Ever feel that there’s just too much whisky out there? A common question that is seen frequently around the internet, and that I’ve been asked myself, is “Well, I’ve tried a <Glenfiddich/Glenlivet> 12 year old and quite liked it; what on earth do I try next?” In this article I’ll attempt to answer that. Typically the questioner is looking for good quality but also good value too; after all, it’s often an expensive risk buying a bottle of whisky that you haven’t tried. Keeping the cost down is always worthwhile!
The selection offered here are among the best low-cost single malts you can find, based of course on my own tastes, experience and the available local selection. Bear in mind that the cost of a bottle of whisky is a funny thing – it will vary based on your location, the particular store you visit, government policies and taxes and so on. It’s not consistent either; as I’ve complained before, British Columbia is one of the most expensive places to buy spirits due to our government control of alcohol purchasing, but occasionally the odd brand or bottling will be almost the same price as you can find it in the USA. Sadly that’s not too common! When I visited Macallan last year, the fellow who led our tasting after the tour was horrified when I told him how much it would cost in BC for the whisky we were drinking.
So with that in mind I’ll list my local prices here. They’ll
probably definitely look expensive to you if you live outside of BC, but you can probably knock off 25% or more to get an idea of your local pricing. If you’re here in BC with me, I feel your pain!
Glenmorangie 10-year – 40% ABV – $70
A real classic, this light and floral malt is a perennial favourite. I almost always have a bottle of this at the back of the cupboard!
Dalmore 12-year – 40% ABV – $65
Believe it or not this is my favourite Dalmore that I’ve tried to date. I like the 12-year-old a lot more than the Dalmore 18 I have in my collection. Nicely sherried with lots of fruit, but on the lighter side and wonderfully balanced. It’s an underrated gem.
Highland Park 12-year – 43% ABV – $67
Not Highland Park’s best but still a fine malt and a great value. It has some of the smoke that the distillery is famous for and is a great introduction to their pricier offerings. Nice to see the strength climbing above the bog-standard 40% too!
Talisker 10-year – 45.8% ABV – $70
If I only had to pick one bottle from this section I’d pick the Talisker. Famously located on the Isle of Skye, the 10-year is a wonderful and instantly identifiable classic. A little salt and smoke, but don’t worry if you don’t like Islay malts – it’s not that extreme. Combine that with pepper and oak and you have a real winner. Has some bite!
Aberlour 10-year – 43% ABV – $49
Now, I don’t think this Aberlour is as strong as some of the other bottlings in this article, and it’s probably the least-impressive of the Speyside malts I’m including. But I have a huge soft spot for the distillery and the people there, and some of their other offerings are sublime, so I’m going to give this one an honorary place as an introduction to their range. A young-tasting whisky finished in both ex-bourbon and sherry casks, it’s fruity and smooth, and like many sherried whiskies works great as an after-dinner dram.
Balvenie Doublewood – 40% ABV – $80
At $80 this is one of the most expensive bottles in this list, but it’s worth it. This is a modern classic from Balvenie with a fantastic, well-deserved reputation for consistent high quality. Matured like the Aberlour above in both bourbon and sherry casks, the Balvenie is aged for a couple of extra years and tastes quite different. The sherry is less evident and vanilla and toffee come through in strength.
Glendronach 12-year – 43% ABV – $67
Of the Speyside whiskies I list, this is what I’d pick if I could have only one. Aged in two types of ex-sherry casks, this is a spicy, delicious fruity explosion that is absolutely mouth-watering. It’s the only Glendronach expression I’ve tried so far, and based on this I can’t wait to try more. Essential!
Glenfiddich 15-year Solera Vat – 40% ABV – $72
I have to confess that I’ve only tried this one briefly at a show. Based on that passing taste though, this is a winner and reviews seem to bear this out. It’s extremely different to the best-selling 12-year, no doubt due to the very unusual (for whisky) Solera process: after a period in traditional bourbon, sherry and virgin oak casks, the spirit is allowed to mature in a large vat. Whenever some of the contents are taken out, new spirit is added to maintain the same volume of liquid in the vat. In this way the spirit is constantly mixing younger and older batches, and it’s likely that some quite well-matured whisky will make its way into an average bottling. Very interesting and a very nice result.
Bruichladdich Laddie 10 – 46% ABV – $70
An Islay whisky, yes, but not the stereotypical Islay peat bomb; the Laddie 10 is gentle and delicious. It’s Bruichladdich’s first 10-year release since the distillery was re-opened, and by their own admission it’s an important one for them. Luckily it happens to be very good and won a couple of awards last year. The bright sky-blue tin might put you off but I can recommed this one.
Laphroaig Quarter Cask – 48% ABV – $75
For a great value classic Islay whisky, you can’t beat the Quarter Cask. So named because of the smaller-sized barrels it’s matured in, the spirit spends more time in contact with the wood and therefore picks up a lot of its flavour in a shorter time than usual. Laphroaig has a certain reputation and this expression lives up to it – tons of smoke and brine with a certain medicinal quality. Often said to be a “love it or hate it” drink, I’ve yet to meet anyone who hates this one. Well, actually my wife does but that shouldn’t put you off!
Amrut Single Malt – 46% ABV – $70
An Indian single malt?! Well, yes, and it’s outstanding. One of the most important things you’ll learn about whisky is to be open-minded; greatness can come from anywhere. All Amrut bottlings are sold without an age statement, as whisky matures very quickly in India due to the heat and humidity, and naming it “5-year-old” or something along those lines would probably count against it in the marketplace. But trust me, this stuff is seriously good… light and citrusy, with some spice and liquorice, it’s well worth your time.
Amrut Single Malt Cask Strength – 61.9% ABV – $90
I’m bouncing off the ceiling here in terms of price to call this “affordable”. But it’s actually the cheapest cask strength whisky available locally and again, it’s top shelf stuff. Oranges and black pepper define this one for me, with a wonderful oily mouth-feel and a much longer finish than the standard single malt. And there’s something about a good strong spirit that you can’t ignore! Of all the bottles I listed here this is in my top 3 for sure, and even though it’s the most expensive in this list I highly recommend it.
Hopefully something in this article catches your eye. If you pick anything up from the list, let me know what you think!