15 Popular Scotch Brands, Ranked

When you decide to put money down on a bottle of scotch, you want to be sure you are making it count. This can be challenging if you don't have much experience with scotch and are not entirely sure if you will like what you purchase. It's important to understand the different styles of scotch and what comes with each as well as the region a brand is from, which is also telling of its character.

Most of all, there are bottles of scotch that are quite expensive, but not every price tag is justified. Furthermore, just because a brand sells its scotch at a more accessible price does not inherently mean that it is sub-par.

If you do go out for a bottle, there will be countless brands and bottles with labels describing everything from the aging process to flavor notes, to alcohol content — and it is always best that you know what you are looking for. Here are some of the more popular brands of scotch you are sure to see on your liquor store shelves, ranked based on every factor at play.

15. Johnnie Walker

You do not have to be a scotch drinker to know Johnnie Walker. The brand's iconic "Striding Man" has been one of the most recognizable symbols in the spirits industry for more than a century. Even its iconic square-shaped bottles still make it stand out among competitors on store shelves. You can find Johnnie Walker anywhere from a high-end cocktail bar to inside an airplane. It's that prominent.

All of the signature whiskies in the Johnnie Walker lineup are blended scotches, meaning they are made by mixing different types of whisky together. This had always been the plan for the brand, as doing this ensures a consistent product with every single batch. The variety of products is distinct by their color. Labels named Red, Black, Green, Gold, and Blue, to name some, are all different ages and made from different blends.

Frankly, the price tag of the world-renowned Blue Label, while definitely an ultra-smooth, premium whisky, is not quite justifiable considering it's still a blended whisky. The lower-level Red Label and Black Label expressions, meanwhile are both very straightforward, inexpensive, and great bottles for mixing. All in all, despite its immense popularity, Johnnie Walker remains an introductory scotch brand at its core.

14. Monkey Shoulder

Experienced scotch drinkers may argue that single malts reign supreme and blended scotches ought to be dismissed and reserved for mixing. However, mixing is the way many scotch drinkers prefer to enjoy the spirit, doing so holds a place in scotch drinking, and there is no better scotch for mixing than Monkey Shoulder. In fact, this scotch was created specifically for it. 

Monkey Shoulder was created in the early 2000s by William Grant & Sons, a longstanding producer in the scotch industry. This scotch is specifically a blended malt whisky, meaning its blend is made up only of single malts. Because of its absence of single grains, Monkey Shoulder has a well-rounded body that allows it to remain dominant when mixed into a cocktail, no matter how simple or complex. Its sweet honey notes and rich malt are cut by subtle smoke for a well-balanced, complex blended whisky fit for enjoying any way you like.

Monkey Shoulder's functionality, simplicity, and balance are accompanied by a very accessible price point, so if you like mixing drinks, Monkey Shoulder is the best scotch for your home bar. 

13. Glenmorangie

Glenmorangie is another scotch that is a great introduction to the spirit. The brand has a rich history belonging to the Highland region, dating back to 1843, and its range of single-malts is an approachable and pleasant way to get into the category. If you have ever wondered or are confused as to why the brand is also seen with giraffes, who are obviously nowhere to be found in Scotland, it is because the distillery's stills are the same height as the animal, so it is because the brand's spirit animal.

The range of Glenmorangie whiskies starts with the Original 10-Year and progresses to 18-Year-old expression. Each bottle of Glenmorangie will provide the light and soft texture and the fruity, citrus-forward flavor notes common in Highland scotch whiskies.

Glenmorangie simply makes classic-tasting Highland single malts, but its straightforwardness and lack of complexity may end up boring for scotch drinkers with experienced palates. However, this simplicity is also what makes Glenmorangie a great option for scotch beginners, or those who just want an all-time greatest hit. Regardless, it is a reliable, timeless brand of scotch that will never disappoint or break the bank.

12. Glenfiddich

Speaking of Highland single-malts, there are none more fundamental, and none that sell more bottles, in fact, than Glenfiddich. As of 2017, Glenfiddich 12-Year was the world's best-selling single-malt scotch whisky, according to Scotch Whisky.

The brand's signature 12-Year expression is only one bottle in its catalog, however. There are four other bottles in the signature series alone, as well as many others that are part of the Grand Series, Experimental Series, the Travel Exclusive, and the Time Reimagined, which includes a whisky aged for 50 years.

Glendiffich was founded in 1887 by William Grant, who actually built the distillery himself with his bare hands. The entire time Glenfiddich has been making scotch since then, it has been doing so with its own private water source. This makes for a distinctly unique whiskey that stands out as a prime example of what a well-made, patiently aged Highland single-malt should taste like. The price tags on its flagship bottles keep them accessible and fair and with its classic profile and wide variety, you simply can't go wrong with Glenfiddich.

11. The Glenlivet

Glenlivet is another classic scotch whisky brand and one that can most likely be found at any place that sells the spirit. Glenlivet is a Speyside scotch, a category defined by distilleries located on the River Spey. These whiskies share many characteristics with Highland scotches, because of the similar geography, but Speyside scotches have a certain brine and delicateness that sets them apart.

Of all the Speyside scotches on the market, Glenlivet 12-Year is one of the most famous as well as one of the primary examples of the category. The brand's flagship whisky is super smooth and effortless to drink and is a great introductory scotch for newcomers. Outside of its signature bottle, Glenlivet also produces whiskies of varying ages as well as varying aging methods. Its Caribbean Reserve, for example, is aged inside ex-rum casks, which makes for a very unique take on the spirit that is even more fruity, spicey, and bright.

One of the best parts of Glenlivet is that it is a very affordable brand. The distillery has been making it since 1822 and it has remained one of the most popular scotches on the market since then. Therefore you know it's a reliable option.

10. Ardbeg

Ardbeg is the first scotch brand on this list from the isle of Islay, a region known for its rich peat and smoky character. Peated scotch is not exclusive to the region, but it is fair to say that Islay does it best.

Ardbeg is one of the oldest distilleries on the isle of Islay, first opened in 1815 by John Macdougall. The signature bottle of the Ardbeg brand has always been its 10-Year expression. Ardbeg prides itself on this particular bottle being one of the peatiest scotches on the market. Its character is bold and unwavering, which is definitely favorable to some scotch drinkers, but in comparison to other peated scotches, it is definitely forceful. Regardless, it remains one of the most popular Islay scotches for a reason.

Other bottles in the lineup include an 8-Year, 19-Year, a 25-Year, and others. Just recently, the brand released a 5-Year expression, which is quite uncommon in the world of scotch, but it is a surprisingly approachable whisky that has more character than you might expect. Unfortunately, however, Ardbeg's scotches do come at quite a high price point in contrast to similar brands and bottles.

9. Bruichladdich

Bruichladdich is one of the younger brands of scotch on this list, as it only hit the market in 2001. It is another Islay scotch and is proud of taking advantage and care of the unique terrain and resources that contribute to its whisky.

In 2020, Bruichladdich was granted a B-Corp certification, a standard only given to a handful of distilleries and one that represents a commitment to balancing profitable business with societal purpose. Bruichladdich earned the certification by making its whisky mindfully. This means operating with environmental awareness — for example, Bruichladdich uses only barley grown organically on Islay and converted its entire operation to 100% green energy.

Apart from the additional ways Bruichladdich is a great brand, its whisky is nothing to overlook. Despite being an Islay whisky, its flagship bottle, The Classic Laddie, is unpeated. This is a unique Islay expression that puts the isle's barley on full display, rather than its peat. Other bottles in the Bruichladdich brand include another unpeated whisky, this one 8 years old, as well as 10 and 11-Year expressions. All of the brand's signature whiskies are 100 proof, so whatever is lost from not peating its whisky is made up for in potency.

8. The Singleton

The Singleton is another young scotch brand on the list, but the distillery is as historic as they come. This brand's whiskies are made at the Glendullan distillery in Dufftown, an iconic location for making scotch. The distillery was opened in 1897 and at one point transported its casks of whisky through a private railway. Fast forward over a century, and the Singleton 12-Year was launched in 2006.

The history behind this newer brand really shines through its whisky. The Singleton includes 12-Year, 15-Year, and 18-Year expressions and is one of the more affordable Speyside whiskies on the market. This is the main reason this brand is so notable: You do not have to pay an exorbitant amount of money to try a whisky that is aged for 15 years. This luxury — for new scotch drinkers — would normally come at a much heftier cost, but not with The Singleton.

The Singleton is also a great scotch to use in cocktails, one of the few non-blended scotches that actually encourages the practice. These whiskies are soft and citrus-forward with rounded notes of honey and toffee, making them a great base for mixed drinks as well as sipping neat. 

7. Laphroaig

There may be no peated scotch as iconic, brawny, or popular as Laphroaig. The Laphroaig distillery dates back to 1815 and is seated on the coast of the isle of Islay. The distillery has access to its own private peat beds, so replicating this scotch is virtually impossible. The peat is briny, salty, and very robust, making for a brawny whiskey that is pleasurable in its intensity.

The signature bottle of Laphroaig is its 10-Year expression, which is a very affordable Islay scotch that is a fundamental expression of the realm of peated whisky. The point where Laphroaig comes up short in comparison to its competitors is that it lacks variety. Laphroaig 10-Year is an industry titan, yes, but in order to enjoy other expressions by the brand, customers have only a very expensive 25-Year expression to go.

There are special editions and limited releases like the Cask Strength and the annual Cáirdeas edition for its "Friends of Laphroaig" program, but a varied diversity is definitely lacking. However, the signature Laphroaig 10-Year remains one of the best Islay scotches on the market.

6. Talisker

This next scotch brand makes its whisky in a sort of in-between area of scotch regions. The Talisker Distillery is located on the coastline of the Isle of Skye, which is technically part of the Highlands, but its unique peat, barley, and seaside influence make it a perfect cross between the Highland and Islay. The Talisker catalog consists of its signature 10-Year, 11-Year, 15-Year, and 18-Year, along with a variety of other special releases.

The distillery is the oldest on the Isle of Skye, and it has been producing excellent whiskey since 1830. Its unique location makes it one of the most remote distilleries in Scotland, which translates to an equally unique whiskey that morphs multiple classes into one.

Talisker is a great brand of scotch for those who like peated whisky but maybe find Laphroaig 10-Year to be too bold for their liking. Talisker remains a Highland single-malt in that it is honey-rich and soft, but its subtle peat and mellowing smoke put it into a new category. Talisker, especially its 10-Year, is still an affordable scotch brand, and any one of its bottles is guaranteed to be distinct and exceptional.

5. Aberlour

Aberlour is another Speyside brand of scotch and offers a diverse catalog of single malt whiskies matured in different types of wood and for varied lengths. The brand's flagship bottle is its 12-Year Double Cask. This whisky is matured in both traditional oak casks and sherry-seasoned casks, which results in a classically soft and fruity Speyside scotch with hints of dry spice for extra layers of depth.

Aberlour also offers the same double cask maturation in 16 and 18-Year expressions, each with even more character and complexity the older they are. Maybe the most popular bottle in the Aberlour lineup, however, is its A'Bunadh, which is the Gaelic word for "original."

This is the brand's cask strength expression, which is bottled at an alcohol content of just over 60%. This whiskey packs quite the punch, but its expert maturation keeps it balanced, rich in flavor, and still silky smooth. The A'Bundah was inspired by the original whiskies made by the brand's founder, James Fleming, who apparently thought of dilution as a deficiency.

You can't go wrong with any of the Aberlour products, and its flagship bottle is available for a very fair price considering its double-cask, 12-year-long aging process.

4. Ledaig

This next scotch brand is one of the few and best that calls the Hebrides it's home. Ledaig is made at the Tobermory Distillery on the Isle of Mull, a distillery that was opened back in 1798 by John Sinclair. Initially, Sinclair was only granted a permit to open a brewery, but, lucky for us, he was eventually able to secure the distillery permit he set out for.

Despite the distillery's long history, Ledaig only hit the market in 2019, as the Tobermory Distillery was closed for four decades following Prohibition in America and the Great Depression. After it was bought in the 1990s and renovated, it finally began distilling, maturing, and bottling its whiskey once again.

The Ledaig brand under the Tobermory distillery is its peated one, producing a core range that includes 10-Year, 18-Year, and its Rioja cask-finished Sinclair Series. Limited edition products include a 9-Year cask strength and a 21-Year Marsala wine cask finish.

The peat in Ledaig is potent and robust, but this whisky remains very smooth and bright, its Hebridean barley and malt shining through the dense smoke. These whiskies are super complex in both aroma and flavor and remain affordable options. For a distillery that is just getting back on track, its scotch really is something to behold.

3. Lagavulin

Lagavulin is one of the most iconic brands of scotch out there. Its close proximity and long-lasting rivalry with Laphroaig have pitted the two against one another to determine which Islay distillery stands on top. With its wider range of whiskies, super rich, yet balanced, peat, and its cherished celebrity endorsement, Lagavulin does come out on top.

The Lagavulin Distillery was founded in 1816 by John Johnston right on the coastline of Islay, reaping the benefits of miles of open peat beside and access to the water running through the peat from the Solan Lochs, all of which contribute to Lagavulin's complex and timeless character.

The brand's most common and famous expression is its 16-Year, a bottle that may be a more expensive buy but one that is guaranteed to be the best that Islay has to offer. Other expressions include an 8-Year and the special edition 11-Year Offerman Edition, created in collaboration with actor Nick Offerman, who portrayed a Lagavulin-loving Ron Swanson on the sitcom "Parks and Recreation."

Other limited releases have come and gone throughout the years, but what makes Lagavulin so great is that it sticks to what it does best, and that is an iconic Islay scotch that will remain a leader in its category indefinitely.

2. The Balvenie

Coming in as the runner-up on this list is The Balvenie, a brand of scotch with a vast catalog of whisky driven by the unique wood that matures it. The Balvenie is a Highland brand that is proud to have made its whisky the same way for more than a century. The distillery still employs its own coopers for barrel making as well as grows and malts its very own barley.

What really sets The Balvenie apart, however, is its emphasis and experimentation with wood. One of its flagship bottles is the 12-Year Double Wood, a whisky that is aged in ex-bourbon casks before being finished in Oloroso Sherry casks from Spain for an additional nine months. This practice of wood-finishing was actually pioneered by The Balvenie's own Malt Master, David Stewart in the early 1990s.

The Balvenie catalog includes many other bottles, including the 21-Year Portwood edition, and a 16-Year French Oak. Of all of The Balvenie's sought-after bottles, however, it's the 14-Year Carribean Cask that is the most esteemed. This whisky is rum-cask finished to intensify the fruity notes, which are held in check by a proof of 86. This is one of the very best scotch whiskies money can buy, and it is still available for less than $100.

1. The Macallan

The number one spot on the list goes to a brand of scotch that simply symbolizes excellence. The Macallan was founded in 1824 in the Highlands, close to the River Spey, and its distillery sits on a 485-acre property. The scenery that surrounds this operation is a reflection of how spectacular the whisky is. The Macallan markets itself as a Highland single malt, but its close proximity to the River Spey results in a harmonious fusion between the two categories.

The two flagship bottles of The Macallan brand are the Double Oak and Sherry Oak, both of which come in 12-year, 18-Year, and 30-year expressions. Another popular bottle is the Triple Cask Matured, which is aged in both European and American ex-sherry casks and ex-bourbon casks for an intensely diverse flavor profile. There are plenty of other luxury bottles available from the Macallan, too, including the M Collection, Rare Cask, and Estate series.

In addition to its Highland malt and barley, what makes whiskies by The Macallan great is attention to wood. The distillery actually employs its own Master of Wood, Stuart MacPherson, who oversees and ensures the utmost quality in the selection, seasoning, toasting, and filling processes that start in North America and Spain and end in Scotland. The character that comes through these casks can only be found at The Macallan, which is what makes it so renowned, celebrated, and simply divine.