July 23, 2020
Pappy Van Winkle . Port Ellen . Yamazaki. The Macallan. If you’re even an occasional whiskey consumer you’re well aware of the names. And if you’re a full-blown connoisseur you curse the fact that you can’t find them on shelves anymore. The mainstreaming of brown spirits across all categories—bourbon, rye, scotch, Irish, Japanese—is one of the 21st Century’s great commercial success stories. But it’s not all (four) roses. Unfortunately, all that precious liquid takes time to mature. In the whiskey business that means supply effectively lags demand by several years—sometimes several decades.
To put it another way: no distillery in the late ‘90s was laying down the liquid necessary to satisfy the voracious thirst of today. So now there just aren’t enough bottles to go around. In the immediate future the cultish brands mentioned above will only become scarcer; even more tightly allocated. But there’s a silver lining. While the hoarded masses reflexively gravitate towards the hype, like tourists to Times Square, they’re leaving some sensational liquids untouched on the shelf.
For every bottle of ‘Pappy 15’, there’s a bourbon of comparable quality that costs a tenth as much. It may even be collecting dust as you read this. The experts know that. And now, so do you. Below, the industry’s top-selling authors reveal a bar-full of underrated gems. Just try not to spill their secrets.
Glen Scotia — Double Cask ($52)
“Those looking for a genuine example of unique regionality in Scotch need to explore Campbeltown’s Glen Scotia. It tends to be overlooked in favour of Springbank, but tastes like no other whisky I’ve ever tried. Think huge maritime/coastal notes: sea spray, lobster pots and some soft, medicinal peat and you’re halfway there, heading off on the beautiful drive down the Kintyre Peninsula.” - Neil Ridley , author of World of Whisky .
Speyburn — 10 Year Single Malt Scotch Whisky ($34)
“I do not contribute to these stories any more. I've seen too many whiskeys soar in price or disappear after appearing on them, and I won't have anything more to do with them. No slam on you, it's the crazed hoarders. Weller, Heaven Hill Bonded 6, Old Grand-Dad, Elijah Craig, Redbreast, Glenrothes, Highland Park, everything Japanese! Okay, I actually think Speyburn 10 is underrated—but no one will ever believe that.” - Lew Bryson , author of Whiskey Master Class .
Evan Williams — Bottled in Bond ($12)
“I have been a longtime drinker of this, because it's so damn inexpensive and always available. Last year, I did a blind tasting where I put it in a flight with other inexpensive bourbons and that beautiful, nutmeg-drenched $12 bottle won pretty handily.” - Fred Minnick , author of Bourbon Curious .
Oppidan — Smoke + Sea ($40)
“It's a weird little whiskey, a bourbon finished in Islay Scotch casks, so it's sort of sweet, sort of smoky, sort of saline. It doesn't fit neatly into any category, but deserves more love. It would make a wild Penicillin.” - Kara Newman , author of Cocktails With A Twist .
Akashi — White Oak ($47)
"There are a lot of new distilleries in Japan, but the most underrated one, in my opinion, is Eigashima Distillery (who bottle their single malt expressions under the Akashi brand), and they're hardly new-kids-on-the-block. In fact, they got their whisky license 101 years ago - yes, that's before Yamazaki Distillery! They make whisky as a side business, during the hot summer months, when they're not busy making sake and their whisky is very characterful, which is a turn off to some people. It's not clean, delicate, harmonious but rough, dirty and funky. The analogy is not perfect but they're kind of the Japanese equivalent of Springbank. There's no hype - of their own making or consumer-created - but their whisky is never boring and it's (still) relatively easy to find, which is not something you can say of most Japanese whiskies." - Stefan Van Eycken , author of Whisky Rising .
Belle Meade — Sherry Cask Finished Bourbon ($86)
“Belle Meade doesn’t get as much attention as so many whiskey brands out there, but the distillery is producing incredible juice. I’m partial to the sherry barrel expression because I love spirits with nutty, umami notes.” - Kat Odell , author of Day Drinking .
Old Forester — 1920 Prohibition Style Bourbon ($60)
“Old Forester 1920 is, for lack of a better word, a ‘shelf turd’—meaning, it’s always in your liquor store, always on the shelf. It’s also a Brown Forman product (the same makers of Jack Daniels) which means most self-described whiskey snobs think they’re too good for it. But those people care about hype and not quality. Damn if 1920 is not one of the richest, most nuanced and complex, and downright delicious bourbons out there. It is absolutely better than many of the ‘allocated’ products you’ll never see on shelves—including the brand’s own limited edition Birthday Bourbon.” - Aaron Goldfarb author of Hacking Whiskey .
Glengoyne — 18 Year Single Malt Scotch Whisky ($160)
“Maybe one of the best price/value deals in the Scotch repertoire. 100% sherry barrel matured, not a trace of peat and at 18yrs, it maintains a richness and balance of flavors. A secret dram for the sherry fix when I need it. Makes the ‘all Scotch is peaty’ myth stand in the corner with a dunce hat.” - Robin Robinson , author of The Complete Whiskey Course .
Compass Box — Great King Street Blended Scotch Whisky ($60)
“Never underestimate the value of a good Scotch blend. This one ticks off all the boxes: it sips elegantly neat, tastes great in a highball and plays well with juices and other cocktail modifiers." - Amanda Schuster , author of New York Cocktails .
Evan Williams — Black Label ($14)
“Evan Williams Black Label is everything that bourbon is supposed to be. It’s 86 proof, it’s got a little spice to it, while still having that rounded bourbon feel. And here’s the secret: bourbon’s not supposed to be expensive, dude. Great neat, on the rocks, or as a shot, and a workhouse in cocktails. And a 750ml bottle will set you back $15-ish or less.” - John McCarthy and Carey Jones , co-authors of Be Your Own Bartender .
The Balvenie — DoubleWood 12 Year Old ($69)
“This is one of my all-time favorite whiskies, and one that I don’t see getting the love it deserves. David Stewart is a legend who’s been at Balvenie for nearly 60 years. He routinely cites this expression as his all-time favorite. And it’s usually only around $60 a bottle. Best Scotch value going, in my opinion.” - Dan Dunn , author of American Wino .
By Brad Japhe, Contributor
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