This guide is part of a series. View our more premium single malt Scotch whisky selections in our post entitled “A Guide to the Best Scotch Under $250“.

T
here once was an indecisive man stranded in the middle of Scotland. From where he stood, he could set off in any direction and find good Scotch: straight south to the light, fresh Lowlands; straight north to the fruity Highlands; up to the caramel-y region of Speyside in the northeast; or down to peaty, seaweed-y Islay off the southwest coast. Just before he could set off, though, a man behind him asked him to move his shopping cart. Because he was just standing there, blocking the aisle in the liquor store.

There once was an indecisive man stranded in the middle of a liquor store.

We’ve all been that man. Selecting a Scotch — or just a whisk(e)y in general — is hard. To know your preference is to have the shelf space and wallet to purchase dozens of Scotch whiskies to taste one after another, picking out what you like and don’t like. So to facilitate a confident order, and cut down the time spent drowning in decisions at a liquor store, we asked a few Scotch experts some basic questions about Scotch and then compiled their recommendations for under $100 a bottle: something of quality, but nothing that would break the bank. We’ve included their responses among these, the ten single malts you should cut your teeth on.

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The Scotch Experts (From Left): Tommy Tardie is the owner and operator of The Flatiron Room, a New York City restaurant that operates a whiskey school, Charles MacLean has written ten books on Scotch whisky, including two, Scotch Whisky and Malt Whisky, that were short-listed for Glenfiddich Awards, and Stephanie Moreno is the spirits director and editor at Distiller, an app about whiskey.
What Makes a Good Scotch?

Tommy Tardie is the owner and operator of The Flatiron Room, a New York City restaurant that operates a whiskey school.

This might seem basic, but what makes a good Scotch? What are the flavors and characteristics that you look for?

Tardie: I start with the nose. I like something that’s big and aromatic. Not so heavy on the ethanol and not so light that you smell nothing. A good nose sets my palate up for what I’m about to sip — a kind of “foreshadowing”. Next is how it feels in my mouth. I like a Scotch that really engages all of my mouth. I’m not looking for “heat” here… I’m looking for interaction with my taste buds, the sides of my cheeks the back of my throat, etc. I want a nice balance between the wood and the grain. Finally (and this is an important one) is the finish. The longer and more complex finish helps differentiates a “good” whisky from a spectacular one. My favorite whiskies have a long finish that evolves over time. It may start out with hints of chocolate and orange peel and later evolve into sweet peat smoke. I like that. When I teach classes I always emphasis paying attention to the finish… this is what you are paying for with great whisky.

Under $50

For dipping a toe in.

Aberfeldy 12

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Best Bang for the Buck: If you like Dewar’s blended whisky, you’ll love Aberfeldy. This award-winning single malt Scotch is the largest component of the Dewar’s blend, and carries the same easy-drinking flavor profile. This isn’t as refined as the other Scotch on this list — and the price reflects this — but it is super smooth, almost to a fault, with a clean mouthfeel and hints of fruit. It’s good to break out for its utility.

Alternative: It’s blended, but Gordon Graham’s Black Bottle is another fantastic budget Scotch.

Bunnahabhain 8 Year Old – The MacPhail’s Collection

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Creamy and Accessible: Like bourbon brands Jefferson’s and Willett, Gordon & MacPhail doesn’t produce the juice inside this bottle, but they are skilled at selecting and blending the barrels they gain through partnerships with distilleries throughout Scotland. This bottle contains 8-year-old Bunnahabhain, and serves as a balance to the heavily peated Scotch usually produced on Islay. This one is creamy, soft and smooth, with lemon on the nose, light fruit and a buttery finish.

Alternative: Dalwhinnie 15 Year Old is another easy-drinking Scotch.

Ledaig 10 Year

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Peaty and Cheap: Ledaig 10 Year comes from the Tobermory distillery, which was once named the Ledaig distillery. As opposed to the Tobermory single malt, the more popular Scotch they produce, the Ledaig is more heavily peated and made in smaller batches. By far the harshest of the cheaper offering on this list, the Scotch opens strong with peat, then moves to pepper and leather at the finish.

Alternative: Bowmore Tempest for some more flavorful smoke.

Whisky Regions
Which regions of Scotland does your favorite Scotch come from?

Tommy Tardie is the owner and operator of The Flatiron Room, a New York City restaurant that operates a whiskey school.

Tardie: There are five whisky regions of Scotland (arguably six); the Highlands, the Lowlands, Speyside, Islay, Campbeltown (and the Islands). In my mind each represents a style of whisky that I tend to go for based on my mood, the season or a particular taste I’m looking for. On a cold, snowy night my choice is Islay for their signature peated whiskies. A nice glass of Ardbeg, Lagavulin, Bruichladdich, Laphroaig, Bowmore… and I’m a happy camper. On a hot summer day I may go for a lighter whisky from the Lowlands or the Highlands. A nice Glenmorangie that has had lots of interaction with their very tall copper still delivers a light, smooth, balanced whisky that is very satisfying on a sweltering day. With this said, most regions produce various styles of Scotch, so even limited to one region you’ll still find enough variety to satisfy diverse palates.

Because Great Scotch Goes Well With a Nice Fire

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Our picks for best Scotch under $100 continue on the next page.

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