With these five choices you can have something for everyone in your whisky collection, be it for whichever mood you find yourself in or to treat your friends or visitors to a nice dram. Scotch is littered with undiscovered gems and selecting these, rather than supermarket favourites and big brands, will show your burgeoning knowledge and that you have done some research.
Of course, you can buy all five at once or in instalments. That is your choice, but the key is to set a budget and stick to it. For our list, everything is in the £40-£50 range except the final category.
Once purchased, the five can be added to over time to expand your whisky collection. You may then choose to look outside of Scotch whisky to other styles and countries from around the world – maybe a bourbon, or rye whiskey, or Irish pot still or Japanese single malt?
1. The blended one
It is easy to get fixated on single malts, but most Scotch whisky sold around the world is blended. There are many great products out there and they usually offer great versatility and value for money. Most can be sipped neat, but it is worth having a blended Scotch whisky in your arsenal as they are perfect for mixing or making a cocktail.
There is an endless choice outside of the big names or supermarket own labels, with boutique companies such as Compass Box offering excellent products – Orchard House is a great pick and is packed with green crisp fruit and vanilla notes. It also makes a great highball cocktail. Douglas Laing & Co. also offer a stunning range, each with a Scottish regional twist. This gives something for everyone flavour wise – we suggest the Speyside-inspired Scallywag or Highland-influenced Timorous Beastie.
2. The light, delicate one
Next, we look at the three main flavour styles of Scotch single malt. There are many nuances within these which give a huge diversity of product but for now we will keep it simple. Lighter whiskies can be just as expressive as heavier and richer ones, but often with more subtlety and understated class. This category includes some of the biggest selling brands of all such as Glenfiddich, Glenlivet and Glenmorangie.
But if you want to look outside of those well-known distilleries, then there are many great examples of this light, fresh and vibrant style. Benriach and Glen Grant from Speyside often go under the radar but are delicious. Both have 10-year-old expressions worthy of consideration.
Elsewhere, Dalwhinnie and Glenglassaugh from the Highlands should be checked out – the Winter Gold and 12 years old expressions respectively are worth a punt.
3. The rich, fruity one
Whereas the lighter styles tend to mature predominantly in ex-bourbon barrels, the richer single malts generally have part or full maturation in ex-sherry casks. These impart bigger, bolder, and sweeter flavours into the spirit and lead the whiskies in a heavier and more fruity direction. Macallan is the best known of this style, along with Dalmore and Aberlour.
However, there are alternatives that offer better value for money. The family owned Glenfarclas from Speyside has always given great quality for a good price. The fellow Speysider of Glenallachie does like wise. Both have excellent and multi award-winning 12-year-olds that would grace any whisky cabinet.
Glendronach from the Highlands is another alternative – the 12 years old is rich, sugary, and sweet with a lovely oily texture.
4. The peaty, smoky one
The first question to ask is do you want mild smokiness or something with a full-on peaty punch for your whisky collection? Smoky and peaty whiskies can be divisive – think of them like Marmite – but it is worth having one in your collection for those that enjoy them and especially if you do. Others will not touch them with the proverbial barge pole.
Lightly peated options include distilleries such as Glen Scotia and Highland Park. Glen Scotia Double Cask or Highland Park 12 years old are classics. With these, the smoke sits in the background and gives a savoury tone, but without dominating – you know it is there, but it is not the main characteristic.
For heavier peat smoke, you should head to the famous Hebridean island of Islay. Caol Ila 12 years old is great choice, as is Port Charlotte 10 years old from Bruichladdich. Both offer bold, ashy and medicinal notes.
5. The ‘splash out’ one
All the selections so far have been under £50. But sometimes you may have a special occasion to celebrate or simply want to pamper yourself. Therefore, it is worth having a bottle from a higher price point for such moments. This could be a high-end blended Scotch such as Johnnie Walker Blue Label or an 18-year-old whisky from a single malt range.
Every traditional brand will have something on offer for heavier budgets. Again, set an upper limit here or you can end up going large very quickly. In the lighter style look at Royal Brackla or Old Pulteney 18-year-olds – both are sublime and very tasty. Richer options include the fabulous Tamdhu and Jura 18-year-olds. Want something peaty maybe? Talisker 18 years old from the isle of Skye is a fine choice with its ember-like smoke and peppery undertones.