Top 10

Now that I've become a human rant factory, I think I've strayed a bit from one of my more useful functions as a spirits specialist - helping you buy quality booze. While I enjoy the philosophizin', my primary role is to taste alcohol and tell you if it's worth your time. When we named the 1979 Glenfarclas as our top whisky of the year our customer service department was inundated with emails from customers who were excited about booze – just not $300 bottles of it.

"Could you please come up with some choices for us everyday folk?" read one of the messages.

Why, I have a whole store full of choices! I've got plenty of whisky selections for less than $60 that are delicious! However, I recognize that navigating a shelf or website full of tasting notes can be perilous, so I will now engage in another list-type breakdown to help those looking for something new. While our "Whisky of the Year" selection was the result of a collective vote of spirits drinkers from all three K&L locations, these choices are solely my own, based upon what is currently available, based upon how I currently feel at this moment: 7:58 AM.

You asked for it, you got it. I know I've done this before at some point, but let's do an updated version. We'll exclude any K&L exclusives and other limited releases to make sure we can help the non-K&L customers out there, too. Here we go:

Top 10 Single Malt/Blended Whiskies Under $60

10. Bank Note Blended Whisky $19.99 - You may have heard Tim Morrison and I talking about this whisky on the most recent podcast episode. It's such a steal I can't stop talking about it. However, we're not talking complexity, depth, or nuance here. We're talking about a drinkin' whisky. Something to pour and enjoy, not analyze and blog about (unless you're blogging about enjoyment). There's a healthy dollop of Bowmore in this, so the subtle smoke adds a nice touch with the classic, rich Scotch profile. I was watching Breakfast at Tiffany's again while home sick in bed this past weekend. I love how parties in the 1960's had nothing but two blended Scotch bottles and a few glasses. Minimalist culture and simplicity at their very best. It makes me want to throw a Bank Note party.

9. BenRiach 12 Year Old Single Malt Whisky $44.99 - This whisky has drastically improved over the years and it's a fantastic choice for anyone looking to avoid heavy sherry and peat. Nothing here but golden fruits, golden grains, and golden color. Supple vanilla with a heavier mouthfeel than one would expect. There's plenty to enjoy in this bottle.

8. Compass Box Oak Cross Blended Single Malt Whisky $54.99 - Another point that Tim and I talked about on the podcast was expanding your comfort zone. If you want to get your money's worth with single malt whisky these days, you're gonna have to avoid the big names. Many purists avoid the Compass Box selections because they want the pedagogical experience – they've got a checklist with every distillery on it and they're looking for the next homework assignment. Blended single malts don't really allow you to learn about one specific distillery's profile. However, John Glaser's blended single malts allow you to drink $80 to $100 whiskies for $40 to $60. The Oak Cross, with all it's oak-influenced goodness, is so explosive, so brimming with everything whisky drinkers love, that it breaks my heart to watch customers pass over it in place of Dalwhinnie or Cragganmore.

7. Ardbeg Uigeadail Single Malt Whisky $58.99 - "David, I've had the Alligator and the Day and the Galileo, but I've never had the Uigeadail. Do you think I should try it?" bought those three before buying the Uigeadail? That's like watching the Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith before sitting down with the original Star Wars. The Uigeadail is the trophy whisky from one of the best distilleries in the world. We've just gotten so used to it that we've forgotten how delicious it is. It's also at a much higher proof than most other whiskies, so it's a nice foray into the cask strength whisky realm. If you're looking for a peated whisky, you won't find many better than this for the price.

6. Glendronach 12 Year Old Single Malt Whisky $47.99 - We sell a shit ton of this whisky in Redwood City, mostly because we have a sign hanging below it that says, "Maybe the best whisky in the store for the money." I whole-heartedly believe this might be the case, mainly because just about everyone seems to love this whisky. It's got rich, chewy sherry, lots of cakebread and dried fruit, a supple texture, and a smooth, opulent finish. It's like Macallan 12 on steroids. Actually, it's like Macallan 12 but waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay better.

5. Springbank 10 Year Old Single Malt Whisky $54.99 - One of my all-time favorite whiskies, I will never let my house go without an open bottle. How can you not enjoy the combination of oily fruit, gum-smacking viscosity, heady sherry, and a few whisps of peat smoke on the finish? This whisky has everything going on and it's always different - literally. Springbank only bottles to order and they vat everything beforehand. So, if the U.S. doesn't order any for six months, that whisky just sits in the barrel longer, never in a stainless steel tank to maintain the flavor. Sometimes you're actually getting Springbank 11 or 12 year old.

4. Arran 10 Year Old Single Malt Whisky $44.99 - This whisky has really grown on me lately. It seemed rather one-dimensional in the past, but like I've been saying as of late, the Isle of Arran distillery really has their shit together right now. They're on a winning streak like no other producer (Devil's Punchbowl, Single Sherry Barrel, Single Bourbon Barrel, 12 year cask strength) and the 10 year really showcases what they do well - easy, light, delicious, yet complex single malt whisky. This whisky is great for beginners because it's so easy to understand, but advanced enough for veterans because of the subtlety underneath it all.

3. Aberlour 12 Year Old Non-Chillfiltered Single Malt Whisky $49.99 - I cannot overstate how important it is for whisky companies to stop chill-filtering their whiskies and start raising the proof. Example #1 - the new Aberlour 12 year old. A whisky that went from tasty, but pedestrian, to absolutely fantastic. Glenrothes Select Reserve and Balvenie Doublewood can't even come close to the new and improved Aberlour. Textural, rich, bursting with sherry and spice, oily on the backend. YUM. Don't buy the one in the red cannister. That's the old one. The white tube is the one for you.

2. Kilchoman Machir Bay Single Malt Whisky $53.99 - We're running a little low on this whisky right now, but our new shipment is coming soon. What else can I say that hasn't been said a million times on this blog? Kilchoman's Machir Bay would have been my "Whisky of the Year" if we had never found that Glenfarclas cask. I love this whisky. Love it. It tastes different every time I drink it. It's like watching Arrested Development for the 30th time. This time I'm laughing at George Sr., whereas last time I was obsessed with Buster. Like Arrested Development, I never get tired of it.

1. Bunnahabhain 12 Year Old Single Malt Whisky $46.99 - Example #2 - Bunnahabhain 12. This whisky went from a chillfiltered 43% to a non-chillfiltered 46%. A world of difference lies between the two. When we did our big Burns Stewart dinner last Fall, we tasted a ton of whisky. Bunnahabhain 12, 18, 25, Tobermorey 10, 15, etc. At the end of the night, with the whole bar at their disposal, most of our customers went back for the Bunnahabhain 12. It was just so balanced and tasty. It's got a bit of everything going on. Soft sherry, round fruits, earthy and resinous notes, a bit of brine, the whole shebang. Bunnahabhain 12 is one of the most overlooked whiskies I can think of. It's a whisky we're going to look back on later and say, "You know, that's some really good shit." Not everyone gets it the first time, but eventually it clicks. When it does, it's a beautiful thing.

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll