It’s true that not at Scotch is created alike, or equally. Some varieties are bottled and sold for people who are casual drinkers, those who enjoy whiskey cocktails, and newbies to the Scotch appreciation game.
Then there is top shelf Scotch whiskey. This stuff isn’t fooling around: the best brands from the Isles unearth their most valuable liquors and bottle them.
Calling them liquid gold isn’t an understatement. These are rare drinks that are distilled and bottled in a limited amount. Getting your hands on some might not be easy, but it’s fun to think about.
The Top Shelf Scotch List: The Best Brands and Most Expensive Bottles
Top Shelf Scotch Brands
Bowmore – One of the distinctive brands from Islay is Bowmore, a distillery producing single malt whiskey since the 1700s. It’s located in a town of the same name, and is one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland. They regularly use Sherry and North American bourbon casks to mature their products.
Glenmorangie – Glenmorangie is a big name in Scotch. They regularly win accolades for their whiskies, which are known for their light, smooth taste.
The Highland company attributes this to their tall stills (apparatuses that physically distill the whiskey), which, at over 26 feet tall, are the tallest in Scotland. Glenmorangie uses oak casks from trees in Missouri, and they only use them twice for their Original single malt, which they say provides unparalleled flavor.
Ardbeg – While owned by Glenmorangie, Ardbeg distillery yet stands apart. It’s located on Islay, on a wind-whipped coast with picturesque beaches, cliffs, and whitewashed houses. The distillery was founded in 1815, changed hands from owner to owner over the years, closed in 1981, reopened in 1989, closed again in 1991, and was finally reopened in 1997. Since then it has won “World Whiskey of the Year” a handful of times.
Laphroaig – Another Islay distillery, Laphroaig is perhaps best known for its strength of flavor. The company itself calls their whiskies “aloof,” but this is not something that has put off whiskey devotees. The distillery dries their malted barley over a peat fire, which imparts that characteristic blue peat smoke flavor.
Glenfiddich – Hailing from the Speyside region, Glenfiddich is known for their vintage, reserve, and rare whiskies, from their 50-Year-Old to their 1937 Rare. The company also tends to experiment with the maturation and finishing stages. They have been known to create their own rum just to season casks for a new whiskey, and they have used Sherry, port, and wine casks to age many of their varieties.
Isle of Jura – Jura’s solo distillery produces a Highland single malt that is exceptionally well-regarded in the world of top shelf Scotch whiskey brands. They use pure, mountain-filtered water from the Paps of Jura,and is peated with smoke.
Highland Park – Highland Park is an Orkney/Islands distillery with exacting attention to detail, which probably contributes to the excellence of their whiskies. First, the distillery still uses a malting floor, where barley that has been steeped in local spring water sits to germinate. Highland Park boasts that they turn each batch of malt by hand.
The emphasis for this company is using the local resources. Peat grown in the area is used, and the whiskey is matured on the island itself in oak casks that have been seasoned with American or Spanish sherry. Finally, Highland Park draws on various cask types to bottle a single batch, but they first let this blend “harmonize” for at least six months in order to marry the flavors.
The Most Expensive Scotch in the World
Glenfiddich defines this whiskey as their “heirloom,” the culmination of their expertise in making Scotch. Whiskies from two casks were married to create the final product, of which only 500 bottles were produced. Only five of these were available in the U.S. for purchase, and the rare liquor has a price tag to match: it sold in a 2010 auction for $38,000.
Gordon & MacPhail Mortlach 70-Year-Old
Mortlach 70-Year-Old, from Speyside, is the result of a cask that was handed down for three generations before its contents were finally bottled. The results were 54 decanters and an incredibly rare whiskey. The cask in question was of Spanish sherry, and the product was bottled at cask strength, which means it wasn’t diluted. This whiskey comes in at a whopping $18,000.
Scotch amateurs shouldn’t be intimidated by this list of top brands and bottles. Remember that for every brand that produces a bottle that’s worth thousands of dollars, they probably also produce a product that sells for under $100 that you can try, too.