Monday, 17 April 2017

A Bottle For Every Budget

Unless you have gold buried in secret locations all over town, like Ron Swanson, chances are your scotch budget is limited to some degree. We pay far more for scotch here in Ontario than our friends south of the border do, even with the exchange rate factored in. There are definitely some shenanigans afoot at the LCBO, but since Benedict Cumberbatch hasn't responded to my email requests to come and solve this case, we'll have to live with it. So what is the budding whisky enthusiast to do? Fear not my friends; despite the fact that I don't own a deerstalker, I can help. Below, you'll find different price points and three or four scotches within each budget. The list is by no means exhaustive, but the scotches I mention have my unequivocal seal of approval. I've also deemed it necessary to include some pronunciation keys. This can spare you some embarrassment and give you the opportunity to be incredibly smug when you correct others' pronunciation. You're welcome. Now don't get too chummy with me, lest I call you by the wrong name.

Ron Swanson: he knows more than you

Under $30 CAD

Not quite ready to spend a lot of money on scotch yet? Don't have a lot of money to spend on scotch? Need a distraction bottle when your scotch-loving brother comes over? These bottles are sure to fit the bill.
  • Whyte & Mackay Special Reserve ($26.25 for 750ml)
This is a very respectable blend for very little money. It is a sweeter whisky, with brown sugar, raisins (christmas cake?) and oranges being the dominant flavours. You may notice a little bit of smoke on the finish. It is lovely neat, with water, on ice and even in a Rob Roy. Note that "Mackay" rhymes with "black eye".
  • Teacher's Highland Cream ($26.25 for 750ml)
Teacher's is like Highland Park 12 on a limited budget. I got a bottle of this as a gift years ago and was shocked with the quality of this dram. Toffee, cream, honey and citrus are the main notes with a lightly peated, subtly smokey finish. Don't let the price fool you, this is a great value.
  • Grant's Family Reserve ($27.95 for 750ml)
If you don't like smoke or peat flavours, Grant's is for you. It's not a world-changing whisky, but it's twenty-eight dollars. Don't complain. Vanilla, honey and some light citrus are evident in this classic blend. Drink it neat or mix with a bit of Drambuie for an affordable Rusty Nail.

Under $55 CAD

So you have a little more gold in your pocket to exchange for uisge beatha? Bully for you. Ready to go beyond the budget blends? Try these:
  • Té Bheag ($39.95 for 700ml)
It's not "tea bag". So stop it. I grow tired of your tomfoolery. It's pronounced "chay vek" and it's a fantastic whisky at a very reasonable price. Peat, smoke, honey and sherry all make an appearance in this wonderful blend. Do NOT call it "tea bag" or I'll send Samuel L. Jackson after you.

Say "tea bag" again. I dare you, I double-dare you.
  • Islay Mist 8 Year Old ($31.95 for 750ml)
Islay Mist 8 is my new go-to inexpensive scotch. It is THAT good. It's not for the faint of heart, as this blend boasts a healthy amount of Laphroaig. That means campfire smoke and peat are very present. Beneath the peat and smoke, you get some honey and heather, courtesy of the Speyside malts that round out this blend. Note that "Islay" is pronounced "EYE-lah". Islay is the southernmost island of the Inner Hebrides where 8 active distilleries produce some of the greatest scotches in the universe. Yes, the universe.

  • Ardmore Legacy ($51.95 for 750ml)
Ardmore is a pleasing Highland single malt at a very reasonable price. It's dry, peated and smokey, with vanilla, honey and cinnamon rounding out its character. Ardmore is well-balanced and will not break the bank. It's not as "safe" a choice as a Glenfiddich 12 or Glenlivet Founder's Reserve, but it is a much more interesting choice.

Under $80 CAD

Things are getting interesting. In this price range, you'll find the ideal "gift bottle" for wedding anniversaries, Christmas presents for relatives you don't visit often enough or birthday presents for the middle-class civil servant. These whiskies are not cheap, but not so expensive that you should panic about not liking what you buy. At this price point, they're all pretty good.
  • Aberlour 12 Year Old ($64.95 for 750ml)
This Speyside single malt punches way above its weight class, er, price point. You'd be hard-pressed to find a better scotch for sixty-five bucks. It's double cask-matured, meaning it spends the last bit of its maturation time in sherry casks. The main flavours are vanilla, cinnamon, honey and dried fruits. It's a full-bodied dram but not syrupy or sickly-sweet. If it's your first time venturing into this price bracket, I can't recommend this whisky enough. Note that "Aberlour" rhymes with "Happy Hour". Coincidence? I think not.
  • Laphroaig Quarter Cask ($74.95 for 750ml)
Laphroaig's tagline is "The most richly flavoured of all Scotch whiskies". You'd be a fustilarian to argue with them. Laphroaig (pronounced la-FROYG) is the quintessential Islay single malt. Their offerings are incredibly smokey and heavily peated. If you drink Laphroaig, you may find that you've grown a thick, luscious mustache by the time you finish your first glass. If you're a man, that is. I've never been a woman, so I don't know how Laphroaig affects female scotch drinkers. Suffice it to say that Laphroaig is a no-nonsense dram. The folks at Laphroaig have a strong sense of identity and they don't apologize for who they are. Quarter Cask is matured in barrels that are a quarter of the size of standard oak barrels so more of the whisky is exposed to the wood, helping it "age" a bit faster. After the smoke and peat, there are subtle notes of vanilla with some brine and coffee on the finish. Be careful with this one; it's 48% alcohol and very, very easy to drink if you enjoy big, bold scotch. One of my personal favourites.

  • Craigellachie 13 Year Old ($79.95 for 750ml)
Another tongue-twister. The correct pronunciation is "cray-GELL-a-key" with a hard "g". This Speyside whisky balances sweetness, spice, and smoke beautifully. Caramel, light citrus, smoke and a hint of vanilla make this malt a real treat. Left to "breathe" in the glass for a few minutes, you may notice hints of bacon developing. You will NOT be disappointed with Craigellachie.

  • Highland Park 12 Year Old ($79.95 for 750ml)
I'd be remiss if I left this one out after I mentioned it in the budget section. Highland Park is an Orkney Island distillery, and it has some light peat and smoke, albeit different than Islay malts. HP 12 has been called "the greatest all-rounder in the world of malt whisky" by Michael Jackson's Malt Whisky Companion. Not Michael Jackson, the King of Pop. Don't be silly. This malt truly lives up to the hype with honey sweetness, floral notes and peat on the finish.

Under $100 CAD

Got some money burning a hole in your pocket? Have you worked your way through some of the more modest offerings? These drams are sure to please the increasingly discerning enthusiast. You don't get to act like an all-powerful tyrant just yet though. You aren't Mr. Burns.

The ultimate symbol of greed and power

  • Laphroaig 10 Year Old ($86.20 for 750ml)
Laphroaig's signature whisky. This malt defines Islay, at least to my palate. Do NOT make this your first Islay experience, or you'll feel like Oberyn Martell did at the end of his duel with Sir Gregor "The Mountain" Clegane (be careful if you decide to google that: very disturbing images). This full-bodied scotch is incredibly smokey, but brine, pepper, and light pear sweetness are there under the big peaty punch. The folks at Laphroaig even put out a video about peoples' reaction to their scotch. Wonderful stuff. 
  • The Balvenie 12 Year Old Doublewood ($94.95 for 750ml)
The Balvenie is one of the most popular Speyside single malts for a good reason. This is an incredibly smooth, full and rich scotch. The first maturation is in traditional whisky oak casks and the second maturation is in sherry oak casks to add a lovely honeyed finish. If you want to impress the scotch lover on your gift list, your boss or your favourite blogger, The Balvenie is sure to please. There is no smoke or peat to be found in this malt, but its character is rich with cinnamon, pepper, honey, and milk chocolate. The Balvenie might be the perfect after-dinner drink.
  • The Dalmore 12 Year Old ($99.95 for 750ml)
Master distiller Sir Richard Paterson has a series of funny and informative videos that can help you better appreciate scotch. The Dalmore 12 Year Old is a scotch worthy of your time and appreciation, guaranteed to make you feel like you're incredibly important. Which you are. If The Balvenie sounds a bit too "bright" for your taste, The Dalmore 12, which has a somewhat "deeper" character, might be for you. Dark chocolate, oranges, nutmeg, coffee and cinnamon make up this great whisky's character. You will NOT be disappointed with this offering. If you are, contact me and I'll take the bottle off your hands at no charge.

  • Ardbeg 10 Year Old (99.95 for 750ml)
This malt won The Whisky Bible's "World Whisky of the Year" in 2008 and "Best Single Malt Scotch of the Year: 10 Years and Under" in 2012. If you've tasted it, you're as surprised to learn this as you would be if I told you that water is wet and the Pope thinks Catholicism is the bee's knees. Huge peat and smoke, coffee and dark chocolate notes, and a hint of lemon and pear make this malt the closest you can come to perfection for under $100. Just under. Try it with just a little, tiny splash of water to really open up the flavour. Or don't. But remember, it's 46% alcohol. It hits hard, but in the most pleasing way possible.

Under $125 CAD

If you've gotten this far, odds are you don't need me to guide you. You probably know what you like. But since you're here, allow me to share my favourites.
  • Oban 14 Year Old ($109.95 for 750ml)
It rhymes with "open". There. With that out of the way, let me say that I've never met anyone who didn't love this Highland malt. It's got some smoke and peat, but it won't beat you into submission like Laphroaig, Ardbeg or bareknuckle boxing legend John L. Sullivan. It's got some honey sweetness, but it isn't overwhelming. It's got a bit of brine on the finish, but you won't feel like you're drinking sea water. My only complaint is that it costs so much. Oban is so good that it won't last long unless you exercise uncommon restraint.

How I feel when drinking an Islay malt
  • Glenmorangie Nectar D'Or ($123.15 for 750ml)
Repeat after me. "glen-MORE-an-jee". There. I knew you could do it. This malt carries its name beautifully. Liquid gold in a glass. Honey, peaches, oranges and a little nuttiness are the main flavours. Glenmorangie is the Tom Hanks of scotches. Allow me to explain. No matter which expression you choose from this distillery, you KNOW it's going to be good. It may not always be your favourite, but it's never bad. In fact, it's always prety darned good. Like movies starring Tom Hanks (yes, even the silly romantic comedies). Do you hate Tom Hanks? Because if you hate Tom Hanks, I don't think we can be friends anymore. I'm sure you'll like Glenmorangie as much as I like Tom Hanks. You've got a friend in Glenmorangie.
  • Lagavulin 16 Year Old ($124.95 for 750ml)
Best. Scotch. Ever. The end. Seriously though, this whisky is perfect. The peat and smoke are definitely there, as you'd expect from an Islay malt, but it doesn't punch you in the mouth the way Laphroaig does. Lagavulin invites you to explore its full character. There is brine, there's an iodine note, but roll it around your mouth and you'll find hints of dates, pineapple and vanilla. It is not for everyone, but I strongly encourage you to try it (at a bar if you can find it) at least TWICE. And take your time with this scotch. It's worth it. But don't get all emotional. You'll embarrass yourself.

Ron Swanson approves

Over $125 CAD

Just kidding, I've never had a scotch this expensive. If you can afford to spend more than this on scotch, you don't need my advice. You are likely to disdain my philistine ramblings. But if you really want my advice, or if you just want to make me jealous, try a Macallan Sienna ($179.95), a Laphroaig 15 Year Old ($184.95), a Dalmore King Alexander III ($349.95) or a Craigellachie 23 Year Old ($454.95).  

Slainte mhaith! (pronounced "Slahn-ja va")
Update: The LCBO has increased prices since I wrote this, but my recommendations remain unchanged.


  1. Best scotch under $75 currently at the LCBO is Benromach 10yo. Just fantastic for $59.

    1. I've heard good things about Benromach. I haven't tried it yet though, so I can't officially endorse it. Thanks for the recommendation.