Price inflation has become a major talking-point in the world of whisky in recent years, with some aged expressions of single malt Scotch rapidly rising in price thanks to the dynamics of supply and demand.
Meanwhile, in Japan, many expressions have been withdrawn altogether as stocks run dry – leaving the remaining bottles on the market too expensive for all but a few.
But these headlines can disguise the fact that, in a crowded and competitive marketplace, there’s still a huge amount of good value to be found: from underrated blends, entry-level single malts and NAS (no age statement) products.
This is particularly true if you’re brave enough to venture off the beaten track and take a punt on some of the less famous names out there. Some of these may be little-known outside whisky circles, but each has its own unique style and flavour profile.
Here are eight characterful whiskies that won’t break the bank.
Best whiskies to buy under £50/$50
Ardbeg 10 Year Old
It’s easy to forget that the self-characterised ‘Beast of Islay’ has a gentle side. The key to Ardbeg’s appeal is not just that famously feral peatiness, but also the distillate’s perfumed fruit character – never so obvious as it is here in the Islay distillery’s flagship product. Yes, there’s camphor, coal tar and smoke, but also a gently creamy seamlessness underpinning everything. Alc 46%
Aultmore 12 Year Old
Aultmore is one of those wonderful, lesser-known Speyside gems that is well worth seeking out. There’s nothing obvious here – an elegant, fragrant, extremely subtle malt that combines green apple and pear with a creamy, lemon meringue citrus character and some beautiful floral highlights. Take your time. Alc 46%
Compass Box Great King Street Artist’s Blend
This modern blend aims to recapture the character of the great 19th-century pioneers of the art of blending, with a malt-heavy mix that majors on waxy Clynelish. It’s wonderfully fruity – tangerine and candied strawberry strengthening into more mature, dried fruits – with great weight and spice from some well-chosen casks. Great for mixing. Alc 43%
Glenturret Triple Wood 2020 Maiden Release
Glenturret in Crieff has undergone a rebirth under new owner Lalique, with ex-Macallan master distiller Bob Dalgarno taking charge of the liquid. This is a highlight of the new range, offering sweet plums, cherries and ginger alongside a peppery floral element, from maturation in American and European ex-Sherry casks, and ex-Bourbon oak. Alc 43%
Inchgower 14 Year Old Flora & Fauna
Diageo’s Flora & Fauna range is a great way to get to know some lesser-known malts, such as this rare Inchgower – a chameleon-like whisky that fluctuates between spice and salt, sweetness and bitterness, green and dark fruits, with a flinty edge and a dry nuttiness on the finish. Bags of character. Alc 43%
Jameson Black Barrel
One of the secrets to Jameson’s huge global success has been the endless array of spin-offs – riffs on the core Jameson style like this, a pot still-heavy whiskey that uses lots of influential ex-bourbon and Sherry casks. You get the sweet, honeyed cereal flavour of Jameson, but with extra plummy fruits and plenty of tannic depth from the oak. Alc 40%
The Norfolk Parched Single Grain
Norfolk’s take on the Irish pot still style, with brewer-turned-distiller David Fitt using a mix of malted and unmalted barley. The unmalted component is relatively small here, bringing bags of sweet fruit, vanilla and popcorn alongside tangy fruit, light spice and peanut brittle. One of an excellent trio of grain whiskies from The English Whisky Co. Alc 45%
Wild Turkey 101
A gorgeous rye-heavy Bourbon bottled at a higher than regular strength and showing all the punch that you’d expect: spice, black banana, sawmill scents and coconut, but underscored by a refined note of wax furniture polish and darker, dried fruit. There’s also a lighter touch of cereal and Sugar Puffs. Certainly not shy. Alc 50.5%