nature series of single malts from around Scotland. Last year’s limited releases dropped with a classic yet young single malt from Cardhu. The eleven-year-old expression was aged in a combination of refill, new, and ex-bourbon American oak barrels with an aim to draw out the whiskey’s sweeter and spicier edges.

Tasting Notes:

This is amazingly light with a bit of shaved wood next to big notes of tart and sweet apples and pineapple next to a rush of bright lemon zest and an underbelly of wet earth. The sweet fruits stay strong as the taste edges towards a flourish of warm, peppery spice next to a buttery biscuit. The end is long and full of that spice and sweetness. A little water really brings the fruitiness back into the foreground with a brightness that’s enrapturing.

Bottom Line:

Cardhu is extremely popular in Spain and this bottle was an attempt to broaden the brand’s appeal in other markets. Cards on the table, this is a really good single malt whisky from a great, though lesser-known, distillery. In short, this is where things get pretty damn hair-splitting until the top ten.

24. Glen Elgin — Glen Elgin 12

Diageo

ABV: 43%

Average Price: $80

The Whisky:

Glen Elgin is the foundation of White Horse (above). The distillery in Speyside runs six stills and most of their juice goes to that blend, making this a rarer bottle to find (especially in the U.S.)

Tasting Notes:

This is an orchard fruit bomb on the nose with touches of butterscotch, eggnog spice, and black tea bitterness. The palate follows that path while adding in notes of oatmeal raisin cookies with a flake or two of finishing salt, more bitter black tea, and a touch of nuttiness. The end lingers a while as that oatmeal cookie really leans into the dry fruit and oats.

Bottom Line:

This is the point where I desperately try and find a new way to say, “Hey, this is really nice. You should try it in a highball or on the rocks.”

23. Knockando — Knockando 12

Diageo

ABV: 43%

Average Price: $45

The Whisky:

Knockkando is yet another small Speyside distillery doing their thing. This expression is an entry-point 12-year that offers a really solid foundation for the region’s distinct flavor profiles.

Tasting Notes:

You’re drawn in by a nose full of cinnamon-stewed apples drizzled in honey with a distinct whiff of dried heather and maybe a little dried wheat. The palate veers far away from that with a pumpkin savoriness next to buttered banana bread full of walnuts, nutmeg, and clove next to a hint of milk chocolate. The end is pretty slow with a nutmeg spicing up a bit towards a peppery warmth.

Bottom Line:

If you’re looking for a Speyside that really nails the region’s profile, this is it. Also, the name is fun to say.

22. Auchroisk — Auchroisk 10 Flora & Fauna

Diageo

ABV: 43%

Average Price: $60

The Whisky:

This bottle used to be labeled as “Singleton” for the U.S. market because they didn’t think Americans could pronounce “Auchroisk.” They dropped that back in 2001 and went back to the original name. This is one of the only bottlings from the distillery in single malt form. The rest of the juice goes into J&B above.

Tasting Notes:

Wet green grass mingles with a very creamy vanilla pudding (think bourbon) next to a touch of marzipan and lemon curd on the nose. The taste doesn’t veer too far away from those notes while adding in eggnog spices, a little cedar, and some vanilla tobacco chew. The end is long and very silky with hints of that green grass drying out into a bale of straw.

Bottom Line:

Speaking of names, I don’t think I’ve ever pronounced this one correctly. So, I guess the good people at Diageo weren’t wrong on that front. Still, this is a pretty unique bottle and worth tracking down for an equally unique tasting experience.

21. Buchanan’s — Buchanan’s Special Reserve Aged 18 Years

Diageo

ABV: 43%

Average Price: $86

The Whisky:

The Scotch blend is a mix of Diageo single malt and single grains that are all at least 18-years-old. Those whiskies are aged in ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks before their married into this well-crafted expression.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a sense of malt next to hints of orange zest, honey, and bright cherry. The palate really delivers on the cherry as the orange zest becomes candied and a nutty edge arrives, ushering in a subtle and almost sweet smoke. The smoke dries a bit as a note of pine arrives late, supported by the orange, cherry, and honey with a touch of warm spice.

Bottom Line:

This felt like it should rank higher. This is a really good blended whisky that’s a real workhorse (you can sip it, mix it, highball it, whatever). That being said, this has never reached the heights of Diageo’s most famous blend and we have a lot of single malts to still get through. So here we are.

20. Glenlossie — Glenlossie 10 Flora & Fauna

Diageo

ABV: 43%

Average Price: $58

The Whisky:

This is another Speyside malt that’s almost exclusively used for blends. Diageo doesn’t really disclose which blends, but we can guess from the bottles on this list. The unique thing here is that Glenlossie is next door to the Mannochmore distillery and the two campuses share the same employees and warehouses.

Tasting Notes:

This opens with a dry maltiness next to cedar bark, pears, and wet moss. The taste is very light with whispers of lemon oils, black pepper, wet grains, and earthy umami. The finish doesn’t overstay its welcomes and has a light lemon-pepper vibe.

Bottom Line:

This is a very rare find and worth it for just having something different.

19. Glen Spey — Glen Spey 12 Flora & Fauna

Diageo

ABV: 43%

Average Price: $48

The Whisky:

Glen Spey is another Speyside whisky that’s primarily used in J&B Blended Scotch. Where other malts primarily made for blends are scarce, there are a few 20-year plus expressions out there though they rarely make it over the pond.

Tasting Notes:

This has a very soft nose that dances between Chardonnay grapes, fresh honey, bales of wet straw, and brand new Band-Aids tied together by the final line of smoke from a dying campfire. The woodiness comes through on the palate with an almost charcoal feel next to fermented apples, more straw, and a touch of sultanas. A nuttiness arrives late as the taste slowly fades out, leaving you with a fruity, nutty, and malty finish.

Bottom Line:

For a Speyside, this is just interesting. That smoke is more reminiscent of a very light Islay while still feeling squarely Speyside.

18. Clynelish — Clynelish 14

Diageo

ABV: 46%

Average Price: $72

The Whisky:

Up on the cold northern coast of Scotland, you’ll find a little town called Brora. There used to be a distillery there of the same name, which made peat monsters up unit the 1980s. Clynelish took over the location and started making their own peated malts, this time while leaning more into the sea than the peat. And in this case, they’ve created a very lightly peated single malt that spends a decade and a half resting near that sea until it’s just right.

Tasting Notes:

This has a nostalgic sense of a cold, rainy beach. You’re not necessarily on that beach but you can remember to sea spray, the salt on your lips, the smell of dried seaweed, and a touch of old smoke from a nearly dead fire. The taste dances between notes of burnt orange peels, old leather tobacco pouches, and this soft mineral water mouthfeel that carries with it creamy vanilla just touched with sea salt. The end is medium-length, salty, and has this mildly bitter edge that’s akin to a cocoa bean pith.

Bottom Line:

I wanted to rank this so much higher but here it is at around the midpoint. I’m okay with that. This is a great single malt but there are even greater ones to come.

17. Inchgower — Inchgower 14 Flora & Fauna

Diageo

ABV: 43%

Average Price: $58

The Whisky:

This malt from the very bottom of the Speyside region is one of the rarer bottles on the list. The malt usually only shows up in Bell’s Blended Scotch (above). Beyond that, this 14-year-old only really shows up in special releases like this.

Tasting Notes:

This is pure silk from start to finish with a nose that touches on lemon cookies, bales of wet alfalfa, buttery toffee, and a touch of caramel-malted barley. The palate is an apple orchard in full bloom with a bright rush of wildflowers, fresh ginger, rich honey, wet slate minerality, and lemongrass. The finish adds a slight resinous pine with a mild yet dry black peppercorn.

Bottom Line:

This is one of those bottles that I wish were more accessible. If you see one, treat yourself to a unique and delicious dram.

16. Linkwood — Linkwood 12 Flora & Fauna

Diageo

ABV: 43%

Average Price: $60

The Whisky:

You rarely see Linkwood on the shelf as a single malt. This is almost exclusively used in Johnnie Walker (below) and White Horse (above).

Tasting Notes:

This nose is complex and travels from a cellar full of bushels of orchard fruits in baskets in late fall to a cool porch with a cup of vanilla tea waiting for you to a final stop at your grandmother’s side with a whiff of old-school perfume drenched in cigarette smoke. The palate thickens as a syrup-y sweetness arrives next to that vanilla and fruit and a touch of marzipan and pine. The end is very long and will leave you with an orris root bitterness.

Bottom Line:

This feels like one of those malts that could blow up if Diageo pushed it a little harder. It’s so unique and brings something interesting to the table every time I try it.

15. Benrinnes — Benrinnes 21

Diageo

ABV: 56.9%

Average Price: $480

The Whisky:

Benrinnes is that other distillery in Aberlour. The distillery is also one of the only malts that were triple distilled (like Irish whiskey). The juice in this bottle goes back to that era of distillation with a focus on sherry cask maturation.

Tasting Notes:

The nose is full of peanut brittle touched with finishing salts, match flints, brewer’s yeast, Milk Duds, and sticky toffee pudding. The palate leans into the date cake and adds in bold eggnog spices next to a bowl full of dried fruits soaking in brandy next to a savory fruit that’s halfway between a cucumber and winter squash. The finish lingers for a while and leaves you with an almost burnt chocolate maltiness, salt flakes, and more of those dates.

Bottom Line:

This is pretty wild and engaging. Sure, it’s expensive. But there isn’t a whole lot out there quite like this.

14. Mannochmore — Mannochmore 25

Diageo

ABV: 53.4%

Average Price: $660

The Whisky:

This is an extremely rare glimpse into Mannochmore distillery which primarily produces malt to blend and only limited-edition releases. This 2016 release of just under 4,000 bottles contains very old juice aged in new American and European oak as well as used bourbon and sherry casks. It then goes into the bottles at barrel strength.

Tasting Notes:

The fruitiness of the malt is accentuated by bourbon vanilla, dry peppery spice, and what feels like the Cherry Coke syrup from a soda machine without the fizzy water added. The palate has a spiced malted bread vibe with hints of anise, black pepper, salted caramel, and prunes. The end kind of doesn’t end as hints of rosewater-rich marzipan, orange oils, and more prune linger the longest.

Bottom Line:

I kind of can’t believe this ranked this low. It’s truly a great and unique bottle of booze. But, folks, there are so many great bottles of booze coming up that you should consider this where the ‘good stuff’ starts.

13. Glenkinchie — Glenkinchie Distillers Edition

Diageo

ABV: 43%

Average Price: $85

The Whisky:

This limited edition expression from last year’s Diageo Distillers Edition is expertly crafted whisky. The Lowland juice has a finishing maturation in a specially made barrel which is constructed from used and new American oak that’s then filled with Amontillado sherry for a month. Once that fortified wine is dumped, the whisky goes in for its final maturation.

Tasting Notes:

There are hints of very soft wood next to berries steeped in honey with a light vanilla edge. The taste dips into a slight black pepper with a note of brie rinds or, maybe, a cheese cellar. The end is slow and leaves you with a nice, warm buzzing in your senses and a real feeling of velvet roundness.

Bottom Line:

This was a very “ah-ha!” malt for me the first time I had it. It’s just goddamn delicious — neat, or on the rocks. The only reason it ranks this low is that while it’s great, there’s a weird forgettability about it (sorry to all those who grew up with this malt, I mean no disrespect).

12. Dalwhinnie — Dalwhinnie 15

Diageo

ABV: 43%

Average Price: $80

The Whisky:

This entry-point bottle to the wider world of Dalwhinnie is a hell of an easy drinker. The juice is aged in Scotland’s coldest distillery, making the maturation process a severe one. The juice spends 15 years hiding in those barrels as the temperatures dip well below freezing across all those winters.

Tasting Notes:

Imagine a bowl of pear and apple peels sitting next to an open jar of floral summer honey on the nose. Dots of citrus oils mingle with that honey as a smooth vanilla character arrives on the back of sweet brown bread bespeckled with smoked walnuts. The nuts, sweet bread, and floral honey all converge on the finish as it slowly fades towards a final billow of sweet smoke at the back of your mouth.

Bottom Line:

This is another whisky that’s just freakin’ delicious. It’s kind of hard not to place it in the top ten of this list but there just wasn’t room for it. I mean, come on! Lagavulin didn’t even make it into the top ten as you can see next.

11. Lagavulin — Lagavulin 16

Diageo

ABV: 43%

Average Price: $105

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 Lagavulin. Then the whisky spends 16 long years mellowing in old American and Spanish oak.

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 probably Islay’s most iconic malt. You really cannot go wrong here unless, of course, you don’t dig on the peaty malts. I generally don’t vibe with peated whisky all that much except for this one (and Talisker). Take that with the grain of malt it is.

10. Singleton — Singleton Of Glendullan 38 Year

Diageo

ABV: 59.8%

Average Price: $1,340

The Whisky:

This 2014 release was aged for 38 years (that means it went in the barrel 1976) in European oak at The Singleton’s Glendullan facility. There were only 3,756 bottles of this masterpiece released. If you can find one and have an extra grand lying around, invest in this bottle.

Tasting Notes:

This is an amazingly subtle sip — nothing overpowers. There are notes of ripe melon and mango with hints of malty and buttery shortbread biscuits. Woody and sweet apples mingle with notes of orange and cinnamon with brown butter toffee and oak char. Pitchy pine resin, toasted oak, sandalwood and eucalyptus, caramel apples, tart cranberries, and sharp peppery spice bring about a crescendo of a finish.

Bottom Line:

This is just ridiculous. It’s one of the top malts you can drink. Though, for my palate, that sandalwood note just isn’t my jam. Other than that, this is damn near perfection.

9. Caol Ila — Caol Ila Distillers Edition

Diageo

ABV: 43%

Average Price: $88

The Whisky:

This yearly release from the tiny Islay distillery, Caol Ila, is all about the finish. The 12-year-old juice is finished in Moscatel sherry casks to give it a truly deep fruitiness next to that briny Islay peat.

Tasting Notes:

This really draws the peat far into the background as notes of smoked apricots, star anise, and honey-soaked almonds on the nose. The palate has a slight anchovy oil edge that leads towards a very distant whisp of smoke from a campfire far down a rainy beach next to orange oils, smoked salt flakes over buttery toffee, and a touch of more of those honey almonds. The end holds onto that nuttiness and sweetness with a good spray of seawater as the campfire smoke draws nearer and picks up a little more of those stone fruits along the way.

Bottom Line:

Let’s just say that every bottle from here on out slays.

8. Cragganmore — Cragganmore Distillers Edition

Diageo

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $85

The Whisky:

Cragganmore is an iconic Scottish distillery. The whisky is matured in sherry casks for 12 years. It’s then transferred into American oak casks that held port for a final maturation phase before proofing and bottling.

Tasting Notes:

Fennel leads to some dried fruits and fresh apples on the nose. The taste, on the other hand, leans into sweet oak, figs, pear candies, and a softness that’s almost hard to believe. The end is full of sweet fruits and has just the right touches of oak, vanilla, and savory greens as it fades at a good clip.

Bottom Line:

I love this bottle. It’s something that I truly savor and save for when I need something new, comforting, and light.

7. Teaninich — Teaninich 17

Diageo

ABV: 55.9%

Average Price: $278

The Whisky:

Teaninich is one of the rarest drops from the Diageo distilleries. There is the Flora and Fauna edition and this 2016 limited edition. The rest of the juice goes into Johnnie Walker. This drop was comprised of malt aged in ex-bourbon and ex-sherry and then bottled at cask strength.

Tasting Notes:

This is very Highland with a nose of orange marmalade on butter wheat toast bespeckled with pumpkin seeds, poppy seeds, and maybe a sunflower seed or two next to vanilla candies wrapped in white wax paper and a touch of canned brown bread. The palate has an apple cider vibe with hints of that brown bread sweetness leading towards the syrup from a can of peaches, eggnog spices, and a hint of cedar. The finish is soft and slow and leans into the peaches as the spice gently fades towards apple-cider-soaked cinnamon sticks and allspice berries.

Bottom Line:

If you can find this, you’re going to be in for a treat. It’s really one of those brands that you wish had so many more expressions on the shelf.

6. Blair Athol — Blair Athol 12 Flora & Fauna

Diageo

ABV: 43%

Average Price: $55

The Whisky:

Besides this bottling, you really only see Blair Athol malt in Bell’s whisky (above) and very limited releases from the distillery or boutique brands. The whisky is a Highland malt that spends 12 years chilling out in ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks.

Tasting Notes:

The sherry really shines on the nose with a deep dried fruit feel next to Christmas cake spices that were soaked in dark rum — all leading towards hot coals straight from a fireplace. On the palate, light yet very thick syrup arrives with a malty edge, notes of lemon jam, dried apricots, and a vanilla tobacco chewiness. The finish takes its sweet time and turns that light syrup into bitter lemon syrup over dried-out malt crackers with a throughline of burnt rosemary sprigs.

Bottom Line:

I can attest that this blows your palate up. There’s so much going on and it, somehow, makes sense and really drives home how unique some of these malts are.

5. Johnnie Walker — Johnnie Walker Blue

Diageo

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $240

The Whisky:

This is the mountaintop of Johnnie Walker’s whiskies. The blend is a marriage of ultra-rare stock from extinct Diageo distilleries around Scotland. That’s just … cool. This expression is all about barrel selection and the mastery of a great noser and blender working together to create something special.

Tasting Notes:

Dried fruit with a plummy sweetness mingles with a very soft and almost dry pall of smoke. The palate then veers in a completely different direction — folding in orange oils, marzipan, rose water, honeycombs, and a dusting of bitter cacao once water is added. The end is slow, smoky, and full of dry fruits, nuts, and a malty nature.

Bottom Line:

If there’s a better blended malt whisky in the world, we haven’t found it.

4. Dailuaine — Dailuaine 16 Flora & Fauna

Diageo

ABV: 43%

Average Price: $68

The Whisky:

This is an obscure single malt distiller that’s really only used for feeding the best Johnnie Walker blends. This extremely rare release spends 16 long years resting in sherry casks before it’s proofed and bottled for this one-off drop.

Tasting Notes:

Imagine the best charcuterie board you’ve ever experienced — crumbly cheddar, Stilton, cellar-cured hams, funky salami, olives, orange marmalade, crusty rye bread, salted and creamy butter — and you’ll be on the right track. Add in a glass of bold and tannic red wine next to Werther’s Originals and you’ll really be getting the vibe of this dram. Now, imagine that all culminated in a Christmas cake brimming with nuts, candied fruits, eggnog spices that’s all been soaked in butter and brandy for months. Then, it all slowly fades away, leaving you with that nutty holiday cake and a line of smoke from a fresh tobacco leaf.

Bottom Line:

This could have been number one. It’s mind-bogglingly delicious. But finding it is going to be a pain in the ass in the U.S.

3. Oban — Oban 14

Diageo

ABV: 43%

Average Price: $95

The Whisky:

This is a great gateway to both Oban and scotch to have on hand. The juice is classically made and then matured in the Oban storehouses for 14 long years — all within a stone’s throw of the sea.

Tasting Notes:

Citrus, salt, and a billow of peat smoke open this one up in classic fashion. That citrus carries on as a foundation for mild spices. A note of honey, hints of pears, and plummy dried fruits mingle on the tongue. The oak spice and extremely mild peat smoke meet on the end with a slight malty sweetness as the sip fades.

Bottom Line:

Oban is one of my favorite distilleries in the world. While the 21 is my go-to, the 14 is where you need to start your Oban journey. It’s cheaper and truly special.

2. Mortlach — Mortlach 20

Diageo

ABV: 43.4%

Average Price: $230

The Whisky:

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.

Tasting Notes:

There’s an apple pie feel that pulls you in with stewed and spicy apples, black raisins, and walnuts next to a hint of caramelized pineapple and a whisper of sea salt. That apple pie filling kicks up a notch as a savory and buttery pie crust comes into play, while hints of mint, figs, vanilla, oak, and dark cacao mingle on the tongue. The end comes along very slowly with more walnuts and raisins leading towards a final savory note that’s almost … extra virgin olive oil?

Bottom Line:

Complex. Unique. Delightful. Bold. Delicate. Engaging. Comforting. This malt is the full package.

1. Talisker — Talisker 25

Diageo

ABV: 45.8%

Average Price: $600

The Whisky:

This whisky is a marriage of American bourbon barrels, Spanish sherry casks, and Talisker’s seaside location. The whiskies in this single malt spend a minimum of 25 years resting in old bourbon and sherry barrels a few short steps from the sea in the Isle of Skye. Talisker’s tiny warehouse feels a bit like an old pirate ship that’s seen too many sea battles and that aura is imbued into every barrel as it matures.

Tasting Notes:

This one opens with a note of wet wildflowers next to sweet beeswax candles (unlit) with hints of murky apple cider, creamy chocolate, and a whisper of briny campfire smoke. The taste really brings out the wooden beams of the Talisker warehouse with notes of sea salt next to cobwebs and wet moss that’s all counterpointed by a blossoming wisteria, orange tobacco, and a little bit more of that campfire smoke lurking in the background. The end holds onto the florals as it slowly fades away, leaving you with a wisp of smoke, a misting of sea spray, and a touch of that orange.

Bottom Line:

If you don’t like this, we can’t be friends.

Seriously though, this is one of the best whiskies ever made. Of the thousands of drams I’ve tasted, maybe a handful comes as close to the pure bliss of this juice. Save up your cash and dive into a truly great whisky with this bottle.


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