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Best Smoky Single Malts For Scotch Lovers

In 1494, the King of Scotland ordered Friar John Cor to make aqua vitae, the water of life. And the most delicious distilled spirit ever created was born. Here’s today’s best scotches — and they deserve a spot on your shelf.
Best Scotch

10 SMOKY SCOTCHES FOR SINGLE MALT LOVERS

Scotch whisky is malt whisky or grain whisky, made in Scotland. All Scotch whisky was originally made from malted barley. Commercial distilleries began introducing whisky made from wheat and rye in the late 18th century. As of 2020, there were 134 Scotch whisky distilleries operating in Scotland.

If you’re looking to build a masterful scotch collection you need to have spirits that aren’t what you see on the shelf at every grocery store. A respectable collection of scotch has to be bold, and bring together complex flavors and aromas. They need to be memorable. Here’s our top 10 scotches with a deep, smoky flavour that will make your collection impressive to any knowledgeable connoisseur.

Table of Contents

Gaelic for dawn, Moch is a crisp, assertive and bright Caol Ila. A smoky, single malt from a remote distillery on Scotland’s most famous Whisky Island Islay. Unreduced, sweet and salty with a balancing acidity, Caol Ila’s trademark smoky-antiseptic character is here. Best enjoyed over ice or with a bit of water. Or serve it neat. The first single malt from Caol Ila to be selected entirely on the basis of its taste, rather than age, cask wood, strength or finish. Makes the perfect gift for those looking to experience the magic world of peaty whiskies.

Serving Suggestion: Best enjoyed over ice or with a bit of water. Or serve it neat.

APPEARANCE

Pale gold.

BODY

Light and smooth.

NOSE

Like wet, salty sand after the tide has receded, with antiseptic and lingering smoke notes.

PALATE

Sweet and salty with a balancing acidity and characteristic anti-septic character.

FINISH

Short & drying with a little bitterness. Lingering smoky aftertaste.

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Master Blenders Dr Matthew Crow and Dr Craig Wilson use whisky matured in refill American oak hogsheads, European oak Sherry casks and refill casks with new ends for this expression before allowing the resultant single malt whisky to marry in small oak casks.

Serving Suggestion: Best served neat in a tumbler, perhaps with a little cool spring water. Oban brings out the rich complexity of character in humble meat dishes, like steak and kidney pie.

APPEARANCE

Rich antique gold.

BODY

Medium to rich. Good viscosity.

NOSE

Oily, waxy and nutty, balanced by ripe orchard fruits. Notes of almond fruit cake on denser Christmas pudding, with cereal and orange behind.

PALATE

The comforting chewiness of rich fruit-bread, hints of orange zest and clove, growing drier, still minty, with crisp green apple.

FINISH

In a word, long. Quite syrupy at first, then drying, with elegant coating tannins rich in dark chocolate character.

Released to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the founding of Lagavulin distillery by John Johnston in 1816, this eight-year-old Single Malt Scotch Whisky is big and smoky. A celebration of the people and craft that have made Lagavulin great over the last two centuries, its fragrant, tea-scented smoke alongside nose-drying, maritime aromas is unlocked with just a drop of water. Inspired by the visit of Alfred Barnard to the distillery in the 1880s when he tried an ‘exceptionally fine’ eight-year-old from the distillery, this is a fitting tribute for the milestone. With a light body that becomes pleasantly oily, the Lagavulin 8-Year-Old palate boasts a magnificently full-on Lagavulin taste that’s somehow even bigger than you expect. The limited-edition, beautifully pristine presentation box makes it the perfect gift for lovers of peaty and powerful whiskies.

Serving Suggestion: Make time to enjoy neat in a whisky nosing glass, or with maybe just a drop of water.

APPEARANCE

Light-gold.

BODY

Light, growing pleasantly oily.

NOSE

Immediately quite soft with clean, fresh notes, faint hints of milk chocolate and lemon and then developing fragrant tea-scented smoke alongside nose-drying, maritime aromas, with subtle cereal. A prickliness seen earlier now develops, while the trademark Lagavulin dryness emerges as fresh newsprint. Softly sooty. Softer, fuller and more rounded with water: it’s not hugely fruity but there’s just a trace of red berry preserve, perhaps, beneath the smokiness, which comes sharply into focus.

PALATE

A soothing light texture, with a magnificently full-on Lagavulin taste that’s somehow even bigger than you expect; sweet, smoky and warming, with a growing, smoky pungency, then dry, with more smoke. Charred, with minty, dark chocolate. Beautifully balanced midpalate then salty, oven-charred baked potato skins and smoke. Water rounds things, the taste still mighty yet more succulent, sweeter, spicier and now tongue-tingling, mint-fresh and warming.

FINISH

Lovely; clean, very long and smoky. Smoothly, subtle minted smoke surrounds chocolate tannins, leaving a late drying note to emerge in time. It’s warming, soft and still smoky with water, not as long or intense now, yet still leaving the palate dry as sweet smoke lingers on the breath.

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Revered by connoisseurs and experts, Lagavulin is known as “the king of Islay”. It is an ‘essential’ Scotch Whisky that any connoisseur or enthusiast must have in their collection; one of the world’s favourite Malt Whiskies. Aged in oak casks for at least 16 years, this much sought-after Single Malt has the massive peat-smoke flavour that’s typical of southern Islay, while also offering richness and a dryness that turns it into a truly interesting dram. The Lagavulin 16 Year Old has become a benchmark Islay dram from the Lagavulin distillery. A gift for all occasions for lovers of peaty and powerful whiskies.

Serving Suggestion:  Best enjoyed from a traditional whisky glass, neat or with a little still water. Room-temperature water can bring out the hidden aromas and flavours of the whisky, making it more mellow and easy to drink.

APPEARANCE

Deep amber gold.

BODY

Full, rich bodied.

NOSE

Intensely flavoured, peat smoke with iodine and seaweed and a rich, deep sweetness.

PALATE

Dry peat smoke fills the palate with a gentle but strong sweetness, followed by sea and salt with touches of wood.

FINISH

A long, elegant peat-filled finish with lots of salt and seaweed.

Double matured in Pedro cask wood to magically accentuate and deepen every aspect of the intense, rich character of Lagavulin. Distilled 2001. Bottled 2017

Serving Suggestion: Lagavulin Distiller’s Edition reveals more of its intensity with a drop of water.

APPEARANCE

Golden treacle.

BODY

Full bodied and rich in texture.

NOSE

Intense peat and vanilla. A raisin sweetness checks the smoke. Iodine-edged peat and crisp, toasty malt. Satisfying and enticing.

PALATE

A clear, grassy malt, then the peat lands – smoke filling the mouth. A very salty tang, the middle offers coffee, vanilla and fruit.

FINISH

Incredibly long, even by Islay standards. Fruit, peat and long-lasting oak. Very chewable.

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The tiny lamp glass-shaped copper pot stills that make Oban’s Scotch are among the smallest in Scotland, and the liquor they distill is slowly condensed in wooden worm tubs outside among the rooftops, exposed to the salted sea air, bringing a distinct depth of flavour said to go very well with salted caramel.

Serving Suggestion: Best served neat in a tumbler, perhaps with a little cool spring water.

APPEARANCE

Olive gold.

BODY

A full, rich, almost oily malt.

NOSE

Immediate and confident; rapidly gaining intensity. Warming and sweet: oily, waxy and nutty, balanced by delicate ripe orchard fruits. Then, lighter notes of an almondy fruit cake sit atop a denser layer of Christmas pudding. Behind, malty cereal notes are offset by aromatic orange. Much later: traces of brine and smoke, a little menthol and pine resin.

PALATE

Dense and coating, spicy too; sweet, yet menthol- fresh. Filling and warming, with the comforting chewiness of rich fruit-bread and hints of orange zest and clove, before growing drier, still minty, with crisp green apple. Less dense and fruitier with just a little water, which allows the classic Oban fruit, malt, and maritime hints free reign until the balancing, drying spice returns.

FINISH

In a word, long. Quite syrupy at first, then drying, with elegant coating tannins rich in dark chocolate character. Later, pine-fresh. At once cleansing yet chewy, with just a trace of late, slightly cedary, smoke.

Each year our Distillery Manager, John Campbell, crafts a limited edition malt to celebrate the Friends of Laphroaig and friendship (“Càirdeas” in Gaelic) in general. Càirdeas 2021 is triple matured in American oak ex-Bourbon barrels, followed by quarter casks and finally in European oak hogsheads containing PX sherry. This creates a complex expression that is full of character that

  • We’ve bottled at cask strength to ensure rich and intricate flavours.
  • Here’s to friendship! Celebration of friendship developed by Laphroaig’s Distillery Manager.
  • Smoky aromas of grilled bacon, as well as manuka honey and oak spices.
  • Tasting notes are nutty, combined with a blend of toffee and cinnamon on the nose

 

Laphroaig Càirdeas is a limited edition expression of our Single Malt Scotch, crafted once a year by our Distillery Manager John Campbell. Its name — Càirdeas — is Gaelic for friendship, and this unmissable bottle is a celebration of the friends we’ve made over the years. What better excuse to raise a glass with those closest to you.

Shining a bright tawny colour, the Càirdeas 2021 edition has a smoky, peaty, yet sweet and fruity flavour, with hints of grilled bacon, manuka honey and oak spices. The whisky is completed with nutty notes, combined with an intriguing blend of candy floss, toffee and cinnamon on the nose and a hot, spicy and salty finish.

COLOUR

Tawny

NOSE

Medicinal, nutty and sweet with notes of pine tar, strong almond and marzipan, hazelnut and praline character combine with candyfloss, stewed apple and toffee but also cherries, gooseberries and cinnamon.

BODY

Full bodied.

FINISH

Still hot and spicy, with a touch of sea salt and dried seaweed.

TASTE

Smoky and peaty with slightly ashy notes of cured ham and grilled bacon, sweet and fruity flavours of Manuka honey, liquorice roots, but also cooked apples, malt and oak spices edging toward pencil shavings.

MATURATION

Triple Matured – Ex-Bourbon Barrel followed by Quarter Casks followed by European Oak Perdo Ximenes Hogsheads.

SERVE SUGGESTION

Neat or with ice

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To celebrate 200 years of Johnnie Walker, we’re letting our icons off the leash with a fashion-inspired, limited-edition design. We’ve created bold new bottle and pack designs for our most iconic whiskies – Johnnie Walker Black Label, Red Label and Gold Label Reserve. The timeless whiskies inside the bottles remain unchanged. The cutting-edge designs are only available while stocks last. An impressive gift for someone who appreciates good whisky or who likes to try something new. If you’re looking for the best gift ideas, your search is over. Johnnie Walker Black Label is a rich, smooth Scotch whisky made using an only single malt and grain whiskies that have each spent 12 years in a cask growing into a vibrant body of flavour. The result is deep layers of sweet fruit, spice and vanilla – all wrapped in a cloak of smoke.

Serving Suggestion: Enjoyed over ice, with water or as a long drink with a splash of ginger ale. Johnnie Walker Black Label also forms the basics of classic cocktails like an Old Fashioned or Whisky Sour. Use a whisky glass for serving neat or with ice or a highball (tall) glass for the longer drinks

NOSE

Take in the luxurious scent of rich and tropical dark fruits with hints of sweet vanilla.

PALATE

Savour the depth of flavour developed from maturation in oak casks, combined with creamy toffee notes that come from grain whiskies.

FINISH

This iconic whisky delivers a smooth and warming smoke finish, characteristic of all Johnnie Walker whiskies.

The ultimate Islay malt, Caol Ila is considered by experts to be the perfect entry point into the world of peaty malt whiskies and a reference for connoisseurs of Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky the world over. Fresh, sweetly fruity and smooth-bodied, Caol Ila 12 year old is the colour of pale straw, with a delicate balance of tastes.

Serving Suggestion: To enjoy, simply serve the 12-Year-Old Caol Ila neat in a rocks glass, adding ice or a splash of water to taste.

APPEARANCE

Pale straw.

BODY

Smooth, pleasant mouth-feel: firm with a light to medium body.

NOSE

Subdued, citric fruitiness; a whiff of bath oil and dentist’s mouthwash. A fresh and appetising nose, with little or no trace of smoke. A little water raises almond oil and old fashioned oilskins; still a fresh fruitiness, a trace of olive oil, and after a while potpourri or scented hand-soap.

PALATE

Drinks well at natural strength; sweet start; pleasant, light fragrant smokiness and a lengthy finish. Smooth, pleasant mouth-feel; with water light acidity, some salt and still the sweeter notes. A complex balance of primary tastes.

FINISH

Sweet smokiness in the lingering, slightly sour finish.

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The smoky, peated Lagavulin is seen as the ultimate expression of the Islay region. Lagavulin Distiller’s Edition is double-matured in Pedro Ximenez cask wood, a wine derived from intensely flavoured sun-dried grapes, expertly selected for its raisiny sweetness to magically accentuate and deepen every aspect of the intense, rich character of Lagavulin. This expression of Lagavulin was awarded a Gold medal at the International Spirits Challenge between 2008 and 2010. A very enjoyable malt, Lagavulin Distiller’s Edition makes a perfect gift for lovers of Lagavulin and peaty and powerful whiskies. Distilled 2002. Bottled 2018

Serving Suggestion: The intense flavours of the Distiller’s Edition reveal themselves when drunk with just a drop of water.

APPEARANCE

Rich, deep amber.

BODY

Full and rich.

NOSE

Satisfying and enticing; intense peat, vanilla. A raisiny sweetness checks the smoke. Crisp, toasty malt.

PALATE

Sweet and luscious; clear malt, smoke fills the mouth. Very salty tang; coffee, vanilla, a glimmer of fruit.

FINISH

Incredibly long, even for Islay. Fruit, peat, and long-lasting oak. Very engaging and enjoyable.

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