10 of the best Scotch whiskies for beginners

Us Scots love whisky, and in a bid to share that passion we've picked out 10 great Scottish whiskies for beginners to ease them into enjoying a dram

Published 9th Jan 2021
Updated 21 st Sep 2023

For us, whisky shouldn't be anything to be scared of, you don't need to have an education or any kind of formal training but there are a few things you should you before you start.

The Basics

For the purpose of this article we'll mainly be focusing on Scottish whisky - that is to say, whisky made in Scotland.

First off, the rules to drinking.

There are no rules.

No, seriously.

Other than to try as many whiskies as you can, whenever you can, there aren't any laws as to how you should drink it.

You can enjoy it anyway you like.

However, we do have some advice to get the best out of your whisky drinking experience.

Ok, so it's probably not the best idea to drown a 20-year-old dram in Coke or Irn-Bru - that's cheaper blended whiskies are designed for - but if that's the way you like to drink it then go for it (we'll try not to wince).

With regards to water in ice, it all comes down to how they affect the whisky.

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Ice will cool it down and dampen any flavours, if that is the desired effect, then feel free to have your whisky on the rocks.

With water, it's a case of sip it and see - take a taste and decide whether the whisky is rich and oily enough to benefit from being opened up by a few drops. With lighter whiskies, water sometimes isn't needed.

Lastly, make sure to have some water to drink side by side with your dram, this will lubricate your throat and stop that natural reflux reaction from drinking high alcohol.

Now onto the fun part...

The whiskies

* a note on styles -

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Single malt refers to a whisky made using only malted barley that has been produced by a single distillery.

Blended malt refers to whisky made using only malted barley from several distilleries blended together.

Single grain refers to to a whisky made using only grain that isn't malted barley that has been produced by a single distillery (using a column still).

Blended whisky refers to the most ubiquitous style of whisky which is a blending of single malts and grain whisky from many different distilleries.

Auchentoshan 12-years-old

(Style: single malt, region: Lowland, abv: 40%)

Perfect for... those looking to try single malts but don't know where to start

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10 of the best Scotch whiskies for beginners

Picture: The Whisky Exchange

Auchentoshan is a delightful little distillery based just outside of Glasgow.

One of the most exciting things about their whisky is that (much like Irish whiskey) it is triple distilled, meaning it's one of the smoothest single malts around.

The 12-year-old is a decent price retailing for just under £35, it is sweet and honeyed, perfect for those adjusting their palates to the flavours of whisky.

Buy here

Aberlour 10-years-old

(Style: single malt, region: Speyside, abv: 40%)

Perfect for... those looking for something a little richer in sweetness

10 of the best Scotch whiskies for beginners

Picture: Whisky Exchange

We could also have chosen the Glendronach 12 here, but in the interest of availability, we've went for Aberlour 10, which is far more ubiquitous.

Still at the supremely smooth end of the scale, Aberlour uses ex-sherry casks to give their whisky the rich spicy tones of dried fruits and nuts.

Stunningly drinkable, this is a great sipping whisky for those just beginning on their whisky journey.

Buy here - £35.25

Glen Grant 10 years old

(Style: single malt, region: Speyside, abv: 40%)

Perfect for... those who like super sweet flavours

10 of the best Scotch whiskies for beginners

Named Single Malt of the Year (10yo & Under) by a certain whisky writer, the Glen Grant 10-years-old deserves all of the plaudits it gets and more.

Deliciously sweet, there's notes of pineapple, orange, vanilla and cream in abundance and a great example of not only ex-bourbon cask whisky but also that traditional light fruity Speyside style.

Buy here - £34.45

Benromach 15-years-old

(Style: single malt, region: Speyside, abv: 43%)

Perfect for... those looking to try something a little more expensive without breaking the bank

10 of the best Scotch whiskies for beginners

Picture: Whisky Exchange

Should you be looking to spend a little more on something older that won't break the bank and will still taste delicious, then this whisky is a great choice.

Not only that, it's the next evolutionary step for those looking to try new flavours. Benromach is lightly peated and therefore a great all rounder in terms of taste, meaning you can try a little smoke without feeling overwhelmed. The extra age also adds a delightful depth and balance that you won't find in younger versions all for just a little over £60.

Buy here - £64.95

Bowmore 12-years-old

(Style: single malt, region: Islay, abv: 40%)

Perfect for... those looking to try something with a little smoke

10 of the best Scotch whiskies for beginners

Picture: The Whisky Exchange

For those of you feeling brave, or those who simply like bold and punchy flavours, then the Bowmore 12 is an excellent whisky to introduce you to the joys of peat and smoke.

Exceptionally drinkable and filled with the iodine flavours of some of the more astringent Islays (Laphroaig anyone?), the Bowmore's peat level hovers around the middle ground and when mixed with the tropical fruit flavours of the distillery's style, you get a dram that's peaty but well balanced, even for beginners.

Buy here - £34.49

Monkey Shoulder

(Style: Blended Malt, abv: 40%)

Perfect for... sharing with friends

10 of the best Scotch whiskies for beginners

You will no doubt have seen Monkey Shoulder in a range of places, it's a really great (and often overlooked) Scotch whisky.

Made from a mix of three different Speyside Single Malts - Glenfiddich, Balvenie and Kininvie - Monkey Shoulder is popularly used in cocktails but in our mind is perfectly drinkable neat and at such great value, a great little whisky for sharing with friends.

Slightly more complex than the other whiskies on this list, it's well worth checking out and if it's not your cup of tea then you can always use a mixer like soda or lemonade and not feel terribly guilty about it.

Buy here - £27.50

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Douglas Laing's Rock Oyster

(Style: Blended Malt, abv: 46.8%)

Perfect for... Matching with oysters (or more simply, discovering a more savoury style of whisky)

10 of the best Scotch whiskies for beginners

Picture: Douglas Laing's

For those of you lacking a sweet tooth, all this talk of flavours like toffee, vanilla and dried fruits might not appeal.

So, a whisky that favours more umami flavours might just be more your thing and Rock Oyster is certainly a whisky that doesn't shy away from those delightful savoury flavours.

Unlike other whiskies on this list, Rock Oyster is salty and briny on the nose and citrus and sweet peat tasting; a true maritime malt it's a great example of what coastal whiskies (and in particular those from the islands) can taste like.

Buy here - £37.09

Haig Club

(Style: Single Grain, abv: 40%)

Perfect for... bridging the gap between Bourbon and single malt Scotch

10 of the best Scotch whiskies for beginners

Picture: The Whisky Exchange

We'll probably lose our cool kid whisky club card for including this one, but if you ignore all of the crazy marketing and ostentatious packaging, this is actually a really enjoyable whisky.

It's also a great example of how good single grain could be, if more people understood it. Far more likely to take on the sweeter vanilla and honeyed notes of a Bourbon style whisky it's the perfect stepping stone between the American style and Scottish style whisky.

It's probably one of the best value single grains out there and though there are lot better versions of the style, there are none that are so accessible or at such a decent price.

Well worth trying if you are a fan of bourbon and want to try something Scottish that's vaguely similar.

Buy here - £42.95

Compass Box Great King Street (Artist's Blend)

(Style: Blended whisky, abv: 43%)

Perfect for... those who want to try how good premium blends can be

10 of the best Scotch whiskies for beginners

Picture: Whisky Exchange

In our mind, blended whisky gets a bad rap; usually consigned to the "it's an old man's drink" bin or worse considered to be too harsh to do anything other than drown in coke, it's considered the stern uncool uncle to the trendier single malt.

Thankfully, some new companies such as the excellent Compass Box are going out of their way to change that perception and really make blends hip again.

Great King Street whisky is named after the address of their offices in Edinburgh and is designed to be appealing to all types of whisky drinker, from beginner to geek.

With a higher single malt to grain ratio than your average blend, this expression is designed to be as at home in cocktails as it is being drunk neat.

Buy here - £26.95

Ballantine's 17-years-old

(Style: Premium Blended whisky, abv: 40% abv)

Perfect for... those looking to try whisky the traditional way with a great quality dram

Traditional blended brands like Johnnie Walker, Grants and Dewar's sometimes get a bad rap because they aren't single malts but in our minds, there are some truly outstanding blended whiskies out there waiting to be rediscovered and this is one of them.

Massively smooth but deceptively complex, there's so many flavours and tastes to tease out with each sip.

Perfect for those looking to enjoy Scotland's most traditional and successful whisky category without compromising on quality.

Buy here 

10 of the best Scotch whiskies (chosen by experts)

Driven by a passion for all things drinks-related, Sean writes for The Scotsman extensively on the subject. He can also sometimes be found behind the bar at the world famous Potstill bar in Glasgow where he continues to enhance his whisky knowledge built up over 10 years advising customers from all over the world on the wonders of our national drink. Recently, his first book was published. Dubbed Gin Galore, it explores Scotland's best gins and the stories behind those that make them.
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