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12+2 Recommended No Frills Scotch Distilleries

by Oliver Klimek on March 9, 2012

I have been ranting quite a bit on this blog about things I don’t like in the whisky world, especially concerning marketing stunts and pricing of whisky. So I thought it’s about time to look at the bright side of things. After all I am not a grumpy old cynic taking pleasure in spitting poison.

There are still quite a few Scottish distilleries that focus their energy and financial resources on making good whisky and selling them at affordable prices across their entire product range. Here is my selection of distilleries that neither haunt you with ‘collectable’ bottles nor attack your wallets with armies of brand ambassadors wielding crystal decanters but let their whisky do the talking.

Note: I did not include distilleries whose no-frills-ness is defined by only offering one or two bottlings.

Twelve Purveyors Of Fine No Frills Scotch Single Malt Whisky

Aberlour

Even though it belongs to the huge Pernod Ricard conglomerate, Aberlour has a surprisingly modest appearance on the whisky market. Their a’Bunadh offers a great bang for the buck, and all other distillery bottlings are priced very wallet-friendly as well.

AnCnoc

A small range of inexpensive bottlings of very decent quality, a minimalist label design that is as ‘no frills’ as you can get, almost no marketing exposure. Need I say more?

Benriach

On a rather more flamboyant note, Benriach offers a wide range of whisky styles, including peated malt and finishes. Even their old single cask bottlings are quite afforadbly priced in comparison to some competitors.

Bladnoch

This small Lowland distillery has an utterly low key profile, starting from the decidedly unmodern labelling. If you like their whisky style and go for a ‘crafty’ approach to whisky making, this is your distillery.

Bunnahabhain

Belonging to the smaller Burn Stewart group, this sleeping beauty of a malt has just recently been kissed awake. Now going the popular NC/NCF route with a broadened bottling range, they serve you high quality at decent prices.

Caol Ila

Yes, it is part of Diageo, the monster conglomerate, builders of Glen Mordor (aka Rosisle), bottlers of the infamously expensive Managers’ Choice range, a company constantly running several titanic marketing campaigns in multitasking mode. But if you look at the distillery bottlings, you will find that you get a very decent value for your money here across the range up to the new 25 yo. And within the Classic Malts marketing, Caol Ila definitely plays third fiddle to Lagavulin and Talisker. Somehow it seems that for Diageo the Caol Ila single malt is just a by-product of Johnnie Walker. Take advantage of that!

Glendronach

Unlike their owners Benriach, Glendronach sticks to a rather rigid house style: sherried malt with the occasional finish bottling. They do this very well, as can be seen in their performance in the Malt Maniacs Awards, and they do this without doing too much harm to your wallet.

Springbank

Along with its two incarnations Hazelburn and Longrow, this legendary Campbeltown distillery offers good value for decent prices across the range, some recent bottlings are truly excellent. The three different styles should provide something for everyone.

Strathisla

Home of Chivas Regal, the single malts of this distillery have quite a low profile on the market. There are just two distillery bottlings, but you can get a wide range of excellent semi-official Gordon & Macphail bottlings at very decent prices.

Tomatin

Once the biggest Scottish distillery during the last blend boom, production at Tomatin has slowed down. They don’t make a big marketing fuzz, but they offer a good value up to some very old bottlings.

Tomintoul

Often overlooked and not really famous for spectacular bottlings, but this distillery does make decent whisky for decent prices. and that’s what we want, after all.

Tullibardine

Another one of the low profile T distilleries. Not all of their bottlings are true crackers, but you can find some hidden gems in their product range.

Two That Didn’t Quite Make It

Glenfarclas

Straightforward sherried whisky without a big hype is what Glenfarclas is famous for. Their basic product range boasts some excellent deals, a special mention goes to the 40 yo here. Unfortunately the amount of special bottlings is quite staggering, as can be the price for some of those.

Laphroaig

For a big player like Laphroaig, their marketing is fairly modest, and their basic bottling range is very affordable and of the highest quality. But the price jump of over 200% from the 18 yo to the 25 yo (£70 to £240) kicks them off the list.

 

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Erik Burgess March 9, 2012 at 11:55 pm

Just wondering Oliver if you considered Benromach in your list? I’ve always enjoyed their whiskies.

Reply

Oliver Klimek March 10, 2012 at 6:50 am

I did, Erik. I admit Benromach was a close call too, most of the range offers a good bang for te buck without much marketing exposure. But they are selling a 55 yo from 1949 for £6500. A big no-no if you consider that Benromach’s owners Gordon & Macphail have a 1949 semi-official Glen Grant for £585! (Prices are form TWE)

Reply

Ryan March 10, 2012 at 1:29 pm

Great post, I enjoyed it! Thought I’d mention a contender from America: Heaven Hill? Evan Williams, Elijah Craig, and Rittenhouse Rye among others seem to fit the bill.

Reply

Oliver Klimek March 10, 2012 at 3:27 pm

Thanks for these additions, Ryan. I have to admit that I know too little of the American whisky market to make honest recommendations.

Reply

Frodo March 10, 2012 at 4:27 pm

Nice list Oliver – and evidence of significant thought that went into this article. I would be interested to know your thoughts behind the inclusion of Springbank, as I find their offerings among the most expensive a la Macallan and Ardbeg. Perhaps it’s just the pricing in my neck of the woods.

Reply

Oliver Klimek March 10, 2012 at 4:35 pm

I agree that the recent 21yo was not exactly cheap. But I wouldn’t say the the 10yo at £32, the 15yo at £45 ot rhe 18 yo at £70 are overly expensive. And note that pricing is just one of several factors. I did not order the list like a ranking on purpose, but Sprinbank would probably be closer to the bottom than to the top.

Reply

Ryan March 10, 2012 at 4:55 pm

I was thinking the same thing as Frodo… maybe he is in the USA like I am? Springbank is very expensive here. Converted to GBP, the prices are more like 40 pounds for the 10yo and a whopping 90 pounds for the 15yo.

Reply

Oliver Klimek March 11, 2012 at 7:34 am

Pricing is of course different from country to country and even within the range of a single distillery there can be amazing differences. I decided to use UK pricing as a reference.

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