Five Scotch Whiskies Under £50: Part 5 Speyside

by Matt Chambers
at Whisky for Everyone

Welcome to part five

of the ongoing series about Scotch whiskies under £50. This price point is where most distilleries and brands have their first bottling or two in the core range. And where they sell the most.

Within the series we will look at some of the best value for money Scotch whiskies from the six different whisky making regions of Scotland.

This time we take a trip to the Speyside region, often considered the heartbeat of the Scotch whisky industry. Previous parts have covered the Lowlands, Campbeltown, Highlands and Islands.

Region history

Speyside is crucial to Scotch whisky and boasts the largest density of distilleries in Scotland. Over 50 of the 145 single malt distilleries in Scotland call it home. It is a sub region of the Highlands and covers a relatively small geographical area. From the Cairngorm mountains in the south to the North Sea coast, Nairn near Inverness in the west and Huntly towards Aberdeen in the east.

The region encapsulates much of the River Spey’s water course including its numerous streams, burns and tributaries. These are fuelled by rainwater and snowmelt from the Cairngorms. Speyside offers several different environments for whisky making from urban to rural, and coastal to mountainous.

Whisky flavours

Speyside scotch whiskies have a soft, sweet, and fruity style. They are categorised into lighter or richer. Lighter whiskies are predominantly matured in ex-bourbon casks and have notes of green apple and pear, honey, and vanilla. Well known examples include Glenfiddich, Glenlivet and Glen Moray.

The richer style has a heavier percentage of ex-sherry cask maturation. Expect notes of toffee, caramel, and dark dried fruits such as raisins and sultanas, plus orange peel and baking spice. Big names include Aberlour, Glenfarclas, and Macallan.

Benriach | The Twelve

Underrate Benriach at your peril. This quirky and innovative distillery, just outside of Elgin, delivers a classic Speyside single malt that deserves more attention. But there is a twist – they also produce peated single malt and another that is triple distilled. Add in an active floor malting programme and over 20 cask types of differing origin and you have a hotbed of creativity.

The Twelve is a mainstay of Benriach’s core range. It is twinned with The Smoky Twelve, which showcases the distillery’s peated spirit. The Twelve combines ex-bourbon, ex-Pedro Ximenez sherry and ex-Ruby Port casks, and the result is fabulous. Notes of plum, apple and cherry mingle with sultana, milk chocolate and green apple. Late notes of honey, mocha and oak spice add further depth.

Cost = £44

Benromach | 10 years old

The Benromach distillery in Forres is one of the most traditional that you will find anywhere in Scotland. Everything is produced using age-old whisky making skills and without the aid of computers. They also make their single malt in the pre-War Speyside style, which includes a little peat smoke. This dates from a time when peat was the only fuel source to dry barley.

The 10 years old is predominantly matured in ex-bourbon casks but with a small percentage of ex-sherry cask. Notes of vanilla fudge, heather honey and juicy sultana combine superbly with an underlying soft and gentle sweet peat smoke. The sweet and savoury characteristics accentuate each other well. Late hints of cocoa, buttery toffee and burnt orange peel add to the complexity.

Cost = £41

Cragganmore | 12 years old

The Cragganmore distillery sits in the centre of Speyside and is the region’s representative in Diageo’s Classic Malts range. It is often overlooked for its showier neighbours but produces high class whiskies when released. The 12 years old is a classic in the ex-bourbon cask matured genre. It sits alongside the fabulous Distillers Edition, which has an ex-Port cask finish.

The nose is soft, sweet, and enticing with aromas of honey, vanilla, and dried pear to the fore. On the palate this whisky shows bold cereals and hints of hay and straw to begin with before the vanilla and honey from the nose shine through. Hints of toasted hazelnut, orange oil and shortbread evolve, and give a lovely flavour profile. Add in a late hit of gingerbread and you are on to a winner.

Cost = £43

Glenallachie | 12 years old

The Glenallachie distillery has undergone somewhat of a renaissance over the last decade. The former unglamorous workhorse distillery from the 1960s has been transformed under new ownership. Their strategy of releasing premium single malts, rather than fulfilling blending contracts is paying dividends. Glenallachie translates as ‘valley of the rocks’ from Gaelic.

Glenallachie uses a high proportion of ex-sherry casks for maturation, and this has been noted by whisky fans. Their whiskies offer a great and credible alternative to more expensive sherried Speysiders such as Macallan. Expect notes of raisin, Cognac-soaked prune and milk chocolate married with toasted almond, hazelnut praline and cinnamon spice. This is ex-sherry cask whisky at its best.

Cost = £47

Tamdhu | 12 years old

Tamdhu’s story is a little like that of Glenallachie – an unknown distillery making single malt for blends that has thrived thanks to new owners. The distillery is now established as a brand, having previously been released sporadically at best. They claim to be the only distillery in Scotland using only ex-sherry barrels for maturation. And only ex-Oloroso sherry barrels at that.

The 12 years old is the cornerstone of Tamdhu’s compact core range. It is a big, bold, and oily single malt that offers plenty of flavour for your money. Sumptuous notes of caramel, brown sugar and toffee lead the way, and are followed by further notes of fruit and nut chocolate, baking spice and a hint of tropical fruit in the background. A mouthcoating lip-smacker of a dram.

Cost = £48


Download our investment guide


Download our