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Single Malt Scotches For Newcomers Who Want To Stay Away From Smoke

We don’t blame you if you’re new to single malt Scotch whisky and feeling a bit overwhelmed. There’s no specific flavor you should expect from every bottle of scotch. Depending on the grains used, the aging process, and the region where it’s produced, the spirit can taste remarkably different. Very broadly, though, Scotch single malts do tend to break into two categories: Peated (or smoky) and unpeated (or sweet).

While regions like Speyside might be more known for honeyed and fruit-forward whiskies (sometimes) and Islay might be almost synonymous with smoky peat-monsters (mostly), there are no hard and fast rules for what whisky tastes like what from where. That said, Scotch whisky beginners might not want to dive right into the fire that is peat-smoked single malts — it’s a lot to tackle.

That’s why we decided to highlight some of the best “beginner” unpeated Scotch whiskies today, perfect for people who might not be ready for that smoky plunge. Keep scrolling to see our eight selections.

Tomatin 12

Tomatin 12
Tomatin

ABV: 43%

Average Price: $42

The Whisky:

While it doesn’t have the name recognition of some of the other beginner bottles on this list, Tomatin 12 is a great starter single malt. Aged in oak barrels before being finished for six to nine months in casks that previously held oloroso sherry from Spain, it’s known for its mellow, sweet, accessible flavor.

Tasting Notes:

Complex aromas of dried cherries, raisins, almond cookies, and vanilla beans are prevalent on the nose. The palate is swirling with hints of candied orange peel, vanilla beans, buttery caramel, and a gentle, fruity, woody finish that leaves you craving more.

Bottom Line:

This single malt is known for its sweet, fruity, caramel flavors that make it both a great beginner bottle and one that you’ll keep on your bar cart for years to come.

Glenmorangie The Original 10

Glenmorangie 10
Glenmorangie

ABV: 43%

Average Price: $41

The Whisky:

No beginner, smoke-free single malt Scotch list is complete without Glenmorangie The Original. The renowned distillery’s flagship expression is known both for its quality as it is for its price. It’s matured in a combination of first and second-fill American oak barrels for a decade creating potentially the best beginner whisky of all time.

Tasting Notes:

Fruit is front and center on this whisky’s nose. There are notable aromas of orange peel, lemon curd, dried apricots, raisins, and slight spice. Sipping it reveals a symphony of sticky toffee pudding, toasted vanilla beans, caramel candy, and gentle wintry spices. The finish is a great combination of sweet malts and dried fruits.

Bottom Line:

This is a mellow, sweet well-balanced single malt. The caramel malt flavors pair perfectly with the ripe fruit flavors.

Old Pulteney 12

Old Pulteney 12
Old Pulteney

ABV: 46%

Average Price: $50

The Whisky:

First released in 2018, this memorable expression was completely matured in ex-bourbon barrels. The result is a sweet, highly approachable whisky that should appeal to both beginner single malt Scotch drinkers as well as seasoned bourbon fans.

Tasting Notes:

A lot is going on with this whisky’s nose with clover honey, toasted vanilla beans, butterscotch, charred wood, and just a hint of sea salt. The palate is littered with flavors like salted caramel, almond cookies, candied orange peels, slight ocean brine, and a nice herbal backbone. The last few sips are warming and filled with hints of sea salt and buttery caramel.

Bottom Line:

Even for a beginner bottle, this is a complex whisky. Aging in bourbon barrels gives it an extra sweetness that’s tempered well by the slight salinity.

GlenDronach 12

GlenDronach 12
GlenDronach

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $70

The Whisky:

This award-winning single malt whisky was first released in 2009. Aged for at least twelve years in Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez sherry casks, it’s non-chill filtered and known for its creamy, sweet, fruity flavor. There’s a reason it commonly makes both beginner and sherry bomb lists.

Tasting Notes:

The nose is highlighted by treacle, vanilla beans, cinnamon, holiday spices, and citrus zest. On the palate, you’ll find sweet sherry, dried cherries, oaky wood, butterscotch, raisins, and slightly warming spice. At the very end, you’ll find candied almond and dried fruit notes.

Bottom Line:

This is a great example of a sherried single malt whisky that’s also a great beginner bottle. It’s also the type of whisky that will propel you into trying the other expressions from this beloved distillery.

Tamdhu 12

Tamdhu 12
Tamdhu

ABV: 43%

Average Price: $68

The Whisky:

Even though it was founded in 1897, there’s a chance you’ve never heard of Tamdhu. Named for the Gaelic word for “little dark hill”, this Speyside distiller is well-known for its sherried single malts. One of its best is its 12-year-old express that was aged completely in first-fill and refill oloroso sherry casks.

Tasting Notes:

This whisky’s nose is very vibrant with aromas of candied orange peels, dried cherries, sherry spice, and gentle oak. The palate is centered around woody oak, sweet sherry, raisins, ripe berries, and sweet, buttery caramel candy. The finish is a warming combination of toffee, fruit, and gentle Christmas spices.

Bottom Line:

While this whisky was aged for more than a decade in former sherry casks, its sweetness is tempered by spice and caramel.

Aberlour 12

Aberlour 12
Aberlour

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $42

The Whisky:

Before you step up to the cask strength gem that is Aberlour A’bunadh, you have to start somewhere. We suggest the first step be with the distillery’s double cask matured 12-year-old expression. The two casks it was matured in are white oak and sherry casks. The result is a mellow, sweet, fruity, memorable dram.

Tasting Notes:

Before you first sip, a nosing will reveal scents of caramelized sugar, toasted vanilla beans, ripe fruit, and gentle spices. The palate continues this flavor profile with chocolate fudge, sweet sherry, ripe berries, cherries, and butterscotch. The warming finished has both winter spices and fruity sweetness.

Bottom Line:

While it might not get the same press as Glenmorangie The Original, this is one of the best beginner bottles on the market. It’s the best beginner option for sherry fans.

Mortlach 12

Mortlach 12
Mortlach

ABV: 43.4%

Average Price: $67

The Whisky:

Whisky aficionados know all about the prowess of Mortlach. If you’re unfamiliar with the brand, it’s time to get to know its 12-year-old expression. This award-winner is double casks matured in a combination of American and European oak barrels. The result is a rich, easy-to-drink, memorable whisky.

Tasting Notes:

This whiskey is highlighted by aromas of candied almonds, butter cookies, sticky toffee, and slight spice. On the palate, you’ll be greeted with notes of raisins, prunes, vanilla beans, citrus zest, and toasted oak. The last few sips are warming with a nice mixture of candied orange peels and butterscotch pudding.

Bottom Line:

This is a truly memorable dram. It’s loaded with spice, caramel, and slight fruitiness that make it a terrific dram on a cold winter night.

Bruichladdich The Classic Laddie

Bruichladdich The Classic Laddie
Bruichladdich

ABV: 50%

Average Price: $60

The Whisky:

You probably know that the Inner Hebrides Island of Islay is well-known for its peat-smoked, robust, campfire-like whiskies. But did you know that you can still find smoke-free options from the sheep-filled island? Bruichladdich The Classic Laddie not only fits the bill, but it’s also one of the best beginner whiskies on the market.

Tasting Notes:

Memorable aromas of manuka honey, caramel candy, orange zest, and slight ocean brine fill your nostrils before your first sip. On the palate, you’ll be greeted with hints of cinnamon sugar, butterscotch, dried cherries, and slightly salted caramel. The finish is pleasingly warming with notes of treacle and ripe fruits.

Bottom Line:

There’s no smoke, but it has enough ocean brine to pair well with the caramel and fruit flavors. A perfect sipper on a cold night in front of a roaring fire.

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