Best Cheap Single Malt Scotches

Credit: ecastro

Credit: ecastro

Single malt scotches have a reputation for being expensive and it’s a reputation that is well deserved as many single malts are quite expensive, on a ml by ml basis. Take a look at Macallan 18 – a 750mL bottle will set you back around $150! Macallan is a lovely dram, that’s for sure, but it’s also a pricey one.

Not all single malts are as expensive. Macallan has the branding power behind it and so they can charge a premium, much like how people pay more for a Mercedes Benz or a BMW. Is it worth it? Perhaps. But there are certainly cheaper single malt scotches that are very good at a fraction of the price.

The tricky part about buying single malt scotches in the United States is that everything is imported and thus everything is automatically more expensive. When compared to whiskey produced in the US, it’s going to be more expensive because it has to be imported. That said, there are a few options out there and here are the best cheap single malt scotches I can think of.

If you are looking for a gift for your favorite scotch lover but don’t want to buy scotch, you can always try these gifts for under $50 or these gifts for under $25.

Try Blended Scotch

johnnie-walker-red-little-bottleThis is a bit of a cheat but if you’re new to scotch, consider a blend rather than single malt. Blends are far cheaper and you can get a great blend for less than a mediocre single malt. I’d argue that you shouldn’t go too cheap or it’ll turn you off on the idea of scotch in general but a Johnnie Walker, Cutty Sark, Chivas Regal, or Dewar’s will provide a great drink at a fraction of a single malt’s price. A 750mL Johnnie Walker Red, Cutty Sark, or Dewar’s should only cost you $20.

Bowmore Legend

bowmore-legend-little-bottleThe Bowmore Legend is part of the Bowmore core range and available for less than $30 a bottle (750mL). It’s a light gold whisky with no age statement but still retains the smoky peat nose that Bowmore is known for. As an Islay (they claim the “first Islay malt”), it’s lighter than an Ardbeg but it’s definitely present. I’m a fan of Bowmore and I have several bottles in my collection (18, Enigma, and Mariner) and you won’t go wrong with this one.

Glenmorangie

glenmorangie-little-bottleGlenmorangie went all out into the finishes game, releasing several finishes in everything from port to Madeira to Sauterne. Their original is called Glenmorangie The Original and you can usually find it for just over $30 a bottle, sometimes less, and it’s a ten year old scotch that has fruity character and is fairly light. It’s light gold in color and one of my first scotches (in part because of price!). it is classified as a Highland and so expect those characteristics (interestingly enough, they also own Ardbeg which is your quintessential Islay in terms of smokiness and peatiness).

Glenfiddich 12 Yr

glenfiddich-little-bottleGlenfiddich 12 is a 12yr single malt you should be able to find for around $42 a bottle (750mL) and it’s your prototypical Speyside with nice oak, floral and fruitiness and no smoke. Glenfiddich is the best selling single malt scotch in the world and that’s because it’s affordable while giving you a good feel for what it means to be a Speyside single malt. At $42 it puts it on the outer range of what we’d call “cheap” but I wanted to mention it just because it’s so beloved.

What about all those sub-$20 a bottle single malts that you see in the stores? Names like Glen Kirk or Glen Ness or Shieldaig (update: I tried it, it was OK) and the like? I’ve never tried them. The only one I’ve heard bad things about is McClelland’s and that’s just from very few people. If you plan on mixing them, like in a Manhattan or something like that, I suspect those wouldn’t be a bad bet (though all things considered, I’d go with a blend in that case).

For drinking neat, which is what I prefer, I’d stick with these.

Community Contributions

Since I posted this article, tens of thousands of readers have seen my list and wanted to contribute their own thoughts. With mine, I tried to find high quality, inexpensive expressions available almost everywhere so an omission is not an indictment.

Here are the most comprehensive comments of the batch below:

  • Lindsay discusses what she likes about Aberlou 10, anCnoc 12, Ardbeg 10, Bowmore Legend, Cragganmore 12, Dalwhinnie 15, Glenfiddich 12, Glenlivet 12, Glenkinchie 12, Glenmorangie 10, Highland Park 12, Laphroaig 10, Talisker 10, and dislikes about Glen Moray 16.
  • Eric shares what he likes about Balvenie 12 DoubleWood, Old Pultney 12, Talisker 10, GlenDronach 12, Clynelish 14, Longrow CV, and Lagavulin 16.
  • Sean gives us the rundown on Ledaig 10, Cragganmore, Glen Moray 16, Glenmorangie (several expressions), Glencadam 10, with a strong rebuke for Glenrothes Select Reserve.

There are a lot of great comments below, I just wanted to pick out a few of the comprehensive ones that I feel you should not miss.

Lastly, you can make a “cheap” scotch look classier with a decanter and some fine scotch glasses.

About Jim

Jim is the founder of Scotch Addict and one of the many fans of whisky in all its forms. Connect with me on Google+.
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101 Responses to Best Cheap Single Malt Scotches

  1. Chris says:

    I actually bought my first single malt scotch over the holidays as a gift to myself! I have been on and off with JW Black over the years depending on finances (only one ever tried besides one Double Black very recently) and right now finances are good and improving. I like to look and have always dreamed of getting a JW Blue, but in recent months have at least looked on the shelves at some single malts.

    That holiday gift pack I bought was a Highland 12 with a 50mL bonus of Highland 18 for $42 at a chain liquor store. At first the bite shocked me a little but got used to it as the bottle drained over the days (the 18 remains unopened). After that, I went back to JW Black and was disappointed a little at the lack of “flavor”? (not sure this is the appropriate description) Anyways, as the JW Black emptied, I liked it more again, but decided to do more research into these single malts and discovered your site!

    I charged out and bought a Balvenie Doublewood 12 based on many high recommendations here (and found it for $37 at Sam’s Club). It turns out I may have been a bit hasty because I am not a fan of honey flavors in general, so got an initial shock, but even as this first glass finishes, I am accustomed more to it.

    My question is what should I try next? I am a fan of IPAs and especially recently Black IPAs, and based on reading more on your site, I was considering the Laphroaig 10. I also saw the poster above me talk about the Tomatin 12 which I saw at the Sam’s Club for $24 I believe. Thanks for any input from anyone–I’m new to this but have a bit of money to spend and willing to try anything!

    • Jim says:

      Laphroaig and Lagavulin are fine options for the next bottle, maybe find a local spot that serves it (it’s not hard to find if they have scotch) so you can try it before committing to a whole bottle? You’ll detect some similar flavors though, because JW is a blend and I know for a fact is has smokiness in it that would be completely absent from Doublewood.

  2. Jonathon Cowley says:

    I just bought a bottle of Glenfiddich 15-year for UK£33 today (about US$45). It was delicious; smooth and warming in the back of the throat without the burn that usually accompanies cheaper spirits. Plus it came in a steel and red leather canister, which was quite fetching.

    If you can find them over there in the colonies; Jura and Tobermoray are good choices too. Both come in 10, 12 and 15 year, and the 10 year versions are still worth some attention.

  3. Aklein says:

    Totally clueless. Speyburn 10 is $27 and easily comparable to any of the $50-60 12 years.
    Also Kirkland has a 12 yr in a huge bottle for dirt cheap. Just as good as Johnny walker black or glenkinchie or livet 12. Better than laphroig.

  4. John says:

    I tend to think that sending more than $45 is a little extravagant, so I’m in the same boat here. I’ve tried Speyburn Bradan Orach and Deanston Virgin Oak and really like both. Auchentoshan Classic is also very smooth, sweet, nutty, and eminently drinkable. I don’t care for the smoky flavors from Islay malts, so I’m not likely to spring for a Laphroaig or Lagavulin. I want to take exception to those who would criticize McClelland’s. I’ve tried two of their varieties (Highland and Speyside) and found them both fantastic. Lots of fruit aromas and a delightful explosion of toffee and hazelnuts on the palate.

    • Jim says:

      I think everyone has to find what they enjoy, all of our palates are different. We have our entire lives to develop it and we find things we enjoy and things we don’t. Sometimes there’s a note we don’t like (like phenolics, which is the medicinal band-aid note you find in Islays from peat) and that can apply to anything… I try to avoid saying any particular thing is *bad* – only whether I prefer it. I’ve yet to try McClellands of any variety though, so I can’t speak o it from personal experience.

  5. Hogarth says:

    J-Dub -

    Edradour 10YO. What do you think of it?

    HH

  6. South5 says:

    I had never tried a real whisky until the start of this year (2014). I started out with glenfiddich 12 single malt(£27), a good starting point, nice smooth and balanced. Also bought at the same time was The balvenie 14 year single malt (£39), again smooth and very palatable. Next I was given a two thirds full Laphroaig quarter cask(free to me but £34), I received it well and although it is not entirely to my liking it is exceptional in flavour and strength. Very Peaty, very smoky. I disliked this at first but helps understand the difference between the whiskys, strangely it keeps calling me back, love hate relationship going in there. Next was a bottle bought back from an old friend, auchentoshan springwood single malt (£37-£41) a four year old whisky that is immensely enjoyable with no smoke or peat. Explodes in the mouth with no bad aftertaste. After a trip to Gibraltar I picked up auchentoshan heartwood single malt (£27 no tax- £44 uk) this has more depth than springwood as it’s flavoured by rum and sherry casks, subtleties of flavour from both casks. Finally the bruichladdich “the organic scottish barley”, 50% alcohol make this one quick to hit you but leaves a very pleasant aftertaste, I bought it for £39.75 in Gibraltar bargain? Can’t find uk price for it.

    Overall I would reccomend in order of palatability; Springwood, the organic scottish barley, the balvenie, heartwood, glenfiddich. Quarter cask is a different league to all the others, so it’s not last. It’s in it’s own league elsewhere.

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