If your new to Scotch, your goal should be to find the specific flavor(s) you like.
(Note that "peaty" does not appear here. I would argue that peat is entirely different from smoke. Try googling "scotch flavor map" to get more info.)
One way to broadly narrow down the flavors is to find what regions you like, each has a unique flavor profile. Almost everything you find will be from Speyside, Highland, or Islay:
If you have no idea what you would enjoy then the best way to learn is to find a tasting event, they are well worth the money. Check out your local liquor store for that, in the states Total Wine does them often.
Alternatively look for tasting sets, airplane bottles, or pints. Or pick up one Speyside, one Islay, and one blended. For example:
- Speyside: Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, Balvenie, Macallan. These will be flavorful and smooth.
- Islay: Laphroaig, Ardbeg, Caol Ila, Bunnahabhain. These will be smoky, peaty, and tough.
- Blended: Chivas, Johnny Walker black, Monkey Shoulder. These will be easy drinking.
If you don't like one of them at first don't worry, as your palate expands you probably will later. Try adding some water and letting it sit for a minute, this can totally change the flavor.
Don't worry to much about single-malt vs blended at this point. Just know that single-malts will be more unique, flavorful, and expensive. Blendeds are generally cheaper and more standardized, but not necessarily worse.
It took me about 10 bottles but eventually I realized I enjoyed heavy-peat low-smoke Islay's most. Islay's and peated Speysides are all I buy now. A Campbeltown like Springbank can sometimes hit this note too.
A word of caution: Do not cheap out. Cheap scotch is terrible scotch. Dewars or Johnny Walker red are not worth any money.
If you feel adventurous you can explore Japanese "Scotch" too, but I would get a handle on the Scottish stuff first. Japanese one's can be very hit or miss, with some very odd flavors that don't resemble standard Scotch.
If you like Islay scotch then you may also like Bourbon, as the rough nature is similar. Specifically Rye Bourbon can be an easy transition. If you like Macallan, then moving into Bourbon will be a big leap.