Rediscovering a forgotten whisky can be like finding a lost love. Remember how delighted and dazzled you were by all those great drams when you first started exploring whisky? Those early block builders are often forgotten—eclipsed by the perpetual seduction of new discoveries. Our advice: Don’t always be so quick to move on. Take a moment to rediscover your whisky-loving roots, and find some time for the whiskies you forgot you love.
Single malt scotch
Glenfiddich 12 year old
89 points, 40%, $55
Launched in 1999, Glenfiddich sells around 10.5 million bottles of this 12 year old Speyside single malt every year. “The distillery process continues to be exactly the same as it was decades ago, with traditional mash tuns, wooden washbacks, and unusually small stills,” says Glenfiddich malt master Brian Kinsman. Matured in American and Spanish oak casks, this expression balances those distilling and maturation aspects beautifully. Aromas of fresh pear herald a palate of sweet vanilla, orchard fruits, spice, and subtle oak. “We marry every single drop in our oak marrying tuns prior to bottling, to ensure a consistent flavor with the characteristic fresh fruitiness that is created in the new distillate and nurtured during 12 years of maturation.”
The Glenlivet 12 year old
85 points, 40%, $48
Licensed in 1824, Glenlivet is an icon of Speyside’s fruity, floral whisky style, and Glenlivet 12 year old embodies that signature style completely. “Our classic single malt is matured using American and European oak casks, which impart notes of vanilla and give the whisky its distinctively smooth style,” says Glenlivet’s former master distiller Alan Winchester. “The delicate and complex character derives from the height and shape of the stills at Glenlivet Distillery.” With its recent Illicit Still and Licensed Dram releases from the Original Stories series, Glenlivet is exploring different versions of the 12 year old, which make a fascinating counterpoint to tasting the classic original.
87 points, 40%, $45
This delicate 10 year old Highland dram is distilled through copper pot stills that are notable as the tallest in Scotland, and help to create a bouquet of soft stone fruit, citrus, and floral scents. “Glenmorangie Original is the best representation of Glenmorangie’s house style,” notes Dr. Bill Lumsden, director of whisky creation for Glenmorangie and Ardbeg. “Matured in first and second-fill bourbon casks, it has smooth flavors of vanilla, orange, peaches, and floral notes.” Glenmorangie Original forms the basis of the label’s extra-matured range, which includes sherry, port, and sauternes cask-finished expressions. It is a key malt to compare with the extra-matured bottlings to understand the impact of finishing in those secondary casks.
Chivas 12 year old
88 points, 40%, $50
“Chivas 12 is a smooth, rich, generous blend, perfect for the connoisseur or someone looking to start their scotch whisky journey,” says Sandy Hyslop, director of blending and inventory at Chivas Brothers. With its mix of bourbon and sherry cask maturation, this creamy dram is made from Speyside single malts, with Strathisla at its heart. Hyslop adds, “Chivas 12 year old blends the finest malt and grain whiskies—each of which has been matured for at least 12 years—to deliver luxurious honey, vanilla, and ripe apple notes.” Chivas overhauled the look of its flagship brand in 2021, unveiling a sleeker, taller, and lighter bottle in a new burgundy box that is fully recyclable.
88 points, 40%, $20
When London merchant Berry Bros. & Rudd launched this clean, light, floral scotch in 1923, it had the export market in mind. Cutty Sark is named after a 19th century tea clipper ship, itself named for the fastest witch in Robert Burns’ “Tam o’Shanter.” Popular in the U.S. during Prohibition, Cutty Sark became the market’s no.-1 selling blended scotch in the 1960s. The key whiskies in the blend are Glenrothes, Tamdhu, and Bunnahabhain, with grain whiskies from North British and Invergordon, and smaller contributions from other distilleries—creating notes of creamy vanilla, melon, and spice. While all the whiskies on this list are excellent for home cocktails, Cutty Sark is perhaps the best of them all.
Johnnie Walker Black Label
91 points, 40%, $35
The smokiest whisky in this lineup, its balance of fresh fruit, creamy toffee, sweet vanilla, and smoke deliver a rich, smooth drinking experience. “Smokiness is a major signature of the Johnnie Walker blends, and Black Label is a great example,” says Johnnie Walker’s former master blender Jim Beveridge. Launched in 1906, this 12 year old was originally known as Extra Special Old Highland. Johnnie Walker uses at least 30 whiskies from all across Scotland, but the principal components include smoky Caol Ila, sweet fruit and spice from Cardhu and Clynelish, light fruitiness from Glenkinchie, and sweet grain from Cameronbridge. If you love this whisky, the Johnnie Walker Black Label Origins series offers further exploration.
88 points, 40%, $35
Whiskey connoisseurs are usually drawn to Bushmills’ higher priced single malt range, but should not ignore the distillery’s versatile blends. Black Bush is the pick of the bunch for sherry lovers, with flavors of plum, cherry, raisin, black grape, cinnamon, spice, and chocolate cigarillos. This expression is derived from Old Bushmills Special Old Liqueur whiskey, a bottling made from the 1930s to the 1960s. “Black Bush is our special blend, and we think it’s our best-kept secret,” says Bushmills master distiller Colum Egan. “It combines a uniquely high proportion of malt whiskey matured in former oloroso sherry casks with a sweet, batch-distilled grain whiskey.” That recipe creates rich, fruity notes and a deeply intense but smooth profile.
84 points, 40%, $20
Paddy O’Flaherty (1850–1928) traveled Ireland selling a label called Cork Distillery Company Old Irish whiskey. He became so well known that his customers simply began asking for Paddy O’Flaherty’s whiskey. His signature was added to the label in 1913. Today Paddy’s is a blend of sourced triple-distilled single pot still, single malt, and single grain Irish whiskeys and is predominantly matured in bourbon casks, with some sherry and port wood. “Paddy’s is one of the easiest drinking Irish whiskeys because of its understated softness and exquisite smoothness,” says Drew Mayville, master blender for Sazerac, Paddy’s owner. “The taste is light and fruity, with highlights of toffee, honey, malt, and vanilla, with a lingering pepperiness and oakiness.”
88 points, 40%, $23
Tullamore D.E.W. is a blend of three Irish whiskey styles, striking a balance between sweet grain, fruity malt, and spicy pot still. The initials were added in 1893 for then-owner Daniel Edmund Williams, who made the whiskey famous in the 19th and early 20th centuries. “Having the single malt component alongside pot still and grain whiskey creates a gentle green apple note that rounds out the blend,” says Tullamore D.E.W. master blender Brian Kinsman. “This is arguably one of the most complex Irish whiskeys to make, as we balance single malt and pot still—both matured in bourbon, refill, and sherry casks—and then overlay them on grain whiskey matured in bourbon and refill [casks].”
88 points, 45%, $25
“Raw, high-quality ingredients are at the heart of Bulleit,” says master blender Andrew MacKay. “The high rye content gives it a bold, spicy character with a distinctively smooth, clean finish. Kentucky limestone-filtered water provides a foundation for the bourbon’s character, while charred American oak barrels lend a smoky backbone.” It was launched 35 years ago and was once made at Four Roses, but current owner Diageo has given Bulleit two new distilleries, opening the Bulleit Distilling Co. in Shelbyville, Kentucky in 2017 and the Lebanon Distillery in 2021. MacKay adds, “It’s the only bourbon on the market to employ two mashbills, five yeast strains, and 10 distillates, all of which help to create consistency from bottle to bottle.”
Gentleman Jack Tennessee Whiskey
85 points, 40%, $33
Gentleman Jack arrived in 1988, and it’s all about smoothness. “The difference for Gentleman [compared to Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7] is the second pass through our charcoal,” explains master distiller Chris Fletcher. Jack Daniel runs its unaged spirit through charcoal mellowing vats, a process that takes three to five days. For Gentleman Jack, this exercise is repeated after the aged whiskey leaves the barrel. Fletcher finds aromas of pear, banana, soft caramel, and vanilla on the front of the palate, and a finish with a touch of toasted oak on the back. “I love Gentleman Jack poured neat during cooler weather,” says Fletcher. “I allow my hand to warm the glass, which drives more of the fruity esters out into the aromas.”
Knob Creek 9 year old Small Batch Bourbon
92 points, 50%, $35
Jim Beam master distiller Booker Noe (1929–2004) created Knob Creek in 1992, when terms like craft and small batch didn’t exist in the whiskey world. “Dad wanted to make a bourbon with the rich, full flavor and high quality standards of pre-Prohibition style whiskey,” recalls Booker’s son and 7th generation master distiller Fred Noe. “When he did that with Knob Creek—aging it for 9 years and bottling it at 100 proof—he opened people’s eyes to what bourbon could be.” Matured in heavily charred American white oak, this is the highest-proof whiskey on our list, and its thick palate is laced with vanilla, dark berries, leather, and roasted walnuts.