Scotch Showdown: How far does $25 go?

I should preface everything that I’m about to write by informing you of my stance on scotch.  I’m led to believe that scotch is one of the signatures of manliness, the drink of those with taste and refined palates—it’s traditionally treated as the most refined of the whiskies.  To me all this gives me the feeling that scotch is the drink of elitist swine that are trying to oppress us.  Maybe that’s an unfair judgment, but what I’m saying here is that scotch that isn’t piss is prohibitively expensive.  Or is it?  Can 25 bucks get me a scotch that doesn’t taste like somebody put liquid smoke flavoring in the blandest whiskey imaginable?   I’m sorry, since it’s scotch, it’s “whisky.”

As you can tell by my aforementioned prejudices, I’ve never been truly impressed by a scotch.  Granted, I haven’t had all that much good scotch, it’s overpriced—Glenlivet 12 is basically the most expensive stuff I’ve had.  Other than that, there were a bunch of blends that well basically barely drinkable and cost more than I usually spend on a solid bourbon.  For this article I decided to step outside of my comfort zone, and acquaint myself with some scotches, so here’s the showdown:  Speyburn 10 Highland Single Malt and Famous Grouse.  I chose a single malt and a blend specifically because I wanted to see if a cheap single malt would be cheap because it’s worse than a more regulated blend, which is specifically designed to make a consistent product.  The Speyburn cost me $20, at $5 off, and the Grouse was $23 or something.  Similar price=similar quality level? No.  So let’s evaluate.

Speyburn 10:

I was hesitant about a $20 single malt.  Clearly it must be pretty bad if it’s so bad and on the bottom shelf, right? Well, it’s not bad.  I’d buy this again, if a scotch drinker were to visit or something.  The nose on this is nice, a tad astringent, but also rich and a bit fruity.  There’s very little peat to this scotch.  I’m happy about this. I’m not too fond of peat.  So the sweet apple and pear notes here are rather likable.  It’s gentle, though 86 proof, and though this whisky won’t confound you with complexity I find it to be very pleasant—and it’s cheap!  So for what is usually $25, it’s a good buy to me—I’m not much of a scotch drinker, but I enjoy it.

Famous Grouse:

I’d heard good things about this blend—it’s been billed as a best buy in scotch, blended to perfection to cut costs and make a consistently better product than rivals in its range such as Johnnie Walker Red or Dewar’s White.  I’ll stipulate that it’s better than those rivals. But not by much.  It’s a bit one-dimensional—light peat smoke and a bit of chewy caramel.  It’s not swill, but it’s not particularly exciting.  Got someone coming by who insists they only drink scotch? They sound like an ass, don’t buy them something too expensive, if this is on sale, maybe buy it.  But over Speyburn 10? Naw.  It’s rather boring.  But it’s the best blend in the range as far as I can tell.

So what’s the conclusion here?  There isn’t much of one.  There are a lot of scotches under $25.  I haven’t had them all.  But from my fuzzy memory of what I’ve tried Famous Grouse is the most drinkable blend in this range, and Speyburn 10 is actually quite likable.  Unfortunately, this article isn’t worth much.  I’m still a bourbon guy.  But in Speyburn 10 I found a scotch that I could consider buying and actually afford to buy. So maybe I’ll try some more budget single malts, and maybe scotch isn’t just the whisky of the power elite that drain us all of our life blood—maybe there is a good single malt at a working class price.


Think I’m a moron ignoring plenty of great cheap scotches? Let me know in the comments or send me a bottle!