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20 Scotch Whiskies On Our Radar

Our list of the drams, available now, which will most enchant the palate.

It really should be a scarce resource. Over the last century, factors including taste trends, global economic fluctuations and oil prices have seen over half of all Scottish malt whiskey distilleries in Scotland – Brora, Dallas Dhu, Dumbarton, Glenugie, Imperial, Littlemill, Pittyviach, Port Dundas, Por t Ellen and Rosebank among them – either mothballed or demolished.

Add to that the rocketing appeal of “liquid gold” as an investment opportunity (a recent Knight Frank Wealth Report reported that rare whisky was the best performing collectable of the decade, rising in value by a whopping 586 per cent up to 2019) and it seems surprising there’s any left for us seeking instant gratification, rather than long-term fiscal returns, from Scotland’s finest.

And yet, plenty of fine drops of dram keep finding their way onto our radar. Here’s our pick of what’s out there right now. Nick Scott

Tobermory 24-Year-Old

Only 3,600 bottles of the second expression in Tobermory’s Hebridean Series – the first special release whisky to be created under Cara Gilbert, the world’s youngest distillery manager – have been produced.

Those who manage to land a bottle, thanks to nine years of maturation resting in Oloroso sherry Gonzales Byass casks, can expect notes of Mull’s landscapes, including dark berries on the nose and blackcurrant jam on the palate plus hints of nutmeg and cinnamon and a salty tang and a warm salted caramel finish, according to Tobermory.

“It’s one of the finest releases in our 230-year history,” notes Gilbert. “We know it’ll be a highly sought-after collector’s item from fans eager to enjoy a true taste of Mull.”

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£320, BUY NOW

Aberfeldy 18 Côte Rôtie Wine Cask Finish

Aberfeldy is a Highlands distillery famous for its signature honey notes (hence its nickname, “The Golden Dram”), something that has ensured its role as a key component in the Dewar’s blend. There are some excellent older age-statement bottlings, including this new limited-edition 18-year-old, one of malt master Stephanie MacLeod’s special releases.

After nearly two decades maturing in first-fill bourbon barrels, re-char and refill casks, it was placed in Côte Rôtie red wine casks for another few months. The honey and vanilla notes play very nicely with the tannin and berry picked up from these wine casks.
£95, BUY NOW 

Glenturret Manager’s Dram: Release No.1

Having first lit the coals under its stills in 1775, Glenturret can genuinely claim to be Scotland’s oldest working distillery. The narrative behind this limited dram, though (just 500 bottles, hand numbered, were released late last year, although further releases will be launched each year) begins in 2009, when Distillery Manager Ian Renwick pioneered the production of Glenturret’s peated spirit, Ruadh Moar.

This, the latest expression in Glenturret’s peated spirit repertoire has, thanks to a house method involving long fermentation and slow distillation, distinctively sweet notes, packed with citrus and toffee apple notes, as well as a velvety lingering finish to which a slow, thoughtful nod is pretty much an involuntary reaction.
£145, BUY NOW

Glen Grant Dennis Malcolm 60th Anniversary

From Scotland’s oldest distillery to its longest-serving distiller, Dennis Malcolm, began work as an apprentice at the Speyside institution in 1961. Six decades on this, the oldest release to date from an institution which pioneered water cooled purifiers as well as long still necks (see main picture) which create a fruitier, maltier taste profile, honours Malcolm and his remarkable contribution to single malt’s history.

Just 360 decanters – fashioned from hand-blown crystal glass, their design based on those aforementioned, elongated pot stills – are available of an expression whose deep chestnut hue is the first clue to a taste profile which, according to Glen Grant, slowly reveals apricot, peaches and raisons via pecan nuts and a whisp or two of cigar smoke.

Worth, we suspect, the fractionally bigger outlay than those elsewhere in this list…
£22,000, BUY NOW

 Benriach Malting Season

Jonathan Knowles

For the uninitiated, floor malting is a mostly obsolete whisky-making process, dating back to the 3rd Century, whereby wet grain is put on a smooth, hard floor to germinate into sugar before being fermented into alcohol.

This expression is the first in a century to be produced entirely from barley malted using this method (Benriach’s malting floors were resurrected in 2012). Matured in ex-bourbon and virgin oak casks until last year, the whisky – 6,672 bottles  of it in all, drawn from just 23 barrels – is aromatic, smooth and honeyed on the palate and replete with fudge, almond and nutty notes.

As well as packing a marketing punch, does the floor malting method – notoriously arduous due to the need to stabilise temperatures against the whims of Scotland’s fickle climate – make better whisky than modern, industrial malting processes? This expression should chalk up points in its favour.
Around £100, BUY NOW 

Balvenie 25 Year Old Rare Marriages

Autumn fruits, honey, ginger and raw cane sugar have all been noted as contributors to a complex expression, part of a portfolio (also including Balvenie Thirty and Balvenie Forty) whose name refers to Malt Master David C. Stewart MBE’s fondness for curating rare casks, blending exceptionally harmonious flavours in the process.

“Our Rare Marriages range is designed to unveil intricacies of our whisky in a bold marriage of extraordinary character,” as Stewart himself puts it. “This range reflects the very essence of luxury through the experience of layers of flavours.

The Balvenie distillery, meanwhile, is immensely proud of its vertical integration: it grows its own barley, uses its own traditional floor maltings and employs a team of coopers to tend to the casks, not to mention a coppersmith to maintain the stills.
£620, BUY NOW 

Compass Box’s Orchard House

Founded in 2000 by American entrepreneur John Glaser, a former Johnnie Walker Marketing Director and a five-time recipient of Whiskey Advocate’s Innovator of the Year award, Chiswick-based Compass Box, in the company’s own words, combines “single malt and single grain whiskies of the highest quality” in order to “create textures, flavours and pleasures that no solitary whisky can attain”.

One of the more modestly priced drops on this list, this is one of the brand’s more fruit-heavy blends (think apples, pears and peach followed by black cherry, pineapple and citrus zests), with whisky from the Clynelish, Linkwood and Benrinnes distilleries all in the mix.
£42, BUY NOW

Talisker 25

The Isle of Skye is one of the most beautiful parts of Scotland, and the single malt whisky made at the Talisker distillery there is equally spectacular. This is a rugged, windswept, briny whisky, if you can stretch your imagination to match flavour to scenery. The peat is pronounced but softer than some of its Islay counterparts, especially after 25 years ageing in American and European oak casks.

Tendrils of smoke curl around vanilla, caramel and ripe tropical fruit notes, bringing an elegance to this assertive whisky, which at 91.6 proof packs a little bit of heat. There are plenty of quarter-century-old whiskies to choose from, but make sure this one is on your list.
£435, BUY NOW

Bunnahabhain 25 Year Old

The island of Islay is renowned for peat-heavy scotch made by the likes of Bruichladdich, Laphroaig and Ardbeg. The region’s most notable outlier is Bunnahabhain, where, since 1881, it’s produced exceptional whisky with nary a hint of peat influence.

Bunnahabhain 25 is an exemplar of elegance and balance. Aged in ex-bourbon, scotch, and sherry casks, it offers aromas of polished leather, rich dried fruits, and spiced oak. Primary flavours are sweet berries, roasted nuts, and cereal, with a touch of sea salt on the finish.

In 2010, Bunnahabhain upped the proof from 86 to 92.6, providing an extra measure of oomph to this world-class whisky.
£375, BUY NOW

Oban 14-Year-Old

calumet

Oban (pronounced “Oh-bin”) is a port town in western Scotland known as the gateway to the Hebridean islands. Its eponymous distillery, established in 1794, produces whisky with a flavour profile that straddles the smoky style of the Scottish islands and the livelier, more toothsome malts made in the Highlands.

Oban 14 Years Old is a wee bit oily and quite weighty. It smells like lemons and pears sprinkled with sea salt, set atop a table that had recently been on fire and tastes like dried figs dipped in honey up front, followed by some oak and malt dryness.

It also begs to be paired with oysters and smoked salmon.
£73, BUY NOW  

Ledaig 1996 19 Years Old

 

Lest ye be mistaken for a whisky neophyte, remember that this single-malt scotch from the Inner Hebrides is pronounced “la-chayk” or even “la-chik” (“la-dayg,” on the other hand, sounds like a Bond villain). Ledaig, “safe haven” in Gaelic, is handcrafted at the Tobermory Distillery, the only whisky production facility on the impossibly colourful Isle of Mull.

The Ledaig 1996 19 Years Old is what is often referred to as a “peat bomb,” crackling with smoky goodness from sniff to finish. And bless the ole malt master’s heart for all the other wonderful things at play in this whisky – toffee and seaweed on the nose, with apple, orange, and black pepper mingling on the palate.

Finishes long, with peaty embers glowing.
£140, BUY NOW 

The Fife Arms Blended Malt Scotch Whisky

Anyone who has visited The Fife Arms in Braemar, a former coaching inn in the Scottish Highlands converted into an art lovers’ Mecca by Iwan and Manuela Wirth of Hauser & Wirth fame, will know it as an establishment which hikes discerning taste into the stratosphere.

Last year, in collaboration with the Adelphi distillery on the secluded West Coast of Scotland, the hotel celebrated the opening of its whisky library Bertie’s (which is stocked with over 365 whiskies, one for each day of the year, arranged like books on backlit bookshelves) with this release: a rich, fruity and subtly smoky blend whose flavour profile is influenced hugely by the sherry casks, widely used during the Victorian and Edwardian eras, in which it has matured.

It’s best enjoyed in situ, strolling around the premises and taking in the eclectic artworks, paraphernalia and local references on display, but remains a stunning addition to any home bar.
£95, BUY NOW 

Royal Salute 26 Year Old

Its sweet and aromatic notes reign long on the palate: which is apposite, because this blend of ultra-rare whiskies was created by the Chivas Brothers, makers of Chivas Regal, to celebrate the Queen’s Coronation.

Its unique flavour profile can be attributed to the also ultra-rare virgin Scottish oak casks in which the expression has been finished. Over to Master Blender Sandy Hyslop: “Together with my team, we hand-selected the wild oak, sourced from a single forest in the heart of Scotland,” he says.

“The oak is fine grain, which means it has greater oxygen transfer, which in turn leads to a perception of increased sweet notes (honey and vanilla) within the maturing spirit.

“The species, Quercus petraea, is slow growing, which is more typical of European oak, although the short summers in Scotland ensure the grain is particularly fine. This in turn brings nutty flavours and aromatic notes of toasted oak and subtle spices (cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and crystalised ginger) to the whisky.”
Around £300, BUY NOW

Ladyburn Edition Two

Notes of linseed, liquorice and leather – according to the maker – are complemented by some soft vanilla toffee notes and sherry oakiness, in this 55-year-old expression from rare whisky house William Grant & Sons Private Clients, which is limited to 210 hand numbered bottles.

Of equal note to collectors, though, will be the labels: here, in the follow up a collection graced with the work of David Bailey, they bear images from the archive of pioneering Sixties fashion photographer Norman Parkinson, curated by former Vogue editor Suzy Menkes.

“Less than two hundred Ladyburn casks remain in our care, so when we release one it is special,” says Jonathan Driver, Managing Director of William Grant & Sons’ Private Clients division. “Norman Parkinson’s work is the most fitting partner. We have combined the rarest liquid with the mood of the time

“Ladyburn”, in case you’re wondering, was a single malt distillery that sat in the Girvan grain distillery estate from 1966 to 1975.

£198,000 for the full Collection of 11 bottles. Available by appointment only. Contact privateclients@wgrant.com for further information

Carsebridge 44-Year-Old

One of the victims of the 1980s whisky surplus, Carsebridge – despite being the largest grain distillery in Scotland – closed its doors for the last time just shy of four decades ago. It left behind a tantalisingly small number of casks: hence, only 81 bottles of this expression from Diageo’s prestigious Casks of Distinction programme ever being produced.

“The aroma of this intriguing Carsebridge Single Grain places exotic mango chutney amid the juicy-fruity top notes,” according to Justerini & Brooks, via whose broker programme you can purchase a bottle. “A suggestion of toasted almonds runs beneath this, on a dry, chalky base.”

£1,630,BUY NOW  

The Brora Distillery Collection: Hidden Beneath (39 Year Old)

Given the scarcity of the product, much of the time, it’s surprising how welcoming Scotland’s distilleries are to visitors: so much so, in this case, that the only way to purchase one of just 150 bottles of this expression ever filled is to visit an institution which reopened in 2021 having been mothballed in 1983.

Taken from a single cask, number 582 that was filled in 1982, this whisky, we’re informed, features extremely subtle peating levels, making its flavour profile one that sparks vigorous debate amongst the more informed whisky aficionados.
£8,500, available only from Brora Distillery

Glen Scotia 46-Year-Old

andrew jack

The Campbeltown-based distiller’s oldest and rarest limited-edition liquid to date, of which there are 150 individually numbered bottles available worldwide, was originally laid down in refill bourbon casks and gently matured for 36 years before being re-casked in first-fill bourbon casks in 2011. 

Over to Whisky writer Dave Broom: “The whisky has the tropical fruit funkiness which only comes from long ageing in refill casks… The subtle, sweet toffee elements mid-palate reflect the change in direction when mature, elegant single malts were desired, while the rich sultana like fruit harks back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries when sherry casks were the preferred choice for Campbeltown’s whiskies.”
£6,750, BUY NOW 

Kinclaith 51-year-old and Caperdonich 50-year-old

Finally, a double billing. After 80 years as a Glasgow-based Scotch whisky cask merchant and broker, Duncan Taylor moved to the edge of Speyside in 2002. Now, it has facilities for cask storage, bottling, a cooperage also a distillery.

It is currently teasing the market by gradually releasing samples from its inventory of 50-plus-year-old whiskies that it has owned for decades: starting with these two expressions from their ‘Rarest of the Rare’ portfolio, launched at the Nth Ultimate Whisky Experience Show in Las Vegas at the end of April.

The Kinclaith – from a distillery on the south side of the river Clyde which matured liquid in a combination of American and European oak casks until its closure in 1975 – is a gorgeously structured affair with fresh, fragrant oak notes and hints of clove and cinnamon. Meanwhile the Caperdonich – which comes from a Speyside distillery, named after its water source, which was mothballed for six decades until1965 – is a maltier, sweeter affair with a soupcon of caramel and cinnamon on the palate.
Available for £12,300 and £10,750 respectively, by ballot only  

Highland Park Cask Strength

Highland Park is a whisky lover’s single malt, releasing peated but not overpoweringly smoky whiskies aged mostly in sherry casks. Fans of this Viking-themed distillery were very excited about the first cask strength release, which came out in 2020. The second batch clocks in at 63.9 percent ABV, slightly higher than the first, with no chill filtration or colour added.

The whisky was aged in European and American sherry-seasoned oak, with a small amount of bourbon barrels included as well. Add a few drops of water and the palate expands, with baking spice, toffee, pear and dried fig notes intermingling into something delightful.
£60, BUY NOW 

 

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