If you take a basic economics class, you’ll learn that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Well, there’s no such thing as a good, super cheap Scotch whisky, either. This style of whisky is full of high-priced, highly prized bottles that can fetch hundreds and even thousands of dollars. But though one end of the market is full of uncomfortably expensive, long-aged bottles, there’s still plenty of value to be found in the $2o-40 range.
“Sipping Scotch (especially single malt) is an expensive hobby.” says Dean Brown, bar director at Kissaki in New York Citys. “Your average bottle starts at $40 and only goes up from there. Without going into a lecture, I encourage people with interest to read on the stuff. Lots of great producers do smaller bottles and can help you figure out what you like before dropping real cash.”
For the task of finding lower-priced, delicious whiskies, we went straight to the experts — asking some of our favorite bartenders to tell us the best reasonably priced Scotch whiskies to drink in winter 2020.
Johnnie Walker Red
Eric Godfrey, bartender at Industry Kitchen in New York City
Johnnie Walker Red. It’s a blended scotch, but very smooth and packs a punch. Plus, you can usually find a bottle for around $30.
Dewar’s White Label
Lauren Mathews, lead bartender at Urbana in Washington, DC
Scotch isn’t known as a “bargain” spirit. That being said, there are a handful of blended Scotches that are high-quality and won’t break the bank. That’s why I prefer Dewar’s White Label. Dewar’s is full of flavor and serves as a great sipping Scotch.
Gary Wallach, director of food & beverage at Arlo SoHo in New York City
I had a bottle of Cutty Sark growing up. It sat on a shelf that hung above the doorway entering my living room. When I was finally tall enough to grab it, I gave it a try. Scotch took a minute for me to understand. My palate wasn’t ready for it but as I have gotten older, I can see the purpose of an economy style blended scotch like Cutty. Every now and then if it’s on the back bar, I drink it neat.
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Will Witherow, beverage director at Live Oak in Alexandria, Virginia
I don’t know if it’s considered cheap, but I love to sip on Monkey Shoulder. At $28 a bottle, this Scotch is perfect for sipping as well as in a cocktail. Everyone I introduce it to thanks me.
Highland Park 12-Year
Dean Brown, bar director at Kissaki in New York City
Go talk to the bartenders at bars with nice selections, and ask for a taste, any place worth its salt will give you one and steer you to a different one if you don’t enjoy it. That said, Highland Park 12-year was the bottle that got me into Scotch. Lightly peated, silky, with vanilla and bran, it’s still a go to for me. On average it’s right at that $40 mark.
Matt Catchpole, general manager at Terra in Columbia, South Carolina
If I’m dipping into the cheaper Scotch, I’m cracking open a bottle of McClelland’s Speyside. Not super rot-gut but represents that region nicely.
Wade McElroy, director of food and beverage development at Fieldhouse Jones in Nashville
I think classic Dewar’s 12 is a great affordable option for sipping, although I would hate to refer to an affordable whisky as cheap.
Zachary Gross, Beverage Director of Sen Sakana in New York City
If I’m heading to the cheap shelf at my local liquor store, I’m grabbing a bottle of Black Bottle Scotch is super solid. Great balance of spice, smoke, and fruit.
Johnnie Walker Black
Sarah Turbett, bar manager at Oak Steakhouse in Nashville
I’ll never be upset if someone pours me a Johnnie Walker Black over a large cube. It’s definitely not expensive, but still high-quality, easy sipping whisky.
Bruichladdich The Laddie
Erin Ward, corporate beverage director of Alicart Restaurant Group in New York City
It might not be cheap, but it’s definitely reasonably priced. That’s why I like Bruichladdich, “The Laddie”. It is unpeated (unlike most Islay Scotch) and has a beautiful floral quality.
Glenmorangie The Original
Kyle Ritchie, bar manager at Doug Fir Lounge in Portland, Oregon
When it comes to cheaper (but definitely not cheap) Scotch whiskies, it’s hard to beat the lineup from Glenmorangie. It’s best to start at the beginning. That’s why I go with Glenmorangie 10 year, for sure.
Smokey Monkey Shoulder
Will Benedetto, Director of Bars for IGC Hospitality in New York City
Smokey Monkey Shoulder. It’s the cheapest Scotch I’ll actually drink but it’s much better than a number of Scotches that are more expensive. Plus, this version is smokey like an Islay whisky.
Writer’s Choice: Laphroaig 10
Personally, I love smokey, Islay whiskies. And, if you’re going to get your feet wet with his peated whisky style, look no further than Laphroaig 10. It’s definitely not super cheap (around $40), but every bottle is full of briny, smokey, sweet goodness that you won’t soon forget.