15 Best Scotch For Beginners: The Ultimate Guide

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A bottle and glass of Scotch

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If you're a beginner in the world of liquor and looking for a way to relax, scotch whisky can be the answer - but which one should you drink?

As someone who is just starting, scotch whisky comes in various flavors, types, and prices. It can be intimidating to be surrounded by similar-looking bottles, only to find out that they are very different from each other, particularly on their tasting notes.

And just like wine, this liquor needs to be poured in the right glass and sipped the proper way. Sounds complicated, right? Well, not really. This article will introduce 15 scotch for beginners and provide an ultimate guide on how to get started with this unique beverage! 

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Our Top Picks

Old Pulteney 12 Year Single Malt Scotch Whisky
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Sharpest Flavor - Old Pulteney 12-Year-Old

Strong “sea” flavor
• Smooth taste
• Tangy sweetness

Auchentoshan 12-Year-Old
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Most Subtle Taste - Auchentoshan 12-Year-Old

• Nutty aroma
• Floral notes
• Hints of peak smoke

Glenmorangie Original 10-Year-Old

Best for Meals - Glenmorangie Original 10-Year-Old

 Delicate flavor
• Smooth texture
• Aged for 10 years

The Best Scotch Whisky for Beginners

1. Aberfeldy 12-Year-Old

Aberfeldy 12-Year-Old
 

ABV: 40%
Average Price: $44
Tasting Notes: Honey, vanilla, pineapple

A great beginner scotch is Aberfeldy 12, as it introduces new drinkers to the complexities of single malt. It's not too sweet and has a dark honey flavor that rounds out other flavors like fruitiness or smokiness. 

This whisky is much more than just a standard drink. It has an exciting and complex blend of flavors that create something new but still familiar.

2. Johnnie Walker Black

Johnnie Walker Black

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ABV: 40%
Average Price: $35.99
Tasting Notes: Smoke, vanilla, oak

This smooth, deep and complex blended Scotch whisky will make a great addition to any occasion. Make a Highball cocktail by mixing with soda water, pouring over ice, and garnishing it with a lime wedge for an unforgettable experience! 

Johnnie Walker was recognized as one of the world's top-trending Scotch whiskies at the 2020 Drinks International awards.

3. The Balvenie 14-Year-Old Caribbean Cask

The Balvenie 14-Year-Old Caribbean Cask

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ABV: 43%
Average Price: $94.99
Tasting Notes: Sweet vanilla, mango, apple, and a touch of orange

The Balvenie Caribbean Cask 14 Year is a masterpiece from start to finish. This scotch whisky brand still uses the floor malting process, forgoing modern automation techniques in favor of traditional methods. 

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After steeping barley in water, it's spread across the floor where it's turned by hand until ready before being aged and sold.

4. Chivas Regal 12-Year-Old

Chivas Regal 12-Year-Old

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ABV: 40%
Average Price: $32.99
Tasting Notes: Ripe and honeyed apples, vanilla, hazelnut, and butterscotch

Chivas Regal 12-Year is an excellent blended Scotch whisky you can buy to start your whisky journey. It is often considered a Scotchen mix for older people because the taste is quite powerful and intimidating at first. 

This whisky has been aged in a mix of different whiskies for at least 12 years before being bottled. Flavors of this whisky are ripe and honeyed apples, vanilla, hazelnut, and butterscotch.

5. Glenlivet 12-Year-Old

Glenlivet 12-Year-Old

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ABV: 40%
Average Price: $34.99
Tasting Notes: Fruity and floral notes

The Glenlivet distillery in Speyside, Scotland, created one of the most famous malts ever since 1824 – The Glenlivet 12 Year. This single malt scotch whisky is delicate and perfectly balanced with sweet summer fruits like pineapple, pear, toasted cereal, and honey on the nose and finish. 

The mineral-rich spring water drawn from the distillery's historic well helps give this malt whisky such great taste!

6. Glenmorangie Original 10-Year-Old

Glenmorangie Original 10-Year-Old

ABV: 40%
Average Price: $43
Tasting Notes: Orange, honey, creamy vanilla, and peach

Glenmorangie Original is a mellow whisky that was first released more than 175 years ago. This best scotch has been around for so long because of its delicate flavor and smooth texture, making it an ideal drink no matter where you are in the world. 

To give this stuff some new life, it has been aged for ten years in bourbon casks which infuse all sorts of delicious flavors into the original formula. The taste starts with citrus but finishes off sweetly on your palate.

7. Monkey Shoulder

Monkey Shoulder

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ABV: 43%
Average Price: $36.99
Tasting Notes: Fruity and mellow vanilla

There is a long history behind why the name Monkey Shoulder was given to this whisky. In the old days, maltmen would work hard for hours, using their dominant arm significantly more than other arms. They often developed shoulder problems from overuse which became known as "Monkey Shoulders." 

Today there are no longer any maltmen suffering from this condition even if the barley still gets turned by hand.

8. Ardbeg 10-Year-Old

Ardbeg 10-Year-Old

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ABV: 46%
Average Price: $65.99
Tasting Notes: Sweet vanilla and bold spices

Ardbeg was established in 1815 by its founder, who decided to set up the distillery on South Islay's wild coast. Over 200 years later, Ardbeg is still using their unique peat-laden water source and wisdom handed down through generations to craft one of the best single malt scotch whiskies out there.

This whiskey for beginners is aged ten years each time. It matures in first fill or second fill ex-bourbon American oak casks, resulting in a smoky balanced with sweet vanilla and bold spices.

9. Auchentoshan 12-Year-Old

Auchentoshan 12-Year-Old

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ABV: 40%
Average Price: $65.99
Tasting Notes: Tangerine and lime

The exquisite flavor of the Auchentoshan Single Malt Whisky is highlighted by its sweet, nutty aroma and smooth taste. This twelve-year-old Lowland Scotch originates in Scotland’s first legal distillery since 1824.

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Crafted using only 100% Scottish barley, this whisky for beginners has a complex mouth feel with floral notes that fade into toffee followed by subtle hints of peat smoke on your palate before you finish it off with creamy vanilla flavors for an unforgettable drinking experience not found elsewhere!

10. Dalwhinnie Scotch Whisky

Dalwhinnie Scotch Whisky

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ABV: 51.9%
Average Price: $89.99
Tasting Notes: Butterscotch, hard fruit candy, and spicy wood

Dalwhinnie is not very high on the list popular among some fans but is recommended for first-timers because of its well-balanced alcohol content. 

The nose looks pretty fresh with hints of moorland scents and dried herbal notes. It has a slightly creamy-smooth taste and is sweet with a peppery, spicy warmth note.

11. Old Pulteney 12-Year-Old

Old Pulteney 12-Year-Old

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ABV: 40%
Average Price: $52.99
Tasting Notes: Honey and cream, ripe, fruity undertones, and fresh spice

Old Pulteney 12 contains one of the best maritime notes in the whisky. The marine influence of the distillery’s location is apparent as it has hints of the saltiness from the sea. It is made from a combination of traditional malt and grain whisky. 

The nose reminds you about the sea breeze, which makes it different than other scotch whiskies. It has a very smooth taste with tangy sweetness at first and later turns spicy and dry.

12. Douglas Laing's Rock Oyster

Douglas Laing's Rock Oyster

ABV: 46.8%
Average Price: $50
Tasting Notes: Sweet peat, smoke, honey, and pepper

Rock Oyster has a salty and briny nose and a taste of lemon and sweet peat. A true maritime malt, this is an excellent example of what coastal whiskies taste like. The taste is fresh with a sweet, salty, and smoky finish. 

This scotch makes the top of our list because it's easy to drink despite its 46.8% alcohol content. Best served neat or on ice cubes to bring out the flavors even more!

13. Aberlour 10-Year-Old

Aberlour 10-Year-Old

ABV: 40%
Average Price: $42
Tasting Notes: Dried fruits (raisins, dates), nuts, spice, caramel, and milk chocolate

This 10-year from Aberlour was maturing in a combination of ex-bourbon and sherry casks. Its popularity has been exported to over fifty countries, making it typical for the modern Speyside style.

14. Macallan Double Cask 12-Year-Old

Macallan Double Cask 12-Year-Old

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ABV: 43%
Average Price: $74.99
Tasting Notes: Honey, citrus, and ginger

This Double Cask 12-year-old Scotch is a rich and perfectly balanced flavor experience. It pairs the fruit, caramel, and oak spice of European Sherry with American Sherry for an indulgent taste you'll want to savor again and again! 

Awarded double gold upon release, this beverage has been recognized as one that's genuinely extraordinary before being put into its exceptional packaging.

15. Bowmore 12-Year-Old

Bowmore 12-Year-Old

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ABV: 40%
Average Price: $70
Tasting Notes: Smoke and tropical fruit

The Macallan Double Cask 12-Year Scotch is delicious and well-balanced. It pairs Sherry’s fruit, caramel, and oak spice character with the bright citrus notes in American sherry seasoned casks. The whisky was awarded double gold upon release!

Scotch Whiskies for Beginners Guide

Anyone can appreciate the flavors of Scotch, but there's a lot to learn about scotch tasting, especially for beginners. Here are some facts, tips, and tricks to help you appreciate the whisky world even more.

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What is Scotch Whisky?

As a beginner in the world of scotch whisky, you need to know what goes into this drink. The three ingredients that make scotch whisky are water, yeast, and cereal grains. There are five stages in the production process:

  • Malting - where barley is soaked
  • Mashing - the mixture of cooked cereals with hot water to extract fermentable sugars from it, which produces a sweet liquid called "wort"
  • Fermentation - when yeasts convert the sugar into alcohol
  • Distillation - the still is heated to a temperature just below the boiling point of water
  • Maturing - between 3-5 years.

Furthermore, for whisky to be called "scotch," they must first be distilled and then matured within Scotland for at least three years before bottling no less than 40% ABV.

Types of Scotch Whisky

1. Single Malt

Single malt scotch whisky is distilled at a single distillery from water, yeast, and malted barley. It's made using copper pot stills according to the traditional batch process.

2. Single Grain

Single grain scotch whisky is distilled at a single distillery from other grains (such as wheat or corn) with or without malted barley. 

It goes through a continuous distillation process (also known as patent still distillation). Single grain scotch is rarely sold on its own and is mainly used for blends.

3. Blended

The most popular type of scotch whisky combines single malts and single grains. It makes up 90%+ worldwide sales!

4. Blended Grain

It is a blend of single grain scotches from different distilleries that use the continuous distillation process.

5. Blended Malt

Blended malt scotch whisky is a blend of single malt scotches from more than one distillery.

How Casks Influence Scotch Whisky

Layers of casks

When scotch is put in a cask, it absorbs some of the flavors and aromas. This gives scotch whisky its color and taste profile. The most commonly used casks are American bourbon barrels (ex-bourbon) or European sherry butts (ex-oloroso).

The type of wood used for the barrel also affects how much flavor is absorbed by the scotch while aging. For example, oak takes one to two years before bottling, whereas ash can take up to four years!

The cask may have had bourbon, various types of sherry, port, wine, rum tequila, or cognac in it. The previous liquid would affect the flavor and therefore contribute to the whisky's final taste. Different casks are used for different flavors so that a perfectly balanced blend can be made by a master blender mixing them.

Furthermore, the cask’s location will also have an impact. For example, if it is next to the sea or on a secluded island off Scotland's coast, the air quality and humidity will be different, influencing the end product. Also, if it is placed in a warehouse, the liquor can be influenced based on light exposure.

Scotch Whisky Tasting


Like any liquor, the only way to enjoy scotch whisky’s deep flavors and nuances is when you know the right way to drink it. Here are some simple steps that you can follow.

  1. For a casual tasting of a Scottish whisky, use either the Glencairn or Copita glass designed with straight sides to release compounds for taste. 

    If you don't have one yet but think you're ready to invest in it, start small and try out an inexpensive rock or low ball glass until then.

  2. Your first dram should be iced to help you appreciate it. Add a couple of ice cubes and then pour in the drink, as this will eliminate some of the burn, making it easier for you to enjoy your whisky.

    As time goes on, stop icing your drinks because once you begin developing an appreciation for scotch whisky, there is no need anymore!

  3. After carefully pouring some whisky into a glass, you should first give the dram of scotch your initial nose. To do so, bring it to about chin level and slowly wave it side to side as you inhale through both nostrils slightly more than usual while also taking in air from between your teeth with an open mouth.

    If this causes burning or stinging on the inside lining of the nose, then simply lower down your drink by several inches. The final step is giving that same sniff again but bringing it up closer towards yourself. If done correctly, there will be noticeable changes.

  4. Before you drink the whisky, take a small initial sip. This is where most people will either love or hate the flavor profile.

    If you find that this isn’t strong enough for your taste buds, keep drinking and let it sit on your tongue before swallowing with an air of breath in between sips to reduce burning sensation if necessary.

Conclusion

If you’ve been drinking for a while and are looking to try something new, scotch might be right up your alley. There is no better time to start than now!

And if you want some help deciding which type of whisky will suit your taste the best, hopefully, our featured scotch for beginners and the ultimate guide on how to get started with this fantastic drink can provide all the information you need. 

Which whisky bottles do you want to try first? Let us know in the comments below!

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