Well, it’s probably fair to say that 2020 is not exactly unfolding as anyone expecting, and the crisis of COVID-19 is bringing increasingly strange and worrying news with every day that passes. Quite how this will impact global whisky sales, individual distilleries, and the whisky industry as a whole is yet to be seen… but it seems pretty likely that, just like every other industry, whisky production and sales are going to be affected in some way or another. However, our favourite spirit has weathered wars, epidemics, the rise and fall of empires… and it will come through this more or less unscathed, too. So fear not whisky fans, even if the news is getting gradually more anxiety-driven, and social distancing is leaving us all with a bit too much time on our hands.
There’s got to be an upside to all this, right? Of course there is. In fact, we reckon that if there was ever a time to crack on with your bucket list of must-try whiskies, then this is surely it. In fact, a dram of something spectacularly complex, warming, and multi-layered with flavour is exactly what the doctor ordered, and opening a bottle of whisky and relaxing in your favourite cosy chair is going to reduce a whole load of Coronavirus-induced stress. With that in mind, we’ve put together a list of our top 5 affordable bottles of whisky we wouldn’t mind being quarantined with, and which we think are going to help you through what’s sure to be a tricky few weeks, or even months.
So, start filling up your shopping lists, and thinking about ordering some gorgeous bottles of whisky for passing some of the time that lies ahead. Stay strong, whisky fans. We’ll get through all this together.
The Easy-Drinker: Glen Grant 10
If you’re looking for a superb bottle of Scotch which really highlights what proper Scotch whisky does best, and yet which doesn’t leave you reeling from mountains of smoke and peat, this beautifully balanced and light whisky from Glen Grant is an absolute winner. It gorgeously showcases all the subtlety and lightness of touch a gentler Scotch can provide, and reveals everything from coconut to almonds and citrus on the nose and palate, offering a real sense of escapism in the glass.
Like all great Scotch, Glen Grant 10 also gives hints of the mountainous landscape it hails from. In fact, there are pronounced notes of gorse, earth, and heather in there, too, meaning every sniff is a bit like a Highlands holiday from the comfort of your own home. Nice!
The Fancy One: BenRomach 15
BenRomach is one of those Scotch distilleries that really never lets you down, and we’ve spoken many times before of the excellence of their core range, and the kind of exciting notes you can expect to uncover from each one. Fifteen years of aging is just the right amount of time for extracting worlds of character from a quality whisky, and many whisky fans and tasters will agree that the BenRomach 15 is undeniably one of the best bottles this distillery releases at regular intervals. It is, in a word, stunning.
When it comes to flavour, aroma, and character, this dram really does pack in a bit of everything. You can expect a nice hint of smoke and peatiness, loads of rich and sweet flavours, and the kind of balance only a real masterpiece of the whisky world can provide. This bottle is absolutely perfect for those just starting to explore the murky realm of peated whiskies, as the smoked flavours and subtle hit on the nose is delivered with deft class and style, without smacking you round the head with intensity.
The Smoke-Bomb: Lagavulin 16
Right on the other end of the smoky, peaty, intense scale is this little beauty from Lagavulin. Now, we know full well that not every whisky drinker is a fan of peat smoke, and even those who like it often prefer a lighter, gentler touch when it comes to this most divisive of characteristics. However, if you’re on the lookout for something which pulls no punches, and refuses to shy away from its own rugged, hearthy, and mountainous character… well, you might have just found your perfect quarantine partner in the form of Lagavulin 16.
Make no mistake, this is a proper bad boy of the peated whisky world. It’s boisterous, thuggish, medicinal, meaty, and more than a little dirty… and we love it for all those reasons,and more besides. No wonder it’s a real favourite with peat freaks the world over, and a legendary whisky for providing an unrivalled hit of what Scotland really does better than anywhere else on Earth. Go on, give it a try – it’s an acquired taste, but it looks like you might have plenty of time to get used to it!
The Strong One: GlenDronach Cask Strength
GlenDronach have always been one of our favourite distilleries for powerful, fruity whiskies, making brilliant use of Sherry casking and a range of unorthodox techniques to bring out character and distinction. This cask strength number is powerful, hugely flavourful, and sure to raise a few eyebrows… but after a couple of weeks in quarantine, it’s going to become a firm favourite for unwinding with at the end of the day.
And… we should probably mention that, at 61% ABV, it’s above the alcohol threshold for useas a hand sanitizer. In these uncertain times, that might just come in useful. Actually, no – just stick to drinking the stuff. Rubbing it on your hands is going to be a huge waste of a very impressive heritage whisky, and soap and hot water do the job perfectly well 99% of the time.
The Smooth Blend: Monkey Shoulder
It’s a little strange to think that, in 2020, there is still a certain amount of sniffiness and snootiness regarding blended whiskies. Sure, back in the mid 20th century, blends were often used as a way of getting rid of rubbish drams, and were rarely worth the bottle they were poured into… but that was a heck of a long time ago, and things have moved on massively since then. Today’s quality blended whiskies actually provide whisky masters a chance to experiment with balance and smoothness in a way that simply cannot be done with single malts or similar, and the results can be hugely pleasing. What’s more, if you’re a whisky cocktail fan, there’s no point in putting your best single malt in a highball glass and mixing it with anything else… such things still get you hanged in the Highlands!
Monkey Shoulder is a classy, smooth, and massively satisfying blended whisky from William Grant (who know a thing or two about fine whisky, being the owners of Glenfiddich and the Balvenie, among others), which bursts with caramel and fruit notes on the palate. Not only is it very pleasant as a neat sipping whisky, it’s also the perfect choice for a homemade whisky cocktail. Give it a try!
There you have it – five delicious, affordable, and comforting Scotch whiskies that will see you through the worst of times, and set you up for the good days to come once this madness is over. Look after yourselves and each other, and enjoy life’s pleasures from the comfort of your home.