Enjoy these recommendations for the best single malt scotch whiskies to sip and savor this winter for under $69 from five Kansas City spirit experts.
Bourbon and scotch whiskies weighed down the shelves and isles at Gomer’s, Lucas Liquors, Bubbles Wine & Spirits, Mike’s Liquor, and Plaza Liquors. All the Kansas City liquor stores I visited were stocked and ready for the booze-gifting season.
As a scotch buying novice, I scoured the shelves finding scotch whiskies ranging in price from $25 to $4,500. After spending 20 minutes getting my scotch education from the experts at each store, I came home with five great scotch and bourbon whisky purchases to gift or enjoy.
11 Tips for Buying A Single Malt Scotch
Prepare to be overwhelmed with scotch options. More than 120 Scotland distilleries produce so much whiskey that the country exports 38 bottles each second. Here are a few tips I learned shopping for the best scotch whiskies on the shelves in Kansas City.
- Don’t hesitate to ask for help. Also, ask as many questions as you need before feeling comfortable with your purchase. The workers are there because of their passion and expertise, and they’re happy to share it with you.
- Have a budget. Let the in-store expert guide you to something extraordinary in your range. It exists.
- Vanilla or Chocolate? Plan to be able to describe your taste or the taste of your loved one you’re shopping for so your store expert can help narrow your selection. If possible, come with a list of names of other whiskies you’ve seen in their home or them coveting for their collection.
- Read up before you shop. If you don’t want to be a total moron, do some reading before shopping. Steve from Lucas Liquor highly recommended reading the book Drink by Iain Gately to gain some footing on alcohol’s impact on Western civilization.
- Don’t be influenced by packaging. A serious whisky drinker only cares about what’s in the bottle not the fancy tins and well-designed boxes.
- Leave with literature. Don’t hesitate to ask for a copy of the promo materials to include with your whisky gift. Justin at Plaza Liquor didn’t hesitate to make me a copy of the awards the Compass Box Artist’s Blend had won to include in my presentation of the gift.
- What is scotch whisky? The whisky that’s made in Scotland using water and malted barley (and other whole grains on occasion) and is aged for a minimum of three years inside oak casks. It’s made slow and meant to be sipped and savored.
- What if you mostly drink bourbon? Can you migrate from bourbon to scotch fairly easily? Believe it or not, 90% of the whisky made in the world is a blend. That high percentage is because blends are much smoother and easier to acquire a taste for instead of scotch whiskies that are single malt whiskies. Blends often get a bad rap because of marrying two or more single malt scotches from different distilleries into one batch. Don’t be a snob and hold a grudge against whisky blends. Blends make for great starter scotches like Monkey Shoulder.
- What does whisky mean in Gaelic?
In Scotland, whiskey is life, and whisky in Gaelic means water of life.
- How do I know I’m ready to migrate to a scotch whisky?
If you enjoy a good bourbon or Irish whiskey, you’re ready to try scotch whiskey. People have jokingly said wait for a cold, wet day, then go to a bar and ask for a pour of scotch neat. Repeat when foul weather hits, and you’re bound to fall in love with scotch.
- Is single malt whiskey the same as scotch? To be called “scotch,” the whiskey must be produced in Scotland. To be called a “single malt scotch,” it must come from a single Scottish distillery.
With a single malt scotch whisky out there for everyone, here are seven single malt whiskies recommended by the local experts at Mike’s Wine & Spirits, Gomer’s Midtown, Lukas Wine & Spirits Superstore, Plaza Liquor, and Bubble’s Wine & Spirits.
1. Glenmorangie Lasanta
Steve from Lukas Wine and Spirits Superstore near Liberty was a delight to meet and serve as my scotch whisky educator. Steve once lived in Scotland and visited every Scottish whiskey distillery, so he definitely knew the backstory on each malt and blend of whisky.
Steve’s favorite scotches are Auchentoshan and Glenmorangie. He told me the 14-year-old Glenmorangie tastes like dessert. I left with the 12-year Glenmorangie Lasanta because it was in my budget, and according to Steve, a great value at $59.99.
According to Scotch Noob, the taste of sherry is evident, as is dried fruits and caramel. Because it is finished, not aged, in sherry, the whiskey doesn’t have the mature and robust take of Macalland of GlenDronach. Instead, it’s mild, smooth, and grows on newbie scotch drinkers.
Personally, I love that Glenmorangie supports the conservation of wildlife and giraffes. Notice the orange packaging mimics the markings of a giraffe.
2. Auchentoshan Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Known as Glasgow’s malt whiskey, Auchentoshan’s American Oak single malt scotch is the perfect choice to transition from bourbon to whiskey. It is triple distilled on the banks of Clyde in Glasgow, where the distillery makes about two million liters of whisky each year.
According to Whiskey Wash, Auchentoshan American Oak is aimed squarely at Millennials. While nothing is captivating about Auchentoshan, there’s also nothing offensive. It’s a total score for a value drinker and goes down easy in warm or cool seasons.
Glenfarclas in Gaelic translates into Valley of Green Grass. Ten-year-old Glenfarclas will cost you just under $50 in the states and serve as a great entry-point scotch whiskey. Whiskey Reviewer describes it as malty and grassy, with a touch of honey and toffee and a trace of sherry. It is a scotch whisky that an outdoorsy person who likes sweets should really enjoy drinking.
A reviewer on Connosr (yes, it is spelled with a missing vowel) said he enjoyed the 10-year Glenfarclas better than the 12-year version because the younger version had more bite.
He described the nose of Glenfarclas as “Green grapes, plums, fresh lettuce. Christmas cake, cinnamon, cherries, vanilla extract. Marzipan.” That alone makes me want to crack open a bottle in 2022.
When I asked Rick at Mike’s Wine and Liquor in Brookside if buying a bottle of Glenfarclas would be a safe bet as a holiday gift, he said everything made by Glenfarclas would be welcome in the glass of any discerning scotch whisky drinker.
Producers recommend it as an aperitif whisky (served over ice before your meal). Buy a bottle for under $40 and drop a comment if you like it.
For four out of the past seven years, this whiskey has been voted the best whiskey in the world. It is distilled on the island of Islay and has been for the past 200 years. These scotch brands have a very distinctive smoky flavor, and this is because of the combination of peat, soil, and water on the island. In particular, the peat is burnt during the distilling process. Ardbeg has a worldwide reputation for being the peatiest, smokiest, and most complicated single malts in the world. A bottle of 10-year-old Ardbeg will run you around $62 and is the perfect introduction to scotch whisky.
5. Bruichladdich Classic Laddie
Classic Laddie scotch whiskey is guaranteed to be at least three years as with any scotch whisky, and it’s available for around $62 in Kansas City.
You can buy older Bruichladdich scotch whiskies that have been aged 8 to 10 years at a higher price point.
Opening with barley sugar and a hint of mint before leading into notes of freshly cut wildflowers; buttercup, daisy, meadowsweet, myrtle, primrose, and cherry blossom.
Master Distiller Jim McEwan took this Islay-based brand through a complete overhaul in 2001. Several fantastic releases, both the peated and non-peated variety, were a result. The Port Charlotte or Classic Laddie await those like me wanting to spend less than $69.
6. Compass Box Artist Blend
My last two scotch whisky recommendations come from Compass Box, a distillery known for some delicious and wacky blends – one for every possible palate.
According to Justin at Plaza Liquor, Artist Street is a best-selling whisky for them and all Compass Box varieties that practically jump off the shelves. Artist Blend is a rich, round, and fruity scotch whiskey.
Bubbles Wine & Spirits whisky expert and Sommelier Lori Elliott spoke fondly of Compass Box’s line of scotch whiskies. Lori said she liked the new citrus variety, liked the brand as a whole, and certainly appreciated the beautiful labels. Bubble’s Wine & Spirits in the Northland carry five Compass Box varieties.
Lori’s whisky recommendation for bourbon drinkers, hands down, is Yellowstone. Bubbles sells Yellowstone for $40 a bottle and Yellowstone Select for $54. Lori and her staff at Bubbles Wine and Spirits go to the distillery personally to hand-select the best bourbon.
You can only purchase Yellowstone Select at Bubbles. Don’t let “Bubbles” frilly name detour you from visiting the store. Bubbles’ staff knows their hard liquor as much as it does champagne and wine. December served as my first visit, and I was amazed at the breadth of selection and expertise offered at Bubbles.
Artist Blend’s claim to fame is to please those who crave creative cocktails. Before 2021 closes out, mix yourself a Pear Whisky Highball. It’s a whisky cocktail made with pear liqueur, simple syrup, lemon juice, soda water, and of course, Artist Blend Scottish whisky.
I’m told Artist Blend pairs well with savory foods, so for those who like life spicy, this is your whisky.
7. Compass Box Glasgow Blend
According to Total Wine, Compass Box Glasgow Blend is a big, beautiful whiskey with smoky tones that won’t overwhelm a novice scotch whiskey drinker. Find it at your favorite liquor store for under $40.
Putting a street cone on the head of the Duke of Wellington is a rite of passage in Glasgow after a night of tipping a few back. After recommending a Scotch with the same label, Steve from Lukas Liquor Superstore in Liberty, MO, showed me his tattoo.
I hope you’ve learned something new about scotch whisky from this post about the best scotch whiskies under $69.
Note: the descriptions above were from my liquor store guides, distillery websites, and whisky reviewers. I certainly didn’t have time to taste five bottles of scotch.
What’s your favorite bourbon, whisky, or spirit of choice?