Today is Nick Offerman’s favorite day (International Scotch Day), so it’s the best day to dip your toes (or lips) into the world of Scotch whisky. Perhaps, when you think about Scotch, you imagine gentleman in old timey garb, slowly sipping the drink while they sit in high backed chairs, smoking Sherlock Holmes-esque pipes. Well, if this is your image of Scotch, you’re really missing out.
If you still want to learn enough about Scotch to buy a bottle and converse socially about this whisky from Scotland, keep reading. It’s a little more grown up than your weekend of Jäger.
What is Scotch?
In the most basic terms, Scotch is whisky (whisky there, whiskey in Ireland) from Scotland (that should be fairly obvious). Scotch can only be made in Scotland the same way that Cognac can only be made in Cognac and Champagne can only be made in Champagne (get it?). You don’t really need to know this, but Scotch is broken up into two main categories: single malt and single grain.
Single malt whisky is made from water and malted barley at one distillery. Single grain whisky is made with water and barley, but can also contain other grains or cereals. The two main subsets are blended malt whisky (whisky made from blends of single malt whisky only) and blended (whisky that contains blends from both malt and grain whiskies). Most Scotch you run into is blended Scotch. This includes: Johnnie Walker, Famous Grouse, Cutty Sark and Chivas.
There are five regions where Scotch is made: The Highlands, The Lowlands, Speyside, Campbeltown and Islay. We’ve offered up great beginner whiskies from each region (and a bonus blended Scotch).
Glenmorangie The Original (10 years) — They call this “The Original” because it’s literally the first expression Glenmorangie ever made and definitely the most accessible to Scotch novices. Slowly sip it and you’ll get hints of caramel, vanilla and a subtle hint of orange zest.
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Auchentoshan American Oak — Auchentoshan is really close to Glasgow. It’s not out in the wilds of Scotland like most of the distilleries in the northern neighbor to England. One of their most easily accessible whiskies is their American Oak offering. This triple distilled whisky is full of toasted almond and caramel flavors.
The Glenlivet 12 — When many people think of Scotch, they think of Glenlivet. The best Glenlivet for beginners is definitely their 12 year old. This whisky was aged in American oak barrels that were seasoned with bourbon. That makes it extra smooth and full of caramel and fruit flavors.
Kilkerran 12 Year Old — This Scotch from the whisky mecca of Campbeltown is perfect for novices. Fans of marshmallows would love the toasted caramel and toffee flavors and subtle hints of cherries. Since it’s near Islay, you’re also going to get a slight, smoky peat flavor.
Laphroaig 10 Years Old — When you grab a bottle of Islay whisky, be prepared for a bit of smoke. That’s because the distilleries on this sheep-filled island use peat to smoke their whiskies. Laphroaig 10 years old is probably the best gateway Islay whisky.
Dewar’s White Label — Dewar’s is the #1 whisky brand in the world. That means that this might be the best possible beginners Scotch ever. You’ll be hit with oaky, vanilla and honey flavors. A great, easy drinking Scotch.