Single malt scotch isn’t a simple style. Even the most welcoming “beginner” pours offer complexity and depth of flavor—although they’re also silky, soft, and easy to drink. So when you’re ready to move up to even more complex drams, where do you turn?
Don’t worry—this isn’t a list of peat bombs, although you’ll find a few good smoky offerings to try. These single malts go beyond the 101 level because they require more of your attention. Sure, you can just sip them without thinking, but these whiskies offer an exciting cavalcade of flavors that reward the thoughtful drinker. They’re complex, layered, wide-ranging, and often extremely nuanced.
You’re going to have to pay attention to unlock these flavors, but what you discover will be very rewarding. You’re no long a beginner; it’s time to start stretching your palate and mind with each and every sip.
Scotch 201: Intermediate-Level Bottles You Must Taste
Springbank 10 year old—88 points, $72
Springbank is beloved among the scotch cognoscenti, who adore its old-school processes and flavor profile. Well-balanced and delicate, this might seem like a beginner’s pour at first—but keep drinking; it’s one of the most complex and multi-layered whiskies of its age. It offers a nose of apples and pears, leading into a spicy palate with just a hint of smoke backed by malty sweetness, and an unexpectedly briney finish.
Glen Moray 18 year old—92 points, $90
A steal when you compare age to price, this Speyside sipper was named No. 10 in Whisky Advocate’s 2017 Top 20. This is a well-rounded single malt, with notes of melon and stone fruit on the nose, and a bit of barnyard funk adding complexity. The palate leans more toward vanilla, with just a hint of pepper, leading into a warming and slightly sweet finish.
Arran 18 year old—89 points, $100
The little island of Arran gets overshadowed by its bolder neighbors, Jura and Islay, but its whisky has much to offer in its own right. Although heavily peated whisky is now being made at Arran’s Lagg Distillery, this unpeated release comes from the island’s original Lochranza distillery. Bright and citrusy on the nose, the palate is more tropical, with hints of vanilla and baking spices; it’s even a little minty. A dry, slightly tannic finish offers dark chocolate and anise notes.
Oban Little Bay—92 points, $75
Don’t be deceived by its lack of an age statement; this whisky offers a ton of maturity and boldness, and is an excellent representation of coastal-style scotch. An explosion of citrus fruit on the nose leads into a palate that’s heavy on sea-salt chocolate, with hints of berries, cloves, and an intense oakiness. The finish is dry and long, with some citrus on the backend.
Craigellachie 13 year old—90 points, $53
For many years used more widely as a component in the Dewar’s blend, this brassy single malt is starting to come into its own. The nose is flowery and honeyed, with a hint of banana and a bit sulfur—the result of the distillery’s use of worm tub condensers, which create a meatier whisky. That meatiness comes through on the rich palate, which boasts apples and a spicy and minty finish. A savory uppercut to the face, in a good way, it never becomes too much to handle.
Dalmore Port Wood Reserve—89 points, $100
While most offerings from this Highland distillery are so expensive as to preclude intermediate drinkers, this release is more accessible. Matured in white oak before being finished in port pipes, creates a viscous dram, heavy on the dark fruit notes—berries, plums, and blackcurrants. There’s so vanilla and citrus, and a sharp spiciness lingers in the background, leading into a slightly tannic finish.
Laphroaig Triple Wood—93 points, $70
Many drinkers seem to file all Islay bottlings in the “experts only” camp, scaring emerging scotch connoisseurs in the process. But not all of the island’s pours are quite so daunting. Take this non-age-statement release from a legendary peat-driven distillery. Matured in ex-bourbon barrels before being transferred to quarter casks and then to oloroso sherry butts, this is a multi-dimensional whisky and not just a peat bomb. Like a summer cookout on the nose, the palate is dry and meaty, with just a hint of iodine, and finishes with an oaky kick.