Whether enjoyed neat by a roaring fire or skillfully mixed into a complex cocktail, Scotch’s history and craftsmanship make it one of the most revered whisky categories in the world. While devoted drinkers love to wax poetic about the Scottish spirit’s many virtues — distinctive, layered, and iconic — those new to its charms are amazed to find it offers an almost intimidatingly diverse range of styles.
To help navigate the multitude of options, we asked bartenders and beverage directors across the country which brands deliver on both quality and price. From single malts to blended Scotch whiskies, keep reading for the bottles experts consistently reach for time and again.
The Scotch Whiskies That Offer the Best Bang for Your Buck
- Ardbeg Wee Beastie
- Bruichladdich The Classic Laddie
- Dewar’s Cask Series
- Dewar’s Japanese Smooth
- Famous Grouse
- Monkey Shoulder Blended Malt Scotch
- Aberlour A’Bunadh
- Bunnahabhain 12 Year Old
- Glenfiddich 14 Year Old
- Compass Box Orchard House
- Compass Box Peat Monster
- Copper Dog
- Glenfarclas 12 Year Old
- The Dalmore 12 Year Old
- Gordon & MacPhail
- Johnnie Walker Black
- Springbank Distillery (Hazelburn, Longrow, and Springbank)
- The Glenlivet 12 Year Old
“Wee Beastie Islay Scotch from Ardbeg is my go-to choice for value, drinkability, and cocktail utilization. It has a nice peat profile without being overbearing.” —Dimitre Darrocca, lead bar director, Moon Rabbit, Washington, D.C.
“Ardbeg is an Islay single-malt Scotch with a touch of sweetness and a nice velvety texture. Good price point for what it is, and it works well in floral cocktails.” —Ferit Ozergul, bar director, Cranes, Washington, D.C.
“Bruichladdich The Laddie is a great Islay Scotch in a beautiful blue bottle (the color of the Scottish waters off the coast from the distillery). Light, fragrant, and refreshing.” —Mary Ellen Angel, owner, Angel Share, Houston
“I am partial to the Dewar’s Cask Series, which features Dewar’s 8-Year-Old double-aged Scotch whisky, which is then finished by various used casks. Bottles in this series have featured Scotches finished in port casks, Caribbean rum casks, and even mezcal casks, which makes it one of my favorites. I really enjoy the Japanese Smooth bottle which is finished in Japanese mizunara oak casks for six months. This is super tasty with subtle floral, honey, and cinnamon notes. The best part of these experimental Scotches is that they retail for around $30-$35.” —Nicholas Bennett, beverage director, Porchlight, NYC
“Famous Grouse is a great whisky at an amazing price point. There is a bottle of Famous Grouse in my box of camping equipment, a bottle next to the fireplace at home, and it is our everyday Scotch at someday. It’s a blended Scotch whisky, but the single malts used in the Famous Grouse blend are from Highland Park and The Macallan, two highly regarded and celebrated Scotch producers. Famous Grouse is extremely smooth and quite rich; lovely on its own and also works extremely well in a variety of cocktails. It’s flavorful and engaging, with notes of dried lemon and orange, candied ginger, cinnamon, and buttery shortbread cookies (which we use to garnish our Bobby Burns cocktails).” —Graham Files, owner, someday, Portland, Ore.
“Monkey Shoulder Blended Malt Scotch: As the cool kids say, this Scotch is an absolute bang for your buck! Monkey Shoulder is a blend of some killer single malts (such as Balvenie, Glenfiddich, and Kininvie) which range in age anywhere between 6-12 years. Speaking of aging, this whisky sits in ex-bourbon barrels making for a smooth sip every time with layers of vanilla and tropical fruits. You love to taste it! For all of these reasons, Monkey Shoulder can be enjoyed solo or as the base spirit in your favorite cocktail. Truly a versatile whisky.” —Ally Marrone, beverage director, Grand Army Bar, Brooklyn
“Aberlour A’Bunadh: This Scotch is finished in oloroso sherry casks. You can’t find another Scotch that is around the price of Aberlour A’Bunadh, finished in a sherry cask, or as refined. There are many Scotches (not to name names, but they start with Mac and rhyme with Allan; start with Glen and rhyme with divet) that are aged for far less time in sherry casks than Aberlour A’Bunadh and cost twice as much. Thank me later.” —Matt Landes, founder and CEO, Cocktail Academy, Los Angeles
“Anything from Signatory: Yes, it’s a group answer, but I stand by it. Andrew Symington (managing partner at independent bottler Signatory Vintage Scotch Whisky Co.) has been buying, maturing, and reanimating whisky casks from all over the country since 1988. It allows our guests access to single malts that never make it over to the U.S., or typically end up in popular blended whiskies. Sometimes, we even see Scotches that have completely different barrel maturations than their distilleries typically offer to the market. Regardless, you always get more years and more ABV (the majority of the products are released at cask strength) for your dollar than the same whiskies you see on every back bar.” —Mike Trow, director of bar operations, RPM Restaurants, Chicago
“Compass Box Orchard House: Collectively, let’s drop the idea that single malts are superior. They can be excellent, don’t get me wrong, but to say they’re the end all be all is a disservice to the rest of the Scotch whisky category. Think of single malts as identifiers of one distillery. Much in the same way a rose will always smell like a rose, Ardbeg whisky, for example, will always taste like it’s from the Ardbeg distillery. Now consider blended whisky as a composition, the same way a perfume is. In the case of Orchard House (a blended malt whisky), whisky from Linkwood, Clynelish, Glen Moray, and Caol Ila are being used in varying proportions to express a very specific profile — namely that of apple, pear, nectar, and honeysuckle. It’s light, approachable, and a great gateway into the world of Scotch whisky. Drink it neat or on the rocks, make it into a highball; hell, use it to make the best ‘Appletini’ you’ve ever had! Compass Box as a whole is the reigning champion of ‘whiskies as compositions’ and should not be dismissed. You shouldn’t be paying any more than $45 for this bottle, but toss in a little more and spring for a bottle like Compass Box Hedonism, and you will never speak ill of blends again.” —Mark Mentzel, lead bartender, The Elk Room, Baltimore
“Compass Box Peat Monster ($41) honestly is a great way to add peat to any cocktail. On top of that, the label and bottle is nice on any back bar.” —Judy Elahi, bar director, Michelin-starred Gravitas and 101 Hospitality, Washington, D.C.
“Blend: Copper Dog, a lovely, light, and clean blended malt with crisp apple and light spice. A blend of eight Speyside single malts, it’s great sipped neat, on ice, or in your favorite cocktail. With the ABV sitting kindly at 40 percent, it won’t blow your palate away with burn. Grab a bottle for around $25-$35 and enjoy. Single malt: Glenfarclas 12, a beautiful single malt 100 percent matured in oloroso sherry casks. Family-owned since 1965, it’s a sherry bomb and great sipped on those colder nights. Generally, it retails around $40-$60 and with an ABV at 43 percent, it’s a steal in my opinion for a fruit-laden single malt with strong oak and peppery tones.” —Darron Foy, bar manager, The Flatiron Room, NYC
“The Dalmore 12 Year, is a single-malt Scotch that shows character well beyond its age, making it a bona fide diamond in the rough. Third-generation master distiller Richard Patterson distills a powerful spirit that exudes complexity and backbone. The care he brings to his craft — coupled with The Dalmore heritage, has cultivated a spirit as iconic as the 12-pointer that graces its label.” — Jason Hedges, certified sommelier and director of beverage, Laurent Tourondel Hospitality’s L’Amico, The Vine, and Skirt Steak, NYC
“Scotch is a more difficult category as it depends on where your taste buds are in the moment. That’s why I like to pick up a bottle of Gordon & MacPhail. I’ve always been impressed with this independent bottler’s extensive line and interesting aging variations. One of their Benriachs will definitely hit a sweet spot.” —Kai Wilson, beverage director, Mercat a la Planxa, Chicago
“Blended Scotch: Johnnie Walker Black. That glorious lick of smoke you get right on the finish, combined with an ace balance of malt and grain, really make this a hard one to beat. Every now and again, the go-to whisky is actually a good ‘un. Bang for your buck single malt in the U.S. is a bit of an oxymoron sadly, but if you’re going to dive in on one whisky brand that has the most to teach, it has to be Springbank Distillery. They have three single-malt SKU’s (Hazelburn, Longrow, and Springbank) that range in peat levels. They utilize a variety of cask types in aging. They use traditional worm tub condensers and are one of the last family-owned distilleries in Scotland. If you’re going to nerd out on one brand that has the most to teach, it’s Springbank Distillery. —Iain Griffiths, creative director, Hidden Leaf, Midnight Cafe, and Midnight Theatre, NYC
“If I have to pick a Scotch whisky to drink and keep an eye on my buck, I will definitely go for The Glenlivet 12. This iconic whisky can be found in most bars around the globe, as it’s great for both cocktails and sipping. Glenlivet 12 has a beautiful gold color, which comes from using both European and American casks when aging it. The Scotch is very fresh and delicate, with notes of tropical fruit that reach your nose and palate. It’s the perfect Scotch for those who are just starting to approach the whiskey world but also a classic go-to for pros.” —Federico Doldi, director of food & beverage, Gansevoort Meatpacking, NYC