Spirits & Liqueurs Scotch

The 14 Best Single Malt Scotch Whiskies to Drink in 2023

Our top pick is the Aberlour 16 Year Old.

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Best Single Malt Scotch Whiskies

Liquor / Chloe Jeong

Many scotch enthusiasts may discover that they're well into their journey of appreciation before they ever actually learn what the phrase "single malt" even means. To be considered a single malt scotch, the whisky must be distilled from a mash bill of 100 percent malted barley at one distillery and aged for a minimum of three years in wooden casks. Distillers are then allowed to get as creative as they’d like, from experimenting with the number of distillations to using a variety of cask finishes.

There are more than 120 distilleries in Scotland making single malt whisky—much of which is ultimately destined to be used as a component in blended whiskies, but some of which is bottled as an individual expression of the particular distillery's character.

Aberlour 16 Year Old is our top pick because the whisky marries during the sweet spot of maturation and creates a balanced flavor of rich oak, sweet vanilla, ripe fruits, and spices.

With a style out there for everyone, here are the best single malt scotch whiskies available in a range of categories.

Best Overall

Aberlour 16 Year Old Scotch Whisky


Region: Speyside | ABV: 43% | Tasting Notes: Caramel, Oak, Spice

Aberlour is often overlooked by whisky drinkers here in the US, but undeservedly so. This Speyside distillery has an excellent lineup, with the 16-year-old landing right in the sweet spot of maturation between the 12 and 18, the other two age statement bottles in the range. The whisky is matured in both bourbon and sherry casks for 16 years before being married together and bottled. This provides it with the best of both worlds—a rich, oaky structure with some sweet vanilla notes from the lengthy time in bourbon barrels, and ripe fruits and spices from the sherry casks.

Best Under $100

Bruichladdich Scottish Barley, Classic Laddie

Bruichladdich Scottish Barley, Classic Laddie


Region: Islay | ABV: 50% | Tasting Notes: Green Apple, Brown Sugar, Grass

Bruichladdich is known for releasing some intensely smoky whisky, a signature flavor profile of the Islay region of Scotland. This includes the Port Charlotte and annual Octomore releases, which at times reaches some of the highest levels of peat in any whisky out there. But the core bottling is actually this lovely unpeated whisky.

The Classic Laddie is a non-age statement single malt that is light and full of notes of citrus, sweet malted barley, vanilla and honey. This is a good value at under $100, a great whisky to sip neat, and elevates a simple highball cocktail.

What Our Experts Say

“The team at Bruichladdich has been hard at work establishing themselves in the field, and this rare unpeated whisky from Islay absolutely brings some modern, forward-thinking, and transparency to the region." — Stephen Kurpinsky, U.S. brand ambassador for Mr. Black Cold Brew Coffee Liqueur

Best Under $50

The Glenlivet 12 Year Old

The Glenlivet 12 Year Old With Tumbler

 Courtesy of Reserve Bar

Region: Speyside | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Apple, Citrus, Vanilla

The Glenlivet’s 12-year-old expression is extremely popular, and for good reason. It’s priced affordably and has a really approachable palate, according to Chris Dempsey, bartender at Xaman in Dallas. “It’s not too peaty, and it’s really the best everyday drinking whisky for a great price,” he says.

The whisky was matured in a combination of American and European oak and is a good entry-level bottle for those who don’t want to spend too much but are looking for something with complexity of flavor.

Related: The Best Cheap Scotches to Drink

Best Value

Aberfeldy 12 Year Scotch Whisky

Aberfeldy 12 Year Scotch Whisky

Reserve Bar

Region: Highlands | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Vanilla, Almond, Baking Spice

This is a classic Highlands whisky and is an interesting look at one of the whiskies that makes up the much better-known Dewar’s White Label.

A major malt component of the Dewar’s blend comes from Aberfeldy, a distillery that has been around since the beginning of the 20th century. The 12-year-old expression is a great value single malt, usually available for somewhere between $30 and $40. For that relatively low price, the discerning drinker is rewarded with flavor-rich, syrupy notes of honey punctuated by bursts of vanilla and paired with a gentle spice undercurrent.

Best for Cocktails

Auchentoshan American Oak

Auchentoshen American Oak

Region: Lowlands | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Nuts, Pepper, Vanilla

While you might want to think twice about using that $300 bottle of 25-year-old whisky to whip up a Manhattan, there are single malt scotches that play beautifully in cocktails (and won't break the bank). One such whisky comes from Auchentoshan, a distillery located in the Lowlands just outside of Glasgow.

This triple-distilled whisky has an almost bourbon-like character, making it great to use in a Manhattan, Old Fashioned, Boulevardier, or any other whiskey cocktail you can think of.

What Our Experts Say

“Auchentoshan is one of the few Lowland distilleries making single malt. These whiskies are traditionally very light and grassy. The American Oak is matured in first-fill bourbon casks, giving it a vanilla fruity note. The grassy notes remain but under a lemon curd light citrusy and cream layer.” — Lynnette Marrero, co-founder of Speed Rack, bar director at Llama Inn

Best 12-Year-Old

Glendronach 12 Year Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Glendronach 12 Year Single Malt Scotch Whisky


Region: Highlands | ABV: 43% | Tasting Notes: Raisin, Caramel, Cinnamon

Twelve years is the benchmark for many distilleries, most of which have an entry-level whisky aged for this amount of time. There are so many to choose from, but one of the best comes from The GlenDronach. This distillery is located in the Highlands and focuses on sherry-cask matured whisky.

“This is absolutely one of my favorite 12-year aged Scottish whiskies,” said Kurpinsky. “Unlike some of the larger houses, this stuff is full of flavor, and not watered down to the legal minimum. The hook for me is its time in both Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez sherry casks, creating a complex, incredibly enjoyable whisky with a burst of flavor notes such as dark fruits, raisins, chocolate, butter, baking spice and orange peels.” It’s also non-chill filtered and has no added color, as the whisky picks up its dark golden hue from the casks alone.

Related: The Best Whiskeys

Best 18-Year-Old

Highland Park 18 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Highland Park 18 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Region: Islands | ABV: 43% | Tasting Notes: Espresso, Prune, Smoke

Taking great pride in its Viking roots, Highland Park is situated in Orkney, a group of scarcely populated islands in the far north of Scotland. There are many whiskies included in their lineup, but the 18-year-old is one of the best for its age, which fills the gap between the entry-level 10-year-old and the luxury 21-year-old.

What Our Experts Say

“It’s super luxurious, smooth and well-balanced with smokey honey, wood, fruit notes and toffee. You can’t get a better whisky in this range.” — Kenneth McCoy, chief creative officer at The Rum House in New York

Best 25-Year-Old

The Macallan 25 Year Old Sherry Oak Single Malt Scotch Whisky

The Macallan Sherry Oak 25 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky


Region: Speyside | ABV: 43% | Tasting Notes: Sherry, Cinnamon, Vanilla

The Macallan is a sherry cask single malt favorite, with a wide range of bottles aged in hand-selected sherry-seasoned oak from Jerez, Spain. Though it can be quite expensive, the 25-year-old is an excellent example of how good a whisky can taste when matured for nearly three decades. Sometimes that long duration in a barrel can alter the liquid’s flavor in ways that aren't always favorable, but not in this case.

Rich notes of chocolate, spice, cherry syrup and ripened fig abound in every sip of this luxury single malt scotch.

Best Peated

Ardbeg Wee Beastie Single Malt Whisky


Courtesy of Caskers

Region: Islay | ABV: 54.2% | Tasting Notes: Peat, Spice, Oak

“If you like peated whisky, this is one of the best out there for sure,” says Kurpinsky. Ardbeg is something of an Islay cult favorite, particularly appealing to true lovers of smoky whisky. The flavor of this Scotch comes from burning peat to dry out the barley and stop the malting process, which infuses the grain with smoke. “This bottling, named after a local loch, has all the maritime salinity you come to expect from the distillery literally on the water, but also has one of the most satisfying finishes in Islay,” adds Kurpinsky. “You'll get plenty of smoke, dried fruits, fresh coffee, dark sugars and that bit of sea salt."

Related: The Best Peaty Scotches for Smoky Scotch Lovers

Best Splurge

Lagavulin 16 Year Scotch

Lagavulin 16-Year-Old Single Malt

Region: Islay | ABV: 43% | Tasting Notes: Vanilla, Black Tea, Smoke

McCoy is a big fan of Lagavulin, an Islay distillery that produces some nicely peated scotch. The 16-year-old expression, aged in second-fill ex-bourbon barrels, might be a little pricey, but it’s well worth the splurge. “[It's] one of my all-time favorites from Islay,” says McCoy. “Big peat smoke, spice, sherry and notes of soft wood and black tea—delicious all by itself (no ice) while you're unwinding next to the fire.”        

Best Rum Cask Finish

Balvenie 14 Year Old Caribbean Cask

Balvenie 14 Year Old Caribbean Cask


Region: Speyside | ABV: 43% | Tasting Notes: Brown Sugar, Caramel, Spice

Finishing whisky in a rum cask might not be as popular as sherry or wine casks within the single malt scotch category, but there are some benefits. A rum barrel brings new flavors to the mix, like banana, brown sugar and cocoa. The Balvenie’s Caribbean Cask 14-Year-Old Scotch is a stellar example. “Everything about this whisky draws you in,” says Otsuji. “The ex-rum barrel finish creates a sense of richness in the flavors, like toffee or caramel, toasted oak, or perhaps a bit of honey on fresh papaya; but rather than expressing itself as a sugary taste, it comes through as a luxurious textural element.”

Best Port Cask Finish

The Dalmore Port Wood Reserve

The Dalmore Port Wood Reserve

Region: Highlands | ABV: 46.5% | Tasting Notes: Berry, Mocha, Ginger

Many scotch distilleries finish their whiskies in port pipes—huge wooden vessels that previously held port, and named for the Portuguese word "pipa," or cask—which provides a different way to enhance the flavor of a whisky. The Dalmore’s already intensely fruity and complex single malt offers striking notes of ripe plum, cherry and dried apricot in the Port Wood Reserve expression. This non-age statement whisky is initially aged in bourbon barrels before being finished in Tawny Port pipes from W & J Graham's winery in Portugal—exemplifying why port wood is a preferred cask finish. 

Related: The Best Whiskey Glasses, According to Experts

Best No-Age Statement

Glenmorangie Signet Single Malt Whisky

Glenmorangie Signet Single Malt Whisky


Region: Highlands | ABV: 46% | Tasting Notes: Espresso, Tobacco, Orange

Glenmorangie offers a wide selection of whiskies, from the 10-year-old core expression to some incredibly expensive vintages. Although the Signet single malt does not bear an age statement, it does not need one (and as expert whiskey drinkers know, age is not necessarily an indicator of quality).

According to the distillery, roasted chocolate barley malt is used in the mash bill, and the spirit is aged in “designer” casks. “I love coffee and chocolate notes in both spirits and cocktails so this one sings to me,” says Meaghan Dorman, bar director at Dear Irving on Hudson. “Velvety and sophisticated—this is a unique spirit, worth the investment.”

Best Entry-Level

Glenfiddich 12 Year Old

Glenfiddich 12 YO

courtesy of Glenfiddich

Region: Highlands | ABV: 46% | Tasting Notes: Espresso, Tobacco, Orange

This 12-year-old expression from Glenfiddich, one of the biggest names in scotch whisky, is both affordable and readily accessible. Distinctive notes of pear and green apple define this classic whisky, which has been matured in bourbon and sherry casks before being married together in a large tun. This approachable whisky is perfect for any novice to the category, as it also works well in cocktails.

“As a neat pour or on the rocks, there's plenty of barrel to appreciate, but the pomaceous fruit notes sit well with gentle, earthy spices, and there's plenty of room in its long, creamy finish to add in tart, astringent or bitter elements,” says Otsuji. “Don't believe me? Try using the Glenfiddich 12-year in your Moscow Mule or Jungle Bird, and see for yourself.”

Final Verdict

The best overall single malt scotch, in a very competitive field, is Aberlour 16. This whisky combines the best flavors of bourbon and sherry cask maturation and provides the best complexity of flavor and palate for its price range.


What is single malt scotch?

Single malt scotch is defined as whisky that is made in Scotland at one distillery from a mash bill of 100 percent malted barley. It must be aged for a minimum of three years in oak barrels.

How is it made?

Barley grains are malted (germinated) and then dried to stop the process—sometimes using peat as a heat source to infuse the grain with a smoky flavor. The barley is then milled and combined with water and cooked to release the sugars. Yeast is then added to the liquid, now called wash, and it is put into large vessels to ferment. Next, the wash is distilled in pot stills at least twice, which heats the alcohol and turns it into vapor. This vapor is captured and cooled so it returns to a liquid form with an increasingly higher ABV. Finally, the new make spirit is put into oak barrels and stored in warehouses for a minimum of three years, but usually much longer than that. The whisky is then cut with water (unless it’s bottled at cask strength) before bottling. Sometimes caramel color is added to maintain consistency.

What's the best way to serve it?

There’s really no wrong way to drink whisky—but experts recommend trying it neat first, perhaps with a few drops of water to open up the palate. After that, go ahead and add ice if you like, or even use it in a cocktail if you prefer.

Why Trust Liquor.com?

This roundup was edited by Jesse Porter, who finds that keeping a bottle of scotch on his desk next to his computer helps improve his overall workflow and thus writes it off monthly as a business expense.

Jonah Flicker is an experienced writer who has been covering spirits and traveling the world visiting distilleries to taste and discover for years. His work has appeared in many different national outlets covering trends, new releases, and the stories and innovators behind the spirits. His first love remains whiskey, but he is partial to tequila, rum, gin, cognac, and all things distilled.

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