Scotch whisky is “the most extraordinary distilled spirit the world has ever seen,” said F. Paul Pacult in Wine Enthusiast. No other place on earth creates fermented and distilled liquors of equal complexity, aroma, and flavor. Add the “intriguing terroir aspects” provided by Scotland’s peat and the “endless permutations” that Scotch whisky undergoes while being aged for lengthy periods of time in wood casks, and the result is a libation “of significant intricacy.”
Over the years, I have sampled hundreds of scotches, both blended and single malts. Here is my “personal pantheon of Scotch whisky gods.” Most are expensive. But greatness demands sacrifice, and some are downright bargains.
Duncan Taylor ‘Rarest of the Rare’ 21-Year-Old Linlithgow 1982 Cask No. 2214 Lowlands Single Malt Whisky ($217)
In 1983 the central Lowlands distillery known as St. Magdalene was demolished. This independent bottling survives. “The assertive sweet aftertaste alone is worth the money.”
Cragganmore Rare Edition 10-Year-Old Sherry Cask Speyside Single Malt Whisky ($150)
This thoroughbred is “the finest Cragganmore I’ve ever sampled.”
Port Charlotte PC5 Evolution Cask Strength Islay Single Malt Whisky/Distilled at Bruichladdich Distillery ($110)
“The medicinal, smoke-on-the-tongue midpalate” is “textbook Islay.”
Ardbeg Airigh Nam Beist 1990 Non-Chill Filtered Islay Single Malt Whisky ($110)
Ardbeg has a reputation for “staggeringly smoky single malts,” but this edition is surprisingly elegant. The peaty smokiness is understated rather than dominant.
Springbank Marsala Wood Expression 9-Year-Old Campbeltown Single Malt Whisky ($110)
Springbank is one of Scotland’s “six greatest distilleries.” This “magical, mystical” malt has an almost wine-like kick in the finish. Call it “sumptuous.”
Aberlour A’Bunadh Batch No. 21 Speyside Single Malt Whisky ($65)
An “ultrasophisticated malt” best diluted with mineral water “for
maximum pleasure.” An incredible value.