I love Scotch. Scotchy Scotch Scotch. But like most people, I can’t afford to drink my favorites every day. Even if I score a good deal on a Lagavulin 16 or a Talisker 10, at approximately $5.52 per glass (see math here) I can’t afford to polish that bottle off in 12 days (or less). If I did, I’d be looking at a $2000 a year habit! In case you’re keeping track, that’s about the same price as a pack-a-day cigarette habit. Ouch. It gets worse, too… spend a few hours perusing the whisky blogs and magazines, and you’ll find that the focus is often on pricier bottles. Just as with wine connoisseurship, higher prices are often (not always!) applied to older, better, more highly-regarded selections. Flip through the ratings in the latest issue of a whisky mag, and you’ll see the most-recommended bottles topping $200 or more, and that’s not including the Collectors or rare releases! Here are some pieces of advice on how to enjoy Scotch without breaking the bank.
Important Note: Many of the suggestions below result in the more-expensive bottles in your cabinet lasting you longer. As long as you keep your best whiskies away from light (sun or otherwise) and tightly corked/capped, they will remain pristine and untarnished for up to a year. Even after a year, they won’t suffer more than a little oxidation (which affects the flavor). Keep in mind, however, that the more “headspace”, or air space in the bottle, the faster oxidation will affect your whisky. I know whisky enthusiasts who savor a bottle until it is only a quarter full, and then invite friends over to share the entire remainder of the bottle. This is also a good way to make friends!
1. Pick a “Daily Dram”
Many whisky lovers realize quickly how expensive a daily glass of their cherished favorites run, and begin looking for cheaper alternatives for the “less special” days. This is the oft-referenced “Daily Dram.” By picking a younger, more-widely distributed, or blended whisky that also shows some of the taste elements of your favorite dram, you can indulge in that daily glass without wallet worry. As an added benefit, your special-occasion bottles will last you longer! (See note above about keeping whisky longer). Some examples:
- If you love Lagavulin 16 year ($65-$80), try a bottle of Laphroaig 10 year ($35) or Finlaggan Old Reserve ($18).
- If you crave light, airy Speysiders like The Balvenie 15 year Single-Barrel ($55-$65), try The Glenlivet 12 ($24), Glenfiddich 12 ($26), or Speyburn 10 ($20)
- If you’re into sweet, oak-influenced Scotches like The Macallan 15 Fine Oak ($70-$80), try an Irish blend like Jameson or Powers ($20)
- Also try a younger bottling of your favorite whisky, or a cheaper expression (like a different wood finish or vatted malt).
2. Mix it up
While I would never recommend mixing Single-Malt Scotch with anything except perhaps a few drops of water, bottles of a cheaper blend or immature malt will last longer if you develop a taste for them mixed with water or club soda. Try it with an inexpensive Irish whiskey, blended Scotch, or very-young craft distillation. Turning a dram of inexpensive blend into a whisky highball can quench your thirst and eliminate the desire for a second glass.
3. Discover Whisky by the Glass
One of the wonderful things about the world of whisky is the wide variety of excellent flavors and expressions available on the international market. While individual preferences differ, it is pretty rare to come across a “bad” glass of whisky. However, it can be a burden on your bank account to experience whisky by buying bottles (even on recommendation). Instead, use Yelp.com, Google, and the phone book to find a local bar or three that has even a moderate Single-Malt offering (call ahead to avoid a lot of driving around). A dozen different bottles at a minimum. By discovering your favorites and exercising your palate on whisky at $6 a glass, you can save a lot of money on bottles. Another option (although sometimes more difficult to find) are 50ml “mini” bottles of whiskies sometimes stocked by liquor or convenience stores.
If you’re lucky enough to have friends that enjoy whisky, consider splitting the cost of pricier bottles with them. A $120-$160 bottle of Macallan 18 year (a beautiful thing) is a lot less prohibitive if split several ways into seal-able glass containers. Just make sure to use a funnel for careful pouring, and do it evenly!
5. Buy in Bulk
While I don’t recommend buying whisky by the case (yes, you can get tired of even your favorite Scotch after a few bottles), you can find larger-volume bottles at a steep discount at big-box club stores like Sam’s Club or Costco. Bring along a calculator and do the math to determine if the savings are really there. Try several stores in your area, since they all may carry different inventories, and check back at different times of the year. Also remember that at Costco, you do not need a membership to enter the warehouse and purchase alcohol!
6. Shop Around
I love a good deal. I especially love a good deal on fine Single-Malt. First, make a list of local (or at least driving-range) liquor stores that carry Scotch. Write down (or type into a mobile device such as a smartphone or tablet PC) a sample list of your favorite whiskies. Include benchmark bottles that are likely to be widely carried (such as The Macallan 12, Laphroaig 10, The Glenlivet 12, Talisker 10, and The Balvenie 12 DoubleWood). Also include some higher-range bottles for comparison (such as The Macallan 18, Springbank 18, and 18-or-older bottles of The Dalmore). By tracking the prices of such benchmark bottles at all your local stores, you can develop a good sense of what’s overpriced and what’s a good deal, you can determine which stores are most likely to offer the highest discounts, and you’re more likely to be able to identify an excellent deal when one comes around! I swear that a good Scotch, purchased at a great price, tastes even better!
Got any suggestions of your own for saving money on Scotch and other whiskies? Share in the comments!