So what’s a good brand of Scotch that doesn’t cost the earth?
Hm. Good question, Kevin.
Pretty much all Scotch is expensive these days. Diageo had to build a new distillery in Scotland – some 5 million gallons a year if I remember correctly – because of worldwide demand. (Scotch of course must be distilled and aged in Scotland.)
They are also choking a couple of their more mundane labels to age supply for more expensive brands.
So given limited supply and rising demand, the stuff will cost you.
If you just want a blended Scotch for the occasional visitor and cocktail, I’d probably go with Johnnie Walker Black Label. It’s got a nice highland flavour set and it’s old enough and smooth enough to appease Scotch afficionados. It’s also generic enough not to upset blended Scotch drinkers.
If you want to go a little upscale you want a single malt, but it’s best to stick with a Highland variety because they are the majority of the flavour set in blended scotches. The best choice from my point of view is Glenfiddich. Their 12 year old is a very nice scotch and it’s about the same as Black Label.
However, the trend these days is to old single malts, the older the better. The older the scotch the smoother the flavours, and the greater the impact of the barrel. Many people adore the candy and vanilla flavour sets, although I find them a bit tedious in the more geriatric whisky, and I’m too damn cheap to pay for them.
You will absolutely pay for age, so for example the Macallan 12 year old is about $70, their 15 year old is $120 and their 21 year old $325.
Glenlivet 18 year old is a relative bargain at about $80. It’s a great highland whisky although these days is insufficiently eccentric for most scotch fans.
If you want to start checking out the less generic flavour profiles I’d suggest starting with the Islands and Islay. I’m an absolutely huge fan of Lagavulin but be forewarned it’s way way WAY over the top for most people. It’s also about $125.
A slightly more neutral Islay, and a very nice scotch is the Bowmore lineup. We usually drink the 12 and 15 year olds though they have an 18 at about $65.
I have never had a bad bottle of scotch, although I find some of the younger blends less enjoyable. My honest advice is to buy any label you’ve never tried that suits your budget, and give it a whirl. More obscure labels are often very nice, and usually more affordable.