Sniffing out the top Scotch whiskies
March 11th, 2013
09:00 AM ET
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Ray Isle (@islewine on Twitter) is Food & Wine's executive wine editor. We trust his every cork pop and decant – and the man can sniff out a bargain to boot. Take it away, Ray.

Not too long ago, on a dark day for Scotsmen everywhere, workers at the Chivas Brothers distillery in Dumbarton, Scotland, inadvertently flushed about 6,000 gallons of whisky into the plant’s wastewater system. For Scotch lovers with a pessimistic cast of mind, this event immediately brings to mind the possibility of a worldwide whisky shortage, with riots in the streets, hoodlums setting fire to trash cans and feeble cries of “Please, help me, just a wee dram…” from one-time high-living single malt fanatics now reduced to drinking Natty Light from cans.

For less apocalyptically minded folks, the loss of several thousand gallons of high-end whisky is merely a fine excuse for pouring oneself a drop of the good stuff. Raise a glass in honor of their loss, and whatnot. Conveniently, several good whiskies of various sorts have recently hit the market; here are a few highlights.

Johnnie Walker Double Black ($40)
This intensified version of the classic Johnnie Walker Black was a limited release back in 2011, but proved popular enough that the JW folks brought it back nationwide this past November. It accentuates the Black’s familiar smoke and peat characteristics by increasing the percentage of island whiskies in the blend.

Highland Park Loki ($249)
Last year, Highland Park released its Norse mythology-inspired Thor whisky, and this year it’s Loki. Next up is Freia, though my hope is for one called Ragnarok, which would burst into flames when you opened it, then re-create itself. (This might possibly be beyond the skills of the Highland Park master distiller, talented fellow that he is, but who knows?) Loki, while not remotely cheap, is mighty good: 15 years old, aged in a combination of sherry casks and heavily peated casks, with smoky-citrus-spice notes and 48.7% alcohol. But if Highland Park’s Norse-god whiskies are too expensive, the distillery’s 12 year old is also a superb single malt and costs only $50. Though it doesn’t come with a bizarre wooden Norse-box-frame-object around it, which might be a deal breaker - if you’re into that sort of thing.

Beyond those two, there’s also been a recent influx of Japanese single malt whiskies, which, contrary to one’s possible expectations, are really very good. The Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt ($69, imported by the folks at Anchor Brewing, oddly enough) is a round, generous whisky with a silky texture, very good indeed. Then there’s the Hakushu 12 Year Old ($60) from Suntory: powerful, peaty, smoky but balanced as well. Plus, it comes in a green bottle. Japanese whisky for St. Patrick’s Day? Oh, why the heck not.

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  2. Scotch Guy

    Johnnie Walker? What is this, amateur hour? Here are some single malts actually worth talking about:

    1. Ardbeg Airigh Nam Beist
    2. Bruichladdich Port Charlotte 6
    3. Bruichladdich Octomore 4.1
    4. Black Adder Raw Cask
    5. Laphroiag Cask Strength Batch 002

    March 28, 2013 at 11:18 pm | Reply
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    March 19, 2013 at 3:25 pm | Reply
  4. Mel Stricker

    OK folks repeat about me BALVENIE Single Malt is the best Scotch Whiskey in the world. Enough said

    March 14, 2013 at 4:51 am | Reply
  5. Steve Kidlacek

    It amazes me that people put blended Scotch in the same class as single malt Scotch. You may as well compare Crown Royal to Tequila! Obviously this is a blog to promote these two brands and says nothing about Scotch whiskey!

    March 13, 2013 at 9:24 am | Reply
  6. AJ

    Just got a Glenlivet 21 for my birthday. Been savoring it... going to try to keep it as long as I can... We'll see

    March 12, 2013 at 5:35 pm | Reply
  7. Checked_Other

    For me, Glenmorangie 10 is hard to beat for the price and drink-ability.

    March 12, 2013 at 11:58 am | Reply
  8. Chuck Anziulewicz

    I used to enjoy Glen Morangie, but I recently discovered Balvenie. Ye gods! You can spend the better part of an evening just immersing yourself in the aroma.

    March 11, 2013 at 2:23 pm | Reply
    • Len

      I'm more of a Glenlivett 18 yr -- but I'm hearing great things about the Balvenie........Need to check it out...

      March 12, 2013 at 12:50 pm | Reply
  9. Sir Biddle

    Just seeing the photo made me salivate! Thank you Jesus! Have a bottle of Highland 12 in my desk for medicinal purposes. I get sick a lot.

    March 11, 2013 at 9:31 am | Reply

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