If you’re new to the Scotch whisky world, you might not realise just how complex it is. Not only are there multiple different types of Scotch whisky from single malt to blended malt and everything in between, but there are also five (although some drinkers add a sixth) distinct Scotch whisky regions.
They are the Highlands, Lowlands, Speyside, Campbeltown, and Islay. Sometimes a sixth region that’s made up of all the islands besides Islay is also added into the mix (this includes the Isle of Sky, Jura, Orkney, and others). All regions have their own fans, but today we’re turning our attention solely to the Highland region.
Table of contents
- Best Highlands Scotch Brands at a Glance
- Things to Consider for Highlands Whisky
- Alternatives to Highland Whisky
- How Man of Many Chose the Best Highland Scotch Whisky Brands
- Highlands Scotch FAQs
Best Highlands Scotch Brands at a Glance
- Best Overall: Glenmorangie
- Best Luxury: Dalmore
- Best for Single Malt: The GlenDronach
- Best Value-for-Money: Oban
- Address: Tain, Ross-shire
- Owner: Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy
- Founded: 1843
- Founder: William Matheson
- Core Expression: Glenmorangie Original 10 Year Old Single Malt
When it comes to gateway whiskies, it doesn’t get much better than Glenmorangie The Original. This 10-year-old expression is well known for its soft, mellow, candied orange peel, vanilla, boiled sweets, sticky toffee flavour profile. Don’t just take it from us.
Glenmorangie The Original has been the best-selling single malt in Scotland for the past three and a half decades. That fact, coupled with a steady stream of awards, including a gold medal at 2018’s San Francisco World Spirits Competition, and another one at the 2017 International Wine & Spirit Competition is undeniable proof that this Highland Scotch brand knows what it’s doing.
On top of that, the distillery (located in the far north of the country in Tain, Ross-shire) makes many unique expressions like its sherry cask finished Lasanta, Port cask finished Quinta Ruban, and many more.
Recently, Glenmorangie has undergone a bit of a refresh, launching the aptly titled no-age statement X line. When we caught up with Glenmorangie director of distilling, whisky creation and whisky stocks, Dr Bill Lumsden earlier this year, he told us that the new moniker celebrated the subtle art of mixing.
“The brand team coined the ‘made for mixing’ moniker that X by Glenmorangie has, but I made it for drinking!” he said. “Obviously, it makes more sense to be using that, a non-age product, for mixing than using Glenmorangie 18 or 25 year old. We are looking at ways of trying to attract a new audience, and this relates to the new brand positioning of Glenmorangie overall, as well as X by Glenmorangie. I like it on the rocks personally, but it lends itself to a nice whisky cocktail.”
- Address: Alness, Scotland
- Owner: Whyte & Mackay
- Founded: 1839
- Core Expression: Dalmore 12 Year Old
Well-known for its royal stag emblem, The Dalmore has been producing high-quality, noteworthy whiskies since 1839. The logo isn’t just a cool image randomly selected for the labels. It’s there because this distillery was once owned by the noble Mackenzie clan.
According to lore, one of the clan saved King Alexander III’s life while on a stag hunt. It’s well-known for its sherry-finished whiskies including the popular 12-year-old expression. Matured in ex-bourbon barrels and finished in oloroso sherry casks, it’s known for its flavours of dried orange peels, butterscotch, dried cherries, and rich oak.
Importantly, Dalmore has emerged as one of the world’s most collectible Highland whisky options. In August 2022, an incredible portfolio of Dalmore whisky, named The No.6 Collection, went under the hammer at Sotheby’s, netting a whopping AUD$1.5 million. While you will find cheaper options at your local bottle shop, some older releases are quickly becoming hard to find.
- Address: Forgue by, Huntly AB54 6DB, United Kingdom
- Owner: Brown-Forman
- Founded: 1826
- Core Expression: The GlenDronach 12 Year Old Single Malt Highland Whisky
One of the oldest licensed distilleries in Scotland (with a start date of 1826), GlenDronach is known for its mix of innovation and tradition. One of its most popular whiskies is Glendronach 15-Year Revival. Matured for a minimum of fifteen years in Spanish sherry casks, it’s known for its flavours of dried cherries, candied orange peels, honey, heather, dark chocolate, and light spices. It’s the kind of single malt whisky you’ll want to keep stocked on your home bar cart all the time.
Outside of the standard release, it’s worth keeping an eye out for the Cask Strength Batch 8. Striking a multi-layered balance between richness and boldness, the 61 per cent ABV heavy-hitter is surprisingly smooth and layered. It arrives matured for 10 years inside Pedro Ximénez and Oloroso sherry casks, delivering notes of raisins, cherry, and chocolate on the nose.
If you want something that will get your whisky nerd friends hot under the collar, you can’t knock The GlenDronach Aged 50 Years. After sitting in rare Pedro Ximénez and Oloroso sherry casks for five decades, this unique drop was then married for final maturation in a single Pedro Ximénez cask. Inside, you’ll find a single malt of impeccably rich and boldly uncompromising character, featuring nuanced layers of stone fruit, creme brulee, nuts, and bitter chocolate, with oaky undertones and subtle hints of grain. Just don’t let the £40,000 price tag get you down.
On the other end of the spectrum, the 1993 Single Cask could well be The GlenDronach’s best. Having spent 26 years in first-fill ex-Oloroso Sherry casks, this elusive liquid was hand-selected by The GlenDronach Master Blender Dr. Rachel Barrie, and consists of only 659 bottles in total, worldwide.
- Address: Oban Port
- Owner: Diageo
- Founded: 1794
- Core Expression: Oban 14 Year Old Single Malt Highlands Whisky
Oban is a great example of the diversity of Highland whiskies. This coastal distillery is so old (founded in 1794) that it’s even older than the town it occupies. Famously two-hundred and eight steps from the frothy ocean, its whiskies are known for their flavours of ocean brine, caramel, candied orange peels, and gentle smoke. One of the best gateway Oban expressions is its Oban Little Bay. This marriage of whiskies matured in refill American oak hogsheads, sherry casks, and refill casks with new ends is known for its profile of salted caramel, citrus peels, and gentle spices.
A favourite amongst Diageo’s Special Releases Collection, Oban has made a name for itself as an impressively affordable dram. It’s classic drop is one of the top single malt Scotches under $150, and an incredible exploration of art in a bottle.
- Address: Aberfeldy
- Owner: Bacardi
- Founded: 1896
- Founder: Thomas Dewar, 1st Baron Dewar
- Core Expression: Aberfeldy 12YO
If you’ve never heard of Aberfeldy, perhaps you’ve heard of its founder (or at least the blended Scotch whisky named after him) John Dewar. Aberfeldy might be one of the main whiskies that make up Dewar’s Blended Scotch Whisky, but the distillery also makes a handful of notable, high-quality single malts. This includes the popular Aberfeldy 12-year-old with its notes of heather, honey, dried fruits, candied orange peels, toasted vanilla beans, wintry spices, and just a wisp of rich smoke at the finish.
- Address: Dalwhinnie
- Owner: Diageo
- Founded: 1898
- Core Expression: Dalwhinnie 15 Year Old Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky
There are few mainland distilleries as remote as Dalwhinnie. Located in the centre of the wild and sometimes untamed Scottish Highlands, the distillery is situated inside the Cairngorm National Park. Part of Diageo’s “Classic Malts” range, Dalwhinnie 15-Year is not to be missed. Aged for at least fifteen years, this popular single malt whisky begins with a nose of candied apples, toffee, dried orange peels, and gentle smoke. The palate is known for its flavours of candied nuts, clover honey, vanilla beans, orange peel, and gentle, warming spices.
- Address: Wick, Caithness
- Owner: Inver House Distillers
- Founded: 1826
- Core Expression: Old Pulteney 12-Year-Old Single Malt
Named for Sir William Pulteney, this popular distillery has been crafting whisky since it first opened its doors in 1826. It was the northernmost mainland distillery before Wolfburn opened in 2013 and is known for its mix of fruit, caramel, and salty, coastal ocean brine. A good starting point for this brand is its 12-year-old expression. Completely aged in ex-bourbon barrels, it’s highlighted by flavours of dried orange peels, charred wood, fresh mint, toffee, and light oceanic salinity.
- Address: Kennethmont
- Owner: Beam Suntory
- Founded: 1898
- Core Expression: Ardmore Legacy Highlands Scotch
Situated 600 feet above sea level, Ardmore sits at the highest point of the Northern railway line. It was put there to make transport between Aberdeenshire and Glasgow easy for the rural distillery. Ardmore currently produces only a handful of single malts. In our opinion, the best whisky to start your Ardmore journey is Legacy. This whisky was crafted to pay tribute to the distillery and its placement at the edges of the Highlands. This lightly peated single malt whisky is known for its palate of honey, vanilla, spices, and just a hint of robust campfire smoke.
- Address: Drumgoyne
- Owner: Ian Macleod Distillers Ltd
- Founded: 1883
- Core Expression: Glengoyne 12 Year Old
Some of these distilleries are situated deep in the Highlands’ rural setting. Glengoyne, on the other hand, is in Dumgoyne just north of Glasgow. Its motto is “unhurried since 1833”. This is a reference to the fact that the barley is air-dried, the stills are the slowest in Scotland, and the length it takes to prepare its casks for maturation. If you want to sample this patient process, we suggest trying Glengoyne 12-Year-Old. Finished in sherry casks, it’s known for its complex flavour profile featuring hints of sticky toffee pudding, candied orange peels, dried cherries, and oak.
- Address: The Glenturret Distillery, The Hosh, Crieff PH7 4HA, United Kingdom
- Owner: Lalique Group SA
- Founded: 1763
- Core Expression: The Glenturret Triple Wood Old Label
The Glenturret is Scotland’s oldest working distillery with its inception all the way back in 1763. If you’re going to try one of Glenturret’s 2022 releases, we suggest its Triple Wood. It gets its name because it’s matured in American oak, European oak, and ex-bourbon barrels. This creates a nuanced, complex whisky with notes of dried fruits, vanilla beans, butterscotch, wintry spices, and oaky wood.
Things to Consider for Highlands Whisky
By far the largest region in terms of geography, the Highland region is the second largest in terms of production (to Speyside) with more than 40 distilleries currently crafting whisky. On the flip side, Speyside (the most densely populated region in terms of distilleries) is home to more than 50.
And while to an untrained palate, you might believe that all Scotch whisky tastes the same, there are various nuanced, subtle (and sometimes not subtle in the case of peaty, smoky Islay Scotch whisky) differences between expressions from the different regions.
This means that if you were to only pick one region to get your proverbial Scotch-drenched feet wet, the Highlands is a pretty good choice. It’s dominated by names like Glenmorangie, The Dalmore, Oban, and others.
You’ll find every type of Scotch whisky in the Highland region. Obviously, it’s dominated by single malt Scotch whisky, but the region is also home to Dewar’s, one of the most well-known blended Scotch whiskies in the world.
Since it’s so massive in size, it’s also the most diverse when it comes to flavours. These run the gamut from lighter, softer, honeyed and heather whiskies to bold, smoky, peaty expressions. While some regions are very specific when it comes to aromas and flavours, there’s an expression well-suited for every palate in the Highland region. Highland whiskies vary from soft with heather and honey to robust, briny, peat-smoked expressions.
With so many distilleries, you can guarantee that there are expressions available for every price range. Myriad entry bottles are priced accordingly as well as longer matured expressions that will set you back quite a bit more. Add the value-priced blended Scotch whiskies from the likes of Dewar’s and you have something for everyone.
Alternatives to Highland Whisky
If you’re not quite aboard the Highland scotch whisky, or you’re just looking to find out which international spirit tickles your fancy, why not check out some of our other drinks articles?
- Guide to Single Malt Scotch Whisky
- Best Single Malt Whiskies Not From Scotland
- Best Blended Whisky
- Best Rye Whiskey
- Best Bourbon Whisky
- Tennessee Whiskeys That Aren’t Jack Daniel’s
- Best Peated Whisky Brands
Whisky by Region
- Best Scotch Whisky Brands
- Best Irish Whiskey Brands
- Best American Craft Whiskeys
- Best Australian Whisky Brands
- Best Japanese Whisky Brands
- Best Canadian Whisky Brands
- Best New Zealand Whisky Brands
- Guide to Indian Whisky
- Most Expensive Whiskies Ever Sold at Auction
- Most Expensive Japanese Whisky
- Best Single Malt Under $150
- Best Bourbons Under $100
How Man of Many Chose the Best Highland Scotch Whisky Brands
With more than 10 years of experience reviewing beer, wine and spirits, Man of Many’s team of editors has selected a list of the best Highland scotch. Additionally, author Christopher Osburn has more than 15 years of experience writing about alcohol and lifestyle topics across the globe. As our resident drinks expert, is the perfect person to unpack this mixture of flavours.
Highlands Scotch FAQs
There are more than forty distilleries located in the Highland region. Some of the most popular are GlenDronach, The Dalmore, Glenmorangie, Oban, Aberfeldy, and Old Pulteney. Some drinkers believe the iconic brand The Macallan is located in the Highlands, but it’s actually technically a Speyside whisky.
Johnnie Walker Blended Scotch Whisky is by far the most popular Scottish whisky in the world. But, if you want to talk about single malt whisky, the best-selling expression is Glenfiddich 12-Year-Old. That’s a Speyside whisky. The most popular Highland whisky is Glenmorangie’s beloved 10-year-old expression.
Featured Video from Man of Many