This post has been fomenting for a while, but the perils of work and thinking too much about whisky have forced it into the background until now.
Domu888 on twitter (Dominic Edsall in real life) asked me a while back what my top 10 whiskies under £50 were. I fired off a few off the top of my head but said that I’d need to have a think about it. Well, thinking has been done so here’s a list, in no particular order. A thing to note is that this is all distillery bottlings – sticking in independents would hurt my head too much:
Laphroaig Quarter Cask, 48%, ~£30: Cheap, cheerful and very full of flavour. LQC, to give it initials that may have a different meaning to two readers of this blog, is young Laphroaig which finishes its maturation in small ‘quarter casks’ which are a quarter of the size of the regularly used hogsheads. This smaller size changes the wood/spirit ratio in favour of the wood, upping the rate of maturation of the whisky and sticking on a ‘growth spurt’ at the end of its time in wood. This does mean that they can bottle their whisky younger, but it also adds a nice chunk of sweet woodiness to the whisky, which works well with the phenolic tang of the Laphroaig. It’s bottled strong and isn’t chill-filtered, and still comes out at about £30 a bottle, which is rather good. It’s also on offer in Tesco quite often, which doesn’t hurt.
Clynelish 14, 46%, ~£30: My default whisky at home, although it is currently replaced by the Distiller’s Edition which we had on special offer at work. Clynelish has recently started rocketing in popularity, in part due to Serge Valentin and John Glaser talking about how much they like it. Not much goes to single malt production still, and the 12 and 14 years old versions are the two that are generally available. While the 12 is good, and cheap, the 14 is my favourite of the pair – waxy, sweet and fruity with a hint of the sea. Pretty much a whisky made for me and one that seems remarkably good at luring people into the world of less well-known distilleries.
The Glenlivet 18, 43%, ~£40. This one is a steal – less than £40 for an 18 year old is something you just don’t see (and a quick search on TWE has it as the only 18+ whisky for under £40). Age isn’t the be all and end all of whisky selection, but this one has aged well and benefited from its time in the cask to produce and well rounded and tasty whisky – big, rich and fruity with a slab of The Glenlivet’s creaminess.
Nikka from The Barrel, 51.4%, ~£25 for 50cl. A small bottle so not quite as good a deal as it first seems, but an excellent one all the same. A blend of whiskies from Nikka’s distilleries, sweet and elegant with quite a big alcoholic punch. Quite bourbon-like in character and good for mixing as well as drinking neat (or even, sacriligeously, with a chunk of ice). And to cap it all, the bottle is REALLY pretty.
Tweeddale Blend, 46%, ~£30. I wanted to make sure there was a blend in this list, but I was torn between which one to choose – I could go for a traditional ‘one up’ blend like Bailie Nicol Jarvie, one of the more premium named blends, like the more expensive Chivas Regals, or even one of Compass Box’s two. In the end I’ve plumped for this one, as I like the story and the guy behind it. Basically, Alasdair Day decided to recreate a blend originally put together by his great grandfather, using the original recipe from his notes. I’ve tried it a couple of times and rather like it, and they released their second batch a couple of days back – time for a taste and compare I think…
Longrow 10 Year Old 100 proof, 57%, ~£45. Another one that used to be my default, before the Clynelish swept it away, and one that I feel slightly naked without a bottle of in the cupboard. Longrow is, missing out a couple of production details, the peated version of Springbank. It has that slightly briney Springbank note as well as a nice smoky hit, although not an overwhelming peaty blast. I’ve gone for the 100proof for two reasons: 1) This way you can water it down a bit depending on your mood, leaving it concentrated and strongly flavoured if you want; and 2) it’s cheaper per millitre of alcohol…
Ardbeg 10, 46%, ~£35. I’m rather liking Ardbeg again at the moment, as my previous sherry obsession fades in favour of a nice chunk of peat – I generally find I’m liking one end of the extreme whisky spectrum at a time, and it seems that peat is in again for me. This is big and mulchy, with smoke, mud and a slab of vanilla from the first fill casks they used to mature a lot of it. I’ve heard tales that it’s not as good as it used to be, but it’s still a top bit of peaty beast without the medicinal nature of Laphroaig.
Compass Box Hedonism, 43%, ~£50. Right on the limit this, sometimes tipping over the £50 but often on or under it (especially in Waitrose). I like grain whisky and this is one of the best out there, a blend that gives a masterclass in what the flavours of well looked after grain should be. It still varies in my estimation, but it generally sits very near the top. Stepping outside of the £50 limit, if you find £199 burning a hole in your pocket then the Hedonism 10th anniversary edition bottling is awesome – I’m still thinking about it 6 months after I tried it…
Old Pulteney 12, 40%, ~£25. While checking the price on this one I found that it seems to be currently sold out at both Master of Malt and The Whisky Exchange – it sells rather well, as you can tell. It’s a big and briney dram which I recently tried while wandering around the distillery up in Wick (the most northerly I’ve ever been). The range gets expensive very quickly, with the 17 year old next on the list and breaking the £50 mark, but this is eminently reasonable and also very tasty.
Aberlour A’bunadh, ~60%, ~£35. Bottled at full proof and varying in strength from batch to batch (the current one is #34, as I write) this is a massively sherried dram from Aberlour. They don’t give an age statement, but from what I hear it’s about 8 years old, a scarily small time to pick up quite this much from a cask, with loads of dry fruit and rich woodiness hiding behind quite a big alcoholic kick. It’s been, along with my now departed bottle of Glenfarclas 105, my sherried dram of choice over the last 6 months. I look forward to my sherry head returning…
Please let me know your suggestions in the comments below.
10 Replies to “A Top Ten of Whiskies under £50”
Very good selection. But I’d probably replace the Laphroaig with Ardmore Traditional Cask for £25-£30. Another young punchy, peaty unchillfiltered whisky but a little less TCP and, dare I say it, a bit more complexity.
I rather like the TCP 🙂
I tried the Traditional Cask last Burns night and wasn’t all that impressed. It is on the list for another taste, though (as most things are).
Nice list of recommendations Billy. Would’ve been very tricky for consistency as well if you’d included independents (though the uniqueness of some whisky is something I think we all love). Quick (or maybe not) question: Is there any reason why you’ve not included any American or Irish whiskies in the list?
Mainly so as not to confuse matters any further, but also because I don’t know anywhere near as much about Irish and American whiskies. Especially as Irish Distilers are about to rerelease a chunk of their range…
Where does my ultimate favorite Makers Mark fit into your listing? I’ll admit(reluctantly) that the candy and cigars may play a small role in my Love affair.
I’ve not touched any whiskies outside of Scotland in this post – I needed to restrict the list to choose from a bit to give myself a chance.
Makers is one of my standard whiskeys – it’s good for mixing and happily sippable, while also not breaking the bank. I did an American whiskey tasting the other day (writeup appearing here when I get some time to write it) and it’s shown me that I need to do some more comparison tasting between US whiskies – it’s a hard life 🙂
Great list! I currently have the Ardbeg 10, LQC and a Arberlour 16 Sherry cask filled from the barrel at the distillery that is similar to A’bunadh but a bit more refined (and double the price).
It’s a popular choice but Glenmorangie is consistently excellent and is frequently on offer at £25. Highland Park is another that is excellent for the money.
Great list Billy, even though I’ve discovered it 4 years after it was writ !! I’ve long said that it;s an art in itself, in this world of rare and exclusive ( and expensive ) drams we are exposed to, to know the best That’s out there in yer local supermarkets. With all the furore about rare CS bottling etc. it’s easy to forget the craft That goes into maintaining the ” everyday” flagship drams. Six pf these are regulars for me too…interesting That LQC ( yes I’m curious as to what ELSE it stands for! ) is Still Only £33 at the mo’ in Waitrose , whereas Ardbeg 10 is up by about a tenner in most places. I love being surprised by a return to the “everyday” so to speak, most recently by Glenmorangie 10 and Aberlour 10.
It scares me how well it’s held up – only a couple have gone too high, and I think only one of them’s been discontinued…
it’s still worryingly high on Google, so I should probably do an update some time.
As for LQC – https://twitter.com/losquattroscvnt. I await the next time they reform…