Best Scotch for Beginners

Scotch newbies and youngsters, you’re in the right place to seek out the best Scotch for beginners.  Ready to learn the smoky ropes? We’ve brought along some Scotch enthusiasts, and they know their stuff.

Stick around to hang out with Dr. Stephen Estner @scotch_doc, Chris @singlemaltsavvy, and Quy at @eat_travel_whisky. Also, follow them on Instagram ASAP. Your newsfeed needs these guys. Trust us.

A Beginner On the Scotch Scene?

Are you fresh on the Scotch scene? No worries! Quy @eat_travel_whisky says, “It’s easy to find Scotch bottles on any given shelf.” He does acknowledge our big question, though: What’s a good bottle to grab and try if you’re new to the game?

He notes:

“It can be a bit difficult to find the right Scotch because there are so many different variations and options out there. Plus, you’re looking at single malts, blended, and regional Scotches like Islay Whisky.”

He recommends the following few well-known brands:

  • Glenmorangie,
  • Balvenie,
  • Glenlivet,
  • Macallan,
  • Johnnie Walker,
  • Highland Park,
  • Oban,
  • Chivas

His Top Three best Scotch for beginners picks are:

  • Macallan 12,
  • The Balvenie 12, and
  • Highland Park 12

He says:

“This is a great entry point in the world of Scotch Whisky, so if you ever get a chance, do try them out! There is so much more to learn about Scotch, though, as there are differences with higher age statements. Further, there’s such a huge selection out there waiting for you!”

Why the twelve-year whisky as a starter, you ask? Quy explains that the notes are unique in each, and for the price, you can’t go wrong.

“I’ve had friends feel that the more expensive the bottle, the better it ‘should’ taste, but that’s not always the case if you don’t know what you’re getting yourself into.”

Most importantly, as a beginner, continue to explore, be adventurous, and try new bottles!  Quy tells us that’s exactly how he put his own home bar together. His advice?

“Pick up a new bottle every time, and just see your collection grow! By experiencing different bottles and revisiting them, you’ll start developing your palate. You’ll discover where the unforgettable notes/flavors come through. Try a bottle, splash a little water, drink it neat, or have it on the rocks. Find what suits you and drink up!”

More Top 3 Lists: Best Scotch for Beginners

Dr. Stephen Estner @scotch_doc gives us his Top Three and offers a few tasting notes to help you in selecting what you might like. Thanks, Doc!

  • Macallan 12: a very balanced, sweet, sherry bomb
  • Talisker 10: a nice mix of salt and sea, not overly smokey
  • Balvenie Caribbean Cask: a beautiful vanilla vibe, very drinkable

“There is no wrong way to drink whisky.” - @singlemaltsavvy

Chris @singlemaltsavvy speaks the truth:

“Ask ten different people this top-three question, and you'll get ten different answers because everyone has their own criteria for what makes a Scotch accessible for newcomers. If you ask me, I think lower proof and sweet/fruit-dominated whisky is best for newbies.”

Scotch for Beginners - Glenmorangie Glenmorangie comes to mind when you mention the best Scotch for beginners - beginning the journey never felt so right. [Photo cred:@singlemaltsavvy]

His votes are in:

“The Balvenie 12 Doublewood is a good choice, as is Glenmorangie Original. Both are bottled at 40 or 43 percent ABV, depending on where you are in the world, and both feature some nice sweetness with citrus undertones. For a whisky with some sherry depth (spice and dried fruits), Macallan 12 is also a good choice.”

So, you’re seeing some patterns in the Top Three lists here, folks. Take notes.

Chris says:

“Save the big flavors for later when you start to really understand how to pick apart a whisky. Enjoy your whisky exactly as you please when you first start out. That could mean neat, with a bit of water, or on the rocks.”

There really is no wrong way.

What’s Up with Peaty Scotch?

We’ll hear from all of the enthusiasts here as well. Quy says he gets the peaty or non-peaty Scotch question a lot. People will ask him to explain peat or to tell them how you can even tell if something is peaty. This is where he grabs his bottle of Lagavulin or Laphroaig. He gives the curious newbies a sniff. He says, “Their facial expressions say it all. It’s such a punch to the nose!”

Scotch for Beginners - Ardbeg Ardbeg is great for Scotch beginners looking for peat. [Photo cred: @eat_travel_whisky]

He continues:

“Smokey and oakey, peat’s distinct aroma is really strong for beginners. Peat is definitely an acquired taste and so is every whisk(e)y in the world.”

For a peaty pour, though, Quy recommends these three for starters:

  • Lagavulin,
  • Ardbeg, and
  • Laphroaig

He notes:

“The smell alone isn’t so pleasant at first, which is why it’s an acquired taste. But grab a bottle, test your senses, and challenge your taste buds.”

Will you be a peat-lover? You owe it to yourself to find out.

Another Take on Peat & More Recommendations

Chris isn’t a fan, but he doesn’t completely write off peat. He confesses:

“Even after ten years at this, I’m still not a big fan of the peated whisky. Peat is nothing more than decayed vegetation, and after drying it into bricks, the peat is added to the kiln fire used to dry the malted barley. I find that peat overpowers the other flavors in most cases, though I seem to be in the minority on this.”

He does add, “With that said, all peat is not created equal.”

Chris goes on:

“The peat on Islay leads to more of the ‘band-aid campfire’ flavors you sometimes see used in tasting notes. Up in Orkney, Highland Park uses a sweeter heather-based peat that makes for a more accessible peat experience, including the excellent Highland Park 18. On the Islay side of things, I hear great things about many Laphroaig releases, including Quarter Cask.”

Scotch for Beginners - Highland Park 18 Hello there, Highland Park 18. [Photo cred:@singlemaltsavvy]

Getting to Know Your Whisky, Getting to Know Your Peat

The Scotch Doc gives us the rundown:

“The two most common types of whisky are ‘single malt’ or ‘blended whisky.’ A single malt, which tends to be more expensive than a blended, is made from a single distillery and uses one type of grain. However, it is common for the distiller to use a variety of flavored casks to achieve a unique flavor.   Some of the more common cask treatments are sherry, port wine, and even rum. A blended whisky is made up of a mixture of whiskies from a variety of distilleries.”

Dr. Estner continues:

“Scotch whisky regulations require no less than three years of maturation in oak casks. Many of the Scotches have a distinct smoky taste from the use of peat. The level of the smokiness of a whisky is determined by the time the barley grain is exposed to the peat smoke during drying.”

If you want a recommendation to try a peaty flavor, you’re in luck. He says:

“Some of the more common peaty whiskies include those that originate in the islands off the coast of Scotland: Laphroaig, Ardbeg, and one of my personal favorites, Lagavulin.”

He notes:

“If you are not a fan of smokiness and prefer a smooth flavor, opt for brands that are from the Highland region such as Glenmorangie, Macallan, and the better known Glenlivet and Glenfiddich. Further, Caol Ila is a very drinkable 12-year, mildly peaty Scotch that I love.”

Best Scotch for Beginners that Costs $100 or Less

Scotch for Beginners - Lagavulin 16 Lagavulin 16 makes the cut easily. [Photo cred: @eat_travel_whisky]

Quy gives us seven options you’ll find below. He says:

“You can normally find most ten to twelve-year-old Scotches for less than $100, but you’ll quickly spoil your taste buds and palate if you’re ever adventurous and spend the extra on higher age-statement whisky.”

  • Lagavulin 16
  • The Balvenie 14
  • Caol Ila 12
  • Glenfiddich 15
  • Glenlivet 18
  • The Macallan (Edition 2 or 4)
  • Green Spot
Scotch for Beginners - Green Spot Green Spot rounds out Quy’s list. [Photo cred: @eat_travel_whisky]

The Scotch Doc offers up Macallan Edition No. 4 as his pick.

A Great Value?

Scotch for Beginners - A'berlour Abunadh Chris gives us Aberlour A’Bunadh. [Photo cred: @singlemaltsavvy]

Chris says:

“I'm going to ignore independent bottlings and focus strictly on official distillery releases. I'm also using pricing for one of the biggest liquor store chains in the United States for my price points. For my money, the choice is easy: Aberlour A'Bunadh. It's a small batch, sherry cask-matured, cask-strength release that is very consistent year after year. You don't see that kind of value very often these days.”

Best Scotch For Beginners Under $50

Scotch for Beginners - Chivas Regal Chivas Regal finds itself on Quy’s list. [Photo cred: @eat_travel_whisky]

Quy gives us the ones that he has tried and even some of the ones in his own home bar:

  • Glenlivet 12
  • Glenfiddich 12
  • Macallan 12
  • The Dalmore 12
  • Chivas Regal, Mizunara
  • Glenmorangie Original
  • Highland Park 12 or Magnus
  • Laphroaig 10
  • Monkey Shoulders
  • Aberlour 12
  • Tomatin 12

The Scotch Doc recommends Talisker 10.

Chris tried to narrow it down to one pick as well but admitted that it was tough:

“I finally settled on Bunnahabhain 12. Despite being from Islay, you won't find much peat here. This is a nice coastal release that can easily stand toe to toe with its big brothers, the 18-Year and the significantly more expensive 25-Year. The 12-Year really is that good.”

Scotch for Beginners - Glenmorangie (mix) The Glenmorangie lineup is looking mighty fine. [Photo cred: @eat_travel_whisky]

Dream Scotch Whisky: Our Enthusiasts’ Bucket List Scotches

We asked Quy about which Scotch he wanted to try most. His response?

“That’s tough because social media has such an influence on my whisk(e)y adventure, but if I really had to narrow things down, I’d have to say Macallan and their older age statement bottles. I’ve always been a fan of the 12, but I have yet to try their top shelf/high-end line. Those will be my most sought-after bottles and tastings.”

Dr. Estner says that, without a doubt, he’d love to try the Macallan “M.”

Chris notes:

“I've tried some really amazing stuff over the years - from new-make spirit to one-off releases, distillery exclusives, and whisky aged three years all the way up to fifty-eight years old! So, what do I want to try most?”

Chris’ readers know by now that he’s a huge Balvenie fan. He says:

“I've tried most of their expressions from the discontinued 10-year Founder's Reserve all the way up to the 50-year Cask 191. Still, the Balvenie 40 has eluded me. For the sake of completing the list, I really need to get my hands on a sample!”

Scotch for Beginners - Balvenie This is real life. Mad respect for the Balvenie. [Photo cred:@singlemaltsavvy]

Roll on the Best Scotch for Beginners or Bust

Ready to roll, Scotch newcomers? Get out there, and make it happen! Once again, don’t forget to follow all of our Scotch enthusiasts on Instagram. They’re always offering up Scotch inspiration and knowledge. Also, check out our blog for articles like Scotch Beginners Guide to Learning the Basics.

Scotch veterans, don’t go without leaving your own best Scotch-for-Beginners selections in the comments below. We want to hear from you! Last but not least, swing into our online shop for our one-of-a-kind whisky decanters, glasses, and other essentials!

Have a blast getting to know Scotch. It's a dram to dream about and certainly one to grow old with. Start your Scotch journey today!