Highland Park/ The Balvenie/Oban/iStock/Uproxx
Besides the air of superiority and overall assumed fanciness surrounding it, what turns off many drinkers to the thought of purchasing a bottle of Scotch is the price. Even the most inexpensive offering from a well-known distillery is going to be more expensive than your go-to bourbons or ryes. But if you can get past that sticker shock, you’ll be opening the door to a brand-new flavor experience while broadening your whisk(e)y palate.
Plus, Scotch is perfect for fall drinking. Especially its smokier expressions (remember, it’s sort of always fall in Scotland).
Below, we asked a handful of bartenders to tell us the Scotch whiskies they feel are worth the price. They range in price from $50 to $175 but their value is really what the bartenders are commenting on.
The Balvenie 12 Year American Oak
Andy Printy, beverage director at Chao Baan in St. Louis
My current go-to for Highland single malts is Balvenie’s 12 Year American Oak. Logged into the Highlands subcategory of Speyside, this particular expression is not only super approachable but seasonally appropriate! A nose of cocoa, baking spice, and dank lumber gives way to citrus, butterscotch, and baking spices on the palate.
I recommend drinking neat or with just a couple drops of water.
Compass Box Peat Monster
Nicholas Wyatt, bar manager at Teddy’s Bourbon Bar in Prattville, Alabama
The Peat Monster from Compass Box is more than a great dram. It’s an experience that every whisky lover should treat themselves to. Once you can get past the nearly overwhelming smokiness, there is a unique elegance there.
Much of our ability to taste is linked to specific memories. For me, it’s like drinking green tea with my wife while tending a bonfire.
Frederic Yarm, USBG bartender in Boston
Oban 14 Year is my favorite Highland single malt, for it elegantly spans the traditional softer and fruitier notes of Highland whisky with the sea-laden peat smoke aspects of an Islay.
Glenfiddich Project XX
Roberto Berdecia from La Factoria in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico
Glenfiddich Project XX. Different from the rest of the whiskeys and very affordable. Created by 20 malt masters, using 20 different barrels, this unique whisky is filled with hints of vanilla, caramel, cinnamon, and charred oak.
The Balvenie 14 Year Caribbean Cask
Marta De La Cruz Marrero, food and beverage supervisor at Burlock Coast in Fort Lauderdale
The Balvenie 14 years Caribbean Cask. Caribbean Cask has been matured in traditional oak whisky casks for 14 years, and then ‘finished’ in casks that previously held Caribbean rum. This creates the ideal finish. Malt Master David Stewart filled American oak casks with his own blend of select West Indian rums. When he judged the casks to be ready, the rum was replaced with the 14-year-old spirit and the wood was put to work adding the final touches.
The result is an exceptional single malt whisky with the traditional smooth, honeyed character of The Balvenie, married with notes of toffee and a hint of fruit, with a warm, lingering finish.
Highland Park 12
Pete Marzulli, general manager at Agave West Village in New York City
Highland Park 12 is my pick. This single malt Scotch has nice and approachable yet complex flavors like clover honey, cinnamon, toasted caramel, and just a hint of smoke.
Tullibardine 225 Sauternes Finish
Sebastien Derbomez, brand advocacy manager at William Grant & Sons
Tullibardine is one of my favorites, they have a Sauternes Finish at a good price that I can’t get enough of. It reminds me of home — where we often used to finish a big family dinner with a Sauternes wine.
Antonio Lumbrazo, bartender at Richard’s Bar in Chicago
I love the smokiness of a Laphroaig 10. It’s one of the best, reasonably-priced Islay whiskies on the market. It’s smoky, sweet, and ends with a unique hint of brine.
Highland Park 18
Deen Ghaleb, bartender at Wayfare Tavern in San Francisco
Highland Park 18 year smooth and not too smoky. Aged in sherry season oak casks, it’s highlighted by sweet dried cherry, caramel, and vanilla flavors.
It’s not super cheap, but well worth the price.
Brennen Brainard, bartender at Gigglewaters Social Club in Clearwater, Florida
The Oban 18 is a wonderful Scotch with tons of character and smoothness. Between the fruity aroma of cucumber cordial, lychee, ripe pears, and candies oranges with the long finish of allspice, toasted cookies with a bit of anise.
This is a Scotch that’s difficult not to love. You might pay over $100 for a bottle, but it’s a value at any price.