When it comes to Scotch whisky, there are a few names even the most novice drinkers know well. You’ve likely heard of The Macallan, Glenlivet, Lagavulin, Johnnie Walker, and Chivas. But what about AnCnoc, BenRiach, Craigellachie, and Kilchoman?
Yeah, we thought that might be the case. It’s a big industry and you just can’t be expected to know every brand.
There are over 120 Scotch distilleries in Scotland. Clearly, you’re limiting yourself if you aren’t open to trying anything other than your usual brands, but knowing where to start is something of a puzzle. That’s why we asked some of our favorite bartenders to tell us their go-to underrated Scotch whiskies.
Check out this list and then go out and grab one of these lesser-known (or underrated) bottles. You won’t regret it.
Josh Cameron, head bartender at Boulton & Watt in New York City
Monkey Shoulder does not get enough love. This is a party Scotch and also a cocktail Scotch. It’s top-shelf quality that fits in the well. “Ahhh, make me a Monkey Shoulder Penicillin, please.” Instantly, you’re transported to a funky underground jazz/funk bar.
Holly Fields, bartender at Station Hollywood in Los Angeles
Ardbeg 10 is the most underrated scotch — it’s a ten year with deeply unique flavor elements. It comes from the remote island of Islay, arriving with a smoky and sweet balance. The combination of rich flavors has been distilled over 200 years.
Plus, the price point is reasonable and affordable.
Glendronach 15 Year
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Stephen George, beverage manager at 20|Twenty Grill in Carlsbad, California
In spite of their recent accolades, Glendronach 15 Year and 21 Year are still overlooked on whisky/whiskey lists. These whiskies definitely over-deliver for the cost.
Springbank 10 Year
Chris Burmeister, bartender at Citizen Rail in Denver
Springbank 10 Year is seriously underrated. Complex, nuanced, artfully crafted in Campbeltown. For the price it’s a great bottle to have in your home bar and a great pick to impress some friends. In addition, it’s very approachable for the new to scotch drinker.
Balvenie 12 Year
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The Balvenie Single Barrel 12 years old, an amazing one 😍 Comment ✌🏼 if you have it! . . . #whiskey #whiskybottle #scotchwhisky #scotch #whiskyphotography #whiskylicious #whiskylove #whiskylovers #whiskeylovers #WhiskeyGram #whiskypic #instadram #drinkneet #WhiskyNation #whiskytime #whiskygram #whiskylover #instawhisky #balvenie #balvenie12
Nikki McCutcheon, beverage director at Magic Hour Rooftop Bar & Lounge in New York City
Balvenie 12 Year is the backbone of the brand’s portfolio. Aged in oak, it’s got a smooth finish and none of the overly smoked harshness that people who are nervous about trying Scotch expect.
Benromach 10 Year
Brandon Lockman, lead bartender at Red Star Tavern in Portland, Oregon
Benromach Single Malt, which hit the market 10 years ago, deserves way more love. It’s great quality, but immediately stood out to me because it offers a different kind of smokiness.
Glenfiddich 12 Year
Maggie Dandrea, bartender, Hot Tin in New Orleans
I sometimes wish more people had an appreciation for Glenfiddich 12 year. Alone or with a little water, its fruity nose gives way to tastes of malt and butterscotch and finishes long and mellow. It’s perfect sipping and pairs really well with friends.
Dalwhinnie 15 Year
Sally Gatza, lead bartenders at L.A. Jackson in Nashville
Dalwhinnie 15 is a very approachable scotch that people do not really hear a lot about. It’s one of my favorites to serve. There’s a reason it won a Gold Medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition.
Writer’s Pick: Aberfeldy 12
The main single malt whisky in Dewar’s line of whiskies, Aberfeldy 12 is sweet, smooth, and full of honey richness. It’s reasonably priced at around $35-40 and definitely doesn’t get the credit it deserves in the marketplace.