By Richard Thomas
Although the gap has narrowed some these last couple of years, it is still a truism that Scotch whiskies are more expensive than comparable bourbon whiskies, especially if you live in the U.S. A central proof in that statement is where the key price points for the core, premium expressions of these respective whiskeys lie. Nearly all the staple premium bourbons are in the $30 to $60 range, whereas many core, fan favorite single malts are found in the $60 to $90 zone. Even in Europe, the major premium bourbons are often slightly less expensive than their Scottish counterparts.
This price point marks the most important of “Seven Best Scotch Whiskies” lists, in that these seven are the best in a range that straddles the line between the reasonable and the truly expensive, and in single malt Scotch that happens to be where many of the best choices are found. In making selections, we’ve consulted both our readers and outside experts, as well as our own team.
Aberlour A’bunadh ($80)
“The undisputed king of budget-friendly sherry bombs, and still one of the loveliest sherried whiskies you can find outside of the best single sherry cask releases,” said Forbes whisky blogger Felipe Schrieberg of this release. It’s not hard to see why this single malt is such a fan favorite or routinely appears as a go-to choice among fans of sherry butt aged whisky. In terms of sherried, cask strength whiskies that won’t blow out your wallet, A’bunadh really has only one peer competitor, and that whisky is also on this list (see below).
Ardbeg Uigeadail ($75)
Noted world whiskey writer Dom Roskrow describes this peaty whisky as “classic Ardbeg,” and what makes it so is not just the potent current of peat, but the not-so-Islay elements in the flavor profile. “This one has a small but significant element of sherry-matured casks involved in the overall mix for a rich and smoky monster,” said Schrieberg, with Roskrow praising in the “plummy and honeyed notes lurking under its surface.” It’s also a pretty strong, high alcohol whisky to boot.
Glenfiddich 15 Year Old ($60)
Building on Glenfiddich 12’s status as one of the best in budget bin single malts, Glenfiddich 15 Year Old adds a little more maturity and the status as the category’s first major solera-aged single malt to make it a classic. This is arguably the single malt Scotch whisky sitting on the sweet spot between quality and affordability, and it’s hard to find a Scotch lover who doesn’t have good things to say about it.
Glenfarclas 105 ($90)
This lovely sherry bomb from Glenfarclas is the aforementioned peer competitor to Aberlour A’bunadh. Bottled at 60% ABV, it’s not actually cask strength (which varies from batch to batch), but it’s in that league and easily one of the strongest single malts around at any given time. All that potency just amps up the sherry cask deliciousness. Many consider Glenfarclas to be the less hyped, most reasonably priced alternative to The Macallan, and this is their big boy of an expression.
Lagavulin 16 Year Old ($70)
“Without hesitation my first choice is, and is almost always, Lagavulin 16 Year Old,” said whisky blogger Linda Peterson. It’s a classic example of Islay whisky. Its rich, thick texture allows it to deliver a well-balanced profile that is as much malty and sherried as it is woody and peaty. The long, spicy finish completes the rounded picture. It’s not just one of the core or best balanced expressions to come out of Islay, but out of Scotch whisky as a whole.
The Macallan Double Cask 12 Year Old ($70)
If you like the way The Macallan does sherry cask whisky, then the Double Cask 12 Year Old is your reasonably priced option. The “Double Cask” refers not to a finish, but to the use of stock from Sherry casks made out of both American and European oak. There are no ex-bourbon barrels contributing to this single malt; it’s 100% Sherry cask of two different types. The result is classic, sherried dried fruits territory cut with butterscotch.
Tomatin 18 Year Old Sherry Cask ($80)
The oldest expression listed here comes from (appropriately) the least well-known distillery, although Tomatin has its fans. Sherry finished rather than sherry age, that finish nonetheless added fruitiness to the chocolatey, honeyed and slightly smoky Highland core. It’s an interesting sipping whisky for people looking for a pour to study as well as enjoy.