Rare, exclusive and boutique whiskies are all the rage these days, but let's be honest, blowing the rent on a bottle isn't always a good idea. Thankfully, there are still some bargains in the world of liquid gold.
These inexpensive drams will do the trick for both rookie and veteran whisky lovers.
Highland Park 12yo
Single malt scotch, $80
Honey and toasted barley combine with a whiff of smoke and a pinch of salt for one of the greatest single malt scotch whiskies ever created. With a complexity and integration that defies the ultra reasonable price tag, this easy to find dram should never be overlooked.
Highland Park is one of two distilleries on the island of Orkney off the north coast of the Scottish Highlands. No one quite knows how long this isolated island has been producing single malt whisky, but we know Highland Park has been distilling for more than 200 years, and after so long they've no trouble getting it right.
Whisky on the pour. Photo: Shuttershock
Kilchoman Machir Bay
Single malt scotch, $100
A fantastic combination of bright, fresh peat smoke and soft vanilla, Kilchoman Machir Bay is a great example of the Islay style. While lacking the complexity of older (and more expensive) whiskies, it beats anything in its price range for beautifully balanced flavours. Well worth a try for lovers of a smoky dram.
Islay is a little island off the south-west coast of Scotland known for producing bold, smoky whiskies. Established in 2005, Kilchoman is the first new distillery built there in 125 years and is one of the smallest in Scotland. Only recently available in Australia, Kilchoman grows its own barley for certain releases, a rare practice in Scotland these days, representing a return to old-fashioned "grain to glass" distilling.
Nikka Pure Malt Black
Japanese blended malt, $100
Reasonably priced Japanese whiskies are increasingly hard to find as stocks dwindle and demand continues to surge. Thankfully, this mix of single malts from Nikka's distilleries is still pretty well priced (although we're cheating a little with the 500-millilitre bottle). Nutty and malty with a nice whiff of char, this whisky has all the texture and complexity we love in Japanese single malt without belting your savings account too much.
Nikka was founded in 1934 by the father of Japanese whisky, Masataka Taketsuru. While studying biochemistry in Scotland in the early 20th century, he fell in love with scotch whisky, and a Scottish lassie named Rita, and brought them both back to Japan with him.
Compass Box Great King Street, The Artist's Blend
Blended scotch, $50
Fruity, spicy and creamy, this eminently drinkable blend represents a new generation of whisky makers proving that blends deserve a proper second look for anyone who loves good whisky.
Compass Box is the disruptive punk of the scotch whisky world. Obsessed with transparency, it has thrown decades of whisky marketing under the bus, refusing to adhere to the "older is better" or "blends are worthless" conventional wisdoms, producing modern and creative whiskies that are as good as they are cheeky.
Knob Creek Rye offers great value. Photo: Supplied
Knob Creek Rye
Rye whiskey, $90
Whether you're a scotch whisky or bourbon drinker, rye whiskey is a category worth exploring. Dry, spicy, fruity and oaky, think of it as bourbon for a more savoury palate. Knob Creek rye offers great value at 50 per cent ABV, making it perfect for cocktails or sipping on the rocks.
Knob Creek comes from Jim Beam, the biggest and one of the oldest whiskey companies in the US, dating back six generations to the late 1700s. While Jim Beam white label is probably best mixed with Coke, both the Knob Creek rye and bourbon are serious American whiskies.
Irish single pot still whiskey, $100
Traditional pot still Irish whiskey is similar to single malt, except that some of the barley used is "green" or un-malted, giving the whisky a herbal, grassy note. This is one of the best examples on the market with plenty of influence from sherry and bourbon casks to balance the fresh malt flavours.
Irish whiskey is the fastest growing category in the world, now undergoing a massive resurgence after being devastated by war, prohibition and the Great Depression. But well before this new wave, Green Spot held the line for traditional Irish whiskey, surviving since 1805.
Aberlour's fruity 12-year-old single malt. Photo: Supplied
Single malt scotch, $95
Currently available for rock-bottom prices at some large chains, this is our pick for the fruity whisky lovers. Aged in casks previously used to store sherry, this whisky has a lovely fruit and nut nose and an easy drinking palate perfect for after dinner.
The Speyside region of Scotland has long been a hub of distilling, with plenty of clean water and excellent farmland for growing barley. During the 1800s, this area was also a major importer of port and sherry, which well-to-do Scots guzzled by the barrel. The enterprising distillers then used the empty casks to age their whiskies, giving rise to the distinctive Speyside style of rich, fruity single malts.
Single malt scotch, $90
Benromach Organic is one of the only certified organic single malts on the market. Green and grainy, the bright barley flavours are supported by the freshness of virgin American oak, matching the character of this dram to the organic label.
Established in 1898, the Benromach Distillery was closed between 1983 and 1998. Now owned by private bottlers Gordon & MacPhail, Benromach produces excellent quality and value for money whiskies as well as interesting cask finishes and experimental releases.
The original Solera from Starward Whisky. Photo: Supplied
Australian single malt, $85
Starward's original release is still great value, and one of the few Aussie whiskies available for less than $150. Heavily influenced by apera (Australian sherry), the flavour is bold and fruity. While lacking the texture and length of older whiskies, it's cheap, delicious and accessible.
Starward achieve its bold flavour by ageing its whiskies in small barrels and high temperatures. While other Aussie distilleries struggle to keep up with demand, Starward has recently moved to a huge new facility in Port Melbourne, ensuring there will always be plenty to go around.
Indian single malt, $95
Amrut whiskies from India are fascinating and exceptionally priced. "Fusion" is bold and punchy, with plenty of flavour from both sherry and bourbon casks and a good whiff of earthy smoke from a portion of peated barley. At 50 per cent ABV, the extra alcohol makes it even more of a bargain.
For years, whisky made in India was not actually whisky, being made from molasses rather than grains. Amrut, first released in 2004, was the first true single malt whisky produced there, and has been winning awards ever since.