It isn’t hard to become passionate about whiskey, but knowing what to order can be. “What whisky would you like?” “Single malt whiskey, please” I replied. Not knowing much about whiskey, my post-meal experience left me thinking about the different tastes of the whiskey. I found it initially hard to describe such refined taste. However, I instantly have become a passionate whiskey convert, as if gold was rolling around in my mouth.
As my tasting experiences continued, I figured out a system of comparison to describe single malt whiskeys for myself. If I was to say this drink is the Mercedes Benz among the single malt whiskeys, everybody understands. Surely I am not the first nor the last enthusiast that creates a list of ‘must-try’ whiskeys, but my is personally subjective. If you are just getting into single malt whiskey this list will help you to find what you like.
Enjoying my new passion, I tapped into an unknown source of pleasures. Let’s start from the beginning. Just like me before, many people don’t really know much about single malt whiskey. The ‘single’ in single malt simply means that the whiskey was made at a single distillery using only malted grain.
Best Single Malt Whiskey – Key Players
How do you pick the best one? The answer is simple; pick the whiskey that excites and transports you to your happy place. The search for the best whiskey is not easy though; it’s a journey through time and space to find your ideal combination of light, delicate, rich, and smoky.
When discovering whiskey, the journey should historically start in Scotland and Ireland, as the very first single malt whiskeys were produced here. The Scottish set the standard for single malts high – quite literally. The requirements ever since include ageing for at least 3 years and a minimum of 40% alcohol by volume.
The Scots in all their honour, one shouldn’t forget the country of the ‘rising sun’, as it is also a rising star when it comes to whiskey. Japanese whiskey brands, like Nikka and Yamazaki Whiskey, have been snatching up award after award and gaining popularity across the world. Japanese culture has been known to balance both strength and refinement, all of which is reflected in the whiskey.
The Most Sought After Single Malt – Rare & Exotic
Like with many other fine things in life, the most demanded whiskeys are those that provide exclusivity. The more exotic and rare, the more whiskey connoisseurs will crave it. One should be clear though that my list of favourite single malt whiskeys will not necessarily be like your list.
Macallan 1946 (Scotland Speyside) – Convertible Cruising
Imagine cruising down an empty highway in a convertible with the top down. Taking a sip of the Macallan 1946 vintage provides that same classic experience. This single malt scotch whiskey reigns from the Speyside region of Scotland made with peated malt due to high post-WWII prices of coal. The flavour surprises with a fruity taste and a hint of smoke.
Macallan 1926 (Scotland Speyside) – Diamond of Whiskeys
The Macallan 1926 is the 12-carat Blue Moon diamond of whiskey; rare is an understatement. This dry and concreted single malt was distilled in 1926, as the name suggest, with just 40 bottles ever produced. Unlike wine, whisky does not mature in the bottle. This whiskey’s 70 year maturing process has created a quality hard liquor filled with complexity and woody notes.
Dalmore 62 (Scotland Highland) – Like the Mona Lisa
The Dalmore 62 is the Mona Lisa equivalent in a glass. This whiskey is a blend of several single malts dating back to 1868, which have been combined to create a rare taste as just 12 bottles were made. How can one really appreciate the time it took to craft this masterpiece? As an artist layers paint, the Dalmore Distillery layered single malts to create this one of kind whiskey from Scotland’s Highland with notes of nuts and spices.
Auchentoshan 1957 Cask #479 (Scotland Lowland) – The Mercedes Benz
Skill and precision is at the core of the Auchentoshan 1957 – it is more of a Mercedes Benz S Coupe than a convertible. This whiskey was produced using a single Oloroso sherry cask, which shows true craftsmanship with the desired effect coming from an individual aging cask rather than a blend. The result of being aged 50 years are sweet aromas of honey and lemon zest with caramel and slight oak flavour.
Bowmore 1964 (Scotland Islay) – Tropical Jungle
As you consume the Bowmore 1964, its flavours of parma violets and tropical fruit will bring the jungles of Fiji to mind. This whiskey is balanced out with a peaty, smoky flavour indicative of the Islay region of the Bowmore distillery.
Yamazaki Mizynara 2013 (Japan) – Japanese Forests
The serenity of Japanese forests can be had with a single sip of this Yamazaki whiskey. This no-age statement single malt whiskey was matured in Mizunara oak casks, which impart beautifully unique hints of sandalwood and incense, reminiscent of Osaka’s country side.
Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique Single Cask Strength (Taiwan) – Off the Beaten Track
Drinking the Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique transports you to a trip off the beaten track to the mountains of Taiwan. This single malt starts off creamy and has been described as ‘bourbon infused milk chocolate’. Its process is also quite unique, as this whiskey is aged in charred American wine casks that have held both white and red wine as well as being matured for a considerably short time. Although this whiskey is newer than any other on the list, it has already won World Whiskies Awards for best single malt whiskey.
Single Malt for the Uninitiated
There are two paths to take for those new to the single malt whiskey world, cocktails or all in. For cocktails, start with the iconic Old Fashioned finished. For those willing to take the plunge, start with a single malt whiskey that has been aged for less than 15 years. Move to older whiskies as you gain experience, so you are truly able to appreciate the added layers of complexity that comes with age. Single malt whiskey has a slight burn like other alcoholic drinks. Adding a splash of water masks the burn, making it easier to distinguish the individual flavours; just please don’t drown your whiskey.
Cheers! Break Out The Glasses
Invite your friends in on the new experience by incorporating whiskey into your next lavish birthday or bachelor’s soirée. An easy way to bring the luxury of fine dining at home is by hiring a private chef to pair single malt whiskey with food. In my opinion, a single malt whiskey served neat with sushi is a must. Take it one step further and challenge the private chef to incorporate single malt whiskey into the actual dishes. The next time you are at a fine dining establishment or throwing a dinner party, grab a glass and let us know how it went.