I’ve never met a scotch fan I didn’t like. As drinkers of the dram, they appreciate the age-old tradition of distilling a fine single malt and exercise patience in the tasting process. Scotch is easily one of the most unique spirits around thanks to the cool, damp climate of its birth country. Unlike American bourbons and whiskeys, Scotch is allowed particularly long maturation, which results in a profile unlike anything you’ve ever tried before; enjoyment that’s years in the making. Every bottle, every glass, every sip, therefore, acts as a time capsule into the years, decades, and half centuries prior. With each pour, we’re toasting the labor of revered men from long ago, and with each savory sip, we effectively transport ourselves back in time.
According to an ancient Greek proverb, “A society grows when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” Rightly so, a great scotch is crafted by men who know one day they won’t be around to enjoy the spirit. Instead, they distil the drink for the enjoyment of their fellow drinkers, their countrymen, their brethren who have yet to be born. In this selfless act, the spirit of the distillery lives on through the drinker and frankly, we’re all the more enlightened by the act.
Such a timeless experience is highly adaptable to the drinker. Though it may only last a few moments, a well-aged scotch celebrates milestones in our lives. We toast marriages, graduations, career movements, the lives of those both old and young. Each glass that graces our pursed lips both tells a story and simultaneously hatches a new one, immortalizing the experience long after the glass empties. And in celebration of this timeless affair, we wanted to introduce you to what we consider the best single malt scotch whiskies for under $100 that served us well without breaking the bank. Cheers.
While geographically small, the Speyside region of Scotland houses over half of the country’s malt distilleries. Receiving its nomenclature from the lush and fertile valley of the River Spey, the region is known for producing flavor profiles full of honey, vanilla, and fresh fruit such as apples or pears. Its whisky is both refined and elegant, aged often in sherry casks to over decades resulting in more dried fruit and the sweet spice flavor profiles.
The Glenlivet 18 Yr.
Once you’ve won multiple gold medals at the International Wine and Spirits Competition there’s little reason for experimentation. And rightly so. The Glenlivet pours as a classic Speyside with a flavor profile full with notes of tannic oak, honey and walnut with subtle apple and orange pairings making their way forward with every additional sip. It’s got a spicy oak finish and overall boasts quite the significant but well-rounded banquet. There’s little room for debate here, it’s simply an all-around brilliant scotch.
Glenfiddich 18 Yr.
Nothing like a drinking a Scotch that’s old enough to vote in the upcoming election. And this batch, in particular, will certainly tame any anxiety you may be feeling towards this November. It was matured in a mix of Oloroso sherry and bourbon casks yielding a flavor profile that’s heavy on the fruity side. We’re talking grapefruit mixed with baked toffee apples on the nose, candied fruit, cinnamon, and toffee on the palate and finishes with salted toffee. It’s a quintessential Speyside that deserves serious recognition for its adherence and perfection of tradition.
Tomatin 18 Yr. Sherry Cask
Thanks to the sherry cask, this 18-year single malt hosts a body more reminiscent of winter than the previous two. Featuring notes of clove and cinnamon with a vanilla and fudge background, the palate is quite sweet and full, to say the least. Tasters will detect hints of honey and barley sugar alongside toasted oak with chocolate, orange, and cocoa to round everything up. Prepare yourself for a long and powerful finish as well with emphasis on tannic oak and a modicum of pepper.
The Balvenie 15 Yr.
Boasting a fragrant aroma of vanilla, honeyed sweetness, and hints of heather, this 15-year-old single malt is drawn from a traditional oak whiskey cask of a single distillation. Each barrel is chosen strictly based on the essential characteristics of Balvenie and each bottling only yields about 350 hand-numbered bottles, making each batch a unique and non-duplicated experience. It pours a pale amber color and features a rich and complex palate with delicate spice notes peppered in between its sweeter elements.
The highlands are certainly one of the most scenic regions of the country, and ironically the largest. It’s the land of rugged mountain peaks and heather-covered moorland that no doubt served as the inspiration for the country’s countless artists and authors of the years. As a general rule of thumb, they embody significant peat and smoke, often quite powerful. However since the region is in fact so large, there are several subsets of the region within the Highlands, broken down into the four compass points. But that’s a post for another day.
Oban 14 Yr.
The Oban distillery is located on Scotland’s west coast, close to the Islay region, which is quite evident in the profile of this single malt. The distillery itself is over two centuries old but the methods of distillation have not changed. Thanks to its location, the nose is rich and smokey with the obvious medical characteristics of the sea such as seaweed and tarry ropes. You’ll also pick up on wood smoke in congruence with the Highland’s typical estery sweetness that transfers to the palate. The aged oak leaves a lasting impression and finishes dry with a touch of citrus fruit.
Highland Park 15 Yr.
With a name like Highland Park, it’s difficult to mistake where this single malt originates. Known as the northernmost distillery in Scotland in Orkney, it’s named after the distillery’s location on ‘High Park’ in relation to the lower-lying surrounding area. The whisky hosts a complex floral nose of citrus fruits and flowers, a nice addition to the hints of camphor the subtle peat character. It’s initially sweet but transitions into a dry smokiness that finishes rich and leaves you wanting more; a quality scotch that’s hard to beat for the price point.
The Macallan 12 Yr.
Though many seasoned scotch fans may scoff at a 12-year vintage, this Highland spirit is nothing to discredit. Often considered one of the purest Highlands scotches around, The Macallan is a solid choice for drinkers both new and old. Nose and palate both allude to sweet cream and vanilla thanks to the Spanish sherry casks in which the vintage is aged. Notes of fresh apple blossom, golden syrup and a touch of tropical fruit all encompass themselves within this superbly balanced 12-year. It features a medium body and firm mouthfeel with notes of hot pastries and marmalade. How could you not want to give this a try?
Old Pulteney 17 Yr.
No need for a port wine, Old Pulteney distils a premier after-dinner drink thanks to its maturation in Pedro Ximenez and Oloroso Spanish sherry casks. Naturally this adds quite a bit of depth and complexity to the spirit, pouring a red amber and rich hue. Traces of apples and pears grace the nose with subtle hints of butterscotch. The palate follows nicely with subtle vanilla and floral notes that pair with its full-bodied mouthful quite well. Each sip leaves a long lasting, memorable finish that keeps you eager to take that next pull.
Aberlour 18 Yr.
Prior to 2008, unless you lived in the French market, Aberlour was out of reach. Luckily for us, this rich and subtly spicy Highland scotch is now available for all. The nose is creamy, alluding to melted vanilla ice cream in combination with fruity and honeyed additions as well. Fresh apples and oranges grace the palate prior to tasting the sherry and vanilla from the cask. Just one pour and you’ll be immediately persuaded to try another. It’s a familiar scotch that’s sure to please any fan of the Highland region.
Located south of the Highland region are the country’s Lowlands, known for its rolling hills best suited for growing grain for the area’s whisky. Much like the soft and tame landscape, Lowland scotch is known for its lighter body and color than the drink’s Highland counterpart and little to nonexistent peaty profile on the palate. Rather, Lowland scotch is respected for its fresh, light, and floral characteristics.
Glenkinchie 12 Yr.
Here’s the new entry level vintage from Glenkinchie, who replaced their 10-year with this option back in 2007. This will be a quite lighter offering than the Three Wood (below) with a light yet slightly fragrant nose of cereal, some nutty characteristics, and barley. You wouldn’t guess from the appearance but the palate is quite fruity with some surprising notes of Madeira and stewed fruits. Tannic oak lingers in the finish with additional notes of fresh grass. A fine, fresh, and well-rounded offering from the Lowland distillery.
Auchentoshan Three Wood
I’ll admit to a little bias here when claiming this Lowland scotch to be one of the best for the price. Namely because of its unique distillation process leading to one of the smoothest flavor profiles around. That’s because it’s matured in three different casks (Pedro Ximenez Sherry, bourbon, and Oloroso Sherry) hence the name ‘Three Wood’. And if you’re a scotch drinker you know this combination yields a rum-like quality of cooked fruit, sherry, toffee and an all-around rich flavor profile. Ripe dark forest fruit, chocolate, and more sherry continue to dominate the palate and the Three Wood finishes ultra smooth with lingering toffee notes and chewy wood. Simply amazing.
Bladnoch 11 Yr.
Pouring a smooth amber color the Blanch hosts hints of sherry, a fruity fragrance, and a lemon nose that’s both inviting the intriguing. There’s also a lot happening on the palate almost immediately thanks to the sherry start. The 11-year then takes you through the rolling hills of Scotland’s grassy lowlands with notes of cereal grain, finishing with those flowery, lemony notes that initially come through on the nose. The Bladnoch doesn’t tease. It gives you exactly what you want and expect from a Lowland. And in a world of unpredictables, we’re perfectly okay with that.
Much like the notorious Islay region’s landscape and weather, its scotch isn’t for the faint of heart. Windswept, stormy and barren, the region produces malt whiskey with strong peaty and maritime aromas and flavors. They boast strong salty-iodine flavor profiles and drink much like a captured, distilled and aged winter storm. Needless to say, the scotch found here is bursting with flavor from heavy smokiness to peat to black pepper; deliciously unique and intimidating at the same time.
Laphroaig 10 Yr.
Laphroaig is known throughout Scotland as one of the country’s most medicinal malts. It’s full of character and opens up big with strong and smokey peat notes. Careful attention pulls forth various spices and licorice as well as a notable dose of salt to boot. The palate leads with seaweed, complimented with hints of vanilla ice cream and heavy oak. With each additional sip, a combination of cardamom, black pepper, and chill accumulate on the palate, so much so that this is one of the few scotches that we recommend with a splash of water to really open it up.
Lagavulin 16 Yr.
Another one of my personal favorites, Lagavulin 16 Yr. is one of those heavily sought-after scotches that will remain timeless. Owing its massive peat smoke to the southern Islay region, Lagavulin is a go-to pour for any serious scotch drinker. But don’t let the heavy smoke and peat deter you. It also offers a rich and thick palate with heavy malt and sherry coupled with a fruity sweetness that helps to balance out the heavy smoke and iodine aroma’d nose. There’s a wonderful sweetness to this drink once you get though its rough exterior. Just don’t be afraid to take a chance with this one. Sometimes the best things in life are worth the effort.
The word “Uigeadial” derives from the Scotch Gaelic for “Dark and Mysterious Place.” And what better name to give this smoke-show of an Islay? After winning Jim Murray’s 2009 World Whiskey of the Year, Ardbeg knew they were on to something. Each pour immediately displays its unique character with multifaceted notes of peat, dark sugar, espresso beans and tar. The palate leaves nothing to be desired with sweet ripe fruit, black forest honey, malt, and of course powerful peat and smokey flavors. There are immense medical flavorings here as well with a drawn-out, caramel, and peat smoke finish.