Comparing scotches can be difficult. Some people look for the peatiness of an Islay offering, opting for a beverage far smokier than any bourbon, while others champion an expertly crafted blend that’s a bit more restrained. But, when it comes down to it, scotch is scotch, and we’re happy with a good bottle. And while there are plenty of great Scotch whiskies we’ve tried, there are some that are simply bucket list-worthy, ones that deserve a fine decanter and a worthy tumbler. These are the 15 scotches you need to try at least once in your life.
The Macallan 25 Year Old Sherry Oak
There are many nice Macallan bottles to be had—21 Year Old Fine Oak, for starters— but our choice, and the one that really impressed us the most, is the 25 Year Old Sherry Oak. You get tons of fruit, as if you’re smelling and tasting your way through a summertime farmer’s market. Oh, and the honey, there’s plenty of that. Expensive? Um, yeah, you could say that. Delicious? For sure.
Johnnie Walker Blue
While no other Johnnie Walker color blows us away, each has little elements we happen to enjoy on occasion. Those good elements join forces to create Johnnie Walker Blue. It’s like Voltron. Johnnie Walker Blue is chewy and smooth with a balance of toffee, smoke, and earthiness, which means it’s like Johnnie Walker just wanted to share a highlight reel. It’s not the best scotch we’ve ever had, but it is the “great” scotch even nondrinkers know, and it’s pretty damn tasty. Link
Bowmore 25 Year Old
Bowmore is one of Scotland’s oldest distilleries, and since the 1700s, they’ve been producing some pretty fine scotch. Drawing much from its time in Spanish sherry casks, Bowmore’s 25 Year Old is loaded with fruit and some syrupy sweetness on the tongue. All of that is balanced out but just the right amount of smoke. Smooth and tasty.
Bunnahabhain 25 Year Old
If you love sherry, with its fig and nut profile, this is the scotch for you. With a thick and sweet taste, Bunnahabhain’s 25 Year Old delivers the sherry goodness. Mixed in, you’ll find hints of nutmeg, leather, and just a nice bit of smokiness. When you drop over $300 on a bottle of anything, you expect layers of flavors. Few scotches we’ve had deliver that better. Link
For a rich and sweet whisky, look no further than this bottle from Glenmorangie. Signet is dessert scotch. This is the kind of bottle you break out after a big dinner as you sink into the broken-in leather of your favorite chair. With an aroma that reminds you a bit of your morning coffee, a taste reminiscent of a spicy candy bar, and a finish that brightens everything up, it’s truly one-of-a-kind. It’s a creamy treat everyone should try, so snag a bottle, sink into your armchair, and sip slowly.
Springbank 12 Year Old
This cask-strength gem—which means it can put you on your ass if you’re not careful—packs notes of milk chocolate and vanilla when you open it up with a few drops of water. Like other Springbreak offerings, you’ll find influences from the peat and the sherry casks used in the 12 Year Old’s creation. For something that only matured for a dozen years, it’s really an exceptional—and surprising—scotch. Link
This Islay gem has reached iconic status. A lot of that has to do with Jim Murray naming a special Canadian bottle of it his “World Whisky of the Year” in 2009. Trust us, Murray’s vote of confidence means a lot in the whisky game, so you should pay attention here. While that scotch wasn’t your standard Ardbeg Uigeadail (pronounced ‘Oog-a-dal’), this classic is shockingly affordable and simply tremendous. It packs the smoke. Picture yourself drinking a campfire. With just a bit of sweetness, it’s a unique and wonderful scotch. Link
Laphroaig Quarter Cask
Another peaty and smoky whisky for you to enjoy. Laphroaig’s Quarter Cask isn’t the label’s most expensive bottle, or even their most well-known, but it is one of our go-to bottles when we’re craving something reminiscent of our last night around a bonfire. Another true Islay offering, Quarter Cask is loaded with wood smoke, tobacco, and peat. It honors the tradition of using smaller casks to increase solid contact with the oak, which means more barrel notes are present. The finish lingers and develops over time, and, best of all, the price is just right.
Chivas Regal 18 Year Old
Chivas Regal 18 Year Old is an expertly blended mix of over 20 rare single malts from around Scotland. When you bring that many standouts into the mix, and you know a thing or two about blending, the results are going to be impressive—and that’s just what Chivas Regal 18 Year Old is. The winner of numerous awards, Chivas Regal 18 Year Old is smooth, balanced, and approachable. With a long finish and a subtle hint of smoke, it’s one of the finest blended scotches you’ll ever come across. If you want a little bit of everything, without notes that stick out like a nail, you want this bottle from Chivas.
Highland Park 25 Year Old
Highland Park’s 25 Year Old was the first spirit—not just scotch—to score a 100 in the Ultimate Spirits Challenge in 2013. Not too shabby. Needless to say, it’s kind of a big deal. It’s a rich single malt with a good amount of honey. It’s powerful and could probably use a bit of water, but the flavors are spectacular. Procuring a bottle is up to you. We like to imagine this is the bottle Ron Burgundy pulled from his bar cart after a particularly good shift. Link
Lagavulin 16 Year Old
In the scotch world, there are some brand expressions that are just well-known. Lagavulin’s 16 is one of them. If you’re even remotely into scotch, you’ve heard of it. The single malt packs a smoky wallop. And, while many Islay bottles can make a similar claim about smokiness, the fullness and finish really make Lagavulin’s 16 unique. Consider it a next-level version of a standard peat-monster. Link
Isle of Jura 30 Year Old
With only 200 bottles released in the United States, the only thing wrong with this whisky is the difficulty in finding it. Loaded with a fresh grain profile that’s highlighted by hints of orange peel and toffee, Isle of Jura 30 Year Old is a full-bodied beauty. Known as “Carnas an Staca” (“The Standing Stone”), the scotch will continue to intrigue like the ancient monument it’s named after. Whether you can actually find a bottle—or a pour—of this gem of a scotch is the challenge. Link
Old Pulteney 35 Year Old
If you enjoy a finish like the one in Memento, where it leaves you sitting in amazement and deep in thought for an hour, this is the single malt for you. In the world of high age expressions, in which some have been probably pushed too far in an effort to plaster the bottle with a high number, Old Pulteney 35 can go toe-to-toe with any of the ones that did it right. As mentioned before, the finish is tremendous. It slowly develops on your tongue over time with sweet and smoky notes appearing and fading away. Released for the first time only a few years ago, only 450 cases were initially distributed around the world, so trying it is more of a challenge than picking out all the notes on the finish. Link
Glenfiddich 15 Year Old Solera
Glenfiddich 15 is one the best bang for your buck scotches on the market. There are many more expensive Glenfiddich expressions, but this is the one that gets the most right—including the price. After a solera process, where different ages are blended together for a rounder final offering, and some time spent in Portuguese oak, Glenfiddich 15 emerges with a honey sweet profile with some wonderful warming spice. It’s proof that a great scotch doesn’t have to break the bank. Link
Dalmore makes some really nice whisky that you can purchase for a reasonable amount of money. This isn’t one of those whiskies. You’d be extremely lucky to find one of the 30 bottles produced, and if you did, you’d be even luckier if it cost less than $20,000. And while it’s not the most expensive bottle Dalmore ever released, it is the one that lives up to the hype the best—as much as any bottle can live up to a $20K+ price tag. The 58-year-old scotch is named after the Titan goddess of the moon, and it packs notes of coffee, marmalade, citrus, and lots more. It’s one of those bucket list items that’s almost impossible to cross off, but the hunt for a sample of a Scotch whisky like this is fun in itself. Hey, maybe you don’t need a new car. Link