To help us provide you with free impartial advice, we may earn a commission if you buy through links on our site. Learn more

Best scotch whisky 2023: The most delicious drams coming out of Scotland right now

Best Scotch whisky

Get cosy and enjoy a tipple or two at home with the best Scotch whisky you can buy right now

Scotch whisky is big business, which is why it can be tricky to find the best Scotch whisky in a deep sea of distilleries and styles. As Scotland’s most famous export, this whisky (there’s no ‘e’ in the Scottish stuff) is subject to a myriad of strict rules dating back hundreds of years. The rules allow it to retain its quality and ensure each distillery is fulfilling the requirements of what makes Scotch, Scotch. While American, Japanese, Irish and even English whiskies are fun to explore, it’s safe to say that the enduring popularity of Scotch shows no sign of waning. In fact, exports of whisky totalled £4.51bn in 2021, proving we don’t just save those delicious drams for Burns night.

But do you know your Glenfiddich from your Glenmorangie? After all, Scotch whisky varies wildly from distillery to distillery, with bottles veering from the oily and smoky to sweet and sticky. It all depends on what grain has been used, where the whisky originates from in Scotland, what kind of casks have been used in its ageing (and for how long), and whether it’s a single malt expression or balanced blend. Scotland is home to over 130 working distilleries and with so much choice around, it can be hard to sort the single grain wheat from the chaff.

Here, we’ve rounded up a few of our favourites with a focus on the smaller, more independent distilleries for value for money – and frankly, more fun. Be sure to give our buying guide a read if you’re totally new to Scotch, as it has plenty of tips on what to look out for before you buy.

READ NEXT: The best whisky to buy

Best scotch whisky: At a glance

How to choose the best Scotch whisky for you

What style should I try?

Much of the expected character of a Scotch can be gleaned from its label, while its geographical production is a big indication as to its likely character. There are five major whisky-producing regions across Scotland and bottles tend to fall into certain profiles. However, these are not hard and fast rules, so do expect some surprises.

Campbeltown: Robust, salty, smoky and sweet

Highland: Peaty, smoky, honey

Islay: Lots of sea minerality, menthol, smoky

Lowland: Soft, smooth, creamy and botanical

Speyside: Fruity, floral, light

Aside from this, the type of Scotch will also give a clue as to what you might find expressed in the bottle. Single Malt means that the whisky has been made using a malt whisky from a single distillery – it doesn’t involve any other cereals or blends. This can make for a very pure expression of the whisky that shows off a certain style of maturation or terroir, which Scotch fans will either love or hate.

Single Grain whiskies are also made in a single distillery but do not need to be produced solely from barley. Instead, wheat or corn, in addition to barley, can be used. They tend to be lighter in style than Single Malts.

Blended whiskies – whereby singles are blended by the distillery’s blender – are often unfairly derided as inferior to single expressions. But there are many exciting blends on the market to explore too.

How much should I spend?

We’ve all seen that the big name vintage cask releases can fetch record prices at auction and there are plenty of triple-figured bottles of aged whiskies from the famous distilleries to choose from if you’ve got cash to splash too. However, exploring great Scotch needn’t bankrupt you. Approachable yet impressive bottles usually retail around £40-£80, with a general rule that single malts command higher prices than single grain or blended whiskies.

Newer distilleries are also making waves in the whisky world, producing stand out bottles that can rival the better known labels at far lower prices.

How we test scotch whisky

It’s a tough job but someone has to do it. The only way to put each bottle through its paces is to drink it. But our sampling process requires a bit more than simply relaxing in front of a fire with a tasty dram. We assess each candidate for the aromas and tasting notes the makers describe, along with contributing our own findings.

Whisky is subjective, so we share the samples with others – whisky aficionados and otherwise – to gain a spectrum of opinion. Trying a range of bottles in succession also makes it easy to draw comparisons across similar styles of whisky where appropriate, too.

We try each whisky neat, with ice, and with a drop of water to see how the whisky drinks best and where makers suggested a specific serve, we also tried this (eg. with soda).

READ NEXT: The best whisky glasses to buy

The best Scotch whiskies you can buy in 2023

1. Ardbeg 10 Year Old Whisky: Best Islay whisky

Price: £46 | Buy now from The Whisky Exchange

Islay whisky is divisive, there’s no two ways about it. While some just can’t get enough of the deep smoke flavour, saline seaweed-like notes and oily finish, some find the whack of peat and salt just downright unpleasant. If you’re in the former camp, you’ll definitely enjoy this Ardbeg – its 200-year history is a shining example of an Islay Single Malt. You can’t fail to notice the peated aromas on the nose, which verge into a more charcoal smokiness that blends nicely with some welcome vanilla on the palate. But make no bones about it, peat and smoke are the leading flavours here.

Once you get past the initial shock, there’s some toasty malt and some spice to balance things out (they say pepper and liquorice, which we can get too), with just a touch of caramel if you concentrate. There is a definitive salinity to it and it certainly feels like a craggy, coastal whisky. A Scottish beach bonfire in a glass.

Key details – Bottle size: 70cl; ABV: 46%

Buy now from House of Malt

2. GlenAllachie Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky 12 Year Old: Best Scotch single malt

Price: £49 | Buy now from House of Malt

We love this classic Speyside Single Malt from independent distillers GlenAllachie. With their name derived from the Gaelic ‘Gleann Aileachaidh’, meaning Valley of the Rocks, it’s pleasing to find that this 12-year-old mature whisky shows off so much of the craggy, rocky Speyside landscape.

Buckets of oak and heather honey are present on the nose, with even more in the tasting notes and the balance of bright, zesty orange, sticky figs and juicy damsons is thoroughly characteristic of a really good Speyside. Hints of warming, sweet spices and dried fruit come through once opened up with a dash of water, which hark back to the whisky’s time in bourbon and PX sherry casks before being aged in virgin oak. A deep, burnished mahogany coloured dram that is begging to be sipped next to the fireside at any time of year.

Key details – Bottle size: 70cl; ABV: 46%

Buy now from Master of Malt

3. Nc’Nean Organic Single Malt Scotch Whisky: Best organic Scotch whisky

Price: £48 | Buy now from NcNean

And now for something a little different. Nc’Nean is a young (2017), independent distillery on the Highlands’ west coast doing pretty exciting things with whisky. Named after the Gaelic Queen of spirits Neachneohain, a fierce and wild protector of nature, it’s laudable that Nc’Nean has become the UK’s first whisky distillery to reach net zero carbon emissions and use only renewable energy while creating its experimental, modern whisky.

Traditionally, Highland whisky is often heavy with peat, smoke and sweet with honey, but Nc’Nean’s expression of its single malt is rather different. The distillery uses low-yield unpeated organic Scotch barley, which is gently fermented and slowly distilled with a range of experimental yeasts to create unexpected results. Finally, it’s matured in red wine and American whiskey barrels to enhance complexity, depth and sweetness. And all that experimenting pays off. This Single Malt is bursting with tropical fruits, peaches, pears and lots of zestiness, with just a touch of spice and a generous maltiness.

Nc’Nean says to serve with soda and a sprig of mint for a refreshing high ball, but we also love this straight up on the rocks.

Key details – Bottle size: 70cl; ABV: 46%

Buy now from the Whisky Exchange

4. The Gladstone Axe Black Axe Whisky: Best Scotch whisky for mixing

Price: £30 | Buy now from The Bottle Club

When four-time Prime Minister William Gladstone signed the Spirits Act of 1860 allowing whisky producers to blend for the first time, he made the Scotch whisky industry that we know today. He also happens to be the great-great-great Grandfather of one Elwyn Gladstone, founder of US wine and spirit company Biggar and Leith. Thi is its tribute to the man himself, in whisky form.

The Black Axe is a smooth blend of peated malt whiskies from 14 different distilleries across the Highlands and Islay, skewed towards the latter for a notably smoky profile, with a heady saltiness from the sea air. While the nose doesn’t give away much (they say apples, pears and peat smoke but it’s negligible), the palate serves up much more. Think vanilla toffee apples, woody oak and a wisp of peak smoke. We love this for a smoky take on a Manhattan after hours.

Key details – Bottle size: 70cl; ABV: 41%

Buy now from Master of Malt

5. Mossburn Speyside Blended Malt Whisky: Best blended Scotch whisky

Price: £39 | Buy now from Distillers Direct

Mossburn Distillers is another young, independent company doing good things with whisky. With two separate distilleries to work out of, it has produced a classic expression using a blend of Speyside single malt whiskies from its extensive cask warehouse. This has allowed the distillery to really explore the breadth of Speyside whisky. It has beautiful oaky vanilla sweetness and florals on the nose, before flavour notes are pleasantly dominated by buttered malt biscuits, a whack of lemon rind. That must-have Speyside heather honey is just detectable, too.

This whisky has seen three different cask woods for a well-rounded profile: reused American whisky barrels, Oloroso sherry butts and heavily charred virgin American oak. There’s a luxurious long finish with dried fruits (that’s those Oloroso butts) and perhaps a gentle nuttiness. It’s one made for sipping slowly.

Key details – Bottle size: 70cl; ABV: 46%

Buy now from Amazon

Read more

Best Buys