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Backpacker Magazine – Online Exclusive

Backcountry Bartender: Single Malt Scotch Review

If you prefer a flask to a cocktail in the backcountry, give these fine Scotches a chance to warm you from the inside out this winter.

by: Crystal Sagan

The Oban 14 year old single malt Scotch. (Crystal Sagan)
The Oban 14 year old single malt Scotch. (Crystal Sagan)

Hit the Western Scottish Isles for stops at the Talisker and Oban distilleries in this gallery and video.

photo icon  Photo Gallery

video icon  Video

trip icon
  Glenlivet Estate: Livet Path Loop
Ramble old whisky smuggling trails through pastoral riverside moors in arguably the most-famous whisky producing river in the world--the River Livet and source of Glenlivet single-malt, the Speyside Region's first scotch distillery.
If you prefer a flask to a cocktail in the backcountry, give these fine scotches a chance to warm you from the inside out this winter.

Single malt scotch can be an acquired taste. But, after you have, it’s the go-to backcountry spirit.  While single malts are largely known for their strong peat and smoke flavors—which can throw off first time quaffers-- there’s a great depth and variety within the Scotch Whisky family, with a little something for everyone. Many brands boast a sweeter, softer side which may appeal to those who have scared off by more widely known, intense makes. 

Here are some of our favorites for sipping fireside this winter:

Ardbeg 10yr Single Malt
Coming from Islay, there is no mistaking the nose on this Scotch-- huge peat with a hint of citrus and sweetness. A sip reveals the full-bodied earthy flavor and ever-present smoky peat. A touch of chocolate and citrus round off the long finish. $70

Balvenie 17 year Madeira Cask
Aged first in traditional American oak whiskey barrels and finished in barrels that once held Madeira fortified wine, the 17-year boasts a well-balanced complexity. Deep and complex nose followed by a palate reflecting the same. Sweet, oaky vanilla up front develops into a nice spice with a smattering of dried fruits. A very long finish which holds on to its balance all the way through. $150

Caol Ila 12yr Single Malt
An Islay Scotch with a relatively mild nose and just a hint of smoke. The lighter body is pleasing, sweet at first with a whisper of peat and smoke coming through in the end. Flavors linger only briefly on the palate. $65

Talisker 10yr Single Malt
A peat-smoke nose with essences of the sea which surrounds the distillery. The warming palate flaunts strong barley-malt with a balance of smoke and fruity sweetness. An explosion of pepper at the immense finish. $55

Oban 14yr Single Malt
Also hailing from the and one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland, this single malt admits a nose of fruity sweetness balanced with a touch of sea and smoke. The palate is on the sweeter side, with dried fruits up front and a drier finish with just a trace of smoke. The long, smooth finish lets the oak flavor shine through. $80

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Apr 10, 2012

Dalwhinnie, Oban or Glenlivet will almost certainly convert "scotch haters", not that there is anything wrong with Makers Mark or Gentleman Jack, I enjoy them too!

Jan 07, 2012

Try Penderyn Single Malt WELSH Whiskey. Amazing!

Ancient Sinner
Dec 05, 2011

Yeesh, you guys must be kidding. I like me tot of whiskey as much as the next guy but I don't need hooch that wants a safety deposit box. Give me a nice flask of Jameson at $26 a bottle and I'm a happy man. Remember...a warm fire on a cold night improves the taste of everything.

Eric Nelson
Dec 05, 2011

Well, the alcohol to wt. ratio is much better than a stout or dubbel, but I prefer the other kind of malt beverage after a day of hiking. I would go with Bell's Third Coast Old Ale, Founder's Dirty Bastard or Flying Dog Double Dog. All are good at room temp.

Dec 05, 2011

I prefer the skunk101 with just about anything. Over.

Dec 04, 2011

In my experience scotches have nothing on the smoky caramel tones of a good Kentucky bourbon - Knob Creek, Makers Mark, Woodford Reserve, Buffalo Trace, and many others. A sip of bourbon and a cigar/pipe to reflect on the day help make it memorable.

Dec 02, 2011

Glad to see Talisker on the list. Haven't actually sat down and emptied my Snow Peak Ti at one go yet, but even tho rated at 6 fluid oz., it doesn't seem large enough to really give even one person a buzz. Must try it this weekend; it's been full of Talisker for probably 12 months now.

Dec 02, 2011

Not a scotch, but hear me out if you like sipping scotch. Tyrconnell. It an Irish Whiskey at 30 bucks a bottle, but might be the best kept secret i have ever been let in on.

Dec 02, 2011

Sorry, but nothing beats Macallan and I agree that at the end of great day of treking, there is something quite wonderful about a taste of Scotch and a good cigar!

Apr 07, 2011

The Singleton of Glendullan. $30 a bottle, and my favorite, my go-to single malt. Cool bottle, too.

Dec 31, 2010

I'll second the comments of Chad (Dec. 6) and Robyn (Dec. 10). If you drink "no e whisky" to get "buzzed up" you miss the point badly. If you don't like the iodine taste, steer clear of the Islay whiskies. But don't base you decision on one sip or one glass. Sláinte! Happy New Year!

Dec 21, 2010

Anti-drinkers get a grip. This is about savoring a single drink of fine scotch after a glorious day on the trail. I like to scramble out to a spot with the best local view, have *a* drink of a single malt *and* a nice cigar as I watch the Sun set. Uh-oh, now the anti-smokers are going to bust on me!

Dec 14, 2010

Please help a Pennsylvania boy see real mountains! Vote for me in the Agion Active contest as seen in Backpacker:

Dec 11, 2010

You forgot my favorite, 16yr Lagavulin. Much nicer than Laphroaig.

Dec 11, 2010

Laphroaig, along with Talisker, are both great sipping scotches. A great combination of peat smoke a barley flavors. A bit pricey but when enjoying 'happy hour' after a long day on the trail only the best will do.

Dec 11, 2010

Laphroaig, along with Talisker, are both great sipping scotches. A great combination of peat smoke a barley flavors. A bit pricey but when enjoying 'happy hour' after a long day on the trail only the best will do.

Dec 11, 2010

I don't like the taste of Scotch--the iodine taste never set well with me. However bourbon or Irish whiskey are not bad at all for sipping around a campfire.

Dec 11, 2010

Well if a drink of Scotch is not your thing, save your sip for starting the fire in the morning.

Dec 10, 2010

Many of the lowland scotches lack the smoky, peaty qualities that turn a lot of folks off. Dalwhinnie comes to mind as a scotch for people who think they don't like scotch. :)

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Being a SAR guy, I'd gladly buy a bottle if I could.

Dec 10, 2010

going into the backcountry is a good time not to drink since drinking alcohol causes dehydration. in order to rehydrate you must consume 6x the water in relation to the alcohol consumed. drinking also causes people to do stupid things. if you want to get buzzed hang up your car keys and stay home, for your own safety.

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