Table of Contents
- What are the Main Ingredients of Scotch?
- What Does Scotch Taste Like?
- How to Properly Taste Scotch
- 25 Best Scotch Brands & How They Taste
- Scotch Whisky Flavor Guide Infographic
When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you. For more information on how we conduct reviews, click here.
As a beginner in the whiskey world, are you wondering what does scotch taste like? Or maybe you’re just curious about the different flavors of the best scotch brands.
Scotch whiskey is made using water, yeast, and malted barley. The tastes of various scotch brands differ depending on the ingredients used, casks for maturation, and production methods.
Read this article to learn more about the tasting of whiskey and the different flavors of the top brands of scotch.
What are the Main Ingredients of Scotch?
Scotch is created in Scotland. It may be grain (rye, wheat, and maize) or malt whiskey. Distillers sometimes mix the components as well.
The main ingredients of scotch include water, yeast, and malted barley. The first stage in the production of this whiskey is called malting.
During malting, the barley is soaked in water and allowed to germinate on a concrete floor. The barley’s starch is converted into sugar which turns into alcohol.
After washing the barley with water, yeast is then added to speed up the fermentation process. The germination process of the barley is halted by drying the malt using a kiln. The scotch will then undergo maturation, where it will form subtle flavors.
What Does Scotch Taste Like?
Scotch is known for its malty taste due to the malted barley used as the main ingredient. Other typical flavors may include vanilla, fruit, and smoke.
Scotch's flavor varies based on the kind of malt used, the amount of time it has been aged, its production region, the procedure, and the other ingredients.
Aged scotch may have fruity tastes, such as cherry, tart, dark berries, and various citrus fruits. It may also have a smoky flavor when it is produced over a peat fire.
As mentioned earlier, wet barley is dried using a kiln. Thus, the barley absorbs the scent of burnt peat, which causes a smoky taste. The smokiness level will depend on the amount of peat.
The whiskey’s flavor is also determined by the oak barrels used and their previous purpose. For instance, an American oak cask used for whiskey will have different undertones than a European oak cask used for port or Sherry.
Various other factors that influence the scotch taste are:
- The type of barrels in which the distillate is stored
- The expertise of the equipment's operator
- The kind of water used
- The distillery's location
- The current weather conditions
According to whiskey expert, scotch may have the following tastes:
How to Properly Taste Scotch
There are five steps you should do to help you determine what does scotch taste like.
Step 1: Pick Your Scotch
There are many excellent brands of scotch that you can try, and it might be hard to choose if you’re a beginner. First, you have to pick if you want a single malt whiskey or a blended one.
Single malt whiskey means that the scotch was only created by one distillery and finishes the whole process on its premises while utilizing 100% malted barley.
Blended whiskey doesn’t obey the same rules and maybe a mixture of single malt and grain whiskey. This type of whiskey is cheaper because it has a faster maturation process.
However, according to some whiskey experts, single malt has a better flavor. But this depends on your preference. Blended whiskey also has more complex tastes to offer.
Later in this article, you’ll find the list of the best scotch brands and a flavor guide. And from there, you can select which ones you want to try.
Step 2: Have a Good Look
Take your time and look at the whiskey. Swirl the liquor around. Try to identify if the scotch is oily and viscous or delicate and light. Next, check its color profile. You’ll actually know a lot about scotch based on its color.
By checking the whiskey’s color, you will identify the cask used for it. If the liquor has a pale straw-like color, an American barrel was used for its maturation. But if the scotch has a dark copper color, then a European cask was probably used for it.
You can also check the “legs” of the whiskey. As you swirl your scotch around the glass, you'll notice streaks running down the side. The legs of a well-aged whiskey with a high alcohol level are more distinct.
Step 3: Check the Aroma
After considering the construction and look of the scotch, you should then take note of its scent. Swirl the liquid around to loosen it.
Tilt your whiskey glass for about 45 degrees. Bring it down to about 2 inches from your nose, just below your mouth. Inhale via your nose and mouth.
Do not inhale the aroma directly from your nose because the scent might be too strong for you. Start with your mouth and at a comfortable distance away.
As the vapors of the alcohol give way to the complex scent of the spirit, softly move your nose from the upper part of the glass to its bottom, repeating more aggressively.
You can then start identifying the whiskey's flavor profiles here. Is it a robust and obnoxious scent? Or is it a more delicate, lighter profile?
Step 4: Taste the Scotch
After savoring the aroma of the scotch, it’s time to taste it. To begin, lighten the liquor by taking a modest drink. Allow it to remain in your mouth. Roll the whiskey around your tongue to tease your taste buds.
Try to figure out how it makes you feel. Is the mouthfeel viscous or lighter? As your palette adjusts to the complexity of the whiskey's spirit, the authentic taste of the dram will begin to emerge on the second sip. Try to get a sense of the full flavor.
Step 5: Try to Explore Further
Experiment with the taste of whiskey by adding a drop of spring water. Allow your scotch to settle by letting it stand for a while.
Take another sip of your drink but do not swallow it. Swirl the scotch around in your tongue to help your palate recognize the flavors. You can also inhale the new scent into your nose.
When you swallow the whiskey, you will then notice the aftertaste. As you get through the dram, consider adding a little water.
Check if the whiskey’s character changes. What does scotch taste like? Did a slight dilution alter its taste?
Addition of Water or Ice
Whiskey enthusiasts often debate about adding ice or water to the drink. But you may choose to put tiny drops of water to savor the scotch and experience the full depth of the liquor’s essence.
Use a Scotch Taste Chart
You may also use a scotch taste chart to help you describe the scent and flavor of your favorite whiskey. Another piece of advice is to seek help from experts if you are having a hard time explaining your drink or perfecting the use of the taste chart.
25 Best Scotch Whiskey Brands & How They Taste
This distillery located on the Isle of Islay has perfected the art of single malt scotch. Its 16-year statement is nothing short of legendary and is considered one of the world's best whiskies, especially if you like peat.
Lagavulin was said to be the most powerful, smokey, and rich of all. It produces palpable layers of sweet and aromatic smoke, similar to refined molasses dissolving over a bonfire.
Lagavulin scotch whisky is more than just a good brand; it will reawaken your taste buds.
2. Ardbeg Scotch Whisky (10-Year Old)
Scotch seems to be really outstanding in Islay because this whiskey also came from that island. Ardbeg is annually voted as the "World Whiskey of the Year," signifying how fantastic this single malt scotch whiskey is.
Because of the combination of Islay’s lush soil, soft water, and numerous peat, this scotch gained the smoky flavor that made it a favorite among various whiskey drinkers.
This 10-year aged whiskey has a rich and smokey body, with notes of coffee, licorice, and tobacco.
Aberfeldy or “Golden Dram” is famous for its malt whiskey combined with Dewar’s blend, but their single malts are well-known too.
There are 12, 16, and 21-year-old versions of their whiskey, and they all have spicy and rich honey flavors with hints of fruit and vanilla.
Aberfeldy also released 18 and 20-year-old varieties, which are expensive but worth the price.
Islay shines in the whiskey industry because here is another top-notch product from their island. Laphroaig was built a year before Lagavulin, but it is more versatile than the latter.
To stay relevant, Laphroaig always has new releases and yearly collaborations. Its well-known variety is its 10-year, which defines the brand.
Laphroaig’s whiskey taste is also smoky, but there are notes of iodine and chocolate-covered espresso beans, making it extremely unique.
This whiskey was named in honor of Scotland’s National Poet, Robert Burns. The production of this scotch used water from Loch na Davie and was distilled on the island of Arran.
This best-selling scotch will expose you to tastes of fruits, honey, and toffee-glazed pecans. This single malt whiskey is easy to consume and can be enjoyed neat or on the rocks.
This whiskey is considered by many as David Stewart’s (The Balvenie Malt Master) best creation. It was created by blending rare Balvenie, which is then transferred to pipes or port casks.
The Balvenie Malt Master samples the liquor regularly to ensure that the port casks give just the exemplary character, enriching and developing the single malt while keeping its unique traits.
This scotch from the Speyside region offers refined and remarkable traits. Balvenie is silky and creamy with hints of honey, fruit, and spice. It also has a fruity aroma with ripe raisin and dryness notes in a long, gentle, and nutty finish.
You can’t walk away from this top-notch whiskey blended from the Highland and Speyside regions. It is called the “Celebration Blend” because Master Blender Jim Beveridge made it for special occasions with his closest friends.
The Clynelish Single Malt was included in the mixture, and its distillery used water from the hills where gold was once found. The Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve is as opulent and decadent as its name implies.
This scotch is known for its smooth finish with notes of delicate nectar and inherent smokiness. It also has hints of spice, maple syrup, and creamy vanilla.
Like Islay, Speyside also excels due to the best whiskies they create, and The Macallan is no exception.
This single malt whiskey was matured in handpicked sherry oak cask from Jerez to develop richness and complexity. A light mahogany natural color complements the full-bodied palate of ginger, aged oak, and raisin flavors.
You will savor the aroma of ginger and dried fruits with notes of cinnamon and vanilla and an orange zest finish.
9. The GlenDronach Parliament Scotch (21-Year Old)
Like The Macallan, The GlenDronach specializes in maturation using sherry oak casks, but their finished product is entirely different.
Unlike other smokey whiskies on this list, this scotch is sweet, ripe, and rich with hints of sulfur. Its scent will also remind you of mulch and some woodsmoke.
Enjoy its soft and long palate with hints of treacle toffee, tomato puree, and gravy browning. You will also appreciate its cherry, coffee, dark chocolate, earth, and walnut characters, as well as its long and firm finish.
Ballantine's Finest comprises more than 50 single malts, especially Glenburgie and Miltonduff, and 4 single grain whiskies.
This scotch is a smooth, deliciously modern mix gaining traction in international markets thanks to new owners, Chivas Brothers.
This whiskey from Dumbarton offers well-blended mild flavors with tones of vanilla, milk chocolate, and red apple. Relish in its soft, elegant honey aroma with spice notes and linger in its sophisticated finish with a floral, fresh, and rounded glow.
11. Kilchoman Sanaig Scotch Whisky
As previously mentioned, there are many great distilleries in Islay, and Kilchoman is the newest addition. However, this newcomer does not disappoint.
The brand ensures quality in every stage of production, from barley to bottle. And that’s probably why they churn out terrific whiskeys in a short amount of time.
One of the company’s remarkable products is Kilchoman Sanaig, which boasts a fruity and earthy peat flavor with a hint of dark chocolate-covered raisins and red berries.
Its aroma will remind you of pineapples and white grapes with notes of fresh coffee, spicy peat, toffee cubes, and a long, coastal peat finish.
12. Glenlivet Single Malt Scotch Whisky (12-Year Old)
This top scotch brand also hails from the Speyside region. However, its distillery is located underground to avoid the eyes of the British government when it started to tax the Scottish distilleries.
At present, their underground distillery where the magic happens remains strong. One of their best-selling products, the Glenlivet 12-Year Old, provides a soft mouthfeel with refined lemon and orange notes. They also added toffee and vanilla flavors to provide richness, thus creating a well-balanced and refreshing character.
Bask in this scotch whiskey’s glassy and floral scent with a touch of perfume. The tasting experience is more enhanced with grapefruit and lemon blended with hints of hazelnut and almond.
Glenmorangie The Original sets the bar high for Highland whiskey since it’s the most well-known single malt in Scotland for more than 30 years.
This whiskey is used as a base for various cask finishing, resulting in rich variants such as the Glenmorangie Lasanta and Quinta Ruban.
This scotch’s aroma will make you feel like you are in a garden with lemons and apricots with a touch of vanilla and toffee.
Indulge in its banana bread, honey, and malt flavors balanced with sweet spices. Enjoy its whistle-clean finish, wherein the honeyed fruit disappears slowly.
Chivas Regal is known for blending local Speyside malts with quality aged whiskies, perfecting the art that made them one of the best.
This 12-year old scotch offers a rich and fruity flavor bursting with smooth and ripe honeyed apples with hazelnut, vanilla, and butterscotch hints.
Enjoy its aromatic infusion of heather, wild herbs, and orchard fruits and relish in its generous and lingering finish.
Caol Ila is another Islay beauty that is perfect for peat lovers worldwide. Its smokiness is balanced by flavors of toffee, pear, and vanilla.
This best scotch brand boasts an intense and rich aroma with gentle floral touches. Caol Ila’s finish is described as two lovers that departed where the sweetness has faded into the dark.
16. Bowmore Single Malt Scotch Whisky (15-Year Old)
From the owners of Laphroaig, here comes another fantastic scotch brand that creates a different kind of whiskey.
This 15-year old single malt is matured for 3 years using Oloroso sherry casks, causing its rich sweetness balanced with peaty elements.
This Bowmore variant is dark and punchy to the nose with notes of Sherry, raisins, and different spices. It will also remind you of sweet dates and creamy mochaccino.
Besides being smoky, this whiskey is rich and woody with malt, syrup, and creamy toffee notes. Linger in its diverse spicy, sherry, and barley finish.
Oban is a small distillery in the Highlands, but it has been producing top-notch whiskey since 1794. Its 21-Year Cask Strength is truly remarkable, but Oban is more popular for its 14-Year Old variant.
Infuse your nose with its rich, sweet, fruity scent that will remind you of lemons, oranges, and pears, with a dash of sea salt and smoky peat.
Fill your mouth with the tastes of honey-sweet spices and dried figs with malty dryness. The Oban scotch also has a long and smooth-sweet finish with a touch of oak wood.
18. Springbank Scotch Whisky (10-Year Old)
Springbank is the oldest independent distillery in Scotland and is one of the last few brands standing in Campbeltown.
Springbank is a family-owned company that performs 100% of its manufacturing (such as malting, aging, bottling, etc.) on-site. The brand is well-known for its 10-year old scotch distilled 2 ½ times and lightly peated, giving it a fantastic range of flavors.
This whiskey’s taste is something that you will crave because of its full sweet and creamy palate mixed with flavors of smoke and cigar boxes.
It also has unique aromas of guava, exotic spices, heather honey, oak, and soft smoke. This single malt scotch has a smoky finish that trails off on toasted barley and sweet cider.
William Grant's Monkey Shoulder Scotch is a fantastic blended malt whiskey crafted with single malts from three renowned Speyside producers.
The result is a smooth, creamy, berry, supple, and malty whiskey with barley, honey, cloves, toast, and apricot flavors.
Enjoy its sweet aroma of Crema Catalana, vanilla, and marmalade, with a touch of cocoa and malt and sprinkles of winter spices and aniseeds.
It also has a medium-length finish of spicy oak with hints of peppermint. This scotch is excellent straight up, over ice, or as a base in whiskey cocktails.
20. Glen Moray Elgin Classic Scotch Whisky
Glen Moray is another terrific distillery that hails from the Speyside region. They have been producing quality single malts since 1897 and won’t be stopping this craft anytime soon.
This distillery is well-known for its Elgin Classic that imparts consistency and a sense of balance. It has a palate of oak, walnut, and grist mixed with citrus and lemon sponge.
Fill your nose with its light and fresh scent composed of nuts, flowers, fruits, and dried grass, and enjoy its tangy citrus and spicy fruitcake finish.
Let’s go back to Islay region with this brand of whiskey that was built in 1881. The distillery’s long history and legacy prove that it is one of the best in the industry.
Bunnahabhain 12-Year Old is their top scotch variant that offers flavors of vanilla, wood, and smoke that are syrupy in texture. The addition of water brought out sweet, creamy vanilla, wood perfume, and sticky glacé cherry.
Its scent will take you to a briny and earthy forest, surrounded by apple and orange trees, with hints of camphor, sea salt, and salted caramel. Relish in its dry with a woody spice finish.
22. Glenfiddich Scotch Whisky (12-Year Old)
The Glenfiddich Scotch Whisky is considered one of the best-selling malts in the world because of its consistency and reliability. It is also light and easy to drink, making it a favorite among millions of whiskey enthusiasts.
It offers sweet and fruity notes that develop into cream, malt, butterscotch, and oak flavors. It also has a fresh and fruity aroma with hints of pears.
This delightfully crafted and delicately balanced scotch provides a long, smooth, and mellow finish.
Talisker is a whiskey brand that shines on its own due to its quality products that won multiple awards.
The distillery is famous for its 10-year old scotch that boasts rich dried-fruit sweetness with intense smoke and barley-malt flavors. At the back of your mouth, you’ll experience an explosion of pepper.
Prepare to be punched by its powerful aroma of peat-smoke with seawater salt, fresh oysters, and citrus sweetness. Take pleasure in its peppery and warming finish with a pleasing sweetness.
Jura produces whiskies that are entirely different from those created by other distilleries. Their bottle is also uniquely shaped to withstand the rough journey from their island of Jura.
This scotch is produced in extremely tall stills and aged up to 10 years in ex-bourbon barrels made from American White Oak. Meanwhile, the best-aged oloroso sherry casks from Jerez adds the finishing touch.
Enjoy the scotch taste ranging from coffee, ginger, nectarines, and toasted almonds. And savor Jura’s aroma of orange, vanilla, black pepper, and dark chocolate.
25. Bladnoch Lowland Single Malt Scotch (10-Year Old)
Bladnoch is considered a hidden gem that you can find in the Lowlands. It is one of the last two remaining distilleries there, and they are at risk of redevelopment. Despite that, we hope that they will still stay strong and continue making top whiskey products.
Their 10-year old single malt scotch is a cut above the rest for its orange and chocolate chip cookie flavors with pepper and clove notes underneath.
Fill your nose with its scent, consisting of toasted barley, fennel, and honey. And enjoy its cinnamon rolls with ginger snaps finish.
Top Scotch Whisky Brands Flavor Guide
Here is a simple flavor map of the most famous scotch whisky brands, so you can quickly understand the tasting profile for each one. Read How To Use A Whiskey Taste Chart to help you identify the flavor and aroma groups more precisely.
Scotch is created using three main ingredients: water, malted barley, and yeast. And this liquor’s flavors vary depending on many factors.
To know what does scotch taste like, inspect its color, smell, and mouthfeel. You can also use a scotch taste chart to make it easier to identify.
What is your favorite brand of scotch? What does it taste like? Let us know in the comment section below.