Whisky2.0 Holiday Gift Guide (2010) – The Under $50 Whisk(e)y List

07 Dec

Whisk(e)y Prices Vary Widely — Caveat Emptor

I begin by pointing out that my best recommendation is to start tracking prices. You can use Evernote or some other note-taking app to keep track of what things cost. Take lots of pictures with your phone when you are out shopping. I find excellent deals at Costco and at some local liquor stores. There are many liquor stores that will ship alcohol to your eagerly waiting hands at your home (modulo state and local laws). Of course, the disadvantage of purchasing online is that you may have to pay for shipping.

The thing to keep in mind is to shop around. Make it a habit. I have literally found regular-priced items at prices ranging across at least a factor of two. Yes, this means that in some cases — just by shopping around — you can get a product for half price. If you buy on impulse, you could be paying way too much!

What Makes a “Good” Whisk(e)y (in my opinion)?

So with that preface on price, I need to give you my stance on whisk(e)y: I don’t discriminate. I am open to liking all kinds of Scotch (blended, single-malt, single-grain), and world whisk(e)y, including Bourbon, Canadian, Rye, Irish, Indian, Swedish, etc. In regard to Scotch whisky, blended Scotch is the equal (to my palate) of many single-malts. I’m not the only one: Jim Murray’s 2011 Whisky Bible named Ballantine’s 17 blended Scotch as the 2011 World Whisky of the Year. The best part is that it’s only $90. I haven’t had it so I can’t personally recommend it, but that seems like a great price to me for a world-class whisky that at least one very educated palate ranks the best (this year!). For comparison, the Ballantine’s 30 is around $400 (and it didn’t rate as highly!). The bottom line is whether you like your whisk(e)y. No one else’s opinion matters.

The Under $50 List

Age and price usually correlate strongly, but quality whisk(e)y can be had for well under $100. In fact, there are good choices for under $50. These 26 are just a sampling of the many good choices in this price bracket. I have tried them all. Enjoy this list and please add comments when you try these!

I am listing these in order of price. These prices are for US-standard 750ml bottles (unless indicated otherwise). There is no implicit quality in this ranking. And I don’t do point scoring. Not my bag, baby. 🙂

  • $19.99 Maker’s Mark Bourbon
  • $21.99 Tamdhu 10 Single-Malt Scotch
  • $23.99 Tomatin 12 Single-Malt Scotch
  • $24.99 Famous Grouse Blended Scotch (1.75 litre, no age statement)
  • $24.99 Elmer T. Lee Single-Barrel Bourbon (1.5 litre)
  • $21.99 Glenlivet 12 Single-Malt Scotch
    – This price was at Costco…prices somewhat higher elsewhere
  • $22.99 Eagle Rare 10 Bourbon
  • $23.89 Woodford Reserve Bourbon
  • $27.99 Laphroaig 10 Single-Malt Scotch
  • $28.99 BenRiach Peated Miniature Set
    – 4 expressions, 50ml each
    – Avail. in the US at this price at Beltramo’s
  • $28.99 BenRiach Classic Miniature Set
    – 4 expressions, 50ml each
    – Avail. in the US at this price at Beltramo’s
  • $29.99 Maker’s Mark “46” Bourbon
  • $32.99 Aberlour 12 Single-Malt Scotch
  • $36.99 Balvenie 12 “DoubleWood” Single-Malt Scotch
  • $36.99 Dalmore 12 Single-Malt Scotch
  • $37.99 Macallan 12 Single-Malt Scotch
  • $38.99 Isle of Jura 10 Single-Malt Scotch
  • $38.99 Highland Park 12 Single-Malt Scotch
  • $42.99 Johnnie Walker Green (15, vatting of single-malts; no grain whisky)
  • $46.99 Ardbeg 10 Single-Malt Scotch
  • $47.99 Cragganmore 12 Single-Malt Scotch
  • $47.99 GlenDronach 12 Single-Malt Scotch
  • $47.99 Talisker 10 Single-Malt Scotch
  • $48.99 Glenlivet Nadurra 16 Single-Malt Scotch
  • $48.99 Laphroaig “Quarter Cask” Single-Malt Scotch (no age statement)
  • $49.99 Clynelish 14 Single-Malt Scotch

Parting Shot (Get It?)

I included two sets of miniature bottles in my list above. This is a great way to get exposed to whisk(e)y you have never tried — without making a larger financial commitment to an experimental purchase. Why not reduce the risk and try more things, more often? I pick up minis wherever I find them. And if you find some, they make great stocking stuffers.


Posted by on 7-December-2010 in Whisky2.0


4 responses to “Whisky2.0 Holiday Gift Guide (2010) – The Under $50 Whisk(e)y List


    9-December-2010 at 03:59

    I promised some feedback, but I’m just going to scatter my points rather than compose something coherent — partly to you, Tom, and partly to other readers.

    With “In regard to Scotch whisky, blended Scotch is the equal (to my palate) of many single-malts,” I presume you mean of potential equal quality, not indistinguishable, right? And it was also Jim Murray who wrote that at any given time he has 500 open bottles of whisky available to him, and he pours Johnnie Walker Black at least once a week — something I’d heartily second, and is one of the best bargains in the entire universe, in any field of enjoyment.

    I’m familiar with all but five of your entries on the list — or at least how they were during a particular part of their run. As a couple specific notes:

    * Tomatin is massively under-appreciated. Totally support that one. Unfortuantely you won’t be helping to raise eels any longer, but still it’s great whisky.
    * Glenlivet seems slipping ever-further. I know everyone says this, and I used to wonder how much of that is distorted memory or sentimentality, but I obtained a bottle from the late 70s some years ago and had them poured for me blind. The one that turned out to be the older one put the other (newer) one to shame.
    * I didn’t know there was an O.B. Aberlour 12! How long has that been around? Must try.
    * Mac 12? *sigh* IMO, overrated beyond belief. And they know it, and charge accordingly.
    * Woodford Reserve? Really? I’d go for any of the cheaper bourbons on your list first — and Maker’s Mark is an utter steal at its current list price.
    * Cragganmore is indeed very nice. But with the price going up and up, there are quite a few I.B.s in the same age range that are very similar, at least as good, and significantly cheaper. Those are always shifting, of course, but $30 should be able to get you something very comparable. Ask around.
    * Famous Grouse? Do you honestly know anyone who goes nuts over … oh, wait, that’s right. Him. :-p
    * It really is a shame that Clynelish is so expensive. I don’t think it really needs to be, with its output and the size of its stills. But still very nice.
    * People keep telling me to try JW Green again — but ten years ago, it was absolute dishwater. Really bad, and I wasn’t the only one who thought so, either. But, again: the nature of releases change over time. JW Green is vatted, of course, which should theoretically allow for some consistency, but this is one of the main features that differentiate blends, actually: with a skilled enough blender and sufficient stocks, the flavor profile can remain fairly constant (except in cases where one important ingredient becomes very expensive or gets funneled into more-lucrative channels: newer JW Red is missing the huge amount of Talisker that used to make it amazing, and likewise White Horse is missing the Lagavulin.) Why the change in JW Green, then? I think they, too, decided the previous formulation was garbage.

    But those few quibbles aside, marvelous choices on your list. Laphroaig 10 (the table strength at that price), Balvenie Doublewood, Dalmore 12, and HP 12 are all at the top of most “Best whiskies under…” lists I’ve written. Talisker at $48 is mighty expensive these days, but still marvelous, naturally.

    My additions:

    * “Lismore” is Glenrothes between 6 and 8 years old. It’s less than $20 (!) and fantastic.
    * Aberfeldy 12 at $33.95
    * Any Compass Box releases you can find in this price range.
    * Mitchell’s blend at ~$40 (trust me — this is indeed a blend you want to pay $40 for)
    * Auchentoshan Three Wood at $42.95
    * Littlemill 12 at $47.95 (saw that one coming, didn’t you?)
    * And zOMG dood!!1! Springbank 10 and Longrow CV are both under $50! C’mon! :-p

    • whisky2dot0

      9-December-2010 at 06:16

      As to my omissions, I can only claim that it was late and I was tired! You’re right, I do love the Springbank 10 but I have never had the Longrow (actually, scratch that, I am sure I have had it at WhiskFest, but I’d have to check my notes to see if I liked it). I have to get the Littlemill — you are right, it is a steal. I have also never had the Mitchell’s but will look for it. Thanks for the detailed comments!


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: