The LCBO’s best bottles of scotch for under $50

The LCBO’s best bottles of scotch for under $50

Scotch can be an extravagance. But halfway decent (and weekday priced) drams have become a rarity. Look for these solid, approachable bottles

Ballantine’s Finest

$27.45 | Blend
Ballantine’s does make finer, but the 12-, 17- and 21-year-old versions cannot be secured in Ontario at the moment. Oh well. The basic Ballantine’s gives you the best you can expect in a cheapo blend: balance, and a sunny disposition composed of mild citrus aromas, honey, Creamsicle and malty Tootsie Roll, with a warming, spicy finish. This is smooth and sweet enough to suit those who usually make their whisky a Canadian one. LCBO 1610

The Famous Grouse

$29.95 | Blend
The most popular whisky in Scotland itself, The Famous Grouse owes its fame in part to having been aged in sherry casks, which makes it fatter-tasting than most whiskies in its price range. Throw in some fruit aromas, and this is a crowd-pleasing Goldilocks choice of a whisky, terrific for parties. Thanks to its robust mouthfeel, you can cut The Famous Grouse with soda water to make a highball and it won’t vanish. LCBO 52050

Islay Mist 8

$30.95 | Blend
Some blended scotches are strictly hush-hush about the single-malt whiskies that make up their recipe, and most others are coy—only dropping a few hints. Islay Mist advertises the Laphroaig that makes up a key part of its DNA right on the label, and this frankness has helped make the blend a favourite cheapskate choice for admirers of heavily smoky whiskies. You can’t expect to swim in the oceanic swell and depth of a purebred Laphroaig at this price, but the vanilla- and iodine-scented smoke aroma and salted caramel character are tasty all the same. LCBO 333070

Black Bottle

$32.95 | Blend
The beautiful label might fool your guests into thinking they’re drinking something precious. So might the nose, which is more sunny than black—sniff around for pear nectar and lemon candy. A sip brings ashy peat, brown sugar and a hint of chocolate. Alas, the spicy finish stops short. Still, if you’re looking for a whisky with a judicious amount of peat smoke and Té Bheag (our next selection) isn’t available, this is your solid second choice. LCBO 454132

Té Bheag

$38.95 (700 mL) | Blend
Té Bheag functions as a shibboleth among scotch devotees—awareness of such beautiful balance for less than $40 marks you as part of the club. Don’t mess up the pronunciation, though: it’s “chay veck” (but go ahead and use “tea bag” inside your head as a mnemonic when liquor shopping). A mild whiff of smoke subsides and an orangey sweetness rises up. The densely complex body gives you caramel, black pepper and milk chocolate, and the finish is long and tannic, the kind of bite that makes you want to keep getting bitten. LCBO 949172

Dewar’s 12 Year Old

$46.95 | Blend
The only whisky on our list that bears an age statement on the bottle, and you can tell it’s old from the aromas of green and bruised apples. Subdued yet complex, Dewar’s 12 also greets the nose with honey, pineapple and flowers. The finish is a bit thin and short, but brings a pleasant mix of vanilla, caramel and sea salt. LCBO 438598

Deanston Virgin Oak

$49.95 | Highland Single Malt
This single malt makes a cheerful, inviting hello with aromas of citrus, apples, bananas and tropical fruit. The character on the palate is more challenging—hot and spicy with flavours of nutmeg (as the label promises), and also clove. Not mature, but punchy and interesting, this dram grabs you with a certain urgency. It might appeal to the bourbon fan who’s coming over for dinner. LCBO 375568

Robert Burns Single Malt (Arran)

$49.95 | Island Single Malt
Here we are, still dwelling beneath the $50 threshold and yet we’re holding a single malt whisky that does what single malts do best: tantalize with aromas that are hard to pin down, forcing you to keep smelling and sipping. Is that buckwheat honey, orange flower, plum sauce? Like Burnsie himself at his peak, this whisky is young but with a liveliness that makes it worth one’s attention. LCBO 981084