Whiskey lovers should know their whiskey. This includes top-shelf brands along with those lower on the rung, plus the in-between, middle of the road options. A true whiskey lover will be able to recommend the right type of whiskey for any person, no matter their taste.
Read up on single malt Scotch brands, plus other brands of Scotch, bourbon, and rye that definitely should be in your repertoire if you truly want to consider yourself an expert.
Scotch Whiskey Brands 101
In order to understand the range of Scotch brands, you need to know about the Scotch whiskey regions throughout Scotland.
The Highlands region of Scotland is known for its medium-bodied Scotch. These are lighter than the ones found on say, Islay, but stronger than ones distilled in the Lowlands. This region also includes the Islands.
The Lowlands is known for producing the lightest of the whiskies from Scotland. These are low on peat and smoke and are rather more delicate than whiskies produced elsewhere.
Islay is where the robust, strong whiskies are made. Many Islay die-hards will argue that there is far more nuance to the area’s whiskies than first meets the eye, but it’s not an overstatement to say that all of the distilleries on the island make whiskies that are peaty, smoky, and very difficult for first-timers to drink.
There are only three distilleries in Campbeltown. As a result, there’s no characteristic style that is attached to the whiskies that are produced there.
If you would like an elegant, faceted whiskey, Speyside is the right region for you. Like the Lowlands, Speyside tends to have offerings that err on the light and sweet side.
The Most Popular Scotch Brands
Single Malt Scotch
For single malt Scotch, the most popular brands, the most prestigious brands, and the best-selling brands are not all mutually exclusive.
In truth, what tends to sell best are the cheaper whiskies, which are far more accessible than their counterparts that cost hundreds of dollars. Prestigious brands are regularly name-dropped by whiskey snobs and enthusiasts alike, even if they don’t sell as much as cheaper options.
The most popular Scotch brands tend to fall somewhere in the middle of hot sellers and prestige. These include:
- Highland Park
Blended whiskey brands are cheaper than single malts in general. For this reason, blended whiskies sell better. The most popular of these, therefore, don’t necessarily have the best taste.
The most popular brands of blended Scotch whiskey include:
- Johnnie Walker
- Compass Box
- Grand Old Parr
- Chivas Regal
- Label 5
Good Scotch Brands and How to Properly Taste Them
Experts on Scotch will tell you there’s a correct way to taste your Scotch, and then there are all other ways.
While this has some truth, you can also throw all the rules out the window and drink your Scotch whiskey however you like. Mix up a cocktail, add water, put it on ice, add some soda – it’s your choice. However, to truly experience the complexity of Scotch and to get a feel for the hundreds of years of craftsmanship that have culminated in the best bottles, taste your drink according to this method.
- Avoid using ice cubes. This will dilute the flavor.
- Before pouring yourself a dram of Scotch, first, pour a bit of the liquid into your glass, swirl it around, and dump it into the sink. While it seems like a waste, this gets rid of any impurities that would alter the taste.
- Pour the Scotch into your glass while holding the base, not the bowl, to avoid warming it up with the heat from your fingers.
- Swirl the whiskey in the glass. Notice the color and appearance. Is the liquid clear or clouded? Clear whiskey has been chill filtered to prevent clouding. However, non-chill filtered whiskey might be more flavorful because of clouding agents.
- Hold the glass close to your nose (but not too close), and take a whiff through your nose and mouth. This will help you discern the “nose” of the whiskey.
- Put the glass down, swirl it again, and repeat sniffing. Do it three times, and each time, hold it closer to your nose and avoid breathing in through your mouth.
- Finally, take a small sip of Scotch. Let it hit every part of your mouth, then hold it on your tongue for a few seconds before swallowing. Note the flavors you taste, even if it seems silly. Taking the time and having the patience for appreciating Scotch is a skill just like any other, so it may require some practice before you feel like you’re truly discerning the layers of flavors.