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.
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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.

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. www.ardbeg.com $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. www.thebalvenie.com $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. www.discovering-distilleries.com/caolila $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. www.discovering-distilleries.com/talisker $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. www.discovering-distilleries.com/oban $80