The world of whisky can be quite intimidating for newcomers. With thousands of different whiskies available, it’s tricky to know where to begin. Sometimes it’s easiest to start in one place, so to help you along your journey, let’s begin with scotch whisky.
When we’re talking about scotch, we’re just talking about whisky that’s made in Scotland. That’s it. There are some legal requirements that come along with that, such as a minimum three-year barrel aging process, but we don’t need to get that nerdy right now.
Before we dive into what I think are the best entry-level scotches every beginner should try, there are a few things that might help you feel a little more comfortable in the land of brown liquor.
- If you are keen to try it neat, treat your first sip like a sip of really hot coffee. You’re drinking straight spirits, you don’t have to gulp it down. If neat’s a bit much in the beginning, start off with some ice and go from there.
- Try getting a few different bottles so you can compare them next to each other. This will help you to pick out and understand differences in flavour, particularly when comparing different types of whisky.
- Check out this video. It’ll help with some of the common terms, like single malt.
Ok, onto the scotches.
A light and friendly blended malt scotch that’s great neat, on the rocks or in a cocktail. In fact, you’ll usually see a bottle behind most bars.
Its price is also on the friendlier side, which makes it a great entry point for anyone new to scotch or whisky in general. On the palate, you’ll get notes like vanilla, butterscotch and buttered toast. Vintage Cellars currently has Monkey Shoulder for $55.
In my opinion, Glenfiddich 12 is one of the best bang-for-your-buck single malts you can get. At $73, it’s great value for a 12-year-old scotch.
This drop comes from the Speyside region of Scotland and is a great example of the flavours typical of the area. For me, it’s green apples, butterscotch and oak on the palate. It’s by no means a challenge to drink neat, which makes a great and affordable beginner’s single malt.
A delicious and friendly single malt from the Highland region that many consider a great entry point for scotch beginners. Generally around the $80 mark, you can get a bottle from First Choice Liquor now for $68.
Glenmorangie 10 is a great dram both neat or on the rocks, with notes of orange, vanilla and toffee on the palate. Aged for 10 years in bourbon barrels, it’s a particularly great starting point for those more familiar with American whiskey.
Matured in oak and sherry casks, Aberlour 12 is a good intro to the flavours sherry casks can often bring out. You might see it labelled as Highland or Speyside, both of which are technically correct given Speyside is a smaller region located within the Highlands.
You can usually find this scotch for less than $100, but generally more than $80, making it one for the beginner who’s ready to start venturing into more complex territories. On the palate, you’re likely to get honey, pear, sherry, orange peel and some spice notes.
Highland Park 10 is, as the name very clearly suggests, a Highland whisky. What makes this Viking-themed delight great for beginners is that it’s slightly peated, which results in a light smokey flavour. Peat is compacted vegetation that distilleries burn to dry out their malted barley, with the smokey flavour carrying all the way through the distillation and aging process.
If you’re not sure whether smokey scotches are for you, Highland Park 10 is a good primer for the heavily peated stuff. It’s not overly smokey and still has some lighter, fruitier notes on the palate. You can get a bottle from First Choice Liquor for $80.
Speaking of smokey, we couldn’t finish the list without venturing to the Islay region of Scotland, an island off the west coast of the country containing nine active distilleries, most of which are known for producing heavily peated whiskies.
If you think smokey flavours might be your go-to for scotch, Ardbeg 10 is one of the most accessible. It has an earthy, smokey flavour with hints of citrus and toffee. Liquorland currently have it on sale for $89.