Nobody will deny that Scotland is the king of single malt.

But it’s also acknowledged that Scotch is not the only game in town. From Canadian craft distilleries to the mountains of India, whiskey made entirely from malted barley is arriving at U.S ports (and domestically) from all corners of the earth. And here are five expressions that came out on top in blind tastings in the 2021 Barleycorn International Spirits Competition.

All photos by Cullen Dalheim

Bruichladdich The Classic Laddie

Vitals: 100 Proof (50% ABV); $65

Bruichladdich’s “Laddie” has the distinction of being an unpeated whiskey from Islay, Scotland, the region best known for smoky single malts like Bowmore, Lagavulin, and Laphroaig. But that’s not the only thing that makes this whiskey special. Laddie is made from Scottish-grown barley and bottled sans chill-filtration and artificial coloring, unlike many Scotch offerings. The result is “a refined whisky” with an “appearance of light straw and gold” that shows “excellent restraint,” with fresh pear and lemon oils balancing hints of toasted oak, vanilla, and clove. “Delicious.”

Cedar Ridge The QuintEssential

United States
Vitals: 92 Proof (46% ABV); $60

To make The Quintessential, Cedar Ridge distiller Murphy Quint finishes Iowan single malt in various barrels, including Madeira, Port, and red wine casks. From there, the liquid is married in oak solera vats which are continuously refilled halfway through to preserve the DNA of the original batch. The result is an “impressive” single malt with a “chocolatey nose and excellent balance between fruit and nut flavors.” But perhaps the whiskey saved its best attributes for last, as our panel was “blown away by the pepper finish.”

Limavady Single Barrel

Vitals: 92 Proof (46% ABV); 45

“This is elegant malt, pure and simple.” Former Bushmills master distiller Darryl McNally triple distilled Irish grown malted barley in copper pots, aged the liquid in ex-bourbon barrels, and finished the whiskey in PX sherry casks to create this “silky” single malt. The extra steps paid off as Limavady was named Best Irish Whiskey in our Fall 2021 Barleycorn competition. Judges loved the “soft and fruit-forward malt with long, lush, syrupy tendrils of vanilla and a warm and peppery finish.”

Amrut Indian Single Malt Whisky

Vitals: 92 Proof (46% ABV); $65

Amrut’s “elegant and clean” single malt proved it can stand shoulder to shoulder with its Scotch brethren after landing a double gold medal in our blind competition. Translating to “elixir of life,” this “lush” whiskey is made with Indian grown barley, imparting a “spiced apple and hay” nose leading to a “cooked fruit and spice forward” palate and a long, tropical fruit finish.”

Macaloney’s Peated Mac na Braiche

Vitals: 92 Proof (46% ABV); $115

The white dog underpinning this single malt by Victoria Caledonian Distillery distiller Dr. Graeme Macaloney took “World’s Best New Make” at the prestigious 2020 World Whiskies Awards. In 2021 its more mature version of Mac na Braiche, a peated Canadian single malt aged in Portuguese red wine casks, scored double gold in our Barleycorn International Spirits Competition. Judges loved this whiskey’s “impressively complex and youthful malt with a bright fruit vibrancy” that will “undoubtedly continue to improve as it ages.”

Spirits writers, marketers and designers are among the most influential forces in the spirits industry. Their opinions, ideas and creative talents inform and influence consumer perceptions and buying decisions. The John Barleycorn Society was started by a group of spirits journalists seeking to honor excellence in all facets of the industry. The journalists spent several years creating a comprehensive competition that became the John Barleycorn Awards. An elite team of authoritative and influential spirits journalists was selected to administer the flagship component of the Awards, a blind tasting competition destined to become the preeminent arbitrator of spirits taste, quality and character.