Cheap Scotch: A Guide to Scotches on a College Student Budget

Scotch is like wine.  Everybody gets all up in arms about it, fighting over which is better and what region makes it best and whether this premium brand is better than that premium brand.  But they forget all about what got them into it in the first place: The simple pleasure of enjoying a glass.

When I was in college, we tended to keep 2 bottles of scotch in the house: a fifth of a single malt (typically old, typically not cheap), and a half gallon bottle of Lauder’s (incredibly cheap and doesn’t suck).  The idea was to drink a finger of the expensive stuff to really enjoy a good scotch and finish the night out with something less expensive because after the first drink, your palette can’t really appreciate the nuance of the single malt anymore anyway.

I love scotch more than any other liquor in the world.  I appreciate the premium brands and will occasionally indulge and buy myself a bottle of single malt (I’ve had an ongoing 10 year love affair with Talisker) that I will milk for several months.  But what do we scotch lovers do when we can’t justify handing over our hard earned cash for that pricey bottle of booze?  We buy cheap!  Without further ado, here is the the Gallery of Cheap Scotches:

Lauder’s Scotch

($16.99/1.75L)

Imported from Glasgow, Lauder’s holds a special place in my heart.  This stuff was the table wine at my house in college.  We always had some, and it was the default drink of choice.  It also holds a special place in my heart because it’s so damn cheap!  At $17 for a half gallon, you can’t go wrong!  Granted, you get what you pay for, but I’ve had worse tasting scotches that cost far more than this.

Famous Grouse

($30.99/1.75L)

Famous Grouse is dangerously toeing the line between cheap and not-so-cheap, but considering it’s the most imbibed scotch in Scotland, I think we can group it into this category.  This stuff is mass produced to be good enough for general consumption without the haughty airs of the single malt world.  It’s Scotch, it tastes like Scotch, and it won’t cost you a paycheck to buy it.

Vat 69

($23.99/1.75L)

To be honest, I don’t really know anything about Vat 69 except that they have camo in the label.  Awesome?  You bet!  Tasty drink?  I have no idea.  A friend of mine from Spain once reminisced about how he and his friends used to drink this stuff like water and that he couldn’t believe they still made it.

J & B

($29.98/1.75L)

Short for Justerini and Brooks, J&B Scotch is one of the Diageo brands (these include Guiness, Bailey’s, Johnnie Walker, Smirnoff, and Jose Cuervo to name a few).  It is the drink of choice of Patrick Bateman and John Wayne Gacy, and Truman Capote used to order it by its full name, refusing to shorten it to simply “J&B.”  It is an average blended whiskey that will cost you a bit more than most cheap scotches, but won’t put you too far out of pocket for the taste.

Ballantine’s

($19.99/1.75L)

If you can’t get Lauder’s but you need something cheap, Ballantine’s is the way to go.  It’s not tasty and it’s kind of harsh, but for the price it will get you where you’re going.

Cutty Sark

($29.99/1.75L)

A friend of mine bought me a bottle of this for my birthday one year.  I was put off by the fact that they included 4 tiny little shot glasses, as if I was going to sit down with 3 of my friends and go shot for shot until the bottle was gone.  It’s on the high end of the cheap Scotches, and frankly not worth the cost in my opinion.  I’d pass on this, but you may like it more than me – after all, I do like Lauders!

Johnnie Walker Red Label

($39.99/1.75L)

Though it isn’t really cheap, I feel that Johnnie Walker Red Label deserves an honorable mention.  It is the most prolific Scotch in the U.S., is good to have around, and is currently the Scotch I like to keep around my house.

[If you have any suggestions for good cheap Scotches, email cheapscotch@drinkmatron.prjct.info or comment below.]
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