A little over a year ago I started to drink and really explore all that Scotch whisky has to offer. I remember being overwhelmed by all the different options and the rather expensive price of it all. Since than, I have tasted dozens of different brands of Scotch and have composed a list of affordable bottles of Scotch that can help you find what you like and what you don’t.
Here is the list of bottles I would recommend for beginners:
- Chivas Regal 12
- Bowmore 12
- Old Pulteney 12
- Glenlivet 12
- Glenmorangie 10
However, I find it important that you don’t spend a lot of money on something you will not enjoy, and therefore I have explained my choices carefully.
Find the right whisky for you
Before we jump into more detail regarding the list of bottles of whisky, I first want to warn you against one of the most common beginner mistakes. Don’t buy an expensive “very good” bottle of whisky of close to $100 as your first bottle of Scotch. I have looked around on the internet and was shocked about what people were recommending to beginners as most of the bottles were extremely expensive.
Instead, start by tasting different kinds of whiskies to find slowly learn what flavors you like and what flavors you do not like. In the list below I will point out why that particular is suitable for beginners and how it can help you find the right taste for you.
I also would recommend against buying really cheap bottles of (often blended) Scotch as they often have an intense nippy alcohol flavor and does not represent what whisky has to offer.
Finally, let’s go over all the 87 simple beginner rules that you have to stick to when drinking whisky: none. There are no rules, just choices. The worst thing you can do is accidentally encounter a whisky snob that thinks he/she knows all about whisky. They will tell you you need to drink whisky a certain way and that other ways are off limits. Well, I’m here to tell you that you can drink whatever you like in whatever way you like.
Normally, these articles are filled with links to online retailers so the websites make some money. I do this, as it funds this website. However, on this article I am not going to do this, as I want you to go out to your local liquor store and see what’s on the shelves.
Take my list with you so you’ll be well prepared. When you are in the store, I want you to ask the store employee if you can taste the whisky before you are buying a bottle, as many good stores do in fact do this. This is a great way to see what you like, and you won’t be buying a bottle of something you don’t enjoy drinking!
Now let’s jump straight into the first recommendation on this list!
1. Chivas Regal 12
At a price point of around $30 for a bottle, this is a great Scotch blend that you can buy to start your whisky journey.
It’s often considered as a Scotch blend for grown-ups as the taste does not quite have the stingy alcohol taste. The reason for this is because this whisky is a blend of different whiskies that all have had the chance to age for at least 12 years before being bottled.
Now there are many terms that I would love to explain to you, so bear with me. First there is the word “blend”. A blended whisky is a whisky that is a combination of different whiskies. It’s often considered as less, but don’t be mistaken. Blending is an art and, like the Chivas Regal 12, there are really good blends out there.
The next term is “aging”. Creating whisky is a long and slow process, but it consists of waiting for the most part. The distillate (clear) liquor is aged in wooden casks for at least 3 years before it is bottled. The longer it remains in the barrel, the more chance the liquor has to interact with the wood. The wood removes some of the sharp edges and introduces taste as well as color to the whisky.
Let’s dive into what the whisky has to offer. First you should smell the whisky (also called nosing the whisky) and see if you recognize some of the flavors and aromas.
Nose: On the nose this whisky is very sweet with notes of butter toffee, vanilla custard and potentially even lemon curd. There is no smoke present in this whisky and the 12 years of aging has introduced notes like vanilla and peppery spices.
Palate: Now let’s taste the whisky. You should take a small sip and just roll it around with your tongue. If you’re an inexperienced drinker I will guarantee you the alcohol will dominate, but this will be the case with all whiskies. You can add a couple of drops of water to take away some of the alcohol burn. Flavors that this whisky has to offer include banana chips, barley malt, spices and nuts. Some of the notes we got on the nose will also be present in the palate of the whisky.
Overall, buying a bottle of this whisky is a great introduction to get to know Scotch whisky and to see what a good Scotch has to offer.
2. Bowmore 12
Let’s assume you have had the chance to taste a couple of Scotch whiskies or are familiar with the taste that Chivas Regal 12 has, and you are looking to see if a peated (smokey) whisky is for you. In this case, Bowmore 12 is a good choice for you! Many whisky drinkers will agree that a peated whisky is not anything you want to give to a beginner, as the smoke often dominates on the nose as well as the palate.
I have thought long about what whisky to recommend to beginners who want to see if they enjoy a smokey whisky. Just to get things right, a peated whisky and a smokey whisky are the same thing. If a whisky is peated there is smoke in there.
There are popular names like Laphroaigh, Lagavulin and Ardbeg which I would never recommend to a beginner. The smoke is intense, and in some cases it’s a really medicinal iodine smoke (Laphroaigh). You need a bridge to get to these bottles, and I think Bowmore 12 would be a good option. Another option, which also is one of my favorite Scotch whiskies out there, is the Benromach 10. There is a slight smoke in there which tastes lovely.
But wait, this bottle says “Single Malt”, isn’t that super expensive and way too high quality for a beginner? No, it’s not. A whisky is a single malt whisky when it contains just barley (no rye, corn, wheat etc) and is produced at one distillery. The price of the Bowmore 12 lies around $40 so it’s a little more expensive. What do you get for this money?
Nose: When you are a beginner I guarantee you that you will immediately find the smoke. The peat-level of this whisky is moderate, and therefore also allows other notes to shine through. There is citrus in the form of orange / lemon-slices as well as some beautiful floral notes. I would find it impressive when you would find all these at your first nosing, but this is just what you should look for.
Palate: The flavor of the Bowmore 12 is lovely and sweet. There are honeyed notes as well as some vanilla. The perfumed smoke as well as some slightly salty, maritime notes develop. Overall a great whisky to try when you are looking to get into peated whisky. I honestly love peated whisky and would highly recommend this one for you!
3. Old Pulteney 12
Honestly my favorite whisky at the time of writing this. The small disclaimer at the end of the sentence is because I tend to have a new favorite whisky every other month, but this one is really good and surprisingly affordable! At around $40 this is a great single malt Scotch for beginners, let me explain why.
The reason why I put this bottle on my list is because it has one of the best maritime notes in a whisky that I know. You have to understand that a lot of the Scotch whiskies spend years and years in a warehouse outside. It’s not climate controlled, they are just left to the weather and temperature outside. The fluctuations in temperature are necessary to squeeze the liquor in and out of the wood.
In the Old Pulteney 12, the maritime influence of the location of the distillery is really prominent and when I drink it I always taste the sea. The whisky itself is really accessible because the nose does not sting and the palate is really smooth. When doing research and looking what other websites were recommending to beginners I do not understand why none of them were including this whisky in their list.
Here are some tasting notes you can look for when trying the whisky.
Nose: On the nose I find a lot of sweet honeycomb together with some vanilla. There is some oakiness and don’t forget the salty/briny caramel I mentioned before.
Palate: Other people find chocolate in the palate but I don’t. Instead, there is a lot of sweet fresh fruit combined with the citrus peels. The maritime elements are prominent and there is some white pepper.
4. Glenlivet 12
The Speyside region in Scotland is the region with most distilleries per squared mile. I went on holiday there and the place is filled to the brim with distilleries, producing great whisky but making our choice very difficult.
The region is know for its typical Speyside flavor profile, and to me tastes like the stereotypical whisky. There is a lot of wood, honey, spices and most definitely fresh fruit like apple and pear. It’s great, but which one should you go for? They all have slightly different flavors.
Well, I would recommend going with a bottle of Glenlivet 12, the most sold bottle of Speyside Scotch worldwide. It has everything you would expect from a Speyside whisky and therefore makes for a great introduction to Scottish whisky. I would also highly recommend this whisky as a gift when you know someone is into whisky.
The price for this bottle of whisky is around $50 so it’s a little more expensive, however well worth it in my opinion. If it’s your first bottle, it definitely is not a bottle with a distinct special flavor profile and I’m sure you will enjoy this. To not go out of the format, let’s see what you get.
Nose: On the nose there are fresh grassy and floral notes. Next to this you may find soft citrus as well as nutty notes. The sweetness you will smell gives notes of honey and let’s not forget the oak wood notes.
Palate: This beautiful whisky has a smooth mouthfeel and brings forward aromas of citrus fruits like oranges and lemons. The vanilla and toffee is present but only slightly. I would really describe this as fresh and fruity.
5. Glenmorangie 10
Honestly, the first 4 entries are all you need right now. We’ve covered so much, but I feel like adding a 5th one to make the list complete. I looked online and many other reputable sources add the Glenmorangie 10 year old single malt. I’ve had this whisky before, and I would agree it’s a great beginner Scotch.
The bottle is really recognizable because of its tall orange look. While that does not matter at all when it comes to taste, you will not have much problems looking for it in the shelves. Another reason for this is because of its popularity and accessibility.
The price for this whisky is around $45.
What is drinking a glass of Glenmorangie 10 like?
Nose: On the nose this whisky is extremely fruity and rich. There are notes of lemon, nectarine and apples. Although I personally would describe it as pear. There are also spices, and the whisky overall is rather sweet.
Palate: The whisky is fresh and well balanced. I would long for a glass of this stuff on a hot summer evening, mainly because of its freshness. Notes of vanilla, sweets and even toffee or tiramisu are not uncommon when describing this dram.
This is how I try a new whisky
Like we already established, there is not a “best” way to drink your whisky. Instead, everyone can enjoy their whisky how they like and I even drink different whiskies in different ways.
First, I always try a whisky neat (without adding anything else). After that, I add some water and see how that affects the taste. Often, a little bit of water allows a whisky to open up and can reveal flavors that otherwise were not present in the whisky.
If you’ve tried your whisky this way, you can start experiment by adding some ice or whisky stones to cool your whisky. Often this makes the drink slightly more refreshing but it can also dull the flavors.
Mixing your whisky with lemonade, coke or another soda is a way to drink whisky, but I would recommend against this with more expensive whiskies as it’s just a waste of money. When you want to mix whisky it’s best to use the cheaper blends that are actually made for mixing.