I’ll admit, the surprise stand-outs for me were not the fine single malts, but the more accessible and reasonably priced blends, particularly Black Bottle and Scottish Leader, both of which have recently become available in the states for the first time.
Black Bottle dates has been “daringly different since 1879,” but was never distributed outside of Scotland until now, “keeping the best of the best for ourselves,” according to MacMillan. This peaty blend includes single malts from all 7 established Islay distilleries (the new, 8th distillery will be included once they have a 5-year old to contribute), and selling for $20 a bottle, it’s a great Scotch for drinking straight or mixing in cocktails, with a moderate smokiness balanced by substantial sweetness.
Scottish Leader has been around Europe since the 1940’s. This copper-hued blend includes single malts from the Deanston and Tobermory distilleries, and is sweeter and far less peaty than Black Bottle. Scottish Leader leads the pack in single malt content too, comprised of 30% while most others contain much more grain whisky in their blends. It has a sweet start, and a full-bodied robustness that lingers long after the honeyed notes have subsided. It’s the sort that I could sip at all day without ever getting bored, and it would be affordable to do so at $20 a bottle as well, which frankly, is dangerous.