Yes, You Can Buy a Good Scotch Whisky for Under $50
As counterintuitive as the words "cheap Scotch" may seem, there is a whole world of excellent value-driven Scotch whisky out there for you to consume if you know where to look. Luckily, we've gone ahead and done the hard part for you and found a dozen excellent choices that won't enfeeble your financial health.
So ready your whisky snifter and put on your drinking slacks, and let's get to it.
Peat, peat, and more peat dominate this standby Islay single malt, intermingled with briny umami, fragrant barbecue smoke, black pepper, tobacco, and freshly poured asphalt (in a good way). On the lighter end you’ll find vanilla, stone fruit, salted caramel, and a bit of soft oak, like an autumn romp through the forest.
Speyside is known for its delicate, honey-driven single malts, and BenRiach’s celebrated 10 Year Old expression is case and point. A lemony floral nose kicks off a medley of crisp green apple, peach, and banana, kept in check by sweet malt, earthy, vanilia-tinged oak and slightly peppery baking spices that linger long after you’ve drained your snifter.
Aged in bourbon barrels and finished in Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez sherry casks, this 2015 expression represents the award-winning distillery’s first foray into the world of peat. But considering its outstanding quality, excellent price point, and solid marks, we sure hope it's not their last. Don’t get us wrong here -- this isn’t punch-you-in-the-face peat. Instead, the mild, cinnamon smoke char acts more like a harmonious support system for the flowery herbaceousness, cereal sugars, green apple, and pithy citrus notes.
Don’t let the price tag fool you -- this guy’s more complex than the Saturday New York Times crossword. Smooth, nutty malt goes toe-to-toe with ripe lemons, peaches and pears, subtle nutmeg spice, cooling ginger and mint, and acacia honey, all sliding into a silky coconut and vanilla ice cream finish.
For two Andrew Jackson-faced bills, you’re looking at a fine sherry cask-aged single malt boasting honey-kissed, lightly toasted bread on nose, stone fruit, vanilla, and smoked wood chips on the palate and a dry, spiced licorice finish. Bonus: It comes encased in an extra slick jet black bottle inspired by distillery founder Magnus Eunson’s Viking bootlegger ancestry.
Kirkland Signature Highland 18 year old Sherry Cask Finish
How did Costco brand hooch make it onto this list? Because not only is it delicious, but you’re never, ever (ever) going to find a better deal on a genuine 18-year-old sherry-finished Scotch whisky. The trade-off, of course, is that they keep the exact distillery of origin a mystery (that and the whole having to get a Costco membership thing). But when it tastes this good -- fragrant leather, tree bark, and tobacco followed by figgy pudding, hazelnuts, boozy sherry, and what only can be described as those Christmas chocolate oranges that break into cute little slices when you smash them -- you don’t ask questions.
Dubbed the world’s most-awarded single malt, you really can’t go wrong pouring a dram of this Speyside original. It’s the perfect entry whisky -- great for both selfless gifting and solo guzzling, especially for fans of orchard-fresh pears and apples, oatmeal raisin cookies, warm fruit cobbler, and whipped butterscotch mousse. So yeah, basically everyone.
Whisky Advocate rates this a 92. It's also been World Whisky of the Year, so everyone respects the resume of this particular member of the Islay family, which has peat for days, as well as tobacco and coffee notes. And with a long smokey finish that's incredibly balanced, Ardberg remains one of the best all-around Scotch whisky values on the planet.
Out of Orkney, Scotland, Highland Park basically tastes like the scent of a winter night in Spain -- Seville oranges, nutmeg, honey, and dried fruits. Aged in oak casks, it is smoky, rich, and lauded, especially after it won a Gold Medal at the 2017 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. A great choice for those looking to stay out of the world of heavy peat.
A Gold Medal winner at both the 2017 International Spirit Challenge and the 2018 SF World Spirits Competition, Bowmore is another entry from the world of Islay, but it is not a peat bomb. Instead, the peatiness is mellow, "with subtle lemon and sweet heather honey" and some low-key dark chocolate. Think of it as Laphroiag's chill cousin.
This Speyside classic is one of the best all-around, easy-drinking, beginner-inclusive Scotch whiskies, and at $29, one of the best values on this list. Smooth, well-balanced, fruity, with notes of sweet cream, it is the Scotch Jon Favreau hopes the server will bring him in Swingers when he says "any Glen" will do.