Good Scotch whisky doesn’t have to be expensive. Here are our favorite affordable Scotch picks.
Scotch whiskies often have tasting notes that go something like: Has a nose of rubbed peppermint leaves and damp grass. Is that a hint of lemon peel? As you sip the drink, it hits the palate with an oiliness; a taste of tar and elegant smoke. As you finish the drink, at the back of your throat you can taste hints of pepper and spicy warmth.
Who doesn’t love a good Scotch whisky? With scotch, you are essentially whittling down the whole topic of whiskey to a specific region, make, and taste. But there is still an incredible variety to choose from. In fact, prices for Scotch whisky range from $18 a bottle to well over $300 and more. That means that there is a scotch for every price range!
How do Scotch whiskies vary in flavor?
Scotch whiskies are essentially malted barley that is fermented and distilled twice, then aged. There are many elements that can be adjusted to make a scotch unique, including:
The region that the barley comes from. Some are more peaty than others.
How many distilleries process the spirit. A “single malt” is distilled at only one facility.
Added elements. Purists—lovers of the Single Malt—prefer to keep it simple, with only water and barley. But you CAN add other elements to the mash, at various stages of the process. A popular added element is honey, which U.S. whiskey makers love to add.
Whether a batch of whisky is blended with other whiskies to create a blended whisky.
Type of aging barrel. Barrels create enormous differences in taste. In fact, two oak barrels that come from two different countries in Europe can produce wildly different taste outcomes. Many distilleries prefer to age their whiskies in wood barrels that previously held other kinds of liquors, like port, sherry, or wine. The flavor of these spirits causes the whisky flavor to change dramatically during the aging process.
How long the liquid is left to age. In Scotland, a scotch must mature in its barrel for at least three years. The average age ranges from 8-20 years. While not required, the age is often denoted on the bottle. If the bottle is a blended scotch, it’s the age of the youngest whisky in the bottle that is counted.
In Scotland, the distilleries are required use the same basic process in making their whisky. In fact, there is a consortium of distilleries, and regulations that govern all these distilleries. It’s these little changes that create the taste differences. And it’s a fine whisky connoisseur that can taste and identify the nuances.
There are many factors that go into deciding the price of a scotch. First are the brand and reputation of the distillery. But there’s also whether it’s a single barrel or single malt, the age of the spirit, the number of bottles in a batch, and, of course, taste.
Arguably, the easiest way to track the price of a whisky is by looking at the age of the bottle. Whiskies that have been aging for only three to five years are going to be much cheaper than whiskies that have aged 25-50 years. However, that’s not the only factor. For instance, an 18-year-old Glenfiddich is going to cost about the same as a 10-year-old Edradour.
One way you can determine the reputation of a Scotch distillery is by looking at the awards they have won. This might be a good starting place if you don’t know much about the distilleries and want to have some basis to begin comparing. The World Whiskies Awards is one such competition you can look at. This year’s winners (2021) include the following, and aren’t necessarily “affordable”:
Dewar’s: Double Double 21 Years Old (Approx. $55 USD)
Chivas Regal: Ultis (Approx. $165 USD)
Scottish New Make (Approx. $38 USD)
Speyside Distillery: SPEY (Approx. $200 USD)
The Glenallachie: 10 Years Old, Batch 4 (Approx. $100 USD)
For the purposes of this evaluation, we are picking Scotch whiskies that are $50 or less.
Johnnie Walker - Black Label, 12 Year (Approx. $34 USD)
This classic pick smells of apricots, peaches, malty grain, and dry oak. On the tongue you get flavors of honey, caramel, and vanilla overlaid with dry smoke. The finish is of malt, lemons, and oak.
Highland Park, Viking Honour, 12 Year (Approx. $50 USD)
This single malt uses Orcadian peat and ex-sherry casks for maturation. The nose has hints of heather and spice: a beautiful smell of Scotland! On the tongue, you get citrus fruits, malt, and wood smoke along with a peaty finish.
Glenmorangie Lasanta, 12 Year (Approx. $48 USD)
This single malt smells of plum and baking spices, just like Grandma’s kitchen! On the tongue you get a bit of sherried dried fruit, orange marmalade, toasted nuts and jam. It finishes with more citrus, cinnamon, and hazelnut, rounded off by bitter dark chocolate.
Famous Grouse, Ruby Cask (Approx. $35 USD)
This dark copper blended whisky smells of toasted vanilla and spice. On the tongue you’ll be reminded of fruit cake and soft oak, and the finish is smooth.
Expert tip: This would be an excellent choice for our 6 New Favorite Scotch Cocktails!
Dewar’s Caribbean Smooth (Approx. $22 USD)
This blended scotch is finished in rum casks for that Caribbean, coconut taste. It’s pleasantly sweet, with aromas and flavors of butterscotch, vanilla, orange peel, and chamomile.
Scotch whiskies have a wide range of prices and flavor profiles. It’s true that a brilliant bottle of whisky can set you back several hundred dollars. But it’s also entirely possible to find reasonably-priced Scotch whiskies for the newly initiated and the connoisseur alike. With our picks above, you won’t go wrong in picking out a good bottle for a special occasion!
Remember, you can choose to decant your whisky! While it doesn’t affect the flavor profile, you’ll up your cool cred hugely. Plus, they make fantastic gifts for the scotch snob on your holiday shopping list. Buy your personalized whiskey decanters and sip from our beautifully designed whiskey glasses at Prestige Haus.
What is your favorite “under $50” Scotch whisky? Tell us below in the comments!
Question 1: What is the number one selling alcohol spirit in the world? Scotch whisky!
Question 2: Can any whisky be called a scotch? No! Only whisky that is distilled and made in Scotland can be called a "scotch".
Question 3: How many Scotch whisky distilleries are there? There are 134 distilleries to choose from!