Single Malts I Have Tried

Glencairn whisky glass Glencairn whisky glass
Glencairn whisky glass
Glencairn whisky glass

Updated 4/5/2016
* indicates new entry since last update

My brother-in-law David keeps challenging me to keep this list up to date.  Because he does this by supplying me with incredible Scotch, I feel obliged to update from time to time.

Before we get started, I’d like to introduce a new feature of the list – the “buying guide.”

Best Bargain Single Malt Scotch: Glenfiddich 12.  Sure it’s boring, but it packs the biggest bang-for-the-buck.

Best Bet Gift for Scotch lovers: The Balvenie DoubleWood 12.  The one I keep returning to (it’s the wood).  Affordable, but refined.

Here’s the full list:

(All whiskies sampled in a Glencairn glass, straight – no ice, no water, except where noted.)

In order of preference (ratings are mine, out of 100):

The Singleton 1981 (12 Year) – (From the Auchroisk distillery.) This was a 12 year-old, bottled in 1981. Considered rare at this point – I had a dram at a basement bar where the bartender undercharged for the double he poured me. From what I can find, available online as a “collectible” Sctoch, average price around $200 and rising. Beautiful copper color and endlessly pleasant on the nose, with an effervescent spiciness. Sweet with a wide bite as it moves back on the palate. Overall, lively in the mouth, balanced between sweet and dry, with a long finish. 90/100

Lagavulin 16 – Strong, unique aroma, almost medicinal. Starts sweet with immediate, intense peat taste. No burn until swallow. Then it explodes with all kinds of flavor. Aftertaste is round and earthy. Fills the mouth. 86/100

*Highland Park Dark Origins – No age statement on the package, just a story about HP founder Magnus Eunson’s bootlegging.  The bottle is black, a bold touch that’s immediately echoed in the nose.  Intense, sweet (it’s bottled at 93.6 proof), but not as overpowering or cloying as similar sherry cask offerings from other distillers.  Notes of chocolate and dried fruit to start, with a pronounced spicy/smokiness that dances amidst the well-rounded middle.  Somewhat dry finish, not particularly long.  Overall, an adventurous, lively Scotch – if it’s not particularly refined, I don’t think that’s what they were going for.  I loved it. 86/100

Laphroaig 18 – Golden amber color, beautiful. Peat nose, not quite as strong as Lagavulin. Immediate richness in the mouth – very round and fills out quickly, with a quick burn. Sweet woody notes at the top and sides of the palate. Very long finish – bitter and earthy. Warming – an after-dinner Scotch. 85/100

The Dalmore Cigar Malt Reserve – Starts sweet and assertive, with caramel notes.  Develops a surprising astringent bite in the middle, with coffee and chocolate notes complementing the initial sweetness.  Long, smoky finish.  Extremely satisfying. (I received this as a birthday gift – if you want to surprise and delight a Scotch lover, this is sure-fire.) 85/100

The Balvenie DoubleWood 12 – Mellow with a nice woody taste. Surprising depth and smoothness for a 12 year-old, yet still has that “younger edginess” to it. Refreshing, well-rounded. 84/100 – Good value for price

Highland Park 18 – Mellower than HP 12, with less peat taste. Nice round start, sweet in the mouth with little burn. 83/100

The Balvenie DoubleWood 17 – Deep golden color, reassuring (mellow) nose, very slightly astringent.  Assertive on the palate and immediately quite warm; vanilla sweetness predominates the early impression, soon replaced by a large, round, earth/wood aftertaste.  This lasts and lingers, calling to mind well-crafted furniture and Grandma’s sugar cookies. 83/100

The Macallan 18 – Starts very smooth and then burns. Wonderful aroma – vanilla and faintly smoky. Beautiful color. 82/100

Cragganmore 12 – Very, very smooth; malty and rich. Starts sweet with immediate smoky taste. A little burn, very round finish. Delicious. 81/100 – Good value for price

Glenmorangie 18 “Extremely Rare” – Starts sweet, with vanilla and light syrup notes. Pleasant burn and lingering, round finish. Very pleasant nose – perfume-like. Light color – yellower instead of amber. 81/100

Aberlour 12 Double Cask Matured – Light golden, gently spicy with understated wood notes.  Sweet and gentle, spreads nicely across the palate and finishes mellow. 80/100

Aberlour A’bunadh Cask Strength – Like many cask strength Scotches, sweet and syrupy until eased with a splash of water.  Pleasant on the nose with notes of leather; vanilla and flowery on the palate.  Long finish, with licorice notes as it fades. 80/100

Talisker 10 – Strong nose, immediate peat and sea spray.  Fills the mouth and spreads quickly, warming the palate.  Long finish, somehow redolent of stormy, windswept afternoons on the seashore.  An edgy single malt that might be an aquired taste – like Islay malts with a salty spin. 80/100

Laphroaig Triple Wood – Gorgeous, golden color. 48% ABV and hot on the tongue. Deep Islay peat nose. Fascinating, addictive combination of flavors – mossy, sea watery, vanilla sweet predominate, with woody notes dancing throughout. Very long, satisfying finish. 80/100

The Yamazaki 12 – My first Japanese Scotch, and I’m impressed. Gorgeous medium-gold color, sweet and inviting nose. Honey and vanilla on the palate, hot to start but quickly spreading with a general warmth that lingers, and a woody finish. Very satisfying, with a handsome, elegantly decorated bottle. 80/100

*The Dalmore 15 – I’ve loved the chewy, leathery Dalmore expressions I’ve had (especially the Cigar Malt Reserve) so much that I was taken aback by the more reserved 15.  Wispy on the nose, with hints of orange peel.  Starts as a mellower version of the 12, not as assertive although still  smoky, with Dalmore’s characteristic leather notes.  Almost gentle in the middle, and it’s here I wished for a bigger taste.  Of course, it’s not fair to expect one whisky to copy one’s favorite taste notes from its siblings.  Overall impression is of a refined, mature malt.  Very good. 80/100

Laphroaig Quarter Cask – Pale yellow color. Characteristic Islay peat nose. 48% ABV but remarkably smooth. Sweet in the mouth to start, expanding on the palate over time. Long, warm finish, with smoky wisps continuing for some time. Quite satisfying. 80/100

Bunnahabhain 12 – Pale gold. Not as astringent as Lagavulin or Laphroaig, but has an intriguing bitter edge that is distinctive to Islay. Gentle burn. Very drinkable – smooth and inviting. Hints of smoke, the sea, yet with some of the sweet character of a highland malt; in my opinion, this makes it a nice introduction to Islay malts. Still, it falls shy of the absolute richness and intrigue of the better Laphroaigs and Lagavulins. Enjoyable, and a beautiful bottle. 79/100 – Very good value for price

Laphroaig 10 – Intense peat nose, scent of earth and bog. Classic scotch amber color, not too deep, no red. Golden. Thinner and more astringent than Laphroaig 18, but refreshing. Long finish. 79/100

The Dalmore 12 – The Dalmore’s Cigar Malt Reserve caught me by surprise – one of my favorite Scotches.  If you don’t want to spend more than $100 on a bottle, this is a good alternative.  Rich and sweet to start, intense nose. Caramel to start, then woody and smoky; lingers on the palate.  In many ways a classic Scotch; if I’m going to quibble, the body is a bit thin through the middle. 78/100

The Balvenie 15 Single Cask – Medium golden color, mildly astringent but surprisingly non-fragrant nose. Stronger alcohol content, but the overall impression is refined. A (too) sweet, intense sensation on the palate with a broad, full mouth burn that lingers just about forever. Not as woody as the DoubleWood, which is certainly missed – this Scotch would rank higher if its sibling wasn’t as fine. 78/100

Aberlour 18 – Starts sweet; long, smoky, very dry finish.  Not much nose. Splash of water opens up the nose, but doesn’t help the mouthfeel.  High hopes, somewhat dashed. 77/100

The Glenlivet 12 – Classic Scotch character – pale golden color, mild nose, very smooth on the palate. Honey and vanilla, slight burn on the finish. Almost perfect midldle-of-the-road single malt, with nothing distracting and nothing standing out. Lingers more than most – satisfying. 76/100 – Good value for price

Laphroaig Select – Billed as a blend of “selected casks of each of our key styles,” including Quarter Cask, PX Cask, and Triple Wood.   I haven’t tried PX Cask, but this isn’t as fine as the other two.  On the other hand, it’s a relative bargain, and serves as a nice introduction to the Laphroaig family.  Distinctive Islay peat, more intense on the nose than on the palate.  Even a splash of water dilutes the essential character here, so be careful. 75/100

Auchentoshan 12 – A satisfying lowland malt. Mellow, mild, classic whisky qualities (sweet vanilla, aromatic nose) with a bit of a surprising aftertaste (woody). Doesn’t inspire passion but a second glass is welcome. 73/100

The Glenlivet The French Oak Reserve 15 – Mild in color and on the palate.  Medium gold, gentle nose – not harsh.  Like Glenlivet 12, it lingers a bit on finish, with a mild burn.  Slightly sweet, vanilla and honey; the merest hint of wood character.  Ultimately lacks the character one might hope for in a 15 year-old expression – I can’t see why I’d prefer this over the 12. 73/100

Ardbeg 10 – Classic Islay qualities, but in moderation. Peat nose, medicinal, although more moderate than Laphroaig or Lagavulin. Color is also pale, like a dry white wine. Rich earthy taste though, round and with some sweetness. (Sharper and more burn than sweet. Hot lingering afterwards.). Not as fine as the other Islays, but still very enjoyable. 72/100

Glenmorangie 10 The Original – Pale gold, not much nose. Pleasing and mild on the palate. Finishes well, with moderate burn. 71/100 – Good value for price

Glenfiddich 15 Solera Reserve – Deep golden color. Old school Scotch flavor and aroma – sweetness is main impression. A bit of smoke, very mild burn and woodiness lingering afterward. I’d refer this one to someone who wants to take the next step from Johnnie Walker blends – not a ringing endorsement, but it’s not bad, either. 71/100

Dalwhinnie 15 – Very mellow. Light color. Mild taste, little burn. Some peat aftertaste. Too thin to build a relationship with – no craving this one later. 69/100

Highland Park 12 – Earthy, smoky peat taste. Color is lighter side. Harsh aroma. The astringency has appeal though, especially on the second glass. 67/100

The Macallan 12 Sherry Cask – A more drinkable version of Macallan Cask Strength. Deep golden color. Quite sweet on the nose and in the mouth – vanilla and brown sugar. More pleasant after swallowing – mellows in the mouth and the woodiness lingers. 65/100

The BenRiach 12 – Pale yellow and characteristic Speyside malt/bitterness. A bit more bitter lingers on the palate than is typical. 65/100

The Macallan 12 Sherry Cask – A more drinkable version of Macallan Cask Strength.  Deep golden color.  Quite sweet on the nose and in the mouth – vanilla and brown sugar.  More pleasant after swallowing – mellows in the mouth and the woodiness lingers. 65/100

Glenfiddich 12 – This is what restaurants serve as fine Scotch. It’s not necessarily a bad thing – like Sam Adams is an acceptable brew when not much else is available. Pale gold. Slight peat on the nose, slight burn on the finish. Middle-of-the-road and not bad at all. Then again, not memorable, or something you’d go out of your way for. 64/100 – Excellent value for price

The Macallan Cask Strength – Deep amber color. Alcohol smell almost overpowers the normally sweet, woody Macallan scent. Close to overwhelming, powerful in the mouth – sweet vanilla and brown sugar fills and expands; begins thick and rich, like dessert (too sweet?) This whisky tastes somewhat the way the word Scotch sounds. After swallowing, the memory of sweetness lingers for several minutes afterward, and a woodiness comes to the fore. The alcohol burn is very strong. 61/100

Bowmore 15 Darkest Sherry Cask Finished – A strange mix of styles; the Islay peat is not as apparent on the nose, but comes through immediately in the mouth. Tries to start sweet but a bitterness is immediately apparent. The bitterness carries through to a long finish which is not easily embraced. Deep amber/red color, in the style of Highland malts finished in sherry casks. Long burn on the tongue, giving a harsh (punk) lingering sensation. Not terrible, although there are better choices. 60/100

The Glenlivet Nadurra 16 – Non-chill-filtered, bottled at cask strength (57.7% abv).  Very strong and sweet, with a hot alcohol burn when sampled straight.  Woody, vanilla, cotton candy notes attack the palate.  Opening up with water is recommended, but I was unable to find a good proportion to make the intended taste profile shine. 58/100