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Sweet Spirit: 17 Finest Scotch Whiskies Under $250

Scotch is a celebration of the passage of time. It’s a melding of flavors executed by master distillers who almost never see the power their product has many years down the line, when it finally finds its way into a glass to be enjoyed by a stranger in a quiet moment by the fire. Like a sapling growing into a tree that one day bears fruit, scotch is a long-term commitment that takes ages to ripen, finally exploding onto the palette in a moment, whispering away like a dream.

For scotch drinkers, it’s this moment that they chase. The experience of true artistry and superb craftsmanship made in liquid form. Though scotch may not stand as a monument of marble, nor draw the eye skyward, it’s still a masterwork of human endeavor rendered in amber. For those looking to celebrate this, the spirit of perfection, we sought after the affordable finest in scotch. First, with the most budget-friendly malts in the world, and now with the 17 perfect scotches under $250, for the middling tippler.

Laphroaig 18

via whiskyinformative.com
via whiskyinformative.com

Not a typical Laphroaig, there’s complexity here that is rare for the brand, carrying a brash peatiness and smoke that gets into your throat and cloys as if it’s taking up residence. The finish is pure pine that will swell your giblets. Discontinued (check locally).

Bunnahabhain 18 Islay

via bexsonn.com
via bexsonn.com

Bunnahabhain has stumbled in recent years to produce a quality Islay malt, but their 18 proves that the drought has ended, and ended with vigor. Low on peat but long on chewy smoke, this practically seeps into your mouth with sherried honey oak that bears wisdom and childlike glee in equal measure. Purchase: $130

Highland Park 18

via whiskyintelligence.com
via whiskyintelligence.com

If you can’t drink this, then perhaps drinking is not your game. It’s sweetness that goes on until you can barely stand it, throwing honeyed dark fruits over peat for all the best of the highlands in a single serving. Purchase: $140

Wemyss Malts Spiced Rum Baba Single Cask

via wemyssmalts.com
via wemyssmalts.com

Coming from 1988, this scotch is technically a Glenrothes that has been bottled outside of the family. It’s spent its formative years in a single butt cask and smells like the best of a bakery from the moment the bottle is opened. The sugar and spice melody continues with every taste, as chocolate and orange mingle with cinnamon and clove for a rich, dark experience that is pure taste escapism. Purchase: $140

Glenfarclas 25

via allthingswhisky.com
via allthingswhisky.com

Simple and sharp, this 25-year-old still hasn’t knocked off all the rough edges, which is a major turn-off for some. Coming from Speyside, there isn’t as much smoke and peat as you’d get elsewhere, but rather a dram reveals honey and jam with spiced cinnamon for a mulled mouthful that sings a song of summer breezes and fresh fruit. Purchase: $146

Lagavulin 12 Cask Strength

via singlema.lt
via singlema.lt

Aged exclusively in American oak casks for a hair under 12 years, there’s enough smoke in the mix to conjure up campfire memories along with cereal and hay that carries simple country life right into your gullet. It finishes sweet and buttery with oatmeal, a little more smoke for your troubles, and cleans off the palette with sea salt. Purchase: $150

BenRiach 25 Year Old Authenticus Peated

via allthingswhisky.com
via allthingswhisky.com

Most Speysides are light on the peat, which is why this tends to stand out among its countrymen. Dark fruit comes in at the forefront, flanked with caramel and smoke, then the peat batters down the gates, bringing home a victory that will either have you singing its praises or burning it in effigy. Purchase: $173

Bruichladdich Octomore 06.1

via allthingswhisky.com
via allthingswhisky.com

Not yet in kindergarten, this 5-year-old wunderkind tastes like new whisky, but also marshmallows and peat. Spry and sultry with a brandy finish, it’s not for the faint of heart, bearing a strong peat influence that kicks like a temperamental army mule…in the best possible way. Purchase: $176

Johnnie Walker Blue

via vicespy.com
via vicespy.com

There’s nothing wrong with going mainstream when it comes to snatching a great scotch. While you can find a few things to like in any number of Johnnie Walker’s other offering, Blue is where the magic happens. Smokey, chewy, earthy, and shot through with toffee, it’s often used to convert the hesitant to the scotch way of life, making it a gateway into the promised land. Purchase: $179

Auchentoshan 21

via auchentoshan.com
via auchentoshan.com

Rising up out of second fill sherry casks, there’s a reason this wizened brew is the flagship of the notable Auchentoshan brand. It’s nuts, oils, and dried grass so arid it’ll open your sinuses, then ease you down with apricot preserves spread over whole grain toast for depth that is all grown up. Purchase: $180

Glenfiddich 21 Year Old Gran Reserva

via lukloveswhisky.pl
via lukloveswhisky.pl

A light 40% ABV (Alcohol By Volume) this won’t satisfy the hard-core scotch fan, but will please anyone who rides the fence when it comes to the denser scotches. Subtle and wistful, there’s a lot of vanilla bean, caramel, and brown sugar that come through from its rum casks, making it go down like nog. Purchase: $185

Yamazaki 12

via 31dover.com
via 31dover.com

Breaking ground in Japan, the Yamazaki 12 is a new breed of scotch that combines the rigors of the past with new ideas that are only now beginning to take shape. This began life well-rounded and slick, but has truly come of age with an intensity that sparkles with tropical fruits and nuts, true to its Asian origins. Purchase: $220

Balvenie 21 Portwood

via youtube.com
via youtube.com

David Stewart is a legend in the world of scotch whisky. He’s the Scotch Malt Master who has held that title the longest, bringing a lifetime of malted barley experience to bear on countless casks of ambrosia. Honey and caramel fill the room the moment the seal is broken, followed up by the distinctive tang of Port casks that promise, and then deliver, heaven in a snifter. Purchase: $222

Dalmore King Alexander III

via artandentertainmee.blogspot.com
via artandentertainmee.blogspot.com

The Messiah of the Dalmore distillery, even the most demanding and discerning lover of this Highland survivor. 6 whiskies go into making this elegant confluence, with a lot under the hood. Marzipan and summer fruit blends come together in a velvety solution that lands thick on the tongue, like fresh, fermented jam about 14 years in the making. Purchase: $230

Glenmorangie Signet

via packagingoftheworld.com
via packagingoftheworld.com

Award winning and deservedly so, the unusual Highlands mixture has hints of ginger, vanilla, cocoa, and oak from the virgin barrels where it’s done its aging. 30 years old and supremely unusual, it’s a risky drink that managed to pay off with one of the smoothest sips around at any price. Purchase: $236

Macallan Sherry Oak Single Malt 18

via bexsonn.com
via bexsonn.com

Inarguably at the top of the pile when it comes to sherry whiskies, figs and dried fruit come through strong, using the natural oils of the spirit to create a sensation of deep, dark molasses sliding down the throat. European oak tannins boost it back up for a strong and balanced taste that doesn’t get muddled in its own complexity. Purchase: $242

Talisker 25

via allthingswhisky.com
via allthingswhisky.com

A little long in the tooth and thus a bit tough on the budget, the Talisker 25 has toffee sitting front and center, which gives way quickly to peat, wisps of smoke, and fresh oak. Marginally sweet at the outset, like any true vixen, the pepper and power come through after only a moment and last long on the back of the throat and into the nostrils. Purchase: $249

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