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The best Scotch malts in the world

Compiling a top 90 best Scottish malts list is as ambitious a project as this magazine has ever undertook. Dominic Roskrowdescribes how it was done
By Dominic Roskrow
A definitive list of the top malt whiskies in the world, counted down from number 90 to number one. Is such a thing possible?There is a strong argument against, and without doubt we have set ourselves up to be shot down. After all, any such list is subjective, and what if something glaringly obvious is missed out?That’s what happened in rock magazine Classic Rock’s definitive guide to the best live albums of all time recently. Absent not just from the top 50 but from the top 10, and blatantly so to anyone who follows the genre, was Deep Purple’s Made In Japan. Hundreds of complaint letters later, the magazine admitted that on initial lists it was destined for the top 10, but by the time the magazine appeared, it had gone.With whisky it’s much, much more complex than for rock albums. For a starter, there are no legal recordings out there commanding a £1000 price tag. Few rock albums come out in limited batches and the biggest rock names always release their CDs worldwide through huge distributors. But our view was that if it could be done, it should be. It’s a good way of taking stock and focusing attention on whisky in general, and anyway, people like lists.Why did we do it? Because it’s fun and informative.You can react to lists two ways: some look at the top 10 and ask ‘where can I get them?’ Others look at the top 10 and then argue over a dram why the list is wrong.We know that the final top 20 will not be accepted by everybody, but we have gone to some effort to produce a chart that even critics would have to grudgingly accept at least forms a basis for a debate.To get there we went through several processes.Firstly, we removed pretty much all independent bottlings, although there were one or two exceptions where the independent version was widely available and had become, to all intents and purposes, the official version.We then took five sources of scores: Whisky Magazine’s own tastings from the last five years, Michael Jackson’s Malt Whisky Companion, Dave Broom’s Malt Whisky, Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible and a miscellaneous fifth category made up of scoring from a variety of other books.Only whiskies scored by at least three of these five sources were included. The scores were aggregated and an initial list of whiskies drawn up.Each whisky on that list was then checked for availability. Prices were checked on the websites of Royal Mile Whiskies, Loch Fyne Whiskies and The Whisky Exchange in the United Kingdom, then converted into approximate prices in euros and dollars.Finally, the list went to a small editorial team who were permitted to vote again for favourite whiskies, and a final listdrawn up.Not surprisingly, the list contains some expensive bottles, so we have presented the overall findings with prices together, and then listed a top 10 priced under £100 ($155) and a top 15 priced under £50 ($93).One editorial source close to the whole project looked at the results and declared them ‘boring’, adding that a chart like this was the equivalent to having a load of Beatles albums in the best rock album chart – “and we know what rubbish that is.”Perhaps: but we feel it makes a fascinating guide to the best scored whiskies over the last few years.What do you think?I’m sure you’ll let us know…90 Mortlach 16 Years Old, 43% £32-£34 e51 $62
89 Bruichladdich 20 Year Old, 46% £65 e98 $119
88 Ardbeg Uigeadail, 54.2% £33-£35 e53 $64.2
87 Longmorn 15 Year Old, 45% £26 e39.2 $47.6
86 Auchentoshan Three Wood, 43% £32.50-£34 e51 $62
85 Glen Garioch 21 Year Old, 43% £60 e91 $110
84 Glen Moray 16 Year Old, 40% £26 e39.2 $47.6
83 Speyburn 25 Years Old 1977, 63% £51.50-£53 e80 $97
82 Caol Ila 1981 Cask Strength, 56% £62.50 e95 $114.6
81 Glenfarclas 15 Year Old, 46% £29.50-£31.50 e47 $57
80 Linkwood 12 Year Old, 43% £32-£34 e51 $62
79 Caol Ila 12 Year Old, 43% £26-£28 e42 $51
78 Laphroaig 15 Year Old, 43% £33.50-£36.50 e55 $67
77 Glenmorangie 10 Year Old, 40% £23-£26.50 e40 $49
76 Scapa 12 Year Old £24-£26.50 e40 $49
75 The Glenlivet Archive 21 Years Old, 43% £40 e60.3 $73.3
74 Glenmorangie 1981 Sauternes Finish, 46% £132-£150 e227 $275
73 Glen Moray 12 Year Old, 40% £20-£22 e33.5 $40.3
72 Glenfarclas 105, 60% £29.50-£32 e48 $58.6
71 Glenmorangie Sherry Wood Finish, 43% £26.50-£29 e44 $53
70 Glenmorangie Madeira Finish, 43% £27.50-£29 e44 $53
69 Clynelish 14 Year Old, 46% £26.50-£29 e44 $53
68 The Macallan 12 Year Old, 40% £25 e38 $45.8
67 Glenturret 15 Year Old, 40% £120 e182 $220
66 Glenfiddich 30 Year Old, 43% £115-£120 e182 $220
65 Glenfiddich 21 Year Old Havana Reserve, 40% £52-£55 e83 $101
64 The Dalmore 12 Year Old, 40% £24-£26 e39.2 $47.6
63 Port Ellen 1978 24 Year Old, Rare Malts, 59% £102-£115 e174 $211
62 Bowmore 12 Year Old, 40% £22-£24 e36,4 $44
61 Dalwhinnie 15 Year Old, 43% £23.50-£26 e39.2 $47.6
60 The Balvenie 12 Year Old DoubleWood, 40% £26-£27.50 e41.8 $50.5
59 The Macallan Vintage 1948, 45.3% £2400 e3630 $4422
58 Glenfiddich 15 Year Old Solera Reserve, 40% £25-£30 e45.5 $55
57 Scapa 21 Year Old £61 e92 $112
56 Glendullan 8 Year Old, 40% £15.75 e24 $28.9
55 The Balvenie 25 Year Old, 46.9% £75 e113.8 $137.4
54 Glenfarclas 12 Year Old, 43% £150 e227 $275
53 The Macallan 10 Year Old, 46% £24-£26 e39.2 $47.6
52 The Balvenie 15 Year Old Single Barrel, 47.8% £37.50-£39 e59 $71.5
51 Glenmorangie 1975 Cote de Nuit £300 e456 $5505
50 Royal Lochnagar 23 Year Old rare £113 e171 $207
49 Glen Grant 1969, 46% £96 e145 $176
48 Rosebank 19 Year Old, Rare Malts, 60.3% £66-£67 e101.1 $122.7
47 The Macallan 10 Year Old Cask Strength £50 e75 $91.6
46 Bladnoch 10 Year Old, Flora and Fauna, 43% £32-£34 e51 $62
45 The Glenlivet 30 Year Old Cellar Collection
American Oak Finish, 48% £160 e242 $293
44 Cragganmore Ruby Port finish £33.50 e50.6 $61.4
43 The Macallan 25 Year Old, 43% £160-£184 e279 $337.9
42 Glenfarclas 21 Year Old, 43% £37.50-£39 e59 $71.6
41 The Glenrothes 1972 £82-£85 e129 $156
40 Talisker 10 Year Old, 45.6% £26-£28 e42 $51
39 Brora 30 Year Old, 52.4% £185-£193 e293 $354
38 Talisker Double Matured 1986 £36 e54.4 $66
37 Longrow 10 Year Old, 46% £37-£40 e60.4 $73.2
36 The Glenlivet 18 Year Old, 43% £30 e45 $55
35 Glenfarclas 1979, 24 Year Old54% £68 e103 $125
34 Ardbeg 10 Year Old, 46% £22.50-£24 e36.4 $44
33 Brora 21 Year Old, 2003 bottling, 58.4% £69-£73 e110 $134
32 Caol Ila 21 Year Old, Rare Malts, 61.3% £72-£75 e114 $137.2
31 Glenfarclas 25 Year Old, 43% £65 e98 $119
30 Bowmore 25 Year Old, 43% £120-£125 e188 $229
29 Bowmore 17 Year Old, 43% £35-£37 e56 $67
28 Ardbeg 1977, 46% £66 e100 $121
27 Highland Park 12 Year Old, 40% £21-£26 e39.2 $47.6
26 Cragganmore 12 Year Old, 40% £23.50-£26 e39.2 $47.6
25 Ardbeg 1978, 43% £120 e181.2 $219.6
24 Laphroaig 10 Year Old, 40% £22-£24 e36.4 $44
23 Aberlour a’bunadh, 59.6% £31-£33 e49 $60.4
22 Laphroaig 10 Year Old Original Cask, 59.6% £32.50-£35 e53 $64
21 Lagavulin 12 Year Old, 57.8% £41-£45 e68 $83
20 Balvenie 1967 Vintage, 49.7% £300 e456 $550
19 Highland Park Bicentenary Vintage
1977 Reserve £69.25 e105.8 $128
18 Balvenie PortWood 21 year old, 40% £45-£52 e79 $95
17 Glenfiddich 40 Year Old Rare, 43.6% £890-£950 e1445 $1747
16 Laphroaig 30 Year Old, 43% £220-£230 2350 $423
15 Macallan Select Reserve 1948, 47% £1750 e2660 $3215
14 Highland Park 25 Year Old, 53.5% £135-£142 e216 $261
13 Lagavulin 1979 Double Matured Distillers Edition £40-£41 e62 $75.4
12 Ardbeg Very Old 30 years £225 e342 $414
11 Springbank 25 Year Old, 46% £250 e380 $46010 Longmorn 25 year old 45%
This is one of those exceptions to the standard rule – an independent bottling that has effectively become the official version. It is also this chart’s biggest surprise. Longmorn is a delight anyway, surely one of the best distilleries on Speyside. And yet it remains relatively unknown.That’s because traditionally Chivas have had other distilleries to focus on. That might be changing slowly and a new cask strength version of
Longmorn is just being released by the company.The Gordon & MacPhail 25 year old is the guv’nor, though. You’ll find complexity, smoothness, loads of character and a long finish. Outstanding.Average Price: £45 268 $829 The Macallan 30 Year Old 43%
As you’d expect lots of orange, some smoke and a complex palate.Michael Jackson said: “Despite its great age no aggressive oakiness or overbearing sherry. Tightly combined flavours. Its great appeal is its mellow maturity. Complex with just a whiff of smoke.”Average Price £ 250-300 2456 $5508 The Macallan 50 Year Old Millennium 43%At close to £2000 ($3700) a bottle this is not so much a Macallan to die for but to provoke a robbery. It is, say the experts, everything a Macallan should be and worthy of its status at the top of a Macallan fan’s wish list.Michael Jackson said: The oak is big but never overpowering. A beautifully composed and utterly luxurious whisky.”Average Price: £1,750 22650 $32007 Lagavulin 16 Year Old 43%Back on planet reality, the standard expression of Lagavulin has been in short supply recently, but you can still find it, particularly in pubs and bars that stock the Classic Malts range but don’t promote whisky to the clientele. Lagavulin is an electric storm of a whisky, a dry and sustained attack of peat and smoke.Michael Jackson said: The dryness is at first offset by the sweetness of the sherry character. As the palate develops oily, grassy and in particular smoky notes emerge. This giant is dignified but full of life.”Average Price: £29.50 244.5 $546 Macallan Gran Reserva 18 Year Old 43%Nearly disqualified because it isn’t easy to find, this expression was matured in first fill casks only and is very woody as a result. There are trademark sherry and fruit tones, too, particularly orange marmalade. Michael Jackson recommends it only to true lovers of powerfully oaked whiskiesAverage Price: £90 2136 $1655 Ardbeg Provenance 55.8%Even by Ardbeg’s very high standards, this is a true world beater. Jim Murray described it as close to the best whisky he had tasted in his life, and its incredible complexity and diversity make it a dram to savour over and over. It’s noted particularly for the way a sweet toffee and chocolate
component is replaced by a growing peatiness and then swept aside by bore bitter notes late on. A roller coaster of whisky? You’re not kidding.Average Price £200 e302 $3664 Highland Park 18 year old 40%Highland Park is described by Michael Jackson as whisky’s greatest all-rounder, and there seems to be some form of consensus among experts that the 18-year-old gets all its ducks in line perfectly. No whisky balances fruit, sweet honey, oak and smoke and when it comes to rounded perfection, we’re talking Marilyn here. Arguably THE whisky to have if you’re wanting to spend a little bit more for that special occasion.Average Price £50-53 e80 $973 Springbank 35 year old 46%Springbank is the whisky connoisseur’s whisky, and if you let loose a group of expert tasters it’s only a matter of time before they’ll descend on this most traditional of distilleries. The 35-year-old is another ‘wish list’ whisky, but if you’re going to drink anything over 20 years old, it doesn’t get better than this.As Jim Murray notes in Whisky Bible 2004: “No whisky should be quite this faultless or good.” The experts agreed.Average Price £155 e234 $283.82 Talisker 20 year old 58.8%This is both an excellent example of what Talisker is capable of, and an amazing experiment in styles. Talisker is, of course, a bullying beast of a whisky and not for the faint-hearted, and its peat and spice double whammy makes for an unforgettable combination. Add to that cask strength and the very obvious presence of sherry and you’ve got spice, peat and sweet fruits pulling in opposite directions to stunning effect.Incredible.Average Price £82-90 e136 $1651 The Macallan 18 year old 43%With four entries in the top 10 it seems only right that a Macallan should top the pile, and this 18-year-old is a suitable compromise between some of the more run-of-the-mill Macallan bottlings and some of the barely attainable ones in this chart.Edrington has tended to release one a year but they have been consistently excellent. Indeed, Michael Jackson reckons that they all score in the 90s and there is little between any of them. Perfect examples of sherry, orange fruit and wood and a nice balance to boot. A worthy winner.Average Price: £60-63 e95.1 $115.3
Top 15 whiskies under £50Lagavulin 16 Year Old
Longmorn 25 Year Old
Lagavulin Distillers’ Edition
The Balvenie PortWood 21 Year Old
Lagavulin 12 Year Old
Laphroaig 10 Year Old Cask Strength
Aberlour a’bunadh
Laphroaig 10 Year Old
Cragganmore 12 Year Old
Highland Park 12 Year Old
Bowmore 17 Year Old
Ardbeg 10 Year Old
The Glenlivet 18 Year Old
Longrow 10 Year Old
Talisker Double Matured 1986Top 10 whiskies under £100The Macallan 18 Year Old
Talisker 20 Year Old
Highland Park 18 Year Old
The Macallan Gran Reserva
Lagavulin 16 Year Old
Longmorn 25 Year Old
Lagavulin Distillers Edition
Balvenie PortWood 21 Year Old
Highland Park Bicentenary
Vintage 1977
Lagavulin 12 Year Old