Everyone loves a bargain, and whisky drinkers are no exception. With prices on the rise, you may star to find that you can only afford to drink your favourite dram on special occasions. But all is not lost because, fortunately for the whisky drinker, there is plenty of top quality booze available at very reasonable prices, with just about any style catered for.
In broad terms, there’s something of a pecking order to the price of whisky. Compared to Scotch, Irish whiskey is often a touch cheaper, while American bourbon tends to be cheaper still. Going in the other direction, you’ll find you have to shell out more for Japanese whisky, while world whisky from less established nations seem to be much more random in its price points.
You will also find that blended whisky offers the most bargains compared to single malts – this is because producers can combine whisky from cheaper grains into their mix. But blended whisky doesn’t mean you’re losing out in quality. The best blenders expertly balance a wide range of whisky flavours to create interesting and unique whiskies that can be every bit as good as those more expensive single malts.
There are several factors that can bump up the price of a whisky. The most obvious is age – the longer a whisky spends maturing in a cask, the more it costs. Spending more for that extra maturation time usually means you get an increasingly mellow whisky with richer flavours, but that doesn’t mean young whisky should be ignored as there are some great options out there, even at the minimum three year age requirement.
Demand and scale are some other key factors in determining price. Limited editions, especially those from a single cask, will generally cost more than core range expressions. And those distilleries that can produce whisky on a huge volume are likely to be able to offer their products at a cheaper price than distilleries who produce their whisky in smaller batches.
There are, of course, many other factors that can affect cost (for example, ex-Sherry casks are more expensive to buy than ex-bourbon casks) but trying to guess the true value of any bottle is a futile task. If you find a whisky you like, and you can afford it, then stock up – nothing should spoil your enjoyment of a decent dram.
To prove what a great range of affordable whisky is available – from classic Scotch, to bargain bourbon and some new and exciting releases too – we’ve picked out ten top bottles, each for under £50.
Best for a blended Scotch
Tasting notes: Dried fruit, caramel, toasted oak and gentle smoke
Whenever we’re at whisky shows or events we always like to ask attendees what whisky they drink most at home and, without fail, at least a few folk will answer “Johnnie Walker Black Label.” For some, Johnnie Walker’s status as the World’s Most Popular Whisky, and Black Label’s low price, implies that Black Label is simply a cheap blend aimed at the masses rather than the connoisseur. But we’re on the side of its advocates – Black Label is a mighty fine whisky that everyone should own.
A lot of craft goes into this spirit, with over 40 malt and grain whiskies used in a blend that is aged for 12 years. This complex concoction produces notes of dried fruit, caramel and toasted oak along with gentle wafts of smoke, pricklier spice and more. It’s a smooth drink that has earned its success over the years and still deserves attention today.
BUY HERE Johnnie Walker Black Label, 40%
Best for a single malt Scotch
Tasting notes: Subtle flavours of fresh fruit, apple pie spice and leathery oak
Describing a whisky as ‘light’ can sometimes lead you to assume it’s a simple affair lacking in depth, but that is far from the case with Highland distillery Balblair’s 12 Year Old whisky. It may be light in colour, with an effortless elegance to its sipping style, but allow your senses to give it a full working over and you’ll discover it’s a rather complex creation.
Matured in both ex-bourbon and double-fired American oak casks, this has a whole host of classic whisky flavours, each one subtly revealing themselves throughout a sipping session. There’s a definite fruitiness that has the freshness of zesty lemons, some sweetness of honey, a layer of apple pie spices and even some leathery oak at the finish.
BUY HERE Balblair 12 Year Old, 46%
Best for a supermarket whisky
Tasting notes: Smoky barbecue, salt and pepper, citrus fruits and caramel
If finances are tight then it could be worth taking a punt on a supermarket own label whisky. In recent times we’ve enjoyed, among others, a blended Scotch from the Co-Op, a Highland single malt from Tesco and this Islay single malt from Aldi.
The whisky is made at an undisclosed Islay distillery, so it’s definitely the real deal, and matured for three years (this minimum length of time helps to explain its low price point). It’s a peated whisky, so there are plenty of smoky barbecue flavours with some savoury salt and pepper seasoning, along with hints of citrus fruit and some sweet caramel. It doesn’t have the complex depth or long lasting finish of older Islay whisky, but it’s still plenty enjoyable.
Both this and Aldi’s Glen Marnoch Highland single malt picked up gold awards in the 2021 Scotch Whisky Masters awards, so we’re not the only ones who rate it highly.
BUY HERE Aldi Glen Marnoch Islay Single Malt Scotch, 40%
Best for an American whiskey
Tasting notes: Creamy bourbon with honey, charred oak and winter spice
If you’re a fan of bourbon then you’ll already know that you tend to get more bang for your buck than most other types of whisky. Major brands Old Forester, Ezra Brooks and Wild Turkey all produce excellent bottles for well under £30, as does Four Roses, whose classic release can be obtained for under £25.
You can even upgrade your Four Roses to their Small Batch release and still have change from £30. For your money you’ll get a handcrafted whiskey, expertly blended in Kentucky from four different bourbons, that is ideal for Manhattans, Old Fashioneds, or simply sipping neat. It’s a creamy spirit with light fruit flavours mingling with sweet honey and vanilla, some charred notes of oak and toasted nuts, and a sprinkling of winter spice.
BUY HERE Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon, 45%
Best for a peated Islay whisky
Tasting notes: Smoke, iodine, seaweed, sweet fruits and more smoke
If you fancy giving your taste buds a big whack of Islay peat, then there are few better bottles than Laphroaig 10, regardless of price. It is deservedly hailed as one of the stand out Islay whiskies, perfectly showcasing the smoke and iodine flavours for which the Island is famous.
You’ll know it’s peated as soon as you open the bottle, with smoke curling around the nostrils bringing a smile to those who love a peated whisky and a grimace to those who don’t. Besides the smoky, medicinal flavours you might also detect some briney seaweed notes that brings to mind the distillery’s island setting, while sweet fruits and toasty grains show it’s not all about the smoke. An Islay classic.
BU HERE Laphroaig 10 Year Old, 40%
Best for an Irish whiskey
Tasting notes: Tangy spice, juicy apple, soft toffee
Single pot still whiskeys are an Irish specialty, produced with a portion of unmalted barley along with the malted barley. This produces whiskey with a unique spiciness that has a tangy edge to it and helps accentuate the flavours of the grain.
Green Spot is one of the best Irish Pot Still whiskeys around, which makes its sub £50 price tag a steal. Along with those tangy spices you’ll also find some juicy apple and soft toffee flavours, and even a touch of tropical fruits. Quality Irish whiskeys like this are easy to drink neat and, at this price, you won’t need to skimp on your measure.
BUY HERE Green Spot Single Pot Still, 40%
Best for an aged whisky
Tasting notes: Ripe fruits, nuts, leather and cinnamon
As the price of whisky increases with age, you’ll find a rapidly diminishing choice of single malt Scotches for under £50 when you pass the 12 year mark. So getting your hands on a 15 year old is worthy of celebration.
The decade and a half this Highland whisky has spent in bourbon casks has given it a sweet vanilla creaminess that will have you licking your lips and purring with delight. Breathe in its aroma and you’ll get a nose full of ripe fruits of peach and pear (and maybe even some banana).
When sipping, those ripe fruits mellow out a bit and are joined by some deeper notes of walnut and leather along with cinnamon spice. It’s far from the kind of ancient leathery beast that would set you back a fortune, but it’s a very approachable dram with enough maturity to offer extra interest.
Best for a new distillery
Tasting notes: Orange zest, coffee and nutty chocolate
Some new distilleries are so hyped that early releases can be hard to get hold of, with collectors snapping them up for way more than the actual worth of the whisky. Aber Falls has escaped this collectible curse and you’ll find their whisky available at incredible value.
North Wales’ first whisky distillery for over a century released its debut bottle in 2021 and, despite its youth, the whisky has a light touch with a smooth, creamy texture and a decent array of flavours. Expect some orange zest leading out a fruit salad of flavours, and some coffee infused fruit and nut chocolate bringing some depth. We suggest you get drinking now before everyone else starts to notice it.
BUY HERE Aber Falls Single Malt Welsh Whisky
Best for cocktails
Tasting notes A harmonious blend of orange, vanilla, honey, oak and spice
Monkey Shoulder, a product of the famous Scottish whisky making family William Grant & Sons, was something of a revolution when first launched in 2003: it was made with the cocktail market in mind. The team set about experimenting with various blends and settled on Batch 27 as the most successful, which they soon renamed ‘Monkey Shoulder.’
To survive in any number of cocktails a whisky should have enough character to stand out, but not so much that it overpowers the other ingredients. It should work in balance and harmony with everything else in the glass, as should all the flavours within the whisky itself. Monkey Shoulder is a harmonious blend of orange, vanilla and honey, with subtle spices and oaky notes also politely making themselves known.
Best whisky glasses: from crystal to tumblers, budget to Glencairn, from Amazon to ASDA
9 of the best Scottish whiskies: our favourite Scotch brands
Best Islay whisky: from Ardbeg to Laphroaig, the Islay whiskies you need to try
Best rye whiskey: ideal rye for a Sazerac, Manhattan, or simply neat
Best peated whisky: from Speyside to Islay, the peaty whiskies to please
8 of the best single malt whiskies
Best expensive whiskies worth the price tag: Macallan, Glengoyne, Tobermory, Glenfiddich
Best supermarket whiskies: best whisky buys from Lidl, Aldi, Morrisons and Tescos
Best blended whiskies: is it worth buying blended whisky? The best brands
Best world whiskies: from cheap to expensive, the world whisky brands you have to try
Best Irish whiskey: from cheap to expensive, single malt, blends, and smoky
Best Speyside whiskies: from single malt to blended, M&S to Glenfiddich
Best English whiskies: the English whisky brands worth buying
Best Japanese whisky: our expert guide to best brands, from single malt, blended, under £50, to best-selling
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