Six Impressive Expressions of Highlands Scotch

Standouts from Scotland's Highlands

Photo Sasabune Omakase Modified: Flickr/erin/CC 4.0

Several factors make this grouping of Scotches from the Highlands noteworthy.

Scotch has numerous varieties with many designations that set them apart. One, of course, is whether it’s a single-malt or a blended Scotch. Another, equally important factor is where the Scotch is from. There are significant regional influences that affect the quality and flavor of Scotch. So, much like with wine, a sense of place can be quite indicative and important. I recently tasted through a half dozen examples all from the Highlands of Scotland. Several things made this grouping of Scotches noteworthy. First off each expression is distinct in its own right.  Secondly, they’re all well-made and incredibly delicious and enjoyable to drink. Tasting them side by side was a real window into the diversity of quality scotch coming from the Highlands.

Speyburn 10 Year Old Highland Single Malt – Suggested Retail Price $29

The distillery was built using carved stone from the River Spey and the water used is from a tributary of the same name. Speyburn 10 year has an extremely fresh nose that is tempered by bits of salinity. Stone fruits are evident through the palate with peach, nectarine, and apricot all playing a role alongside a nice complement of spices such as white pepper and hints of clove. Oatmeal, yeast, and gingerbread spices are all in play on the finish which is above average for the category. This even-keeled and easy-drinking Scotch represents a very solid value in Single Malts.

Old Pulteney Clipper Highland Single Malt – Suggested Retail Price $50

This new commemorative expression was launched in July of this year. Only 2,700 six-bottle cases were produced. It was aged in ex-Bourbon and ex-Sherry casks.  Oatmeal and candied lemon zest aromas are present on the nose of this limited bottling. White, fleshy fruits and bits of yeast appear on the slightly austere palate. Granny Smith apple, hints of salinity, and a mélange of spices are all part of the long, warming finish.

Balblair Vintage 2002 Highland Single Malt – Suggested Retail Price $59.99

Unlike most Single Malt producers, Balblair releases their Scotches not based on age expression but on vintage years. When the Distiller feels the casks are ready, they bottle a given vintage. The gorgeous hue of this Scotch brings to mind golden apple juice. Asian pear aromas lead the big and welcoming nose. The palate is thick and weighty with lemon zest and yellow apple flavors to spare. Morsels of brown sugar appear on the finish along with a hint of nutmeg and other complementary spices.

AnCnoc 22 Year Old Highland Single Malt – Suggested Retail Price $159

AnCnoc has been in operation since 1894. This Scotch was aged in ex-Bourbon and ex-Sherry casks. Toasted farro and oak aromas are in strong evidence on the nose. Mesquite honey and sweet Sherry notes kick through on the deep, fully loaded palate. These lead to sweet raisin, dried Nectarine, white fig, and wisps of smoke on the long and impressive finish. This is an astonishingly delicious Scotch that falls squarely in my personal sweet spot. The influence of the Sherry casks really shines through and adds complexity and depth in droves.

Speyburn 25 Year Old Highland Single Malt – Suggested Retail Price $315

This expression was aged in a combination of American white oak, Ex-Fino Sherry and ex-Bourbon casks. Bits of grass, vanilla and fresh wheat fill the nose here. Candied fruit an orange zest are part of the palate which is simultaneously deep and nuanced while being gentle on the tongue. Toasted pecan and a host of zippy spices inform the above average finish.

Old Pulteney 35 Year Old Highland Single Malt – Suggested Retail Price $790

This 35 year old Scotch represents a new expression for Old Pulteney. It was aged in hand selected ex-Bourbon and ex-Sherry casks. When you pour this Scotch into the glass the copper hue is immediately striking and brings to mind a 30 or 40 year old Tawny Port. Spices and hints of cocoa are apparent on the rich nose. The palate is prodigiously deep and intense with layer after layer of opulent flavors coming through. Burnt brown sugar, chocolate, black currant and more are all in evidence. The finish has terrific persistence; with bits of salinity, sweetness and much more, all making their presence felt. From the first whiff to the last sip the all-encompassing elements make this is an exceptional Single Malt Scotch meant to be savored. If you’re looking for a striking offering with which to celebrate a special occasion or milestone, look no further.

Depending on how much money you want to spend on Scotch and what you’re looking for in your Scotch, you can decide which of these to try. Up and down this list though every one of them represents at least a fair value for the quality in the bottle. That said two of them represent particularly exceptional values. At the low end of the price spectrum the Speyburn 10 is a terrific Single Malt for less than $30. It’s easy drinking, delicious and would be a great starter Scotch for someone as well as still having enough depth to be an everyday drinker for a seasoned Scotch lover. At $159 SRP, the AnCnoc 22 was my favorite in this lineup and an outrageous value in its category. It compares favorably with many other Single Malts of similar age that sell for $50 to $150 more regularly. Whichever direction you go, you’re in for a tasty treat.

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