While we never turn down a good bottle of bourbon or rye on a cold winter’s night, it’s hard to beat the warming, comforting feeling you get from a nice glass of peated (or even unpeated) Scotch whisky this time of year. Alas, your bank account is probably still reeling from all your holiday season generosity — so an overly expensive bottle of scotch is likely out of the question.
You need to get every penny’s worth out of the juice you buy this January.
To help you along your way, we asked some of our favorite bartenders to name the best value Scotch whiskies to drink this winter. Check them all out below, pick one or two that fit your price range and passion points, and pour yourself a dram. If you don’t have a Glencairn glass, a rocks glass or even an old coffee mug will do!
Felipe Muñoz, head bartender Sweetleaf Cocktails in Long Island City, New York
Aberfeldy 12 has become a staple behind our bar. A favorite of our bartenders as it delivers notes of honey, vanilla, orange and spice, all rounded out nicely by dark fruit notes and the right amount of peatiness. This will get bourbon drinkers out of their comfort zone too and keep connoisseurs of the category wanting the next sip.
Erin Delaney, food and beverage director at Barn8 Restaurant & Bourbon Bar in Goshen, Kentucky
The best “value” Scotch to drink this season is Lagavulin 8 Years Old — because it is smoky and full of peaty flavor that you don’t find in other Scotches at this price, which tend to fall flat.
Kilchoman Machir Bay
Brandon “Habi” Habenstein, beverage director at The Kitchen & Bar at Bardstown Bourbon Company in Bardstown, Kentucky
Kilchoman Machir Bay is an absolute must-have bottle this time of year. Kilchoman is a “Single Farm” Distillery and, as the name may suggest, this bottle is indeed grain-to-glass where every aspect of production is handled on-site. The peat fires used in the malting process are very present in the whisky itself but not as powerful as say, Laphroaig.
Peated scotch is the quintessential whisky to drink in the winter, with fires crackling.
Iain McPherson, owner of Panda & Sons in Edinburgh, Scotland
The Tobermory distillery produces exceptional Scotch. Ledaig is their peatier range of expressions. My favorite within the range would have to be the 10-year-old, which is finished in sherry casks. The marriage of sweet berry notes and smoke is one that dreams are made of. The finish keeps going and going.
This is the ideal sipping Scotch at its price and it doesn’t get its fair share of the spotlight in my opinion. That’s largely to do with the historical dominance of smoky Scotch’s coming from Islay.
Andy Printy, beverage director at Chao Baan in St. Louis
Aberlour 12 is a great single malt for the season and the money. It’s all citrus and barley on the nose. At first sip, the citrus is met with apricot, orange blossom honey, and bit of black pepper. As it finishes, the dry barley and mild oak leave you with just enough residual tannin to keep you going back for more.
Robbie Robinson, lead bartender at The Ballantyne, A Luxury Collection Hotel in Charlotte, North Carolina
I’ve recently come across Monkey Shoulder, which is blended with several single malts. Vanilla, clove, malt, and baking spices on the nose. It has a very creamy palate consisting of butterscotch, vanilla, honey, with a bit of dried fruit. All in all, a great match for the season.
Compass Box Peat Monster
Hayden Miller, head bartender at Bodega Taqueria y Tequila in Miami
Compass Box Peat Monster is an excellent holiday (or post-holiday!) scotch for those peat enthusiasts. Similar to many bottlings, this takes best to a splash of water or some cubes for better translation of the flavors.
Gavin Humes, bartender at Scratch|Bar & Kitchen in Encino, California
I think not enough people give credit to the Glengoyne 10-year Single Malt – finished in sherry casks, it has a nice round, lush mouthfeel to complement the flavors of vanilla, baking spices, and almost overripe apples. The 10 years in cask give it enough time to really settle into the flavor complexity to be sure.
Definite bang for the buck!
Old Pulteney 12
Dan Marlowe, mixologist at Modena in Washington, DC
Old Pulteney 12-year-old Single Malt is a relatively lesser-known “highland” style that is completely peat-less. It is however aged seaside on one of Scotland’s most northern shores and the salinity in the spirit more than replaces the peat for flavor and depth. Perfect sipping on a brisk winter day.
Eric Vincent, bartender at Sparrow in Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Kilchoman Sanaig. Everyone is aging, resting, or finishing their juice in sherry barrels and when done effectively I can hardly blame them. This Scotch is an excellent blend of all my go-to flavors. Mild salinity, enjoyable peat smokiness, toasted ex bourbon barrels and a nice nuttiness from the oloroso casks to round it all out — lots of scotch for the money here!