Reviews of affordable whiskies with some entertaining tales along the way…
Tough times. Tough decisions?
I’ve always tried to shine a light on the more affordable corners of the whisky market but that task hasn’t always been easy. Since this blog started in 2015, consumers have seen some pretty dramatic changes, not least where price is concerned.
Whisky is becoming more and more expensive and here in Scotland (and the UK), we are stumbling from one crisis to another and the result seems to be more and more pressure on the lifestyles we’ve built for ourselves. I can’t speak for everyone, but my family certainly doesn’t have the disposable income it had a couple of years ago. Energy bills twice the norm and a ridiculous increase on our mortgage renewal has seen to that. Yet despite circumstances forcing many of us to attempt some belt tightening, the price of our favourite drink continues to soar and you really have to wonder where this is all leading. How can an industry so determined to shrink its customer base continue to thrive?
Fortunately, for the consumer willing to dig a little deeper, there are still deals to be made and bargains to be had. It’s not that prices are coming down so much, more that new, affordable alternatives are beginning to appear. It almost feels like one or two distillers and bottlers are beginning to acknowledge that prices are way out of hand. Perhaps they realise the potential for customer loss if good quality affordable whisky isn’t available. We already have headlines of rum outselling whisky in its home market, which should be treated as a damn scandal, by the way. Since I love nothing more than finding a whisky bargain, though, I thought it might be nice to highlight some bottles I’ve come across recently that tick the boxes for both quality and affordability. I want to show that lowering your personal budget doesn’t force you to settle for mass-produced, generic whiskies.
A few final words before I get onto talking about the drams. I don’t like “listicles” – that is, the blogging trend for churning out articles full of lists that took the author all of 60 seconds to compile. I’ve always tried to avoid such fodder on this website but I felt inspired by some of the drams I’ve come across recently and felt that more effort should be made to shine a light on the bargains.
Whisky media is utterly dominated by news of old drams in complicated bottles that can’t be opened without a hammer. There’s a big charity auction coming up and all the distilleries are falling over themselves to get involved with “one of one” premium rare premium single malt premium whiskies. The auction is for a good cause and that should be celebrated but the coverage doesn’t focus on the cause, only on the increasingly ridiculous and in some cases enormous, bottles being knocked up. The vibe from the distilleries is not of charity but of showing off. Look everyone! Look at this magnificent thing we have created! Marvel, plebs, at this exquisite product forever beyond your reach! Well, I say fuck that. Fuck the whisky no-one can afford to drink. Here’s some cracking drams for under £40.
Glen Moray Twisted Vine Single Malt
This one can be found in most UK supermarkets and I’m sure it will soon be available more widely if it isn’t already. It’s bottled at a lowly 40% and will no doubt have undergone some chill-filtering but nevertheless, it’s a very pleasant, and somewhat unusual dram. There’s no age statement, meaning it’s no doubt young, but the whisky has spent its full maturation in ex-cognac casks from France. It’s a surprisingly rich dram with notes of caramel, apples, honey, dried fruits, cinnamon and oak. Best of all, it will cost you a meagre £28.
Dumbarton Rock Blended Malt
I’ve been shouting about the bang-for-buck to be found in blended malts for years now but it still feels like some people aren’t listening. In case the “B” word still frightens you, this is a malt whisky and whether or not it comes from a single distillery really shouldn’t matter. It’s been put together by independent bottler, Dràm Mòr and this is something we’re seeing a bit more of – Indie Bottlers, so used to dealing with blink-and-you’ll-miss-them single casks, are launching products with more longevity. A blended malt won’t disappear in a month. It can be a permanent expression for the bottler and serve as an affordable and accessible entry point for the consumer. Dumbarton Rock is bottled at 46% abv and has notes of toffee, apples, orange zest and soft, wintery spices. Cost: £30.
MacLean’s Nose Blended Scotch
If the blended malt recommendation had you uncomfortable, then this Blended Scotch should really get you sweating. Perhaps it might put you at ease, however, to learn that it was put together by the team behind the Ardnamurchan Distillery and Adelphi independent bottler. It was also inspired by none other than Charlie MacLean, writer, consultant, historian and all-round whisky legend. Unusually for a blend, the recipe comprises around 70% malt spirit and only 30% grain and presumably, some of the malt comes from Ardnamurchan itself. There’s also the definite influence of some sherry casks in the mix. It’s malty and a little spicy with notes of honey and vanilla and old dunnage warehouses. Blend or no blend, this 46% dram is well worth a look, especially at the price of £30.
Murray McDavid Benrinnes (Port Finish)
Here we have independent bottler Murray McDavid‘s new(ish) Cask Craft range. Since the 1990s, this bottler has been at the forefront of the trend for finishing whiskies in casks that previously held all kinds of other wines and spirits. Aware of rising costs, Murray McDavid decided to release a new series at a price point that would make the whisky accessible to the many, rather than the few. This particular expression comes from Benrinnes, a distillery known for the character of its spirit, gained, at least partially, through the use of worm tub condensers. The whisky is bottled at 44.5% and the finish comes from a Tawny port barrique from Portugal. The whisky retails at the very attractive price of £34 and offers a balance between light, Speyside orchard fruits, malt and the summery berry notes of the port.
Bunnahabhain has long offered good value for money where the standard 12 year old expression is concerned. For several years now it has been a standout at its level but the pricing of their limited edition releases all too often brings tears to the eyes. Bunnahabhain is traditionally an unpeated Islay malt but whisky is distilled from peated barley for at least part of the year. This expression takes the name Mòine, Gaelic for peat, and is bottled at the distillery’s standard 46.3% abv. The whisky is salty and smoky with vanilla and straw and gentle peppery spice. I picked it up from Amazon (I know – desperate times call for desperate measures) for £32.
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