Despite the current administration’s 25% tariffs, the US remains one of the primary export markets for Scotch Whisky. Sure, we plow through a lot of the liquid—$2.4 billion dollars worth of it in 2019, to be exact (according to the Distilled Spirits Council). But the 21st Century has been marked by a steady increase in premium purchases across the category; here, growth is driven more by quality than the quantity. You can thank an exceedingly expensive range of single malts for that.
And so, even though a couple of countries—including India and France—move more volume of scotch into their respective borders than the States, by value we’ve got them both beat. Having said all that, it doesn’t mean you can’t find reasonably priced whisky from Scotland. You just need to know where to look.
Domestic bartenders know this as well as anyone; often they’re the ones pouring it. So we decided to run down some of the most prominent names in the profession to point out their preferred bargains in all of scotch. Below you’ll find their recommendations in the form of nine exceptional bottles.
“Easy on the palette with rich malty notes. Loved by scotch drinkers alike, while also being a perfect balance of flavors for a scotch newbie in training. Perfect introduction to the single malt. The price point also leaves it open to making a perfect Penicillin that won’t break the bank.”
— Demetrëa Dewald, Bar Mateo at Zinc Cafe and Market (Los Angeles, CA)
“This great example of a single malt scotch that will be off-putting to very, very few people. It’s a blend of lightly-peated and unpeated barley, so it doesn’t contain the characteristics that many find aggressive about, say, Islay scotch. If you’re looking for iodine and asphalt, look away here. Toward the end of the lush dried stone fruit throughout the palate, you’ll find more of a subtle, bright finish typically characteristic of the flagship blended scotches we love so much. This truly is a whisky for any occasion (neat or rocks), and more importantly, any whisky drinker.”
— Donny Clutterbuck, Cure Bar (Rochester, NY)
“I love Naked Grouse. It’s a beautiful sherry finished blended malt whisky, which makes it approachable for folks new to the Scotch (or whiskey!) world while also being a great bottle for the seasoned single malt drinker. I love that it is available in most major markets at a price that definitely doesn’t make me wince to restock it! I am happy to drink Naked Grouse neat, but my favorite way to drink it is over a large cube with an orange peel. It has a bright citrus finish after delivering some fun nutty and spicy tones from the sherry finish, and I think the orange peel really brings that out!”
— Darian Everding, Wasabi (Ames, Iowa)
“In Ohio, this bottle is $62.99 retail. For me, the combination of smoke and saline represent everything a traditional scotch drinker is looking for in the category. There are many, many different approaches to flavor and finish in the scotch category, but I think Laphroaig 10 is a classic and trusted choice for drinking on the rocks, or adding as a split base in a cocktail to heighten the flavors of peat, caramel, or vanilla. Classics like a Godfather (equal parts with Amaretto over the rocks), or a New York Sour (substitute Laphroaig for the traditional whiskey) are wonderful ways to experience this spirit. Sugar, citrus, additional spirit – it can handle it all.”
“Willy G hit it out of the park when creating Monkey Shoulder, a blend of three distinct scotches. MoSh is a bartender brand; everything about the price and approachability of the liquid makes it a fantastic spirit to mix with. This isn’t a peat-bomb, and it isn’t supposed to be. I’ve always loved the floral, vanilla, and orange notes that play on the palette. This is a great Scotch Whisky to substitute in your favorite American Whiskey classics. I would try it in a classic Paper Plane or Brooklyn cocktail to kick your home bar game up a notch.”
“I was married on Maui last year, and ever since I have developed such nostalgia for fruit and tropical flavors. I recently had the opportunity to work with Glenlivet Caribbean Reserve, and I was truly impressed. Let me say, this liquid needs a bit of ice to highlight the delightful notes. On the palate, you experience toffee, pear, vanilla, and lots of orange and mandarin. This is so fun for a new scotch drinker, a hospitable liquid that stands alone over ice, or can be substituted in some of your favorite rum cocktails. If you’re wishing for the island like I am, try it in a classic Painkiller with coconut, pineapple, orange, and nutmeg. If you’re looking for something a bit sexier, substitute it in your next Negroni.”
— Christina Basham, Founder, Bubbles + Agave Creative (Columbus, Ohio)
“Generally anywhere around $40-$60 at most stores (depending on your location). This is hands down my favorite Scotch. I love the smoothness. It’s not too peated and is easy to drink neat or on rocks. It’s a nice introduction as it has more complex flavors than most Highlands, but isn’t overpowering like an Islay.”
“Bang for the buck, if you want to drink a scotch and soda highball, this is the jam. Just the right amount of sweetness offset with a lemon twist?!? Yummy. Also, it fits the budgy. CHEAP!”
“No shit. It isn’t horrible and likely is either Dewars or Johnnie Walker under a pseudonym. It’s cheap and works great in a cocktail. The only issues are it does kind of vary from year to year (at least in my opinion, and I tiddle it only every so often), and sometimes it can have that yucky Red Label smell. Make a Blood and Sand and enjoy it.”
—Tyler Dunn, The Hepcat; (Springfield, MO)