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Top 10 whiskies that won’t break the bank

With Christmas closing in the drinks business offers some help with gift ideas and we revisit a feature published earlier this year, looking at whiskies that cost less than £40.

There is a huge choice of whiskies in this price bracket and it can be difficult to know which to choose. If you are buying Scotch as a present one key tip is to try and found out if the intended recipient prefers whisky from a particular region. This could be Highland or Speyside, Islay or Islands, whiskies from the latter two tend to be more peated and smoky.

This list is based on the whiskies costing less than £40, that this scribe has tasted and by no means have I got close to trying them all. So this is my own list, based on the whiskies that I have tasted and based on my own tastes, which as you will see has a slight leaning towards peated whisky.

Click through the following pages for 10 great whiskies that won’t break the bank.

10 – Auchentoshan Three Wood

Auchentoshan is one of the few Scotch whisky distilleries to triple distill its whisky and the result is a smooth, light dram that is very drinkable. There are a number of expressions from this distillery that could have been listed here.

As well as the Three Wood, the 12 Year Old and the no-age Auchentoshan Classic both costs less than £40.

But this Three Wood whisky has been matured in Bourbon casks before being moved to Oloroso Sherry casks and is then finished in Pedro Ximenez casks. This triple wooding, alongside the triple distilling gives a rich, fruity dram with a touch of butterscotch and good sweet oaky finish.

9 – The Arran Malt 14 Year Old

Again there is a range of non-age and cask finishes, including a sweet Sauternes finish, that are available from this distillery. But the 14-YO is a great drop although at 46% abv it is one that might require a touch more water than other whiskies.

The 14-YO was released in 2010 to replace the 10 Year Old and has been finished in Bourbon and Sherry hogsheads for two years. The Arran distillery only opened in 1995, so it has recently released a 16 Year Old and will be launching its 18 Year Old in 2015.

Spicy, sweet with a delightful long finish the 14-YO is definitely a dram to keep an eye out for.

8 – The Glenlivet 15 Year Old French Oak Reserve

Sometimes the ubiquity of a brand can be enough to put some people off. But rather than dismiss these brands it should be considered that they need to be good to be everywhere.

This could certainly be the case with The Glenlivet, and here we have a 15-year-old whisky that is generally available for less than £40. Matured in French Limousin oak casks, which are a popular choice for maturing Cognac, this whisky has a rich oaky aroma. It is full and spicy on the palate and has a long finish where that hint of spice continues.

It’s always a pleasure to find a bottle of this in the cupboard and don’t let its ubiquity put you off.

7 – Talisker 10 Year Old

This is number seven, which is a tough choice as it could very easily sit in my top three. A good hit of smokiness helps to make this a favourite of mine as well as good spice and a long finish.

Although this is a smokey whisky it’s not as all-consuming as you get from an Islay whisky, particularly the likes of Lagavulin or Laphroaig. This Island dram has a good level of sweetness with it, to help add some balance to the smoke, but make no mistake this is still an intense whisky.

As with many other brands Talisker has released a non-age statement version and Talisker Storm should just fit into this price bracket, and while this scribe has yet to taste Storm (which is why it’s not listed here), reviews compare it favourably to the 10-YO.

Please note: I have since tasted the Talisker Storm and the best way to describe it is that it packs just a touch more punch than the 10-year-old, but does indeed compare favourably. There’s a touch more burn than smoke and of the two the 10-year-old probably just shades it for me today, but that could change tomorrow.

6 – Balblair 2002

A sweet and satisfying whisky from the brand that decided to drop age statements in favour of vintages. This is the entry-level whisky and offers the vanilla hit that you’d expect from a Highland whisky along with sponge cake and a hint of spice. But it’s very much about the sweetness.

A creamy flavour that makes it a great introduction to the Balblair brand, but be warned it may simply make you develop a taste for the brand and tempt you into trying others that are outside this price range.

5 – Bowmore 12 Year Old

Now the Islay and smokey whiskies really start to come, and this is a delicious peaty whisky that offers complexity and balance.

Bowmore describes this dram as “vanilla ice cream at a beach bonfire” although that description initially seems somewhat strange, it does aptly describe what this whisky offers. Smoke, sweetness and an element of the sea salt in there as well, this is a very good Islay entry-level whisky and a bargain at less than £30 per bottle.

4 – Highland Park 12 Year Old

At a recent tasting event this was described as “the best all rounder” and it is certainly up there, especially for less than £40 and often even below £30.

Plenty of floral and citrus aromas and flavours but with a subtle smokiness lingering around there as well, especially on the finish. There’s a sweetness to this whisky as well that helps it claim that all rounder tag.

In the Malt Advocate, Jim Murray described the Highland Park 12 YO as “outstanding, frighteningly near-perfect Orcadian malt.”

3 – Deanston 12 Year Old

This is a whisky which has improved since its strength was increased and it became non-chill filtered.

The changes in the distilling and mashing that were overseen by master blender Ian MacMillan also helped to improve the honeyed sweetness that this Perthshire whisky offers.

With cereal on the nose this is a soft whisky with a hit of orange marmalade and it is dangerously easy to drink. It is very easy to do a lot of damage to a bottle of Deanston in very little time and I’ve no doubts about making this one of my top three whiskies costing less than £40.

2 – Strathisla 12 Year Old

I recently tried this for the first time at a tasting and my note about it read: “New favourite, new go-to whisky”. I was even more delighted when further research revealed that it was available for less than £40.

Described by Colin Scott, the master blender with Chivas Regal since 1989, as “the heart of Chivas Regal” this is another very easy drinking whisky. Nutty, spicy with floral features this is simply a whisky that is very good value for money. This dram really comes alive with a teardrop of water.

In fact throughout the process of compiling this list, this whisky was in the number one spot, but when it came to writing it, I had to go with my favourite although this is an incredibly close second.

1 – Caol Ila 12 Year Old

A delicious Islay whisky and great value for under £40. I’ve flirted with the non-age Caol Ila Moch and with the 18-year-old, which are superb whiskies, but which generally cost beyond the £40 barrier of this list.

As much as I enjoy having a range of whiskies from different regions to enjoy it is very hard for me to go past this whisky when restocking for home.

It packs a delightful oily nose with a balanced peat, without being overpowering. It’s another good choice as an Islay introduction as it doesn’t quite pack the phenol punch of a Laphroaig or Lagavulin, but does have an enjoyable long, spicy, smokey finish.

This would be high up on my list of favourite whiskies even without a price limit.

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