Whereas good bourbon can be found even in the $15 price range, good scotch — especially single malt — is rarely priced that low. Yes, there are incredibly affordable bottles of solid scotch out there, but they usually require a fair bit of sleuthing. Remember also that “price” and “value” aren’t always the same. There are lots of great value scotches, they just aren’t quite as cheap as their bourbon counterparts.
The best place to start is defining what makes a good Scottish single malt. That really depends on whom you ask. There are several regions with their own quasi-signature styles (the peatiness of Islay being perhaps the most easily defined) — but even those aren’t monoliths. At the base level, you need a solid matrix of soft loch water, malted barley, ale yeast, old stills, and barreling (sometimes for decades at a time). Each component brings its own special something to the mix. Then there’s the human factor. The malters, coopers, distillers, nosers, warehouse managers, and blenders all have their say in what makes it into the final dram. It’s a hell of a lot to consider.
The ten bottles below are single malts from Scotland that we’ve tried and love. We’ve broken them down by price in $10 increments between $30 and $120. Of course, these picks aren’t the only bottles worth your money at their particular price points. They just happen to be our favorites (at the moment!).
$30 — Tomatin Legacy/Dualchas
Distillery: Tomatin Distillery, Inverness, Highlands (Takara Shuzo Corp.)
Average Price: $32
Tomatin Legacy (known as Tomatin Dualchas on the U.S. market) has become recognized as a powerhouse dram at this price point thanks to a gold medal at the 2019 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. The Highland juice stands out due to its aging process. It spends time in both ex-bourbon casks and new oak casks before blending into the final product.
There’s a thinness to the nose that entices you towards clear bourbon vanilla and mild cinnamon. Those notes remain as a sweet fruit essence arrives with a fresh ginger spiciness. The end is short but full of that spice, fruit, vanilla, and a hint of Highland malt.
This is a solid highball whisky to have your shelf, especially at this price, and even more so if you’re a bourbon drinker looking to get into single malts.
$40 — Aberlour Double Cask 12
Distillery: Aberlour Distillery, Aberlour, Speyside (Pernod Ricard)
Average Price: $42
This might be one of Scotland’s best hid secrets. Aberlour Double Cask 12 spends its years mellowing in both ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks. We know, that’s not reinventing the wheel when it comes to Scottish double casks. However, the quality and subtlety of flavors found in this expression are top-notch.
The nose is distinctly full of sweet apple and an almost apple seed earthiness. The taste holds onto that fruit while classic sherry notes of plum, nuts, and a touch of must mingle with a dark chocolate underbelly, especially when water is added. A hint of oaky spice arrives late as the dram embraces more of its apple sweetness and slowly fades out.
This is another stellar highball base but works perfectly fine on the rocks too. I also dig this in a cocktail. Think a Rob Roy (which is just a Manhattan with scotch instead of bourbon or rye).
$50 — Old Pulteney 12
Distillery: Pulteney Distillery, Pulteneytown, Highlands
Average Price: $52
This expression from the far north of Scotland is another distinctly unique dram. The whisky is aged in second-fill ex-bourbon barrels that have been air-dried next to the sea. The results make this a very one-of-a-kind whisky that bourbon aficionados will dig.
There’s a clear sense of warm malts on the nose with a distinct whiff of briny sea air. The sip leans into that seaside feel with a salted caramel svelteness alongside creamy honey spiked with dark spices. That spice carries on with the salty-sweet foundation as a wisp of smoke arrives on the lingering finish.
This is an easy on-the-rocks whisky to have around. It also works as a nice sipper with some water, especially if you’re feasting on shellfish.
$60 — Bruichladdich The Classic Laddie
Distillery: Bruichladdich Distillery, Rinns, Islay (Rémy Cointreau)
Average Price: $60
Speaking of no whisky region of Scotland being a monolith, this Islay expression is an unpeated whisky from a place most famous for its peated whisky. The Classic Laddie is also no-single-thing when it comes to single malt. The barley is all sourced in Scotland with a fair amount coming from Islay. The rest is up to the distiller’s whim and decided while making the batch.
When you snag a bottle, go the Bruichladdich’s website to find out what’s in the bottle, how it was barreled, and so on. We know, it sounds like a gimmick. But the quality of the juice is generally so accessible that we can forgive this particular ploy.
These bottles are dependent on the batch, obviously, but very generally speaking, expect a baseline of Islay florals, sweetened malts, and a flourish of the sea on the nose. The palate will play in a sandbox full of tart fruits, sweet malts, blooming florals, and sea brine.
It’s always fun grabbing and bottle and then finding out how it was aged and so forth before you dive in. It’s kind of like unwrapping a present on Christmas morning and being truly surprised and satisfied with what’s inside.
$70 — Talisker 10
Distillery: Talisker Distillery, Carbost, Isle of Skye
Average Price: $68
This entry-level expression from Talisker is also one of their best. The juice is aged in reconstructed ex-bourbon casks for ten years before going into the bottle. It’s an almost-too-easy-to-drink dram that’ll welcome you into the wider world of Talisker’s killer line up of whiskies.
The malted barley dances with dialed-in notes of tart — green fruits up top. The sip keeps the malt foundation as a sweet berry fruit drives towards an echo of smoke laced with sea salt. The warm hug of an end adds a little spicy heat as the fruit and malt fade out.
This is a great all-around whisky. It works as a highball base, in cocktails, or a sip on a rainy day.
$80 — The Balvenie Caribbean Cask Aged 14 Years
Distillery: Balvenie Distillery, Dufftown, Speyside
Average Price: $80
This whisky — from Scotch whisky icon David Stewart — embraces the barrel finishing he’s credited with creating. Stewart makes his own rum, ages it in oak, and then uses that oak to finish this whisky after it spends over a decade in ex-bourbon casks. The results are a highwater mark in the specialty barrel finished whisky world.
There’s a rum molasses upfront with a cut of berry fruit. The maltiness of the backbone gives way to creamy vanilla, more fruit, and buttery toffee. The taste then edges towards a Caribbean oak mustiness as it lingers on your senses and warms your soul.
This is an easy sipper, especially with a little water or a rock. Don’t sleep on mixing this into a cocktail though.
$90 — Ardbeg Uigeadail
Distillery: Ardbeg Distillery, Arbeg, Islay (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy)
Average Price: $92
Pronounced “Oog-A-Dal,” this mid-range expression from Ardbeg is easy to fall in love with. The expression is named after the Islay loch where the distillery pulls its water. The juice is then aged in a combination of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks before it’s married into this peaty single malt expression.
This is a big dram with notes of Christmas spice mingling with smoked plums, wildflowers, and a hint of ripe banana. The fruit and smoke really marry on the palate as a nice rush of spice arrives in the velvety body of the dram. The end is short, full of smoked fruit, and leaves you longing for more.
If you love the peat, this is your dram. The smoke isn’t overpowering by any stretch and really mellows with a rock or a few drops of water, allowing the fruity and spicy nature of the sip to emerge.
$100 — Highland Park Twisted Tattoo 16
Distillery: Highland Park Distillery, Kirkwall, Orkney
Average Price: $100
This unique expression combines quality whisky with a great package thanks to Danish tattoo artist Colin Dale. The whisky is a bespoke combination of 153 oak barrels that were seasoned with Spanish Rioja red wine and 70 ex-bourbon barrels. And good news: it’s now available in the U.S.!
Ripe peaches with vanilla creaminess counterpoint mild smoke and tart berries. The palate delivers on the nose with the addition of a red wine oakiness with a twinge of vinous spiciness. The berries, red wine, vanilla, and oak find a little more smoke and a wisp of brine as the sip slowly fades.
This is a solid sipper with a little water or a rock. Give it time to bloom and enjoy it slowly.
$110 — Oban Distiller’s Edition
Distillery: Oban Distillery, Oban, Highlands (Diageo)
Average Price: $110
This expression is a love letter to the tiny town of Oban on the western coast of Scotland. The juice is finished in Montilla Fino sherry casks to add an extra dimension to the already finely crafted whisky from the distillery.
A small billow of smoke greets you next to notes of sea brine, orange zest, and a hint of vinous fruit. Sweet malts form a foundation with apple, more grape, and toffee building a flavor profile above it. The salty sea comes back late as the sip fades out quickly and boldly with one last hint of smoke.
This is a great pairing dram, especially for a seafood feast. It also works as a post-meal snifter, just make sure to let it open up with a little water.
$120 — Aberfeldy 18
Distillery: Aberfeldy Distillery, Aberfeldy, Highlands (Bacardi)
Average Price: $120
This year’s Aberfeldy 18 release embraces Malt Master Stephanie MacLeod’s continuous drive to make better and better whisky every single year. This year’s juice is finished in Pauillac wine casks from Bordeaux. The whisky spends an additional four to five months mellowing in the wine-soaked oak before it’s bottled.
There’s a clear berry note on the nose that accentuates a mild maltiness, nutty edge, and spicy warmth. The sip embraces the brighter side of those berry notes then veers into a cedarwood and worn leather territory with a distant billow of pipe tobacco smoke. The end is mid-length, full of bright red berries, all that cedar — like a long, warm embrace.
This is another sipper that’s too easy to drink. Add a little water to really let it bloom and take your time enjoying this well-rounded dram.