In a marketplace teeming with whisky options, it’s sometimes difficult to see the wood for trees. But look you must, because there’s so much quality and variety out there that it would be a great pity indeed for any whisky lover to miss out. Our curated collection of blends and malts is an impressive 12-point tour of the flavour spectrum, from the accessible to the aspirational. Whether you’ve a newcomer or a veteran, whether you prefer peat monsters or sherry bombs, and whether you know your NCF (non-chill filtered) from NAS (no age statement), these are the whiskies you should be putting on your radar — and, ideally, accommodating snugly in your cabinet.
1. THE GLENLIVET 18-YEAR-OLD
This whisky is the standard bearer for a revered house, and it’s a certain crowd pleaser to boot. The sherry influence is pervasive, but not domineering: an intriguing performer that doesn’t hog the limelight. Distinct raisin flavours bind layers of citrus, apricots, and fudge into a liquid that’s engaging without being intense, and full-bodied without being heavy. If there were an award for most “sessionable” whisky, this one would be among the strongest contenders. theglenlivet.com
2. THE MACALLAN 1824 SIENNA
The Macallan was widely adored for its Sherry Oak range, which sadly became a victim of its own success. Its spirit lives on locally in the Sienna, an admirable substitute. The juicy and familiar sprawling sherry flavours, so typical of the brand, are energetically prominent, delivering an absorbing scope and dimension.
3. JAMESON GOLD RESERVE
This is the whiskey that introduced me to the magic of single-pot stills, as wrought by Irish distillers. But my personal history aside, Gold Reserve is quite capable of standing, jumping and dancing on its own two feet. Ironically, it’s a blend, but with a large proportion of the pot still. Virgin casks have been employed, injecting a spice and vanilla chorus into a fruity backdrop. This is Irish whiskey redolent of what it once was — and is becoming again. jamesonwhiskey.com
4. THREE SHIPS PINOTAGE CASK FINISH
I love this whisky for its flavour, but also for two fiercely particular features. It’s probably the first truly South African release — by which I mean in both provenance and style, having spent time in pinotage casks. And it’s one of very few blends to have been double matured. The resulting liquid is full and firm, with fruits, spice, dusted nougat, and mineral earthiness flitting in and out. There’s peat in evidence too, grazing around the edges of the tongue and palate, clearly eroded by a decade-and-a-half in wood, but still bringing its smoke to the party. It’s a glimpse into the bright future of local whisky. threeshipswhisky.co.za
5. BRUICHLADDICH BLACK ARTS
Bruichladdich (pronounced “brook-laddie”) puts out regular editions of the Black Art. Each one that I’ve tasted has been out-of-the-park sensational. The distillery is cagey about how it makes this stuff, disclosing very little about the wood profile, but we can safely assume that, in typical Laddie style, exotic wine casks are being used in most of the bottlings. Expensive, but worth it.
6. BUSHMILLS BLACK BUSH
This little gem promises high malt content, majority Oloroso cask maturation, and significant ageing. It delivers overwhelmingly in its full-bodied person, with a powerful flavour that is husky, fruity, and spicy, with an undertone of leather and tobacco. If you want bang for your buck you’ll struggle to find better. bushmills.com
7. JURA 16-YEAR-OLD
This whisky is affectionately known as Diurach’s Own — a Diurach being an inhabitant of Jura — so it’s no surprise it’s a local favourite and source of pride. It’s palpably bursting at its seams with entrancing but conventional flavours of pear, citrus, baked tart, spice, and toasted nuts — before erupting further with notes of masculine cologne. An exceptional whisky.
8. BAIN’S SINGLE GRAIN SOUTH AFRICAN WHISKY
This whisky is a double-matured whisky produced from 100% South African yellow maize. It is matured in specially selected first-fill bourbon casks for three years, then transferred to a second set of first-fill bourbon casks for a further 18 to 30 months to marry the toffee, floral, and vanilla aromas with the spice and sweet undertones of the oak. The success of Bain’s comes down to one innovative man and his passion for perfection: master distiller Andy Watts.
9. LAGAVULIN 16-YEAR-OLD
There are few brands of whisky that are more comfortable in their own skins than this one, which confidently and self-assuredly goes about its business without any grandstanding. That it’s nonetheless legendary — coming from a place where there’s intense competition to be a legend — speaks volumes about its inherent merits. The mainstay 16-Year-Old has been taking Lagavulin’s rich, bold, and well-balanced message to grateful recipients around the world for quite some time now. Long may it continue. malts.com
10. ARDBEG UIGEADAIL
This distillery produces Islay’s consistently most highly peated whiskies, with a standard peating level of 55 parts per million phenol. Ardbeg is somewhat of a force of nature, having reinvented itself over the past decade or so, and created a reverberating stir in the whisky world. I’m a particular fan of the Uigeadail, where the powerful peat has been somewhat mellowed by sherry, producing a beautifully arranged whisky that segues back and forth between hard flint and sweet velvet.
11. GLENFARCLAS 105
The 105 claims to be the original cask-strength whisky, and, indeed, it has the strength of personality to match. It’s hearty and effusive, and will win you over with its sheer force of character. The rich flavour of toffee and dunked cake is uncomplicated and comforting, like a warm, enveloping hug from a good friend. This is whisky you can count on — anytime and everywhere. glenfarclas.com
12. CHIVAS REGAL 25
Chivas Regal 25 launched in 1909, and was the world’s first luxury whisky. Today this whisky is blended in the same style of the original masterpiece. Chivas Regal 25 is an exclusive blend of the finest Scotch whiskies, with the youngest whisky in the blend having been aged for more than a quarter of a century. The taste shows hints of chocolate, orange, and a fondant creaminess, before a luxuriously long, round, and smooth finish.