February 8 is International Scotch Day, yet another ridiculous boozy holiday that gives us an excuse to ponder, read about, and (duh) drink some very good scotch.
Whether it’s blended (still the best selling whisky to come out of Scotland) or single malt, scotch remains very popular throughout the world. Even the oldest, most well-established distilleries keep putting out new expressions to complement their classic core ranges of bottles that have been satisfying the masses for decades.
So here’s a list of ten essential bottles to drink this Friday, and all year long, from standards to new riffs to some very special releases.
Johnnie Walker Blue Label
The difference between Johnnie Walker Black and Johnnie Walker Blue is like the difference between basic economy and business class. You may have gotten used to the former, but once you’ve experienced the latter it’s kind of hard to go back.
This is the top of the Johnnie Walker line, said to be a blend of Diageo’s “rarest whiskies.” That’s a bit of a nebulous description, but this blended malt is excellent, with a bit of smoke, a dollop of sweet, and an extremely easy finish that makes this a sipping whisky that can stand with the best single malts. $225
Laphroaig 10 Year Old
Laphroaig is one of the best-known peated scotches from Islay, and it’s one that you can find at almost any bar or liquor store. There’s good reason for this—the 10-year-old classic is a divisive single malt instigator.
Those who love it will ride and die for this smoky, medicinal, nearly metallic dram, while others gag at the faintest whiff. Laphroaig has been known to convert many to the peated side, but sometimes it takes a little practice to truly appreciate a bold whisky like this. $70
The Macallan 18 Sherry Oak
The Macallan has so many expressions in its various ranges, all of which focus on the sherry-seasoned oak in which the distillery matures its whisky. There are some really expensive, ultra-aged releases like the new 72 and 52-year-olds, but the relatively more affordable 18 is one of the best in the catalogue.
Try it side-by-side with the 12, and you’ll see for yourself – those extra six years give it a warmth, spice and extra infusion of oak that really bring this whisky to life. $320
The Glenlivet 12 YO First Fill
The Glenlivet and Glenfiddich are two Speyside distilleries that always seem to be neck and neck in terms of popularity, so the pressure is on to innovate and come up with new releases.
The 12 YO First Fill was previously available as a travel retail bottle, but now this whisky aged in first fill ex-bourbon casks can be found in limited release in the U.S. Expect a slightly richer flavor than the regular Glenlivet 12. $50
Glenfiddich 21 Year Old
The Glenfiddich distillery has been undergoing a huge expansion to keep up with the demand for its whisky, which the folks at the distillery like to call “the most awarded” in the world.
The pinnacle of the core range is the 21-year-old, which retains the signature apple and pear notes of the 12 while gaining a sweet, intense richness from a finishing period in Caribbean rum casks. $180
At Craigellachie, you’ll hear the nickname “bad boy of Speyside” thrown around a lot, something the distillery takes great pride in.
Bad boy, good boy, or something in between, this relatively new single malt (it was introduced in 2014) is fruity, appealingly oily, and has a nice orange undercurrent that brightens up this tasty sipper. $150
Glenmorangie is another distillery that seems to release a huge variety of different expressions, with at least several coming out very year.
The latest is Allta, the tenth release in the Private Edition series. The hook for this new whisky is that it was created using wild yeast to ferment barley grown at the distillery. The result is a lightly colored liquid full of honey, spice, and sauna wood flavors. $100
The Glenrothes Whisky Maker’s Cut
If you like The Macallan, you’ll definitely enjoy The Glenrothes (both are owned by the Scottish company Edrington). The Glenrothes whisky is predominantly aged in sherry-seasoned casks from Spain, just like The Macallan.
The distillate is a bit thinner, but it has its own special set of very enjoyable characteristics. Whisky Maker’s Cut, which was launched last fall, is a no age statement whisky aged in first fill sherry casks that is sweet and fruity. $75
Highland Park The Light and The Dark
Highland Park explored opposite sides of the spectrum with these two releases over the last couple of years. The Light is a 17-year-old special release matured in refill American oak, meant to evoke summer with notes of smoke, vanilla, and sweet pear.
The Dark, on the other hand, is a wintry dram that spent its time in first fill sherry-seasoned European oak resulting in notes of dried cherry, fig, and a wisp of smoke. $300 each
Ardbeg Twenty Something 22 Year Old
The third release in Ardbeg’s Twenty Something series is this 22-year-old whisky, matured in ex-bourbon casks, that was distilled at a time when the future of the distillery was uncertain.
This time capsule of a dram has notes of mango and papaya, and of course a thick but not overpowering layer of smoke that coats your tongue and nose as you drink. $550