Scotches to Celebrate National Tartan Day

The Famous Grouse is the best-selling whisky in all of Scotland.

To those of us outside the U.K., tartan might seem like nothing more than a special kind of plaid. Just pick the one you like, right? Blue goes with your eyes? Great. Going through an all-yellow phase? Why not.

But in Scotland, each clan is associated with a specific tartan, and tradition dictates you may only wear tartans to which you have a genetic connection. There’s even a special tartan that only the Royal Family can wear (it’s called the Balmoral tartan, for the curious).

Whether or not the taboo against wearing unaffiliated tartans may be softening in our modern times inspires spirited debate. Nevertheless, tartans still hold a place of great cultural importance to the Scottish people. For a vivid illustration, spend five minutes perusing The Scottish Register of Tartans, and you’ll see what I mean.

Because tartan is so central to Scottish culture, it makes sense that it was chosen as an object of celebration for National Tartan Day, an American holiday that falls on April 6th. Unlike many of the other spurious holidays (National Grilled Cheese Day, etc.) invented by marketing teams, this one was established by the U.S. Senate in 1998. Why do we need a National Tartan Day? “To honor the major role that Scottish American played in the founding of this nation, such as the fact that almost half of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were of Scottish ancestry.” In fact, some say the historical document was actually modeled after the Scottish Declaration of Independence, which was signed way back on April 6th, 1320.

So. If wearing kilts isn’t for you, how best to celebrate the great contributions of the Scottish people to American history. Hmm, let me think…

Bowmore 12-Year-Old

Founded in 1779, just three years after the Declaration of Independence was signed, Bowmore is one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland. While some of its bottlings require a jumbo mortgage to acquire, the 12-year-old is still affordable, delivering a delicious combination of peat, tropical fruit, and salt.

Jim Beam Kentucky Dram

This strange Frankenstein whiskey combines bourbon and single malt in a single bottle, generating an obvious metaphor about cultural mingling. It sounds bizarre, but our reviewer loved it. It’s travel retail only, so pick up a bottle next time you’re headed back from a big trip.

The Famous Grouse

Emblazoned with the red grouse, Scotland’s national game bird, this blended whisky is the best-selling whisky in all of Scotland. Light and biscuity, it’s easy to drink, great for cocktails, and eminently affordable.

Glenfiddich 15-Year-Old

Glenfiddich recently usurped Glenmorangie as the top selling single malt in all of Scotland. The 15-year-old is a small step up in price from the flagship Glenfiddich 12-Year-Old single malt, but a major leap in quality. Rich, buttery, and dense, it’s a classic expression of one of the world’s most beloved whiskies.


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Margarett Waterbury

Margarett Waterbury is the author of Scotch: A Complete Introduction to Scotland's Whiskies and a full-time freelance writer and editor. Her work has appeared in Whisky Advocate, Food and Wine, Spirited Magazine, Artisan Spirit, Edible Seattle, Sip Northwest, Civil Eats, Travel Oregon, Artisan Spirit, and many other publications. She is...