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15 Underrated Scotch Whiskies You Need To Buy
The reasons a whisky might be underrated are diverse, extending beyond its deserving popularity. Beyond showcasing obscure yet delightful whiskies, this list aims to challenge perceptions by including popular expressions that some whisky enthusiasts may overlook. Whether featuring Scotches you've heard of but haven't tried or introducing completely new ones, the selection goes beyond conventional expectations. Shop scotch whisky!
Johnnie Walker Red Label
The renowned Red Label stands as the cornerstone of the Johnnie Walker collection, holding the title of the best-selling Scotch globally. Originating in 1860 when John "Johnnie" Walker began blending Whiskies in his Ayrshire, Scotland grocery shop, the brand gained widespread recognition during the Victorian Era, with Alexander, his son, exporting the Whisky across the British Empire. The iconic square-shaped bottle, tilted at a distinctive 24 degrees, now represents the most popular blended Whisky globally, with over 130 million bottles sold annually in nearly every country. Initially known as Extra Special Old Highland Whisky, the label adopted "Red Label" in 1909 as the brand expanded its blend varieties. Comprising a blend of thirty Single Malt and Grain Whiskies from all corners of Scotland, it remains a reliable and constant choice for Whisky enthusiasts worldwide, solidifying its status as the top-selling Scotch. Buy it now!
Monkey Shoulder, despite its whimsical name, doesn't involve actual monkeys sipping Scotch, much to the potential disappointment of enthusiasts envisioning a Scotch-drinking primate named Angus. The name originates from the stooped shoulders of men manually turning malt with large shovels in days past, a nod to their hardworking dedication. Owned by William Grant and Sons, known for their Highland presence, Monkey Shoulder stands alone as a unique product. In the realm of large spirit companies, premium single malts usually get individual branding, while the rest becomes part of blends for entry-level offerings. However, Monkey Shoulder breaks this mold, being a "Triple Malt" exclusively blending top-notch whiskies from Glenfiddich, Balvenie, and Kininvie distilleries—a Speyside Trifecta of consistently exceptional Highland quality, too refined to be considered anything less than a premium product. Buy it now!
Underrated whiskies often include those labeled as NAS, denoting "no age statement," indicating the undisclosed maturation period by the distillery. Despite the absence of a specified aging duration, Scotch regulations mandate a minimum of three years. Distilleries opt for NAS whiskies to avoid adhering to arbitrary age requirements, allowing them to bottle the spirit when deemed ready. Talisker Skye, a prime example, tends to be undervalued due to the common assumption that NAS whiskies are harsh and immature. Contrary to this notion, a sip of Talisker Skye reveals a rich sensory experience, featuring maritime influences, a sweet malt blend, subtle salinity, and smoke. The absence of an age statement doesn't diminish its quality, proving that a Scotch can excel without a specified age. Buy it now!
Lagavulin 8 Year Old
While some distilleries boast a range of expressions without a standout, Lagavulin distinguishes itself with the iconic Lagavulin 16-year, renowned for its remarkable taste at a relatively affordable price. The spotlight on the Lagavulin 16 can overshadow other expressions, notably the 8-year Scotch, a recent addition turned permanent release in celebration of the distillery's 200-year legacy. Despite the overshadowing, Lagavulin's 8-year presents a compelling profile, featuring the signature Lagavulin smoky and medicinal iodine notes on the nose, accompanied by subtle citrus zest. The palate offers complexity, introducing brine and vanilla, showcasing a youthful vibrancy viewed positively. With a longer finish than many whiskies of its age, Lagavulin's 8-year deserves recognition alongside its legendary 16-year counterpart. Buy it now!
Glenfiddich 12 Year Old
While some whisky enthusiasts might find it peculiar to include Glenfiddich 12 Year Old on a list of underrated whiskies due to its widespread popularity, it's precisely that ubiquity that can lead to its underappreciation as a fine Scotch. Similar to the phenomenon observed with popular songs and films, there's often a tendency to downplay the success of widely known entities. For those embarking on a whisky exploration, dismissing Glenfiddich 12 would be a mistake. It serves as a cornerstone, warranting acknowledgment for introducing numerous enthusiasts to the joys of a single malt. Exhibiting a fruitier profile with notes of pear, apple, and florals on the nose, the palate delivers sweetness, prominently featuring honey atop a foundation of malt and oak. With a well-balanced and approachable profile, Glenfiddich 12 Year Old satisfies both novices and seasoned whisky drinkers. Despite lacking the exclusivity of limited editions or the allure of older age statements, its enduring popularity underscores its deserving place in the whisky realm. Buy it now!
Bunnahabhain Stiùireadair might be overlooked, possibly due to its challenging Gaelic name pronunciation (Bunn-na-ha-venn stew-rahdur), but it's not its nomenclature that places it on the underrated list. Hailing from the renowned Islay island, known for peated whiskies like Lagavulin 8-year, Bunnahabhain stands out by avoiding the common peated taste associated with Islay malts. While this distinctiveness sets it apart, it can also lead to underappreciation, as Islay enthusiasts might overlook expressions lacking the typical peaty notes. This Scotch, characterized by brine, toffee, and subtle dried fruit aromas, offers a palate featuring a captivating blend of dark chocolate, sherry influence, and gentle smoke, resulting in a well-balanced and complex flavor profile. While hardcore enthusiasts value Bunnahabhain, it's crucial for those newer to Scotch not to miss out on the offerings of this fantastic distillery. Buy it now!
Tomatin 12 Year Old
While it's crucial not to automatically equate lesser-known with underrated, there's value in acknowledging whiskies that may not receive the attention they deserve. For those who have sampled an array of expressions, Tomatin 12-year emerges as a hidden gem, particularly well-suited. Hailing from the Highlands, this single malt offers an exquisite balance of flavors and a smoothly approachable character. The inviting nose presents a warm medley of orchard fruits, honey, and subtle malt, enticing enthusiasts into a delightful tasting experience. On the palate, a remarkable interplay of flavors unfolds, featuring the distinctive essence of ripe apples, harmonized with vanilla and spice, creating an impressive depth uncommon for a 12-year Scotch. Achieving a harmonious blend of youthful vibrancy and the sophistication of a mature whisky, Tomatin 12-year may not boast the widespread recognition of some other single malts, yet it stands as a meticulously crafted and hidden treasure for those who appreciate the finesse of a smooth Highland whisky. Buy it now!
Kilkerran 12 Year Old
Kilkerran, a relatively young distillery established in 2004, offers a unique and undiscovered perspective in the world of Scotch. While its age might keep it off the radar for many whisky enthusiasts, the Kilkerran 12-year expression stands out as one of its best releases. With a distinct nautical influence and a surprising amount of peat smoke, reminiscent of island whiskies, this Scotch hails from the Campbeltown region on the Scottish mainland's west coast. The palate delivers subtle brine, fruity notes, maltiness, and a lingering smokiness, showcasing the region's character. As one of only three distilleries in Campbeltown, Kilkerran 12-year is an excellent starting point for those looking to explore this lesser-known corner of the whisky world. Buy it now!
Dewar's 12 Year Old
Dewar's, renowned for its accessible blends, often leads its higher-aged whiskies, like Dewar's 12-year, to be overlooked. Contrary to expectations for this category, the 12-year presents an impressive balance and smoothness. A rarity among age-statement blends, it boasts enticing notes on the nose—vanilla, dried fruit, citrus, and a subtle oak touch—reflecting the complexity of its extended aging. These aromas carry through to the palate, accompanied by a warm spiciness and velvety mouthfeel, making Dewar's 12-year exceptional value for money and a notable advancement from its more famous White Label counterpart. Buy it now!
Clynelish 14 Year Old
Clynelish, often adored by seasoned enthusiasts, tends to be overlooked by those less familiar with Scotch. Despite its distinctive character, expressions from this distillery often fly under the radar without the widespread recognition they likely deserve. Clynelish whisky stands out notably in blind tastings, chiefly due to its characteristic waxy mouthfeel. The epitome of Clynelish excellence lies in its 14-year expression. Honey and citrus notes dominate the nose, while the palate features the unmistakable waxiness alongside a medley of orchard fruits, coastal saltiness, and a warming spiciness. Despite its rich and impressively deep profile, Clynelish's relative lack of popularity could stem from less aggressive marketing compared to other Diageo-owned distilleries. Regardless of the reason, the 14-year should not be overlooked by any whisky enthusiast. Buy it now!
Ardbeg Wee Beastie
Among the whiskies on this list, the Ardbeg Wee Beastie stands out as an exceptional value for money, offering an astonishing depth of flavor uncommon for such a youthful spirit. Despite its relative youth, this whisky carries an age statement of a minimum of 5 years, earning it the nickname "Wee Beastie." While it may lack the age statement of its older counterparts like the Ardbeg 10-year, the Wee Beastie distinguishes itself as a peat powerhouse deserving recognition for its captivating profile. The nose immediately greets you with bold smoke, accompanied by earthy notes and a hint of medicinal iodine. On the palate, its boldness intertwines with sweeter and brighter flavors such as vanilla and citrus. The finish, unexpectedly prolonged for a 5-year-old whisky, features a generous peppery note. Beyond its impressive qualities, the Wee Beastie serves as an excellent entry point for those venturing into the robust world of island whiskies. Buy it now!
Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban 14 Year Old
Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban 14-year earns its place on this list not for its popularity, but for its unique maturation process. While many whiskies mature in common casks, Quinta Ruban takes a distinctive journey, starting in bourbon casks before a transfer to Portuguese port casks. This port finishing, though potentially overlooked by those unfamiliar with the wine, imparts a remarkable complexity and richness to the whisky. The result is a luscious mouthfeel and a harmonious interplay of flavors, with notes of dark chocolate, cherries, red berries, toffee, and subtle spice. Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban showcases the art of cask finishing, making it a compelling choice for those curious about the impact of port on a superb Scotch. Buy it now!
Caol Ila 12 Year Old
Islay, a small island boasting nine active distilleries, is renowned for iconic peated profiles from distilleries like Ardbeg, Lagavulin, and Laphroaig. Amidst these well-known names, Caol Ila often finds itself underrated and overshadowed, despite its prime location on the Scottish coastline. The Caol Ila 12-year expression, however, demands recognition for its nuanced complexity and well-balanced profile. A delightful blend of smoke, citrus, and subtle saltiness greets the nose, reflecting its coastal influence. While earthy notes persist on the palate, they share space with sweeter tones like vanilla and a hint of fruits, offering a surprisingly approachable and sophisticated experience. Striking the perfect balance for those who appreciate peat but seek a more measured intensity, Caol Ila 12-Year deserves attention. Buy it now!
Laphroaig Quarter Cask
The Laphroaig Quarter Cask earns its place on this list due to a combination of unique maturation, overshadowing by the distillery's more famous 10-year bottle, and the absence of an age statement. Despite its niche appeal, this expression stands out as a distinctive and memorable whisky. Upon opening, the unmistakable aroma of Laphroaig's peat smoke, seaweed, and medicinal notes dominates the senses. Named after the smaller casks used for maturation, the "Quarter Cask" intensifies the interaction between whisky and wood, resulting in a rich and complex flavor profile highlighted by brine and vanilla, accompanied by a delightful interplay of sweet and savory notes. The enduring finish demonstrates that a profound character in Scotch can be achieved without an age statement. Bold and authentic, the Laphroaig Quarter Cask distinguishes itself from many other young expressions. Buy it now!
Inchmurrin 12 Year Old
The Loch Lomond Distillery, situated near Glasgow, is renowned for its craftsmanship, low-volume production, and distinctive distillation process. Among their offerings, Loch Lomond Whisky represents their standard Lowland Single Malt, while the Inchmurrin line stands as their premium range. Inchmurrin, named after a picturesque island in Loch Lomond, transcends the already excellent core lineup. Notably aged, refined, and exceptionally delicious, Inchmurrin 12 Year Old is crafted from the finest casks of Loch Lomond Spirit, undergoing a delicate balance of ex-Bourbon, in-house refill, and in-house re-charred casks. The unconventional casking approach, combined with the absence of chill-filtration and a precise 46% ABV bottling, imparts a unique complexity, consistency, and gentleness, setting Inchmurrin apart in the world of Scotch whisky. Buy it now!