What is the best single malt whiskey?
I think the answer to this question is really down to individual taste, however before we look at the answer, we should understand what a single malt whiskey is.
As the name suggests the best single malt whiskey must come from a single distillery and not from a blend. It is much more difficult to achieve a consistent taste from a batch of single whiskey, as you can’t rely on blending to achieve the same results. The whiskey can also differ in flavour from barrel to barrel.
Whilst single malt whiskey is made all over the world, the rules for single malt scotch are much more stringent. Firstly scotch can only be distilled in Scotland for at least three years and the mash used in the distilling process must be from malted barley, whereas an American Whiskey is normally made from malted rye.
The Whiskey Prophet’s best single malt whiskey selection
A single malt whiskey from the Ardbeg Whiskey Distillery in Islay Scotland
This is a cask strength bottle and means the dark and mysterious place in Gaelic. Uigeadail is also the name of the lock where the distillery gets its water from and what gives it a strong peaty flavour.
This bottle of whiskey has won several awards over the last few years.
This is perfect for those of you that like strong tasting whisky (a big hint of sherry ) with smokey overtones 54% priced at $80
Laphroaig triple wood
As its name suggests this is matured using three different wooden barrels. Firstly it is kept in bourbon barrels, secondly it is moved to quarter casks and finally it is finished off in Sherry European Oak butts, which gives the whiskey it’s unique sweet flavour.
It originates from the Islay distillery and has an exotic spice and toffee taste. You still get that smokiness associated with this distillery, but it is dampened by the fruity aftertones from the sherry casks.
Expect to pay around $70
The Balvenie DoubleWood 12-Year-Old
In 1993, when the DoubleWood was introduced, the “finishing” of whisky in wine casks was a relatively new idea. Today, of course, it’s a commonplace practice with many (if not most) distilleries offering one or more “finished”: releases. The results have been uneven, in some cases disasterous (Auchentoshen Triple Wood comes to mind). The Balvenie DoubleWood is one of the successes, a delicious balance of sweet and dry, soft and spicy flavors.
Priced at a cool $50
Lagavulin isn’t a whisky for everyone. The very bigness of flavor and aroma that speaks to the seasoned whisky drinker tends to overpower the novice. My advice to everyone serious about whisky — buy a bottle of Lagavulin. If you don’t care for it now, you will. Put it on the shelf, come back in a year, another year . . . a day will come when it will be a favorite.
The 16-year-old (the only US release) seems to combine all the disparate Islay flavors: it has the smoky, peaty, phenolic flavors of an Ardbeg, the seaweed, salt and iodine of a Laphroaig and Bowmore, and a touch of the smoked-fruit flavor of a Caol Ila. These elements, combined with the softness and gentility of a Bunnahabhain and Bruichladdich, are softened by the balancing contrasts of sherry sweetness and malty dryness.
There are many good whiskies, there are a very few great ones. A snip at $70 a bottle.
The Macallan 15-Year-Old
In 1966 The Macallan gained the distinction of being the first distillery to bottle whisky that was matured exclusively in sherry casks (oloroso casks from Jerez). Other distilleries have “finished” their whiskies with a year or two in sherry casks, and Glendronach has released exclusive sherry cask bottlings, but no one has managed to come close to the consistent quality and character of The Macallan.
The 15-year-old expression, new to the American market, is a delicious example of the sherry cask whisky that The Macallan distillers have made into an art form. From the rich toffee-and-smoke nose, to the dry, smoky finish, it’s a unique and exquisite single malt. (This comes from someone who has never been particularly fond of sherry cask whisky!)
If you haven’t tasted The Macallan in a while, it’s the time to get reacquainted. Difficult to get hold of prices around $210.
Frequently, I receive requests for recommendations for affordable single malts. I attempt to balance the Favorite Malts selections with a mixture for all price ranges but I must admit that it’s easy to overlook the small gems in favor of a new release from a silent distillery. A visitor recently suggested I pass on a recommendation of Tomatin 12-year-old, noting that it was selling for about $17 a bottle.
Tomatin is a delightful whisky, a step up in flavor from Lowland and lighter Highland malts, without becoming too challenging (like Islay or heavily sherried malts). It exhibits a smooth balance of malty sweetness, a perfumy lightness, a peaty nuttiness, and a smoky softness.
I sometimes surprise guests during an evening of tasting various whiskies. After a sampling of several light malts, Tomatin tastes distinctly rich and flavorful. Now sells for around $50.
Cadenhead Lochside 19-Year-Old
Lochside is a delicious whisky; delicate, fruity, sweet and dry at the same time, with a soft, peaty creaminess. Unfortunately, the distillery was unable in its brief 35 year history to establish a following. Lochside’s delicate malt was either buried in blended whiskies or exported to the Spanish market. The fact the distillery was isolated in Montrose rather than in the Speyside, and the misfortune that the facilities were located on prime real estate all led to its demise.
There’s currently an opportunity to find out what you’ve missed. I purchased a bottle of this Cadenhead 19-year-old (1981-2000, 58 vol.), on a trip to Scotland. Finally some bottles have made their way to the US. It’s from an oloroso sherry cask, which adds subtle sweet and fruity notes to a relatively dry and faintly peaty malt.
It’s delicious, and perhaps your last chance to affordably sample (about $100) a vanishing single malt.
Many years ago, at a bar in New Orleans, Louisiana, I came across a bottle of 12-year-old Glenfarclas. I was embarking on a driving tour of Cajun Country and was surprised to find a single malt that wasn’t widely distributed in America. In the course of the following week, Glenfarclas and I became good friends.
It may just be the fond memories of a journey through an exotic part of America, but I like to believe that Glenfarclas is a particularly “Nawlins” style of whisky. Perhaps that’s why the Sazerac Company of New Orleans was chosen to be the American distributor. It’s a whisky that has the sophistication and charm to be at home in an antebellum mansion; comfort and warmth to fortify the soul at a late night voodoo funeral; and the common man earthiness to sip while eating fresh cooked crawfish by the side of the road at a “boiling point”.
The nose has an earthy, sweaty, pungent aroma, mixed with sweet vermouth and licorice notes. The palate begins with sherry notes, then a smoky, peaty dryness. The finish is long, dry, smoky, and trails off with echoes of oak.
Sells for around $55