The 20 Best Whiskies For Around $50!

Our top Whisky Nutter, Heath Lawrence, takes us through our favourite whiskies available in Australia for around $50!

20 delicious whiskies around the $50 mark and that we feel are equally at home in the whisky glasses of beginners and old dogs alike and represent a particularly good value right now.

The federal budget came out last week which reminded us we are doing as terrible a job of balancing the books at home as our overlords. Here are 20 whiskies that should get approval from your very own Minister for War and Finance without (literally) leaving a bad taste in your mouth (we hope - results may vary, consult your local whisky specialist if problems persist).

BenRiach 10 - Single Malt Scotch Whisky

BenRiach 10 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Today we are looking at the core flagship bottling from The BenRiach distillery.  This is as close to a distillery signature as can be found, considering the massive amount of variation that can be found in their releases.  This whisky has been aged for 10 years+ in a mix of ex-bourbon and sherry cask (leaning more heavily on the ex-bourbon cask from the nose and palate).

Nose: Fresh gingerbread, cinnamon sugar, lemon and orange peels.

Palate: Rich malt forward presentation with a decent hit of brown sugar and creme brulee (the custard and  the toffee coating).  Gets spicy/peppery over time.


Woodford Reserve Double Oaked - Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Woodford Reserve Double Oaked Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Not sure if its due to the price sensitivity of our American friends or something else but bourbon seems to see diminishing returns on price increases faster than any other category – this means many good bourbons can be had for under $100 and in this case an excellent one for closer to $50.  This expression is the regular Woodford Reserve (aged in heavily charred oak barrels) that has been finished for another nine months in a heavily toasted, more lightly charred barrel.

Nose: Toasted marshmallow, maple syrup, toasted brioche, buttered corn cob.

Palate: The oak really shines here, with a spiced dark fruit presence and a rich, more generous mouth feel than the ABV would suggest. Tobacco leaf, burnt toffee, white pepper sits nicely alongside the spicy dark fruit and typical vanilla/toffee bourbon flavours.


Black Bottle - Blended Scotch Whisky

Black Bottle Blended Scotch Whisky

A blended whisky that has seen many incarnations since its inception in the late 1800's by the Graham family, who were tea blenders.  Hard to track down what is in the bottle these days and how it’s been aged and for how long definitely Bunnahabhain in the mix though), but for the price definitely worth a try.  Not to be confused with the brandy made locally.

Nose: Has a vague ‘Islay like’ medicinal scent, mixed with dark toffee, damp wood, smoke (like a steam train boiler. Oily, thick and sooty).

Palate: Stewed Granny Smith apples, sea spray (brine), rich black tea, honey and applewood smoke, smoky charcoal.


The Naked Grouse - Blended Malt Scotch Whisky

The Naked Grouse

It was almost impossible to not see this whisky when it was (re?)introduced in this current incarnation as a blended malt (not to be confused with the older blended grain/malt version).

 A blend of Glenturret, Highland Park and Macallan (possibly others also) malts, matured in first-fill and refill American and European oak cask, before being finished in first-fill Oloroso Sherry butts for a further six months.

Nose: Cherry reduction, malt, stone fruit (peach) and custard.

Palate: Creme brulee, sherry soaked raisins, cherry pie filling.


Jack Daniel's Gentleman Jack - Tennessee Whiskey

Jack Daniel's Gentleman Jack Tennessee Whiskey

Fascinating whiskey this one.  The 'Gentleman' is introduced by virtue of taking normal sugar maple charcoal filtered and aged Jack Daniel's (No.7) whiskey and running it through the sugar maple charcoal filtering process again, once matured.

Nose: Some slight lemon/Greek vanilla yoghurt under the typical vanillin highs and promises of spice (cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper).

Palate: Pretty much as expected, it’s like Old No.7 JD with the 'rough' edges smoothed over (read even less spirit/ethanol presence).  Caramel coated popcorn, brown sugar, vanilla and typical oak pepper and cinnamon.


Starward Two-Fold Double Grain - Australian Blended Whisky

Starward Two-Fold Double Grain Australian Blended Whisky

Introduced last year, this is the most prominent and readily available locally made, blended whiskey. A blend of grain whisky from Manildra and Malt Whisky from Starward, matured in red wine barrels and released @ 40% ABV.

Nose: A delicate nose of pineapples and vanilla pods with nary a hint of alcohol ‘burn’ to assail the nostrils. Rewards repeated nosings with a sweet crystallised paw-paw note.

Palate: Red wine influence is evident in the finish which is drying (but not overly so) which is nice complement to the sweet, delicate tropical fruits, sandalwood and a very light and creamy texture


Loch Lomond 12 - Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Loch Lomond 12 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Loch Lomond is like the swiss army knife of distilleries in that it can produce malt, grain and blends all from the one distillery.  Loch Lomond has ‘popped up’ on Australian radars with their more widespread availability thanks to a deal with the Coles group which has led to them showing up (in their very cool looking bottles) in Vintage Cellars, First Choice, Liquorland etc.

The Loch Lomond is a 12 year old single malt that has been matured using three types of cask: bourbon, refill and ‘recharged’, and is bottled at 46%

Nose: Apple pie with melting vanilla ice cream on top (think buttery short crust, vanilla and rich apples). A hint of pears in the mix too.

Palate: Takes a bit of time to 'open up'.  Definitely rewards patience, which brings brown sugar, apples, spiced stewed pears and maybe some slightly unripe pineapple/mango? Tends back towards vanilla over time. Suggestion of burnt heather?


Teeling Single Grain - Single Grain Irish Whiskey

Teeling Single Grain Irish Whiskey

Grain whiskies like blends are often overlooked or dismissed out of hand by whisk(e)y drinkers which is a real shame as there are good examples of both to be found.

Case in point, the Teeling Single Grain which is triple distilled Irish grain (mostly maize) whiskey, aged in Cab Sav barrels from California.

Nose: Delicate (as expected in an Irish whiskey - especially a grain whiskey) fresh lavender/honeysuckle with red apples, grapes (the red ones that are slightly tart and sweet), unrefined sugar and shortbread.

Palate: Toasted crumpet with slightly too much (i.e. the correct amount of) butter and golden syrup on top.  Butter tends more biscuity and less dairy towards shortbread over time.


BenRiach Birnie Moss Intensely Peated - Single Malt Scotch Whisky

BenRiach Birnie Moss Single Malt Scotch Whisky

A 'heavily' (intensely dare we say it!) peated whisky from The BenRiach this time, peated to 35ppm (around Ardbeg levels for comparisons sake).  No age statement given on this one (which is no big deal as age is a distant second to the actual quality and flavour in ALL cases), and named for a windswept Moor nearby to the distillery.

OK for sipping but bloody amazing in whisky cocktails too...

Nose: Tar, steam train soot, BBQ soy chicken, Hints of lemon zest, lemon grass, vanilla and sultana bran.

Palate: A bit of bite in this (even considering the 48%).  Follows the nose almost exactly with tar/smoke/soot/BBQ meat and lemon/honey/vanilla/malt once you get past the ethanol/youth.


Johnnie Walker Green Label 15 - Blended Malt Scotch Whisky

Johnnie Walker Green Label 15 Year Old Blended Malt Scotch Whisky

Missing from our stores and shelves for several years but happily re-introduced in 2016-17 here in Australia, this is the House of Walkers take on a blended malt, with a 15 year old age statement, no less. If someone asks me to justify blends, this is the first blend I turn to.  For the price I cannot think of a more well-rounded and balanced whisky (and by far the best bang for buck Johnnie Walker).  And yes this made the 'around $100' roundup as well, you aren't going crazy (or maybe you are?).

Nose: Rich malt, dark coffee and chocolate notes, mixed through a waft of clean dry wood smoke (like old dry logs in a fireplace)

Palate: The Palate follows the nose showing a rewarding almost 'juicy' amount of malt flakes/cereal body with lightly roasted coffee, and dark chocolate (not the super dark kind). Honey and walnut rise to the fore after repeated sips. Smoke still present but more of a sideshow than a 'main' attraction.


Blairmhor 8 - Blended Malt Scotch Whisky

Blairmhor 8 Year Old Blended Malt Scotch Whisky

This release is a vatting (blend) of up to 20 different single malts, mostly sourced from the Highlands and Speyside regions. Made and bottled by the same group who own and run AnCnoc, Balblair, Balmenach, Knockdhu and Old Pulteney - plus a ton of other brands/spirits.

Nose: A little bit of everything.  Malted barley, Christmas cake dried fruits (leaning more towards the citrus peels) with hints of wood smoke and damp earthy peat.

Palate: Well balanced, not dissimilar to the JW Green Label.  Barley water, malty dark ale notes with a bit of spiced honey and peat influence.  Great for the price.


Bulleit 95 Rye - American Rye Whiskey

Bulleit 95 American Rye Whiskey

Bulleit are renowned in American Whiskey circles for having THE bourbon with an unusually high rye content (28% - most use less than 10%).  Not wanting to diminish their reputation for using a lot of rye, this Rye whiskey is made with a mash bill (mix of grains) containing 95% rye (most tend towards 60-70%) and 5% malted barley.  Bulleit is expanding rapidly since its purchase by Diageo and is building a second distilling site in Lebanon, Kentucky.

Nose: Dark ripe cherries, white pepper prickliness, Tahitian vanilla, star anise and subtle notes of tobacco pouch.

Palate: Mulled wine spices (nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice) and pepper upfront with his is followed fruit (cherries and nectarines) and the suggestion of tobacco smoke.  Actually, very approachable for a rye and a good introduction for those looking to dip their toe into rye whiskies (should probably just drink them I reckon though).


Blanton's Single Barrel Private Reserve - Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Blanton's Original Private Reserve Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Blanton's is everything we look for in a mid-level (price wise) American Bourbon whiskey. Distilled in Frankfort Kentucky at The Buffalo Trace Distillery for Blantons, and aged typically for around 6-8 years and bottled as single barrel releases, the quality of each of the Blanton's bottlings we have tried has been consistently good. The fact that Blanton's are all single barrel releases and the quality remains this high speaks volume to the care put into the range, as well as the quality of the underlying spirit and ethos of the distillery.  Like the Johnnie Walker Green this one also made our 'around $100' shortlist.

Nose: Enticing notes of buttered crumpets, marmalade and a dusting of cinnamon sugar and smooshed banana.

Palate: This is a goldilocks Bourbon. Balanced amounts of toffee, citrus peel, and typical American oak flavours like cinnamon, honey and cloves with a 'not too heavy, not too light' texture.


Teeling Small Batch - Blended Irish Whiskey

Teeling Small Batch Irish Whiskey

Word is that the Teeling small batch is made with a higher than normal (for Irish blended whiskey) proportion of malt vs grain, before being matured in 1st fill ex-bourbon casks and then finished (aged for a shorter period of time - typically 9-12 months) in ex-rum casks (Flor de Cana in this case).

Nose: Freshly mown hay, blackberry and vanilla cupcakes. Fresh squeezed granny smiths.

Palate: Juicy and spicy (lemongrass, cinnamon and nutmeg), green apple, nashi pear and pascal milk toffees.


Aberfeldy 12 - Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Aberfeldy 12 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Aberfeldy is more commonly consumed as the core component of Dewar’s blends (as whisky nutters we often forget blends still account for 90% of whisky consumed) with less than 1% of Aberfeldy whisky seeing the light of day as a single malt. Which makes this chance all the more exciting/interesting.

Nose: A subtle almost musky incense like nose of honey, fresh croissant and fruit platter (honeydew melon, apples, pears and peaches).

Palate: Pineapple and peaches in cream.  Faint damp peat smoke, orange zest and malt flavours build with repeated sipping.  Wood makes its presence known on the finish (ginger?) but overall feels very well balanced and pleasant to sip.


Bowmore No.1 - Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Bowmore No. 1 Single Malt Scotch Whisky

One of the big boys from Islay, Bowmore generally tends to a more coastal, less earthy peatiness than its brethren and at more moderate levels than say, Ardbeg.

Online reviews for this one have been rather mixed surprisingly, with a love or hate it pattern developing - while it doesn't blow our socks off (and for around $50 what do you expect!), for our money this is a great little Bowmore.  Bowmore No.1 is named for the distillery's old stone warehouse, No.1 Vault and is aged exclusively in first fill ex-bourbon casks.

Nose: Like eating  fish and chips with lime squeezed on them, around a fire at the beach, on a windy day. Malt(?) shows up as a dark malty bread aroma.

Palate: Smoke is light and does a good combination with the lime, vanilla, toffee and honey.  Definitely feels young but not necessarily in a bad way.  Would love to try at a higher proof.


Four Roses - Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Four Roses Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Made in Lawrenceberg (awesome name for a town if I do say so myself) using a unique Limestone, spring-fed, river water-source and grain sourced from a producer that they have used for nearly 50 years in a historically listed distillery building, constructed in the Spanish Mission style dating back to 1910.  This is the core expression made by Four Roses (it’s a proverbial rabbit hole once you start exploring their range of recipes (OESF anyone?) and single casks - you have been warned)

Nose: Straightforward bourbon notes of brown sugar and butter (burnt), caramel coated popcorn and fresh oak spice (nutmeg, cinnamon, pepper). Slight zing of orange peel (marmalade)

Palate: White peaches, zesty orange peel, smoky honey and rich caramel toffee flavours. The Scotchy-Scotch of bourbons!


The Six Isles - Blended Malt Scotch Whisky

The Six Isles Blended Malt Scotch Whisky

A blended malt from Ian Macleod Distillers (owners of Glengoyne, Tamdhu, Smokehead to name a few) featuring malts from Arran, Islay, Jura, Mull, Orkney and Skye (hence the moniker Six Isles).

Nose: Like a cross between Talisker and Highland Park for me. Heather, honey, tar, seaweed, salt, and more earthy peat smoke

Palate: Oily like a good Lagavulin, with a good strong malt core infused with lemon (reminding me of Caol Ila) and of course smoke. Has a dry and almost bitter finish which works with the smoke rather well.


Buffalo Trace - Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Made in Frankfort Kentucky this is a text book example of a high corn content (like The Whisky List) bourbon.  Corn content said to be in excess of 80% (which is super high compared to most contemporaries), with rye at 10% or less, and malted barley rounding out the mash bill. Aged in heavily charred virgin American Oak barrels.

Nose: Cinnamon, caramel, spiced red rum and honey on the nose.

Palate: Dark Brown Sugar, Creme Brulee, Coffee beans, chocolate coated sultanas and peanuts, cinnamon scroll.


Compass Box Great King Street The Artist's Blend - Blended Scotch Whisky

Compass Box Great King Street The Artist's Blend Scotch Whisky

Compass Box was founded in the year 2000 by John Glaser, an ex-Diageo marketing manager, with an eye on reviving the flagging interest in blended Scotch. Now quite famous for drawing the ire of the SWA (Scotch Whisky Association), for pushing for transparency in Scotch in general and making some amazing blended whiskies.

Compass Box Great King Street The Artist's Blend is a fairly straightforward blend of Lowland grain whisky from Cameronbridge,  Clynelish Malt whisky, Linkwood malt whisky and a 'Highland' malt blend (itself comprised of a blend of Clynelish, Teaninich and Dailuaine malts).

Nose: Light raisings, honey, fresh apricot, crunchy nut cornflakes and boiled lolly (the high sweet smell).

Palate: Quite waxy, lots of fruit characters (green apple, apricot and sultanas), with some light spice (cinnamon and white pepper) and honey.


The Whisky List