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The best scotch whisky brands

24 Best Scotch Whisky Brands

From the Highlands to the seaside, the best Scotch whisky brands hail from all parts of the iconic country, and it’s not a surprise. The regions themselves have become synonymous with different flavours, styles and practices, so much so, that even the lamen can generally tell a dram’s lineage via a few key characteristics. Similar to Champagne or Cognac, Scotch is a label that can only be given to whisky distilled within Scotland, provided it meets some specific requirements, including maturation time-frames, ABV% regulations and a host more. Truly, the remarkable history of Scottish whisky is responsible for putting modern spirit-making on the map and even now, centuries after it was first pioneered, we’re still learning new things about some of the world’s oldest distilleries.

Related: You’ll want to drink your Scotch out of the best whiskey glasses, check them out here.

How Man of Many Chose This List of Scotch Whisky

While Man of Many are sticklers for research and certainly know a thing or two about Scotch, that didn’t negate the need for them to turn to the experts for this list. This list was compiled through personal experience and online research, plus through commentary from drinks critics and expert whiskey reviewers. They only looked at Scotch whiskies with a rating of 4.0/5 or higher through Dan Murphy’s reviews and took into account the major gripes and positives from the public. For the most part, they’re sticking with globally recognised names that you either know and love or should know and love, such as Laphroaig, Lagavulin, The Macallan, and Glenfiddich, but they’re also throwing a few curveballs your way courtesy of whisky expert, Emma Cookson (an award-winning bartender in Australia), alongside The Whisky List’s very own Oliver Maruda and Crown Resorts expert Aaron Shuttleworth.

The Best Scotch Whisky Brands at a Glance

How to Choose the Best Scotch Whisky

Whether it’s your first time discovering this wonderful spirit or you’re just on the lookout for your next dram, we’re putting together a list that promises a genuine treat because there’s no shortage of quality statements here. And for all the seasoned sippers out there – we’re talking with some of the top whisky experts in the country to curate our list – and surely you can always use a refresher.  We’ll be ticking off our list of the best Scotch first before taking a deeper look at why they made the list, including everything you need to know.

Check out the links below as we explain Scotch Whisky in-depth and help you make your decision.

We know what you’re thinking and you’re right, there can be no definitive list of the best Scotch whisky brands because a number of the smaller producers keep some of the rarest in the world right there at the distillery. Once you bring in limited-edition one-offs, experimental finishing programs, and other unique variabilities, searching for the ultimate becomes almost impossible… but that’s never going to stop us from trying. Take the following list of the best Scotch whisky brands as a starting point and not a final destination.

The macallan

Image: The Macallan 12 Year Old Sherry Oak Cask

1. The Macallan

Best Overall Scotch: The Macallan

Favourited by corporate types, The Macallan draws upon nearly two centuries worth of craftsmanship and expertise. The resulting drams are about as close to smooth and balanced perfection as top-shelf Scotch whisky can get, though don’t take that to mean you won’t find plenty of flavours. With a range of incredible releases, we’ve become quite fond of The Macallan’s more experimental side, as the heritage icon steps further into the new wave of spirits production, incorporating bolder flavours and unique nods to past iterations. The Harmony Collection remains one of our top picks, but recent stories of The Macallan’s mixed medium release provide that the Speyside legend isn’t afraid to go big (quite literally). To explore this brand in full is to jump down a proverbial rabbit hole of limited-edition one-offs and special releases, so we’ll save you some trouble: If you’re rich, start out with the 18 Year Sherry Oak Cask and work your way up from there. If you’re not rich, save up for a bottle of the 12 Year and enjoy. More

Check out all our The Macallan news right here.

Region: Speyside
Founded in: 1824
Best-known expression: 12 Year

Buy it here (The Macallan) Buy it here (Dan Murphy’s) Buy it here (The Whisky List)

Glen moray 18 year old

Image: Glen Moray 18 Year Old, a Favourite of Emma Cookson’s for its fruity and floral notes.

2. Glen Moray

Best for: Value for Money

For a taste of classic Speyside Scotch, look no further than Glen Moray. Located in one of Scotland’s oldest towns, the distillery has been crafting quality single malts on the banks of the River Lossie for over 120 years. Passion is fundamental to the operation and the resulting whisky imparts an impeccable sense of balance and consistency.

“Glen Moray 18 Year Old is a dram often overlooked because of its great price point, people often assume that it’s not good! But it’s actually one of the best single malts to get your hands on at an affordable price – thanks to some nifty purchasing discounts by the major chains. Fruity, floral, perfect for sipping neat or mixing in a cocktail, it’s a good age-statement whisky to have in the collection,” said whisky specialist Emma Cookson.

Region: Speyside
Founded in: 1897
Best-known expression: Elgin Classic

Buy it here (The Whisky Exchange) Buy it here (Dan Murphy’s) Buy it here (The Whisky List)

Johnny walker blue

Image: Johnny Walker Blue Label

3. Johnnie Walker

Best for: Blended Scotch Whisky

What began as John Walker’s bootleg whisky operation eventually became this global behemoth. It was actually Walker’s sons who took the iconic brand into the stratosphere by way of premium blends, intelligent Scotch bottle designs, cunning business practices, and clever marketing. Speaking of clever marketing, who can argue with the idea to break each unique blend down according to colour? At the top of the line is Johnnie Walker Blue, which might very well be the smoothest whisky we’ve ever tasted. That said, we’re more partial to the Black Label and Green Label and their respective complexities. While you might not necessarily consider Johnnie Walker to be overly top-shelf, there’s a lot happening behind closed doors at this iconic distillery. Recently, the brand launched the Johnnie Walker Masters of Flavour Blended Whisky Aged 48 Years, the third instalment in its Master’s Series collection. An ode to former ‘Master Blender of the Year’ Jim Beveridge, who held the reins of the top brands for over 40 years, this stunning release captures some subtle smoke and rich flavours, but it won’t come cheap. This bad boy will set you back over $35,000 – not bad for a non-top-shelf brand, right?

Check out all our Johnnie Walker news right here.

Founded in: 1820 (though the brand didn’t create its first commercial blend until 1865).
Best-known expression: Red, Black and Blue Label

Buy it here (The Whisky Exchange) Buy it here (Dan Murphy’s) Buy it here (Booze Bud)

Bunnahabhain 12 year old

Image: Bunnahabhain 12-Year-Old, a Favourite of Emma Cookson’s for its complex sweet and salty notes.

4. Bunnahabhain

While we’re still roaming around Islay, let’s stop at yet another one of the island’s relatively few active distilleries. In the game since 1881, Bunnahabhain releases a modest selection of core statements and the occasional one-off. It’s also a favourite of whisky specialist Emma Cookson who describes the 12-year-old in the following way.

“If you’re a sweet tooth like me, then this has to go on your list. Don’t let the long Gaelic name fool you, this whisky (pronounced boon-a-hav-en) is an iconic Islay single malt that is actually unpeated (not smoky!) and because of its coastal location, the sweetness of the sherry cask is offset by a lovely salty note-making complex but also quaffable. There’s a reason this whisky is a cult favourite,” said whisky specialist Emma Cookson.

Region: Islay
Founded in: 1881
Best-known expression: 12 Year

Buy it here (The Whisky Exchange) Buy it here (Dan Murphy’s) Buy it here (The Whisky List)

Glenfiddich

Image: Glenfiddich Origin 12 Year Old

5. Glenfiddich

If you don’t want to spend hours at the nearest liquor store, grab a bottle of Glenfiddich and be done with it. Like some other names on the list, this is one of the best Scotch whisky brands because it’s one of the most consistent, reliable, and (relatively) affordable. While you’ll likely find this brand in most bottle shops, that’s not to say it isn’t a seriously impressive piece of whisky-making ingenuity. Glenfiddich has received more awards since 2000 than any other single malt Scotch whisky in two of the world’s most prestigious competitions; the International Wine & Spirit Competition and the International Spirits Challenge. The recently introduced 14 Year Old Bourbon Barrel Reserve is our top pick, namely due to the fact that it is a genuine winner, bringing deep notes of caramel, oak, and spice.

Check out all our Glenfiddich news right here.

Region: Speyside
Founded in: 1886
Best-known expression: 12 Year

Buy it here (The Whisky Exchange) Buy it here (Dan Murphy’s) Buy it here (Booze Bud)

Tobermory distillery ledaig sinclair series

Tobermory Distillery Ledaig Sinclair Series is a favourite of Emma Cookson’s for its peaty and approachable creaminess.

6. Tobermory Distillery

Best for: Cocktails

While Tobermory Distillery might not be the most famous name on the tip of everyone’s tongue, we’re here to explore the best Scotch whiskies so take this as a hint. Top 25 Australia Bartender of the Year, Emma Cookson, says this peated option is one of her favourites.

“Anyone who knows me knows that I would say Ledaig for all five if I could! This is one of my must-have whiskies, it’s from a small distillery on the Isle of Mull that most people have never even heard of. Ledaig (pronounced le-chay-g) is the name for their peated (smoky) expression and it has this approachable creaminess to it so that, paired with the Rioja red wine cask finish, it is the perfect flavour profile for any season. It also doesn’t knock your socks off with the smokiness either, a great introduction into the style of peated whisky,” said whisky specialist Emma Cookson.

Owner: Burn Stewart (Distell)
Founded: 1798
Headquarters location: Isle of Mull, United Kingdom
No. of stills: 4 Wash stills; 4 Spirit stills

Buy it here (The Whisky Exchange) Buy it here (The Whisky List) Buy it here (Tobermory)

Laphroaig

Image: Laphroaig 10 Year Old

7. Laphroaig

Founded just one year before Lagavulin was this similarly smoky and no less extraordinary neighbour. Far more versatile by comparison, Laphroaig consistently surprises with new releases and annual collaborations. Its benchmark expression is the mighty 10 Year, which pretty much defines the brand. Think heavy peat, chocolate-covered espresso beans, and blasts of iodine and you’ll get the idea. To take those flavours up a few notches, snag a bottle of the 10-Year Cask Strength; it’s a personal favourite.

Check out all our Laphroaig news right here.

Region: Islay
Founded in: 1815
Best-known expression: 10 Year

Buy it here (The Whisky Exchange) Buy it here (Dan Murphy’s) Buy it here (The Whisky List)

The balvenie

Image: The Balvenie DoubleWood 12

8. The Balvenie

Best for: Single Malt

Ask a passionate drinker to name his favourite whisky and he might very well say The Balvenie 21-Year-Old Port Wood Finish without a moment’s hesitation. A deft balancing act if there ever was one, the tippy-top-shelf Scotch serves up creamy and classic notes of fruit and grain, with just a hint of smoke. Of course, it’s but one amongst a number of sippable stunners from this coveted brand, which does literally everything on-site and isn’t afraid to experiment with wood.

Check out all our The Balvenie news right here.

Region: Speyside
Founded in: 1892
Best-known expression: DoubleWood 12 Year

Buy it here (The Whisky Exchange) Buy it here (Dan Murphy’s) Buy it here (The Whisky List)

Lagavulin

“Lagavulin 16 Year Old is the stuff of legend and one of the world’s best whiskies, presuming you have a penchant for peat.”

9. Lagavulin

The one, the only: Lagavulin. Popularised by actor Nick Offerman (who was recently honoured with his own release), this Islay-based distillery has mastered the art of single malt Scotch. Its 16 Year statement is quite simply the stuff of legend and one of the world’s best whiskies, presuming you have a penchant for peat. Like refined molasses melting over a bonfire, it delivers palpable layers of sweet and pungent smoke. More than a quality brand, Lagavulin will awaken dormant taste buds.

Region: Islay
Founded in: 1816
Best-known expression: 16 Year

Buy it here (The Whisky Exchange) Buy it here (Dan Murphy’s) Buy it here (The Whisky List)

Talisker

Image: Talisker 10-Year-Old

10. Talisker

Affordable single malt whisky doesn’t get more classic than the Talisker 10 Year, which unravels one layer at a time before trailing out on a peaty finish. It won a Double Gold Medal and “Best Single Malt Scotch up to 12 years” in the 2015 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Move up from there and you arrive at the acclaimed 18 Year, which was named the “Best Single Malt In The World” at the 2007 World Whiskies Awards. No matter which expression you try, you’ll probably smack your lips and say, “Damn, that’s good Scotch!”

Talisker 43-Year-Old Xpedition Oak is drawn from just 10 casks and bottled in a limited quantity of just 1830.

Region: Island
Founded in: 1830
Best-known expression: 10 Year Old

Buy it here (The Whisky Exchange) Buy it here (Dan Murphy’s) Buy it here (The Whisky List)

Ardberg

Image: Ardbeg 10-Year-Old, you can’t go wrong with this peaty number.

11. Ardbeg

Best for: Peated Scotch Whisky

Call us biased, but we just can’t get enough of that peaty Islay malt. Should you agree, then surely you’ll want to check out Ardbeg and its wondrous array of expressions. The brand has been plying its craft for over 200 years, with some downright timeless flavours to show for it. You can’t go wrong with a bottle of the popular 10 Year, which is kind of like sucking on a chimney…in a good way, of course. Meanwhile, no two sips of Ardbeg Uigeadail are exactly the same.

Over 200 years old and as iconic as they come, Ardbeg very nearly didn’t make it through the ’90s before Glenmorangie acquired the distillery and resumed full production,” whisky expert Aaron Shuttleworth explains. “With a cult global following called the Ardbeg Committee which help shape weird and wonderful releases like Ardbeg, Arrrrrrdbeg and Gallileo (commemorating Ardbeg that was shot into space!), the whisky is some of the most coveted and unique in the world.”

Ardbeg is one of our favourite peaty whisk brands, check out our others here.

Region: Islay
Founded in: 1815
Best-known expression: 10 Year

Buy it here (The Whisky Exchange) Buy it here (Dan Murphy’s) Buy it here (The Whisky List)

Glenmorangie

“Glenmorangie’s Original 10 Year has been the most popular single malt in all of Scotland for decades.”

12. Glenmorangie

For over three decades, Glenmorangie’s Original 10 Year has been the most popular single malt in all of Scotland (where they know a thing or two about whisky). Combine that with the brand’s endless slate of awards and you have a spirit that basically sells itself. The Original also serves as the base whisky for a variety of finishing programs, yielding rich expressions like Quinta Ruban and Lasanta.

Check out all our Glenmorangie news right here.

Region: Highland
Founded in: 1843
Best-known expression: The Original 10 Year

Buy it here (The Whisky Exchange) Buy it here (Dan Murphy’s) Buy it here (The Whisky List)

Bowmore

“Bowmore 12-Year-Old is a palatable mix of salt, vanilla, chocolate, and soft smoke.”

13. Bowmore

We’re going back to Islay, to Islay, to Islay…we’re going back to Islay because that’s where you’ll find Bowmore, i.e. another one of the best Scotch whisky brands. The flagship 12 Year is certainly nothing to scoff at, nor is its palatable mix of salt, vanilla, chocolate, and soft smoke. On the far opposite side of the spectrum is the ultra-rare Bowmore 31-Year-Old, which must be tasted to be believed. And by that, we mean we don’t believe we’ll ever get to taste it!

Region: Islay
Founded in: 1779
Best-known expression: 12 Year

Buy it here (The Whisky Exchange) Buy it here (Dan Murphy’s) Buy it here (The Whisky List)

The glendronach 12 year old

Image: The GlenDronach 12 Year Old

14. The GlenDronach

One look at the rich red colour of The Glendronach Original 12 Year and you’ve already got sherry on your mind. Unsurprisingly, the whisky is matured in a combination of Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez ex-sherry casks, paving the way for luscious colour and taste alike. When only the biggest flavour explosion will suffice, accept nothing less than The GlenDronach Parliament 21-Year-Old. That said, the privilege will cost you.

Region: Highland
Founded in: 1826
Best-known expression: The Original 12 Year

Buy it here (The Whisky Exchange) Buy it here (Dan Murphy’s) Buy it here (The Whisky List)

The glenlivet 12 year old

Image: The Glenlivet 12-Year-Old

15. The Glenlivet

Since first launching in 1824, The Glenlivet has ceased operations just once over the course of its lifespan and that was for a little event called WWII. Bigger now than ever before, it’s the second-best-selling single malt Scotch whisky brand in the world (first place goes to Glenfiddich). Its core range is anchored by some straightforward sippers, namely the 12 Year and the Founder’s Reserve. We’re personally more partial to the 18 Year or the Nadurra 16 Year, the latter of which is bottled at cask strength.

Check out all our The Glenlivet news right here.

Region: Speyside
Founded in: 1824
Best-known expression: 12 Year

Buy it here (The Whisky Exchange) Buy it here (Dan Murphy’s)

Chivas regal 25 year old

Image: Chivas Regal 25-Year-Old

16. Chivas Regal

Given the domination of single malts on our list of the best Scotch whisky brands, let’s make way for this renowned blender. A number of Chivas Regal’s top-shelf entries have taken home major awards, including Gold and Double Gold in the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. While we’d never refuse a glass of the 12 Year, it’s the 25 Year or the Regal XV we’re really after.

Founded in: 1801
Best-known expressions: 12-year-old, 15 years old, 18-year-old, 25-year-old

Buy it here (The Whisky Exchange) Buy it here (Dan Murphy’s) Buy it here (The Whisky List)

Ben nevis 10 year old

Image: Ben Nevis 10-Year-Old

17. Ben Nevis

If you’ve never heard of Ben Nevis, you’re not alone. Here’s what whisky expert Emma Cookson has to say about its allure;

“A tricky one to find nowadays since it has been discontinued thanks to stock shortages, hopefully, one day it will return. Ben Nevis is a great distillery known for a toffee apple and salted popcorn flavour profile and this whisky is no exception. Beloved by whisky drinkers all over the world, I’ll be sad to see my remaining bottle become empty.”

Address: Lochy Bridge, Fort William PH33 6TJ, United Kingdom
Owner: Nikka Whisky Distilling
Founded: 1825
Age(s): 10-year-old
Water source: Allt a’Mhuilinn

Buy it here (The Whisky Exchange)

Oban

Image: Oban 14-Year-Old

18. Oban

Located in the Scottish west coast port of Oban is this distillery of the same name, which takes direct inspiration from the local maritime climate. The 21 Year Cask Strength is worthy of your bucket list, but in the meantime, you’ll have to settle for the brand’s popular 14 Year or Little Bay expressions. Both are dried with peat and the 14 Year delivers plenty of smoke, in particular.

Region: Highland
Founded in: 1794
Best-known expression: 14 Year

Buy it here (The Whisky Exchange) Buy it here (Dan Murphy’s)

Bruichladdich

Image: Bruichladdich ‘The Classic Laddie’.

19. Bruichladdich

Under the supervision of legendary Master Distiller Jim McEwan, this Islay-based brand underwent a complete overhaul back in 2001. Total transparency and a number of fantastic releases (of both the peated and non-peated variety) would soon follow. That includes the iconic Black Art series, which is supremely high in quality and price alike. For those who don’t have hundreds of dollars to spend on alcohol, the Port Charlotte or Classic Laddie make for solid jumping-off points.

“Revived by the visionary that is Mark Reynier (now behind the equally great Irish whisky ‘Waterford’), Bruichladdich has single-handedly brought back barley production to Islay through Reynier’s vision of terroir and provenance, now carried on by new owners Remy Cointreau,” Scotch expert Aaron Shuttleowrth tells us. “Under their three distinctive brands of Bruichladdich (non-peated), Port Charlotte (heavily peated) and Octomore (very heavily peated), the distillery is innovative, fun and a breath of fresh air.”

Want to know more about Bruichladdich? Check out our in-depth brand history lesson here.

Region: Islay
Founded in: 1881
Best-known expression: The Classic Laddie

Buy it here (The Whisky Exchange) Buy it here (Dan Murphy’s)

Caol ila

Image: Caol Ila 12 Year Old

20. Caol Ila

Why did we put Caol Ila on the list? Because we’re all about that smoke, ’bout that smoke. We know it’s an acquired taste, but we still think less of you if you don’t like it. Just kidding—we have nothing against all you peat-haters out there. Everyone else, start picking up what this long-running Scotch whisky brand is throwing down. You’ll be glad you did.

Region: Islay
Founded in: 1846
Best-known expression: 12 Year Old

Buy it here (The Whisky Exchange) Buy it here (Dan Murphy’s) Buy it here (Booze Bud)

Highland park

Image: Highland Park 12-Year-Old

21. Highland Park

The northernmost single malt Scotch whisky distillery is also one of the best. It goes by the name of Highland Park and it hails from the archipelago of Orkney, where the winds are fierce and the weather is temperate. Making brilliant use of its surroundings, the distillery smokes hand-malted barley over local peat, resulting in a distinctive flavour profile. In 1997, it introduced an 18 Year expression and the world of whisky has never been quite the same. To put it another way: this stuff is gooooood. Unfortunately, it’s also really expensive, which is why you should stick with the superb 12 Year until that big bonus check comes in.

In 2022, Highland Park added a 15-Year-Old expression to its permanent lineup. Check it out here.

Region: Island
Founded in: 1798
Best-known expression: 12 Year

Buy it here (The Whisky Exchange) Buy it here (Dan Murphy’s)

Springbank 10 year old

“Springbank is Scotland’s oldest independent distillery.”

22. Springbank

Family owned and operated, Springbank is Scotland’s oldest independent distillery and one of the last brands standing in the once-thriving region of Campbeltown. The standard 10 Year single malt is distilled 2.5 times and mildly peated, leading to a wonderfully diverse profile. A hard-working brand if there ever was one, it performs 100% of the production (malting, ageing, bottling, etc) on-site.

Region: Campbeltown
Founded in: 1828
Best-known expression: 10 Year

Buy it here (The Whisky Exchange)

Kilchoman

“Kilchoman is the first new distillery to be built on the island of Islay in 124 years”

23. Kilchoman

The first new distillery to be built on the island of Islay in 124 years, Kilchoman has come a long way in precious little time. As the owner of nearby Rockside Farm, the brand oversees every single aspect of production, going from barley to bottle. The 100% Islay series, in particular, represents grain-to-glass in the truest sense of the concept. We expect more great things from this veritable newcomer.

Every year, whisky connoisseurs look forward to the release of Kilchoman’s famous sherry-cask matured Loch Gorm.

Region: Islay
Founded in: 2005
Best-known expression: Machir Bay

Buy it here (The Whisky Exchange) Buy it here (Dan Murphy’s)

GlenAllachie 12 Year Old Single Malt | Image: Dan Murphy's

GlenAllachie 12 Year Old Single Malt | Image: Dan Murphy’s

24. Glenallachie

While it might be the most familiar name, the unique distillery is actually one of the world’s best. Previously, the distillery mainly produced whisky for blends, however, in recent years, Glenallachie has undergone some serious changes, introducing a number of fruity, single malt expressions. According to Shuttleworth, Glenallachie is a hidden gem of Scotland, offering an outstanding portfolio of spirits, backed by some very famous names. “Previously owned by Chivas Brothers and recently bought by a group including Billy Walker, Glenallachie is putting out some of the most exciting whisky in Speyside,” he says. “It all comes thanks to a vast library of 50,000 casks dating back to the ’70s, a leading cask program and Walkers unparalleled expertise.”

Region: Speyside
Founded in: 1967
Best-known expression: Glenallachie 12-Year-Old

Buy it here (The Whisky Exchange) Buy it here (Dan Murphy’s)

Glendronach world whisky day

Image: Glendronach

What is Scotch Whisky?

So what is Scotch whisky? Well, we could wax poetic about the “water of life” and so on, but instead, we’ll stick to the basics. According to the official Scotch Whisky Regulations (SWR) – which were last updated in 2009 – genuine Scotch whisky must meet the following criteria:

  • It must be produced at a distillery in Scotland from water and malted barley.
  • Should any additional grains (of other cereals) be added to the mash, they must be whole grains.
  • The distillery must perform the following actions to all of the grains:
    • Process them into a mash
    • Convert them to a fermentable substrate exclusively by endogenous enzyme systems
    • Ferment them by adding yeast only
  • The spirit must be initially distilled at an ABV of no more than 94.8% (190 proof).
  • The spirit must be wholly matured in an excise warehouse in Scotland inside oak casks for a minimum of three years.
  • No substances other than water and plain caramel colouring can be added to the spirit.
  • The resulting statement must have an ABV of no less than 40% (80 proof).

If you wanted to explain Scotch whisky to someone in a single sentence, we’ve put this one together; “Scotch whisky is a whisky that’s made in Scotland using water and malted barley (and other whole grains on occasion) and is aged for a minimum of 3 years inside oak casks with an ABV of more than 40%.”

Why Does the Regulatory Body Exist?

We spoke to whisky expert Oliver Maruda to get to the bottom of why the regulatory body exists;

“In Scotland, the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) oversees distilleries to make sure good business practices are being followed, it’s a big reason why Scotch is such a highly respected product all over the world. Other countries have their own regulators for whisky, and Canada was actually one of the first, setting guidelines on age statements and casking to the point that at one point in time it became the number one spirit consumed in America because the quality was guaranteed,” said Oliver Maruda, a whisky expert and co-founder of The Whisky List.

“Unfortunately not every country has these guidelines, and in some parts of the world, you can find the word ‘whisky’ stamped on everything from rum to aged rice wine. Having these purity laws in Scotland gives consumers the assurance that they are buying a bottle of whisky that is made with heritage, practice, and skill.”

While the SWR’s requirements may seem over the top, they still leave plenty of room for experimentation. For instance, Scotch whisky can be either chill-filtered or non-chill-filtered. Also, the type of cask in which the whisky is aged can vary, though the spirit is most often aged inside ex-bourbon barrels. After that, Scotch whisky can undergo additional maturation (aka finishing) inside sherry casks, port casks, rum barrels, or whatever the distiller or producer has in mind. So what about the different types? Let’s check them out.

Related: Best Japanese Whisky Brands

The best scotch whisky brands

The Rise of Scotch Whisky

From Johnnie Walker to The Macallan, the long list of Scotch whisky brands that have infiltrated the global market is nothing short of incredible. Over the years, the spirit has become one of the leading exports for Scotland, with the Scotch Whisky Association revealing that the export value of Scotch whisky in 2021 was £4.51 billion, up £705 million compared to 2020. On average, 44 bottles of Scotch whisky are exported every second, thrown from all parts of the country to a massive international legion of fans, hailing from regions as far-reaching as the USA, France, Australia and even Latvia, which accounted for £176 million of Scotch exports in 2020. According to Scotch expert and Crown Resorts venue manager Aaron Shuttleworth, each region of Scotland is responsible for pioneering its own versions of the spirit, which in turn has garnered a unique and engaged fanbase. While Highland Scotches

“Whilst there are subtle variations in production methods from distillery to distillery and region to region, there are characteristics you’ll generally find that define a particular designation,” he explains. “Highland scotches tend to be richer and fuller styles with notes of malt, oak, fruit cake and heather coming through. Further south in Speyside the whiskies are more delicate and generally absent of any peat, with notes of apple, vanilla, nutmeg and dried fruits making them approachable to newcomers to whisky.”

“The Lowlands produce a lighter style again, and are unique in that they were once all triple distilled. Grass, toast, and honeysuckle are predominate tasting notes,” Shuttleworth continues.” Islay is best known for its use of local peat to create unique malts, channelling notes of seaweed, brine, smoke, iodine and rich fruit. Finally, The Islands surrounding Scotland aren’t technically classified (aside from Islay) and each has its own distinctive style, with heather, honey and salinity present in most examples. Needless to say, there are countless outliers and curve-balls to all of these regions and surprises to be found where you least expect them.”

Related: These are the best whiskey stones to cool off your dram.

Types of whisky

Types of Scotch Whisky

We’ve previously covered Scotland’s whisky regions, so if you want to know more about them, check out our article. And while you’re digging, why not check out our in-depth article about single malt Scotch whisky and how it gets made. Last but not least, our extensive guide to peaty whisky is sure to have the smoky dram fans excited. Yes, it isn’t an official “type” per se, but nevertheless exists in a category all its own. Putting all that aside, Scotch whisky breaks down according to the following types:

Types of Scotch Whisky
Single Malt To qualify as single malt, the Scotch must be made from a mash of 100% malted barley and distilled at a single distillery by way of a pot still distillation process.
Single Grain Despite the name, single grain Scotch can incorporate other whole cereal grains (malted or unmalted) into the mash. The whisky must be distilled at a single distillery and it can be distilled continuously in continuous stills or column stills.
Blended Malt A blend of single malt Scotch whiskies from at least two different distilleries.
Blended Grain A blend of single grain Scotch whiskies from at least two different distilleries.
Blended Scotch A blend of single malt and single grain Scotch whiskies.

Is There a Misconception of Blended Scotch Whisky?

Out of all the Scotch whisky sold in the world, it’s estimated 90% of it is a blend.

When a blended whisky carries an age statement (i.e. 12 years, etc), that statement pertains to the youngest whisky in the blend. For example, Johnnie Walker Black Label 12-Year-Old consists of whisky that’s been aged for 12 years or more. The biggest misconception about blended Scotch is that because of this, the quality is lacking. We asked the whisky experts, “is there a misconception about the quality of blended Scotch Whisky?” and here’s what they had to say.

“There’s absolutely a misconception about blended whisky! For the longest time blends were the king of whisky, only in the last 50 years or so did single malts become popular. That isn’t to say that every blended whisky on the market is good – there are certainly some underwhelming drams out there – but they’ve definitely received an undeserved bad rap over the last few decades,” said Oliver Maruda, a whisky expert and co-founder of The Whisky List.

Related: You’ll want some whisky stones to go along with your Scotch whisky, check out our guide.

Alternatives to Scotch Whisky

If you’re not quite aboard the Scotch whisky train or looking for something a little different in the drinking scene, why not check out our articles on some of the other great drams from across the world?

General FAQ

Which is the best Scotch Whisky?

There are far too many variables to denote an all-time best Scotch whisky. That said, statements such as Lagavulin 16 Year Old, The Macallan Fine Oak 21 Year, The Balvenie 21 Year Old Port Wood, and Highland Park 18 Year Old are cherished by seasoned drinkers worldwide. That's not to mention highly sought-after releases such as the Bowmore 50 Year or The Macallan M, which occupy a category all their own.

Is Scotch a whiskey?

Scotch is whisky (No 'e') and the differences between whisky and whiskey boil down to region while remaining somewhat interchangeable. Hence, Scotch is whiskey from a technical perspective.

What does Scotch Whisky mean?

Scotch whisky must be produced at a distillery in Scotland and crafted in accordance with specific regulations. All Scotch whisky must be aged for a minimum of 3 years.

What brands are Scotch?

Johnnie Walker, Chivas Regal, and Dewar's are just a few brands that make and distribute blended Scotch whisky. Glenmorangie, Glenfiddich, The Glenlivet, and The Macallan are a few brands that make and distribute single malt Scotch whisky.

STAFF WRITER

Jacob Osborn

Jacob Osborn is an accomplished author and journalist with over 10 years of experience in the media industry. Jacob holds a Bachelor's degree in English and Communication Arts from the University of Wisconsin--Madison and has previously written for Stacker alongside co-authoring a Young Adult novel through Simon & Schuster. Now based in Portland, Oregon, Jacob specialises in entertainment, technology and alcohol reporting. You might find him crate-digging at the nearest record store or sampling whisky at the nearest bar. He daydreams of travelling around the world, but for now, the world will have to come to him by way of lifestyle products, gear, gadgetry, and entertainment. Let's call it a happy compromise while he saves up for the next big trip.