Scotch for Beginners + Popular Scotch Brands

A room temperature beverage with a golden hue sits on the shelf. You stare at it as you nurse your drink at the bar, nervous to begin your Scotch tasting journey. It is in a decorative bottle that makes the liquid appear even more delicious than you’ve already heard it is. You look at the bottle, and on the side is a list of aromas, notes, and a little history lesson. There is no Scotch guide in the world that can tell you exactly what you will enjoy. But what we do know is what aromas and notes each single malt and blended whisky has to offer. More than the whisky itself, you will find there are special ways to make the most of your Scotch experience. If you want to find the best Scotch whisky for beginners, start with the most popular Scotch brands. 


Choose Your Scotch

For those unfamiliar with Scotland's national beverage, choosing the best whisky can be a daunting task. There are single malt, blended whiskies, and five regions all with different notes to enjoy. Before picking out a Scotch to take home with you, know what you like and don’t. This isn't a definitive way of choosing the Scotch you will enjoy most. But it is the best way to start at home.


For those who love dark roast coffees like a French roast, Highland whiskies are a great first choice. Whiskies made on the islands, such as Highland Park and Ardbeg in Islay, have many of the same notes. They are acquired tastes, perfect for people who love smoky coffees and teas. If you prefer fruity beverages, you might like a Glenfiddich 12. Scotch whiskies aged 10 or 12 years are the best for beginners and what you will find on many “Best Scotch” guides. They are less expensive than most while maintaining fine quality. Glenmorangie Original aged 10 years is the best introduction to Highland whiskies. And when you’ve found yourself wanting to try more from this distillery, they have way more to offer, including The Lasante.


Despite what pop culture has led you to believe, blended whiskies are no less respectable than single malts. They can be just as enjoyable, and may be a smoother introduction to the world of Scotch. That’s why Johnnie Walker’s Red, Black, and Blue labels are found on Scotch guides and are best sellers. Johnnie Walker Blended Scotch is probably the most recognizable blended Scotch in North America. It’s a great starting point for anyone who wants to try a good blended Scotch at an affordable price.


The Glass

The glass you choose to enjoy your Scotch will make all the difference. There are glasses made for Scottish whiskies to be enjoyed properly. If you don’t have the best glass in your cupboard, maybe you have an acceptable alternative.


1. A Tulip Glass (Glencairn Glass)

The first choice and best option for drinking Scotch is pouring a dram of whisky into a tulip glass, also referred to as a Glencairn. You will see this glass at whisky tastings. A tulip glass has only been around for 20 years. But in that time it has become the one that all distilleries choose when hosting tours.

Containing approximately 5.9 fluid ounces but only intended to hold 1.7, the Glencairn glass is tulip shaped. Made to enjoy all that Scotch has to offer, the glass is designed to release the many aromas of the whisky. Its roots lie in the traditional nosing glasses of artisans that blend the Scotch. Unlike nosing glasses, though, the tapered mouth allows for easier drinking. The wide bowl is easier to hold and makes for better appreciation of the whisky’s color.


2. Wine Glass

Not the first choice but a good alternative nonetheless, wine glasses are the second choice when the best is not available to you. You will not fill the glass the way you would with wine! But the shape of the glass and the way it is made allows you to enjoy the smells and tastes of the Scotch. Wine glasses are made for enjoying both the taste and aroma of the product. And they are not unlike tulip glasses. Be sure not to swirl that glass, though. This messes with the integrity of the whisky and you will lose some of the taste when doing so.

3. Low-Ball Glass

The acceptable third choice when there are no other options, the low-ball glass will allow you to enjoy your beverage neat or otherwise. Also referred to as an old fashioned glass and rocks glass, a low-ball glass is made for mixed beverages with a limited number of ingredients. If you are unsure about trying Scotch neat to start and prefer trying it over ice, a low-ball is your best choice. This is the whisky glass you will see most often in restaurants and bars that are not whisky-specific.


The Pour

You have your Scotch and glass, now it is time to enjoy. Crack open your bottle and pour 1.5 to 2 ounces into the glass. This amount is perfect for whichever glass you are enjoying your whisky from. This allows you to best discern the many notes of the aroma before tasting. Pouring a little more or less will not take the enjoyment out of drinking whisky even for scotch drinking beginners. 1.5 to 2 ounces, however, is the usual pour. Go with what works first, and you can change it up later if you want to.


The Taste

The time has come for you to take that leap and try Scotch for the first time. Maybe you are a little nervous, but remember that you chose this whisky for a reason. Most whiskies take some getting used to, especially for beginners. But if you know the tastes you like and ask the right questions, you will probably find the best Scotch for you. Having poured your whisky, pick up the glass and remember to keep your hand steady. Swirling is for wine, not whisky. Swirling releases the aroma, lessening the flavor of the Scotch. Bring the glass up to your lips and taste. 1.5 to 2 ounces can be drunk in two drinks but be sure not to shoot it. You can take your time and nurse the beverage. Scotch is meant to be tasted and enjoyed. If you take a shot of your whisky you will not get to enjoy the many notes.


Neat, Water, or On the Rocks?

Neat, cleansing between sips, is usually the best way to enjoy whisky, especially for those trying Scotch for the first time or trying a new label. Pouring a neat whisky and a small sip of water to cleanse the palate is the best option. Adding nothing allows you to discern the various aromas before drinking and the flavors while tasting. Ice may release some of those notes. It will still be delicious, but it will not be the same. If you want to add ice but don’t want the water, use whisky stones to cool the Scotch.  In the end, it’s up to you. But if you want to enjoy the Scotch for all it has to offer, drinking it neat with sips of water in between is the best way.


Popular Types of Scotch

From blended to single malt, Scotch whisky has many options to choose from. How popular the whisky is may differ from country to country. But there are some top favorites that have gained popularity all over the world. Islay whisky has been dominating in recent years, with Highland whiskies also dominating in single malts. Whatever your taste, there is an accessible whisky to find thanks to their popularity in the States. The best whiskies for beginners can be found from all regions.


1. Johnnie Walker Red Label

Johnnie Walker for beginners, the Red Label is the best selling Scotch whisky around the globe. A blended whisky, Johnnie Walker is a mix of over 30 malts and grains. It’s a winning combination of lighter whiskies from the east coast and more peaty whiskies from the west. Johnnie Walker Red Label is balanced, letting off a fresh zesty aroma with notes of cinnamon and black pepper. Its popularity makes it easy to find wherever you are.


2. Dewars 12

The most popular blended whisky and most popular whisky in the U.S., Dewars is a great choice for both beginners and longtime whisky drinkers. Dewars is also one of the more affordable whiskies, with a fifth of Dewars being under $18. With notes of citrus, dried fruit, and vanilla, Dewars is a light blended whisky, descended from the original blended Scotch.


3. Glenfiddich 12

Glendfiddich is the world's biggest selling single malt and one of the first brands to be marketed as a single malt. It’s matured in the finest American oak and European oak sherry casks for at least 12 years. Then it is mellowed in oak marrying tuns to create its sweet and subtle oak flavors. Formerly marketed as Special Reserve, you may find it labeled as either Our Original 12 or Our Signature 12.


4. Chivas Regal 12

Years of craft have resulted in the taste of orchard fruits, wild heather, and sweet honey. Over the years, distillers at Chivas Regal have maintained the delicious taste that many can enjoy. It is the finest whiskies that come together to make Chivas Regal 12. Strathisla single malt, Strathclyde single grain and more create a whisky that is remarkably smooth. If you are looking for a blended whisky to put at the top of your list for Scotch whisky for beginners, Chivas Regal 12 is one to consider.


5. Monkey Shoulder

A premium blended malt whisky, Monkey Shoulder is more than a cool name. A blended malt Scotch whisky, Monkey Shoulder is a whisky made specifically for cocktails. Small batches of different Speyside whiskies are blended before being married together. It’s vibrant, with a mix of fruity aromas and vanilla notes that make it perfect for mixing into cocktails. Take your favorite beverages up a notch by adding Monkey Shoulder, a Speyside favorite.






Most beginners to drinking Scotch will find the taste an acquired one, but that just means there is more to love. As you drink, you will find yourself enamored with the aromas and notes you taste. You will sip and find something new as you reach the bottom of your glass. As you drink through the Scotch guide for beginners you will find whiskies that are perfect for anyone. From whiskies for coffee drinkers to lighter Scotches that tea drinkers will love, there is a Scotch for everyone.


Are you ready to try your first Scotch?