Our Favorite Beginner Scotch Whisky Picks

January 28, 2022

Welcome to the club! You’ve decided to add Scotch whisky to your drinking repertoire and we couldn’t be more thrilled to assist. Admittedly, Scotch whisky can be a bit daunting for beginners who aren’t used to some of the flavors — not to mention the pronunciations of some of the brand names. But there is a wide range of accessible whiskies in the Scotch whisky world, despite what you may have heard. Most beginner Scotch whisky drinkers will want to start with whiskies that contain little or no peat smoke flavors (we’ll cover that a bit later).

Naturally one of the first things to consider is the price. But you needn’t spend a great deal of money on your selections. You’re dipping your toes in the water so to speak so buying rare or old Scotch whisky bottles isn’t really necessary. There are plenty of everyday single malts near the $50 mark with around 10-12 years of aging to them that are perfectly suitable. For blended Scotch whisky, you’ll find many great picks for around $30 a bottle.

When tasting, try to focus on the flavors that you find pleasant, and perhaps even more importantly, on those tastes that you don’t enjoy. Jot down the flavors and aromas that come to mind. This way you’ll have a reference to look at while training your taste buds and building your Scotch whisky collections. Of course Distiller has a great way to keep your tasting notes and ratings together. Simply add them to our spirit listings in the links below.

Our suggestions for beginner Scotch whisky brands to try are each widely available and moderately priced. We can’t wait to hear what you think!

Glenfiddich 12 Year

The brand’s flagship expression is aged for 12 years in American and European oak barrels and then allowed to mellow in an oak vat before bottling. Glenfiddich is Gaelic for “Valley of the Deer,” hence the stag on the label.

Flavors to Look For:

Cooked pears, gentle spice and vanilla

beginner scotch whisky: Glenfiddich 12 YearGlenfiddich 12 Year /Photo Credit: Glenfiddich

Aberfeldy 12 Year

The majority of the whisky made at this Highlands distillery is used for Dewar’s, a widely popular blended Scotch whisky that you may also try as a beginner.

Flavors to Look For:

Honey, toasted nuts and oak

Old Pulteney 12 Year

Known as the Maritime Malt due to the proximity of its dunnage warehouses to the North Sea, this whisky was aged for 12 years in ex-bourbon casks.

Flavors to Look For:

Toasted cereal, vanilla and brine

Glenmorangie The Original 10 Year

After distilling in Scotland’s tallest stills, The Original is aged for 10 years in American oak barrels.

Flavors to Look For:

Orange, vanilla and cream

Auchentoshan American Oak

Unlike most single malt whiskies in Scotland, Auchentoshan is triple rather than double distilled.

Flavors to Look For:

Coconut, citrus and vanilla

Chivas Regal 12 Year

Just after Prohibition in 1938, the brand launched this 12 Year blended Scotch whisky. Notably, the brand updated its packaging this month with a more contemporary design and taller bottle.

Flavors to Look For:

Apples, butterscotch and cinnamon

Ready for Peat?

While you’re tasting your way through these beginner Scotch whisky bottles, you may find yourself wanting more bold flavors. It is at this point you should start to consider peated whiskies. If you’re unfamiliar with peat, we’ve got a primer here for you. But flavorwise, peated whiskies have tasting notes such as menthol, seaweed, brine, earth and campfire smoke, in addition to all of the other whisky flavors.

And while there are many peated whiskies which will punch your taste buds into submission, whisky makers can adjust the amount of peat in their creations through various production methods. In short, not every peated whisky is one to be feared.

Here are a few peated beginner Scotch whisky picks to explore.

Johnnie Walker Black Label

Johnnie Walker Black was so named in 1909 as customers had started to order its bottles by the label’s color. Aged 12 years, it’s made from a blend of over three dozen distilleries, including peated single malt distilleries such as Talisker and Lagavulin but also the unsung hero Cardhu.

Flavors to Look For:

Moderate peat, toffee and vanilla cream

beginner scotch whisky: Johnnie Walker Black LabelJohnnie Walker Black Label /Photo Credit: Johnnie Walker

Highland Park 12 Year Viking Honour

The climate on the Orkney Islands where Highland Park is located is quite windy and sea swept creating a dismal environment for trees. As such, the Orcadian peat bogs have more heather, grass and plants than those on Islay.

Flavors to Look For:

Orange honey, dates and gentle peat.

Bowmore 12 Year

Located on the Isle of Islay which is known for its peated single malt whisky distilleries, Bowmore offers a moderate peat level, especially compared with powerhouses like Ardbeg and Laphroaig.

Flavors to Look For:

Salted caramel, beef jerky and mild smoke


Looking for more beginner Scotch whisky options?

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