Sometimes terms like “overrated” and “over-hyped” conjure the wrong idea. No one’s trying to put these brands on blast or knock them down a peg. And we’re definitely not shaming you for drinking what you like. We’re simply reminding fellow aficionados to taste their whisky, rather than going off of brand perceptions. Make sure you like its flavors, not just its marketing.
After all, the world is full of choices and the most famous drams might not always be the most enjoyable. Taking a break from more media-friendly, well-distributed expressions gives you a chance to branch out into something different. Something you haven’t tasted before. Maybe a smokier or sweeter or oakier bottle.
With this aim, we asked some of our favorite bartenders to share the most overrated Scotches on the market. Maybe you reject what they say, or maybe it inspires you to broaden your horizons. Either way, no offense is meant to the brands called out here. As the sage Jay-Z says, “It’s not a diss song, it’s just a real song.”
The Macallan 18
Jeremy Allen, beverage director of MiniBar Hollywood in Los Angeles
I’m sure if we were playing Family Feud about scotches and someone said, “Show me, Macallan!” it would be the number one answer on the board. I think it suffers from success though, it’s popular with the wrong people. Try its sister brands, Edradour and Highland Park.
Johnnie Walker Black Label
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Reniel Garcia, bar director of Havana 1957 in Miami
Black Label (40 percent ABV, 80 proof) is a great introduction to the taste of Scotch because it offers a nice balance of sweet and peat. It’s an elegant — almost scrumptious — Scotch at a great price and a reliable whisky that can easily become a regular in any bar. It’s also overrated.
Confused? Well, while it’s high quality and affordable, there are much better blended whiskies on the market for you to discover.
Seamus Gleason, bartender at Hotel Jackson in Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Laphroaig 10 Year. If you’re using it for anything other than a float on a penicillin, you’re wasting everyone’s time. It’s not complemented by the peat, it’s smothered by it. Nevertheless, it maintains a salty-ness that makes you wonder if you’re drinking bog water.
The Macallan 12
Drew Reid, restaurant manager at W Aspen in Aspen, Colorado
Macallan 12 – To me, this Scotch just doesn’t bring a lot to the table. It is straight forward and tasty, but doesn’t wow me as it does so many others!
I like a scotch that has more bite and/or is peated.
Johnnie Walker Blue Label
Kurt Bellon, general manager and beverage director at Chao Baan in St. Louis
Johnnie Walker Blue label comes to mind. A household name now and a likely favorite of your grandpa. For its price point, it does not justify its lack of taste and quality. Basically, the “Beats headphones” of Scotch. There are better quality headphones out there.
Marta De La Cruz Marrero, food and beverage supervisor at Burlock Coast in Fort Lauderdale, Florida
The most overrated Scotch is Glenlivet 12. It’s a great, well-balanced whisky, but there are also many more higher quality single malts on the market to be discovered instead.
Hayden Miller, head bartender at Bodega Taqueria y Tequila in Miami
While I do enjoy Ardbeg, there are a lot of other great bottles out there that are a little more subtle with the peat. Ardbeg 10 is a good example of over-hyping. There are better, less peat-driven Scotches from Islay that I certainly prefer.
The Macallan 25
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Erin Gowdy, bartender at Paul’s Landing in St. Petersburg, Florida
Macallan 25. It is a very good Scotch, but I believe it is overpriced. In the last few years, demand has increased its price reminiscent of Pappy Van Winkle. There are better, more wallet-friendly options available.
Highland Park 18
Don’t get us wrong, Highland Park 18 is a great bottle of whisky. The problem is that while this Orkney-produced whisky is well-balanced and full of sherry sweetness, there are other options on the market for much less than this bottle’s price tag.
This Highland whisky is just about as well-rounded and classic as Scotch gets. It’s rich, smooth, and full of caramel and toasted vanilla. That being said, it’s more of a beginner bottle than anything and, if you enjoy it, you can find many other comparable bottles to try instead of buying it a second time around.
Keep things fresh and give new brands a shot!