We all know the old adage, “you get what you pay for”, and most have experienced first hand just how true that saying can be. Purchasing a good single malt can be daunting, with so many to choose from, and the price can also be prohibitive, but quality doesn’t have to cost a fortune.
As a rule, the older the scotch, the more expensive it is. Having once been gifted a bottle of The Balvenie 21 Yr Portwood, I can attest, the quality is worth the cost. Yet, while I have higher end tastes, my budget can’t support it, as unlike fashions and accessories, alcohol rarely goes on clearance, but there are quite a few excellent brands of single malt under $70, Why $70 and not $50? Well, most women pay at least $50 to $70 bucks, if not more, for salon, and/or spa treatments, and anytime you find a designer item under $100 you grab it, so I set my price point at $70, although there are several excellent single malts under $50.
Just because I’m starting with the lowest in price, doesn’t mean the taste matches the cost. Glenmorangie The Original is not just a very economical pour (Under $40), it also has a clean, fresh, yet fruity flavor, hinting at ripe peaches, without being too sweet. This 10 yr old whisky is perfect for someone just delving into the world of single malt scotch, being affordable, and mild on the palate. There are numerous 10 to 12 yr old Highland/Speyside single malts that compare to Glenmorangie in price, and are similar in taste, such as The Balvenie 12 yr, Doublewood ($44 on average) The nose is sweet, fruity, the Oloroso Sherry really stands out, yet the palate is mellow, blending layers of the sherry sweetness with a rich, spicy nuttiness that leads to a warm, lingering finish. If you’re a peat head like me, Laphroaig 10 yr ($45) is a perfect combination of heavy peat, smoke, layered with sweetness, and brine. It’s one of my favorite Islay single malts.
As previously stated, generally, the older the whisky the more expensive, but with the current NAS (non age statement) trend, that is no longer the rule of thumb. Hence my next selection, Jura Superstition (average price $42) a product from a single distillery on the Inner Hebrides Isle of Jura that blends old and young barrels for a unique flavor experience. If you’re a regular follower of Whiskyisms, by now you know I love the deep smoke and peat of the Islay whiskies. Jura Superstition is what I could call “Islay lite”, yet it’s too individual for comparison. Lightly peated, with hints of smoke from the nose to the finish, a dram reminds me of pine forests, the salt tang of ocean air, rich dark chocolate, that mellows into a pleasantly surprising sweetness of oak, and honey. If you want to test the peat aspect of single malts, Jura Superstition is a good whisky to start with.
Moving up the value scale, again, there are numerous whiskies that fit the bill, but I’d rather tell you about the ones I’ve actually tasted. So, digging a little deeper into the pocket-book brings me back to two more amazing products of William Grant & Sons, The Balvenie Caribbean Cask, and The Balvenie Single Barrel 12 yr. It’s standard practice for Scotch distillers to extra age whiskies in port, and/or sherry casks, which does deliver a lovely flavor and finish, but Grant & Sons took this one step farther by aging their whisky in rum casks, creating the delightful Balvenie Caribbean Cask ($53 – $56). The rich, creamy nose instantly transports me to the tropics, with the aromas of fresh fruit, and hints of toffee. The first sip will surprise you, as there is zero smoke, or anything remotely hinting at your typical single malt, except for the sweet notes of oak that blend with vanilla, and fruit. It’s really hard to describe, as the flavors develop as you sip, leaving you with a very nice lingering, sort of muzzy finish. The perfect pour for warm, summer nights. The Balvenie Single Barrel (same price point as Caribbean Cask) is also devoid of any smoke, but heavy with the sweetness of honey with a faint hints of spice, and fruit in the nose, yet the palate is deep, very complex with a lovely blend of tangy oak, and sweet vanilla. This is definitely a good dram for a cool autumn evening beside the hearth. Last but not least in this price range, is another Island whisky, Talisker Storm, ($50 – $55). Another NAS bottling, Talisker Storm smells and tastes very much like a storm-tossed ocean might, briny but not overwhelming with a faintly metallic tang tempered with hints of citrus that smooths out with spicy, dry oak, nicely finished with a creamy, and lightly lingering smoke. I equate this one to enjoying watching a thunderstorm at the beach, with occasional bursts of lightning that charge the crisp sea air with ozone.
At the top of our price scale are some of my very favorite single malts, the first being an Islay whisky, Ardbeg Uigeadail ($64). The aroma alone is enough to make you sigh with contentment, as the scent of smoked bacon, barbecue, and brine fill your senses. The palate is another treat for your tongue as it presents complex layers of peat, burnt sugar, smoked malt, and finishes with a lasting flavor of caramel with a hint of espresso beans. This whisky lives up to it’s name, Uigeadail meaning “Dark mysterious place” in the Gaelic. Last, and very delicious is a classic , the Macallan 10 yr Fine Oak ($68). Clean and crisp aroma, with a heavy malted, oily nut flavored palate, enhanced by smooth, bourbon notes ending with a chewy oak finish.
Expensive doesn’t always indicate quality, and there are some really cheap whiskies I wouldn’t even use to clean my jewelry, but what does matter is spending your hard-earned money on something you truly enjoy. There are plenty of single malts I haven’t tasted in this price range that you might find quite tasty, Tomatin 1897 14 yr, Abelour Abundah, Oban 14 yr, and Craggenmore 12 yr are just a few examples. As always, I can’t recommend attending tastings enough, as it’s a prime chance to sample a single malt you’re interested in before investing in a bottle, as well as learn about the distiller, and product history. Scots are Fantastic story tellers, as well as whisky makers, and the two art forms naturally go together, insuring a great story behind the creation of some of the finest whisky on the planet.
So, next time you are in the mood to treat yourself, think beyond that mani – pedi, bypass the spa, and head to your local package liquor store, or go online to masterofmalt.com (That’s the site I used to check the prices for the whiskies discussed here, prices may be higher at local retailers) and treat your taste buds to their own spa treatment…. I mean it is called “the water of life”…..
Remember to drink responsibly, designate a driver, don’t drink and drive!
Nancy McGehee Guillory