By Liam Hiller
Whisky drinking often starts out as an interest, but before long it can blossom into a fully-fledged hobby; just ask the thousands of whisky enthusiasts dotted around the world. For many, the moment the sweet nectar of their first dram passed their lips is iconic and remembered for the rest of their lives. It opens a gateway to a yet undiscovered world, where products are a plenty, each with their own intriguing back story and wide array of notes. Once through those gates, it can be hard to go back.
But being a whisky enthusiast can be an expensive hobby. Quality whiskies can, and do, sport high prices and this has the power to put many would-be-enthusiasts off, with the feeling that: while they enjoy the water of life, they do not have the funds to fully immerse themselves in the hobby and indeed the culture that comes with it. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Bargains can be found. By bargains I don’t simply mean cheap whiskies, but rather whiskies that give you a lot of bang for your buck. Without further ado, here are my top 10 bargain whiskies.
10. Chivas Regal 12 Year Old
This wonderful blend from Chivas, originally created in the early 20th century, is made up of around 50 different whiskies from across Scotland. Despite this being one of the cheaper whiskies you will find on the market, it manages to have a complexity and balance that makes it feel and taste like a premium blend.
Creamy in texture, this 12 Year Old delivers notes of lemon, vanilla and wood chips on the nose. These are followed up by banana, malted barley and just the right amount of black pepper on the palate that creeps in subtly. More black pepper and an elegant sweetness follow as you exhale, bringing the whole dram together and lingering for a perfect amount of time. Given its price, the Chivas Regal 12 Year Old is more than worth trying for those just getting into whisky or even seasoned experts.
9. Johnnie Walker Green Label
This magnificent, warming blend disappeared from the whisky market for a number of years. There was never any real explanation behind the disappearance, and this only serves to add to the beauty and mystery of Johnnie Walker Green Label.
Made up of a blend of single-malts from some of the best distilleries in Scotland, predominantly Talisker, Caol Ila, Linkwood and Cragganmore, this whisky has a depth of character and flavor that is hard to rival. As you sip your first dram of this incredible creation you will experience a whirlwind of flavors. Cut grass, wood smoke, peat and spiced honey will caress the nostrils and palate and a long and spicy, black pepper like finish warms you to the depths of your bones.
I’m not entirely sure why this whisky went away, but I’m certainly jubilant that it has returned.
8. Talisker 10 Year Old
The Talisker 10 Year Old is the most popular whisky to come from the Isle of Skye. Indeed the distillery is the only one on the island, with this being their best known expression. In this bottle, the distillery has managed to capture the flavours of the Island. Salty sea breeze can be detected alongside a little peat smoke and a fantastic helping of spice that heats you all the way from your head to your toes. The Isle of Skye’s location off the North West Coast of Scotland means that they experience some of the wettest, windiest and coldest winters possible in the UK and this beautifully created little bottle helps the Islanders through it every single year. An excellent whisky and great value for money.
7. Macallan 12 Year Old Double Cask
This medium-bodied single-malt from The Macallan distillery moves away from their house-style of sherried malts. It is created by marrying whisky that has been matured in ex-Bourbon and ex-Sherry casks. It is part of a trilogy of malts released by the distillery, with the other two being Macallan Fine Oak and Macallan Sherry Oak. This bottle sits right in between the two and provides a combination of flavors that work wonders.
Notes of vanilla and citrus fruits marry perfectly with Christmas spices, such as cinnamon, and flavors of fruit cake and raisins to create a well-balanced and delicious whisky. This relatively heavy drink is appreciated by whisky lovers the world over. It was named the “Best 11-15 Year Old Single Malt Scotch of the Year” in the 2012 Whisky Bible Awards and it is sure to be greatly appreciated by seasoned drinkers and newbies alike, especially given the excellent price tag.
6. Glenfiddich 12 Year Old
Glenfiddich’s 12 Year Old is an exceptional whisky that comes at a great price. This is one of the most loved whiskies worldwide and with good reason. Coming packaged in the distilleries signature triangular shaped bottle, this dram holds a beautiful golden colour that can only be truly admired once it touches the bottom of your glass.
The aromas and flavors that are experienced when sipping this single-malt really do sum up what it means to be a classic Speyside dram. Hints of citrus fruits and apple are backed up with notes of vanilla that have been imparted on the whisky from the bourbon casks in which it spent some time. Extra, slightly richer layers are also apparent to the trained nose and palate, with subtle spices coming through to tell us that this 12 Year Old has also seen the inside of an Oloroso cask. Overall this dram is smooth, sweet and easy to drink and it is for this reason that it has become so revered.
5. Glenmorangie The Original
This magnificent 10 Year Old from the Highland distillery of Glenmorangie is fantastic for those just getting into whisky. It has a certain complexity that can be picked up by those who know what they are looking for, but it also holds a simplicity and elegance that make it easy to enjoy for even the most inexperienced whisky drinker.
With this one the distillery has managed to create a dram that strikes a fantastic balance between sweet and spice and this is not easy done. Notes of vanilla, honey and citrus fruits are the first to make themselves known before a medium spice comes through towards the end. Malt, toffee and subtle hints of butterscotch are also apparent and these add that extra layer of rich complexity that has made so many fall in love with this single-malt. This is one of my personal favorites due to its smoothness and offers fantastic value for money.
4. Tamdhu 10 Year Old
First released at the Speyside Festival in 2013, this relatively new 10 Year Old has won the plaudits of whisky drinkers around the country. Having been matured entirely in Sherry casks, this single-malt is understandably rich and creamy, but that is not all it has on offer. Sweetness can be detected throughout, with notes of vanilla, sponge cake and sweetened nuts revealing themselves on the nose. This is followed up by a chocolaty palate that also offers hints of burnt orange peel and a woody spice that pulls a lot of the other notes together. The finish is very rich with subtle spices that keep the mind active, and the palate happy, long after you have swallowed. Tamdhu’s 10 Year Old is an excellent choice if you like sherried whisky, and an even better choice if you already know that you love it.
3. Glenrothes Select Reserve
The vast majority of spirit made by the Glenrothes distillery goes on to be used in blends including Cutty Sark and Famous Grouse. On top of that, the spirit that they do use in single-malts is normally from specific vintages. That makes this no-age-statement (NAS) expression both odd and exciting.
It has been matured entirely in oak casks and this combined with the slow distillation that takes place inside tall stills, has imparted the signature Glenrothes style and notes on this modestly priced whisky. It is clean and fruity with hints of vanilla, citrus fruits and malt that ease their way onto your palate with a delicacy that make this whisky fantastic for those that don’t enjoy the burn. Having said that, there is a level of complexity hidden in this bottle that is just waiting to burst out onto the trained palate and this makes the dram an excellent experience for seasoned drinkers as well. This is one of the smoothest and easiest to drink whiskies on the list and is incredible value for money. A really great dram.
2. Bruichladdich Classic Laddie
This unpeated expression from Islay’s Bruichladdich distillery is made using 100 percent Scottish barley and has been aged in casks that previously house bourbon. It comes packaged in a unique and stylish light blue bottle and houses sweet, malty notes that bring the dram to life on your nose and palate and keep you coming back for more.
Orange peels, grapes and honey are the most prominent flavors and these are backed up by hints of sea air and cinnamon that bring the whole thing together. Classic Laddie has quickly become a favorite among fans of the distillery and has to be classed as one of the best unpeated drams made on the island. It is smooth, easy to drink and sports a fantastically low price given its exceptional quality. It is an incredibly well refined dram that master distiller, Jim McEwan, has to be proud of. Well worth a try.
1. Ballantine’s 12 Year Old
This 12 Year Old is a creamy and somewhat spicy dram that is a blend of around 50 different whiskies from around the country. Blending that many whiskies together and coming out with a product that smells and tastes like this one is no mean feat, but Ballantine’s have managed it with this one.
Coming packaged in their signature square shaped bottle, this blend offers notes of vanilla, nuts and fruitcake. Hints of winter spices are also on offer, however they do not overpower the sweeter, more subtle notes. Instead, they simply linger on the finish, warming us through and ensuring that the perils of Scottish winter are left at the doorstep. Over the years, this dram has become a favorite among Scots and this has to be a good sign. This is one of the best, well balanced blends within its price range and one that every whisky fan should try at some point. A really warming drink that is somewhat reminiscent of a Highland single-malt.
The author is Liam Hiller, a world whisky enthusiast who lives in Glasgow. You can find more of Liam’s writing on the Whisky Gallery blog. Whisky Gallery pledges to deliver the best selection of popular world whiskies to fans anywhere on the globe, at competitive online prices. There you can find a wide selection of Scotch whisky, Bourbon, Japanese whisky and Irish whiskey, among others.