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Some whisky lovers might say the words “cheap" and "Scotch" don’t belong in the same sentence. It’s pretty hard to argue with the sentiment, as making a good Scotch whisky requires quality ingredients and time—lots of time.
Rather than cheap, aficionados should look for value. The old expression "you get what you pay for" mostly holds up, but the goal in shopping for a quality bottle is to seek out every hard-earned penny’s worth of flavor to maximize enjoyment to the last drop.
Whether you’re browsing for classic blends or rich single malts, there are modestly priced bottles to be found online or in your local shop, and there should be no trouble finding the good stuff without breaking the bank. That's right! You don't have to empty your wallet for a decent dram.
Here are the best cheap Scotch whiskies to drink.
Best Overall: Johnnie Walker Black Label
Sure, it’s ubiquitous, but there's a reason you can find Johnnie Walker Black Label at just about every airport, bar, and liquor shop in the world: It's iconic. It's also reasonably priced, featuring a blend of single malts and grains aged for at least 12 years. Vanilla, tropical dark fruits, creamy toffee, and a good dose of smokey char make this bottle a classic.
Best Blended: Dewar’s White Label Blended Scotch Whisky
While you’ve most likely ordered Dewar’s White Label from a flight attendant, it’s a good call to keep a bottle on the shelf at home, too. Created in 1899, this highly affordable blended Scotch whisky possesses solid archetypical flavors. Smoky and savory, this expression offers notes of honey, citrus, and tree fruit against a cascade of char. If you'd like, you certainly can sip it neat, but Dewar’s also makes quite the refreshing highball with soda and lemon.
Best Sweet: The Famous Grouse Blended Scotch Whisky
Created to celebrate Queen Victoria’s first official visit to Scotland, The Famous Grouse has long been the best-selling whisky and is named for the country's national game bird. It’s easy to drink, too, thanks to included portions of The Macallan and Highland Park. While there’s barely a whiff of smoke, this whisky is sweet and buttery with a dash of fruit, honey, and subtle spice notes. It’s not hard to see why this bottle is a Caledonian favorite.
Best Single Malt: Glenmorangie Original 10 Year Old Single Malt Whisky
While there are more affordable single malts on the market, few of those expressions pack as much flavor into the bottle as Glenmorangie Original. The Highland maker ages the spirit in ex-bourbon barrels for a decade in the tallest pot stills in Scotland. The result is soft and supple, with riffs of juicy tree fruit, citrus, and vanilla—straight magic in a glass. Sure, Glenmorangie Original tastes like it should cost a tidy sum, but, thankfully, it doesn’t.
Best Cask-Finished: Dewar’s Caribbean Smooth Rum Cask 8 Year
"Smooth" isn't one of the most substantial adjectives one could use to describe whisky, as all good-quality drams should possess minimal alcohol burn. That said, Dewar’s Caribbean Smooth is a fine bottle. The label takes its traditional eight-year blend and finishes it in rum casks for six months to make way for tropical features, including caramelized brown sugar sweetness and Caribbean fruitiness layered against classic Dewar’s smoke. Sip it neat, on ice, or let the tropical flavors inspire a fun cocktail.
Best Mixer: Monkey Shoulder Blended Scotch Whisky
The folks at William Grant & Sons set out to create Monkey Shoulder as an elevated base for whisky drinks—and they succeeded. The curious Scotch whisky is a melange of Speyside single malts and no grain spirits, and its name is derived from a repetitive stress injury that workers would get from hand-turning the malting barley. While it was born to mix, it’s a rich whisky loaded with citrus, honey, vanilla, spice, oak, and a faint hint of grass, so it can easily stand alone.
Best Smokey: Ardbeg Wee Beastie Single Malt Whisky
For the budget-conscious Scotch lover who really wants a taste of smoke, enter Ardbeg Wee Beastie. This Islay single malt meanders up to the precipice of what we would call affordable, but it’s worth the extra coin. It’s a young whisky, only aged a brief five years in ex-bourbon and Oloroso sherry casks, but it still packs in the flavor. Of course, there’s a good dose of peat smoke, but it also boasts chocolate, salt, pepper, iodine, and anis with cocoa on the finish.
What to Look for in a Cheap Scotch Whisky
Blend or Single Malt
Blended Scotch whisky generally costs less than single malt whisky. Most Scotch whiskies are blends of different malt and grain whiskies. For that reason, there are fewer varieties of single malts to choose from in the lower price category. But that does not mean that you cannot find a single malt Scotch whisky that is easy on your wallet.
The tasting notes on the bottle give you a good idea of what’s inside. The taste spectrum of cheap Scotch is just as wide as Scotch in any other price category, ranging from smoky, oaky, and spicy to smooth and sweet or buttery with notes of vanilla, honey, caramel, or citrus. The barrels in which the whisky is aged, such as rum barrels or sherry caskets, also influence the flavor. That information is usually also included on the bottle.
Choose a Scotch based on how you intend to use it. A smooth Scotch usually works better for mixing cocktails, whereas for drinking it neat, one with a more assertive flavor can be the better choice.
Alcohol by Volume (ABV)
By law, Scotch whisky must contain 40 percent ABV. Most Scotch whisky in the lower price segment has an ABV in the 40 to 50 percent range.
Cheap is, of course, a highly subjective term. It can range from bottles under $25 to almost double that amount. Find the Scotch that fits your budget and comes the closest to the taste you like.
How is Scotch different from whiskey?
Scotch is a type of whisky produced in Scotland from barley or a mix of grains.
Is Scotch good with water?
Scotch is often served straight with a glass of cool water on the side. Drinking water between sips helps to bring out the natural flavors of the whisky. You can also add a few drops of water to your glass of whisky, which opens up the flavors and aroma of the drink.
Is the addition of coloring a sign of cheap Scotch whisky?
No, the addition of E150a, a food coloring also known as spirit caramel, is added to many Scotch whiskies regardless of their price.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
Nicholas McClelland is a passionate whisk(e)y drinker who has written about spirits for Men’s Journal, Fatherly, and Inside Hook. His bar is deep with rare single malts, hard-to-find bourbons, and ryes, but he doesn't believe there's anything too precious to share with friends.