For the past 180 years, The Dalmore has been reimagining what it takes to create exceptional single malt whisky. Specially selected rare casks from the world’s finest bodegas and wineries are prized, as they’re used to age the distillery’s whiskies. The Dalmore 12, for instance, is aged for the first nine years in American white oak ex-bourbon casks, before half is transferred to rare ex-oloroso sherry casks for the final three years.
Scotland certainly takes its whisky production seriously – with around one distillery for every 40,000 inhabitants and more than 120 distilleries producing varying styles, the claim that it is the home of whisky is, indeed, a credible one.
While Caledonia’s most famous export can seem intimidating at first, with a good deal of specialist language used along with tastes that vary wildly by region, it’s also worth noting that Scotland produces some of the best whisky the world has to offer.
Since 1823, when the distilling of whisky was sanctioned in return for a £10 licence fee and set payment per gallon of spirit, which made production more affordable, Scotch whisky has become popular all over the world. Famous names such as James Buchanan, Johnnie Walker and James Chivas took whisky out of Scotland for the first time, introducing the spirit to the British empire, the US and far beyond.
Export markets built the foundation for scotch whisky’s success, with the spirit now heavily protected to ensure quality. By law, scotch whisky must be distilled and matured in Scotland, aged in oak casks for at least three years and bottled at a minimum alcohol strength of 40 per cent ABV. Different varieties are available, with single malt whisky and blended whisky being among the most popular.
To be considered single malt whisky, the spirit has to be produced by a single distillery, using a single malted grain – typically barley. Contrary to common belief, however, single malt whisky doesn’t have to come from a single barrel or batch. Instead, most are blends of various barrel-aged whiskies produced at one distillery. This allows distillers to produce whiskies with consistency, while single-batch or single-barrel whiskies are usually reserved as special releases.
In addition to whisky production styles, regional differences contribute to differences in taste, as does the use of peat to smoke the malt. From north to south, these are the best Scotch single malt whiskies to upgrade your home bar – they’re best sipped neat or with just a splash of water to open up the aromas and flavours.
How we tested
We provisionally tasted these Scottish single malt whiskies on their own, without ice, and from identical tasting glasses, using a blind-tasting method, to avoid any bias. Each featured in a round of two, which were ranked before we knew which glass contained which whisky. The best whisky in each “round” was then tasted again (also blind) to determine the overall best Scottish single malt whisky.
The best Scottish single malt whiskies for 2023 are:
- Best overall – The Dalmore 12-year-old single malt whisky:£57.99, Virginwines.co.uk
- Best aged single malt whisky – The Octave Caol Ila 2007 12-year-old whisky: £174.99, Thespiritsembassy.com
- Best for whisky collectors – Fettercairn 18-year-old whisky: £164.99, Thespiritsembassy.com
- Best budget single malt Scotch – Bunnahabhain 12-year-old single malt whisky Islay: £40, Waitrose.com
- Best organic single malt Scotch whisky – Nc’nean organic single malt Scotch whisky: £46.45, Spiritskiosk.com