Like many whisky styles, there are plenty of misconceptions that newbies have surrounding scotch. The first is that you have to be a well-to-do, older type with a walrus-y grey mustache and gingham suit to enjoy the stuff. This is completely untrue — we’ve highlighted scotches perfectly suited for any palate and income this very week! Another is that Scotch isn’t for women. On top of being misogynistic (and intellectually boring), it’s totally laughable to think that a woman wouldn’t enjoy a high-quality dram. The third scotch myth is that all Scotch taste the same: smoky. This is just silly. Scotch whiskies vary based on ingredients, aging, where they were made and even the water used in the distilling process. Try drinking a glass of Bruichladdich followed by a glass of The Balvenie and try to tell us all scotches taste the same. You’ll be flabbergasted. Classy mustache.
The final scotch misconception just might be the most damaging to the industry at large. It’s the willingness on behalf of the drinker to stick to single malts made only by the most well-known brands like Glenlivet, The Macallan, and Glenfiddich. Nonsense. There’s a wide world of brands and bottles that don’t get the same hype that these big names enjoy just waiting to be discovered by you.
Experiment! Riff! Try stuff! Compare!
In that intrepid spirit, I agreed to share my personal list of the “most under-hyped scotches on the market.” Unlike the Ultimate Spirits Challenge, this isn’t a bunch of tasters sequestered in a hotel for days on end. It’s just me, my palate, my personal sense memories, and what connected when I sipped it. Sláinte!
Glen Grant 10
Distillery Name: Glen Grant Distillery
Like many distilleries, Glen Grant was founded in the 1800s. The specific year was 1840, and it was founded by former Aberlour employees, brothers John and James Grant. Its flagship whisky is Glen Grant 10. Matured for 10 years in American ex-bourbon oak casks, this Gold Medal winner at the San Francisco Spirits Competition also earned 95 points in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible.
This is the kind of bottle everyone should know about it. Yet, they somehow don’t.
Aging for a decade in casks that formerly held bourbon gives this Speyside single malt a rich vanilla template that is complimented by hints of sticky toffee pudding, dried cherries, and subtle autumnal spices.
Even though it’s won acclaim from the pros, it remains largely ignored by the average drinker.
Distillery Name: Knockdhu Distillery
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It might be confusing that the whiskies from Knockdhu Distillery are caked AnCnoc. There’s a reason for this, though. The distillery was founded in 1893 and the whiskies carried the the name Knockdhu until 1994 when they were re-branded as AnCnoc to avoid confusion with the nearby Knockando Distillery.
The second name they chose means “the hill” Gaelic.
This award-winning whisky is known for its light, soft, and very mellow flavor. You’ll be treated to indulgent chocolate, cinnamon, sweet vanilla, and sweet vanilla on the palate, with a final flourish of warming Christmas spices.
Much of the reason this bottle doesn’t get the hype it deserves is the name itself. Drinkers might be confused and turned off by the strange name, thereby dismissing this amazing expression.
Distillery Name: Aberlour Distillery
Aberlour, founded in 1879, finds itself in the midst of a large number of distilleries (Cardhu, The Macallan, and Glenrothes to name a few) in Aberlour, Strathspey, Scotland. Its flagship bottle is its 12-year-old. It’s the best gateway into the malts from this distillery as it’s soft and smooth from double casks maturation is both American oak as well as seasoned sherry butts.
The result of double aging is a mellow, perfectly balanced whisky with cocoa, vanilla, and sweet honey from the oak that’s complemented by the crisp apple, sweet dried fruits, and caramel from the sherry casks.
It all ends in a warming, velvety, subtly spicy finish that you won’t soon forget.
Aberlour has been cranking out high level offerings for over a century, but has always played second fiddle to the bigger names of the area.
Jura Seven Wood
Distillery Name: Isle of Jura Distillery
While Islay gets all the press when it comes to island-based Scotch whisky. The nearby Isle of Jura and the aptly named Isle of Jura Distillery definitely shouldn’t be forgotten. Sure, you can grab a bottle of one of its aged expressions. But to truly immerse yourself in this island whisky, you have to purchase a bottle of Jura Seven Wood, a whisky blended from whiskies from seven different oak casks (including ex-bourbon American oak, Bertranges, Vosges, Allier, Jupilles, Troncais, and Limousin barrels).
You might think mixing together whiskies from so many different types of barrels would muddle the flavors — but it actually creates a highly nuanced, complex whisky with hints of rich chocolate, subtly bitter espresso, cinnamon, ginger, dried fruits, and just a whiff of subtle smoke.
Jura’s biggest public relations problem is that it’s located on the wrong island. When people talk about island malts, they always mention the distillers of Islay and even Orkney, but sometimes forget Jura.
Distillery Name: Speyburn Distillery
The Speyburn Distillery was founded in 1897 and (you guessed it) it’s located in the Speyburn region. How they managed to get the rights to name their distillery after a whole region, we’ll never know. Also, even with this name, the single malts from this distillery are often overlooked in favor of other distilleries.
Hear this now: An award-winning offering like Speyburn 10 shouldn’t be missed. No matter the reason.
This gold medal winner at The San Francisco Spirits Competition gets its water from a tributary from the River Spey called Granty Burn. The folks at Speyburn believe this water is the reason for the high-quality of the juice. We tend to agree, but we only know what we taste and that’s orange zest, roasted, cinnamon sprinkled apples, star anise, and just a hint of smoky herbal flavor.
Speyburn 10 flies under the radar because of its price. Some people assume the juice inside is lower quality when they see the low price tag.
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Distillery Name: Craigellachie Distillery
Craigellachie is known as the “bad boy of Speyside” because of its bold, rich, uncompromising offerings. Its flagship bottle is its 13-year-old. One of the various bottles first released in 2014, this non-chill filtered robust whisky is the perfect way to get started with some of the lesser-known Speyside malts while feeling like a rebel in the process. Because while the region is known for its fruity and sometimes floral malts, Craigellachie 13 is anything but.
The original bad boy is robust and complex from aging in both ex-bourbon as well as ex-sherry barrels. The result is a bold whisky with hints of vanilla, rich honey, lingering caramel, dark fudge, and sweet cream that finishes with a subtly spicy kick.
Why it’s underrated: Part of the lack of hype surrounding Craigellachie is the fact that it just joined the market in 2014. Prior to then, the distillery made whiskey for blends almost exclusively.