If you’re new to scotch whisky, you’d be forgiven for not knowing that there are five (and by some counts six) distinct regions where it’s produced. They’re the isle of Islay, Campeltown, Speyside, Lowland, and Highland. The sixth region is the islands, but some of those distilleries get lumped in with the Highland region.
The Highland region, as might reasonably be expected, is mostly located in the northern portion of Scotland (with a small area removed for the whisky-rich region of Speyside). That’s where we turn our attention today. It includes well-known distilleries like Oban, Aberfeldy, Dalmore, Glenmorangie, and Tullibardine.
While you can’t go wrong with a whisky from any of the five scotch-producing regions, Highland malts are known for a diversity of flavors due to its wide range of topographic and geographic features.
“While I’m typically partial to the Speyside single malts, I do appreciate the diversity of flavor profiles from each region in Scotland,” says Anna Mains, brand ambassador to Monkey Shoulder. “The Highland whiskies are so interesting because their single malts have such a huge range of flavor notes.”
Thanks to its vastness, you can find highland single malts that are smoky, peaty, briny, sweet, or even floral in nature. It’s truly a unique area that’s ripe to be explored through your whiskey glass.
Since you’re not likely to travel to the Scottish Highlands anytime soon, we figured that the easiest way to enjoy this region was to grab a bottle or two from some well-known distilleries. To help us pick the right offerings, we asked a handful of our favorite bartenders to tell us their go-to Highland malts.
Oban Distiller’s Edition
Juan Fernandez, bartender at The Ballantyne, A Luxury Collection Hotel in Charlotte, North Carolina
Oban Distillers Edition. The Distiller’s Edition goes through a second maturation of Montilla Fino sherry casks which leads to a rich toffee, caramel, almost Werther’s Original taste on the palate, with a medium smoky finish.
It may not appeal to all, but it definitely does to me.
The Dalmore Cigar Malt
Bill Whitlow, owner of Rich’s Proper Food & Drink in Covington, Kentucky
I don’t drink a lot of Highland malts, but whenever I go to a Scotch tasting and they have The Dalmore Cigar Malt, I definitely hang out around that table. Actually, I really enjoy everything I have tried from The Dalmore.
You can’t go wrong with The Dalmore 12. It’s a perfect gateway into the world of Scotch.
The GlenDronach 15 Year Revival
Anna Mains, brand ambassador to Monkey Shoulder
I’m a huge sherry fan, particularly Oloroso sherries. Scotches ages really well in ex-sherry casks. The GlenDronach 15 Year Revival is aged in ex-Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez sherry barrels. The dark fruit and nutty characteristics I love so much in Oloroso really shine in this whisky and make for one hell of a dram.
Highland Park 12 Viking Honour
Blake Jakes, director of beverage for The Kennedy Bar in Pensacola, Florida
Highland Park 12 Viking Honour. It’s an easy choice. It works so well on its own, with a little water, or in a nice cocktail with some citrus. It’s bright, spicy and just the right amount of peat. Truly an exceptional whisky and it’s not going to break the bank.
Glenmorangie A Tale of Cake
Lee Noble, head bartender for Art in the Age in Philadelphia
Glenmorangie A Tale of Cake was a game changer from Dr. Bill Lumsden. I really enjoyed the ingenuity behind that concept. It’s sweet, rich, and pairs perfectly with a piece of cake or as a slow sipper on its own.
Josh Curtis, bar director at Carbon Beach Club in Malibu, California
Oban 14 is easy drinking with a large cube of ice because of its counterbalance of honey and oak. It’s smooth, sweet, subtly smoky, with just a hint of ocean brine and seaweed that can be attributed to the distillery’s proximity to the ocean.
Patricia Verdesoto, head bartender Jams in New York City
Aberfeldy 12 year is my favorite single malt Scotch to have behind the bar, not to mention one of my personal favorites in general. It is beyond versatile, which is so important to me. Aside from Aberfeldy being absolutely delicious on its own, it works in so many cocktails throughout the seasons. While the initial smokiness of a quality Scotch may be a deterrent to many first-time drinkers, Aberfeldy has managed to find that sweet spot between smoothness and peat.
On the nose, you get a nice caramel, espresso aroma with a hint of smokiness that experienced most Scotch drinkers are expecting. As the weather changes, Aberfeldy is the perfect addition to your favorite hot toddy recipe. For me, I pour it in some chamomile tea with a touch of local honey and it never fails to warm me up.
Ben Potts, owner, and bartender at The Sylvester in Miami
I generally reach for a nice, honeyed Scotch like Craigellachie due to its versatility and flavor profile. If I had to pick one of its expressions, I would go with Craigellachie 13 because of its almond and vanilla flavors tempered with a subtle hint of smoke.
Glenmorangie La Quinta Ruban
H. Ehrmann, owner of Elixir Bar in San Francisco
Glenmorangie La Quinta Ruban is my flavor of the day. It changes regularly, but I was gifted a bottle for my birthday a couple of years ago and I just got back into it. Such great classic Highland grain and spice, with the delicious fruits from the port cask.
A great bottle for any day.
Crystal Chasse, beverage director at Talk Story Rooftop in Brooklyn
Talisker Distillery is on the Isle of Skye, which — according to many designations — makes it a Highland Scotch. Talisker Storm is one of my go-to scotch. Bold, smoky notes with pepper and oak shining through and supported by a refreshing salinity. It is also reasonably priced for scotch, making it a great bottle to share.