What are the world’s best single malts? We list the top 10.
When it comes to whisky, especially single malts, it’s hard to beat Scotland.
Well, not completely.
While single malt remains the pinnacle of whisky, at least according to high-minded whiskey connoisseurs and single malt producers, it is also very much a Caledonian specialty, so the world’s best malts can be found on rocky coasts and rocks. It is safe to assume that it is born from the coast. Bonny Scottish Island Tops and Highlands.
In reality, this is not necessarily the case.
Single malt is made in almost every country that produces whisky, but Scottish producers have traditionally been the heavy hitters, giving them an edge in terms of output, shelf space and scoring. But there are signs that that may be changing.
A year ago, our top 10 single malt overview included nine Scottish and one ‘other’. This year, non-Scottish bottlings occupy his three spots on the list.
(And a note on the spelling of “whiskey.” At Wine-Searcher, we spell it “whiskey” when referring to Irish or American products, and when talking about brown spirits in general. We spell it “whiskey” when referring specifically to it. ”, which affects the style in which you use that spelling, so I apologize for the seeming inconsistency.)
Typically for wine, the list is updated monthly and is based on the average critic score, weighted according to the number of reviews and number of critics. For example, a wine with a score of 94 based on 100 reviews by a large number of reviewers may appear higher on the list than a wine with a score of 95 based on 10 reviews by a small number of reviewers.
However, Spirits has fewer reviews and scores, so its weighting is less important. Instead, we’ve simply listed the bottlings in order of aggregated critic scores.
So let’s see who took home top honors this year.
Wine-Searcher’s world’s best single malts:
The three “others” aren’t that big of a surprise. Taiwanese superstar Kavalan (who appeared on the list last year with his Bourbon Cask bottling) has added Sherry His Cask His Expression to the list, and Japan’s legendary Yamazaki Distillery is also joining the fun. Kavalan had two entries a few years ago, and its whiskey has been wowing critics for several years, so it’s to be expected that this grade will be rated.
By comparison, Yamazaki has often appeared on our “Most Expensive” and “Most Wanted” lists, but this year it made its first appearance on our Best Malts list.
Otherwise, power will take over. All seven Scottish malts are big beasts. Three (two Bowmore and Ardbeg) come from Islay, famous for its flavour, the only place on earth where water tastes like whisky. Highland Park, on the other hand, has an island tradition from Kirkwall. In the Orkney Islands.
The Highland whiskeys on the list also emphasize power. The Macallan is aged in oak barrels for rich flavor, while the Dalmore is designed to have enough oomph to rival a decent cigar. Glenmorangie Cygnet, on the other hand, is made from his 30-year-old whisky, and packs a memorable punch.
Overall, it’s also interesting to see the score. Spirits reviewers and critics tend to take a more grounded approach to scoring than wine critics, avoiding the high-profile, high-scoring schemes that have become more common over the past 15 years. (to the point where it will soon be necessary) for some wines (out of 150). Instead, a score of 90 is considered excellent, not just a starting point.
That said, five years ago, our top single malts each had a critic score of 91 points. We’ve come a long way since then. All but one of today’s top 10 score at least 95 points. In the 2018 list, only two of his bottlings (The Macallan and The Dalmore) remain in the top ten. That said, some clearly outstanding whiskeys have been released onto the market during that time and achieved impressive scores.
While all is well for single malt producers, perhaps some of Scotland’s distilleries are looking over their shoulders to see where the next challenge to their supremacy will come from.
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