Over the past couple of years, I have been getting more and more people asking me what the best affordable whiskey is. Naturally, people what to buy good-quality whiskey, but, they rarely have a big budget. Therefore, this question is understandably a popular one.
The good news is that if you know where to look it is perfectly possible to buy high-quality whiskey for an affordable price. Including, as you will see some quite old
How to find the best affordable whiskey
Whiskey prices can vary from as little as a few dollars for a mass produced whiskey, to tens of thousands of dollars for a rare example.
Does buying the cheapest whiskey mean that you are cheating yourself from the taste of an expensive one? We take a look at some great whiskeys for you to enjoy, that won’t burn a huge hole in your pocket.
Tomatin 12-Year-Old Malt Whiskey
Frequently, I receive requests for recommendations for affordable single malts. I attempt to balance the Favorite Malts selections with a mixture for all price ranges but I must admit that it’s easy to overlook the small gems in favor of a new release from a silent distillery. A visitor recently suggested I pass on a recommendation of Tomatin 12-year-old, noting that it was selling for about $17 a bottle.
Tomatin is a delightful whisky, a step up in flavor from Lowland and lighter Highland malts, without becoming too challenging (like Islay or heavily sherried malts). It exhibits a smooth balance of malty sweetness, a perfumy lightness, a peaty nuttiness, and a smoky softness.
I sometimes surprise guests during an evening of tasting various whiskies. After a sampling of several light malts, Tomatin tastes distinctly rich and flavorful. Although prices have increased a bit, it is still a good buy at around $24.
Cadenhead Lochside 19-Year-Old
Lochside is a delicious whisky; delicate, fruity, sweet and dry at the same time, with a soft, peaty creaminess. Unfortunately, the distillery was unable in its brief 35 year history to establish a following. Lochside’s delicate malt was either buried in blended whiskies or exported to the Spanish market. The fact the distillery was isolated in Montrose rather than in the Speyside, and the misfortune that the facilities were located on prime real estate all led to its demise.
There’s currently an opportunity to find out what you’ve missed. I purchased a bottle of this Cadenhead 19-year-old (1981-2000, 58 vol.), on a trip to Scotland. Finally some bottles have made their way to the US. It’s from an oloroso sherry cask, which adds subtle sweet and fruity notes to relatively dry and faintly peaty malt.
It’s delicious, and perhaps your last chance to affordably sample (about $100) vanishing single malt.
Many years ago, at a bar in New Orleans, Louisiana, I came across a bottle of 12-year-old Glenfarclas. I was embarking on a driving tour of Cajun Country and was surprised to find a single malt that wasn’t widely distributed in America. In the course of the following week, Glenfarclas and I became good friends.
It may just be the fond memories of a journey through an exotic part of America, but I like to believe that Glenfarclas is a particularly “Nawlins” style of whisky. Perhaps that’s why the Sazerac Company of New Orleans was chosen to be the American distributor. It’s a whisky that has the sophistication and charm to be at home in an antebellum mansion; comfort and warmth to fortify the soul at a late night voodoo funeral; and the common man earthiness to sip while eating fresh cooked crawfish by the side of the road at a “boiling point”.
The nose has an earthy, sweaty, pungent aroma, mixed with sweet vermouth and licorice notes. The palate begins with sherry notes, then a smoky, peaty dryness. The finish is long, dry, smoky, and trails off with echoes of oak.
The Balvenie PortWood 21-year-old
Though it’s only the beginning of February, there’s a touch of Spring in the air near my home. It’s not cold enough for a thick, sherry cask release, yet hasn’t warmed up to the point that a light malt is refreshing. There is however, something in between.
The 21-year-old PortWood from The Balvenie has an exquisitely well balanced combination of complex flavors, starting with a grapey sweetness in the nose and continuing through notes of heather, toffee, and anise. A cedar dryness keeps it from becoming overly sweet and heavy, maintaining an appetizing lightness. At $200 this is a snip.
Signatory Bladnoch 1974 25-year-old
It wasn’t difficult to choose a single malt to usher in what is officially the new millennium. I’ll share part of a message I sent to Raymond Armstrong, the owner of Bladnoch distillery, on Christmas Eve:
How nice to hear from you, and with such good news. Bladnoch is operating again! It must be wonderful to smell the smells, hear the sounds, feel the energy, and most of all — take pride in the knowledge that you have rescued a piece of living history from extinction.
Other than your infectious enthusiasm and the warmth of June and the rest of the staff, there has been a feeling of sadness on my visits to Bladnoch. As though it were haunted by the ghosts of a lively and cherished past. Against all odds you accomplished a seemingly impossible task — the spirits have returned to Bladnoch. My glass is lifted to you.
As I wrote I sipped a bit of a 25-year-old Signatory bottling of Bladnoch (1974-99, 54.8 vol.).
It’s a delicious malt that balances the clean, lemony, grassy notes of a young Bladnoch with the cedary, herbal notes that come from 25 years in an oak cask. Few Lowland malts age well beyond their teens as the lightness of the whisky tends to be overpowered by the oak and cedar notes that emerge from the cask. In this case it is a perfect combination of flavors, and a perfect symbol, bridging the Bladnoch of old and the new Bladnoch.
A bottle will now set you back around $680.00