Since my first run-in with this stuff, I have been trying with relatively little success to figure out why Speyburn is as cheap as it is.

I first started crunching numbers hoping that sheer production could explain things. The Speyburn distillery has a production capacity of 4 million liters a year. That sounds like a lot! But then as just a comparison, I looked at Springbank and Caol Ila, which put out about 2 and 3.5 million liters a year. You’ll pay about $60 for the Springbank 10 and the Caol Ila 12. By comparison, Speyburn 10 is about $20.

Speyburn is a budget scotch that forces hardly any of the trade-offs that ‘budget’ usually implies.

The stranger figure: Speyburn, which is Scotch—and therefore produced in Scotland—sells only 10,000 bottles yearly in the UK. Here in the US, Speyburn moves 350,000 bottles each year. Yes: thirty-five times more. I mean, we’re a bigger nation, but adjusting for population that would only account for us consuming five bottles of Speyburn stateside for every one tanked in the UK.

So… this stuff is for us? Is there something distinctive here that makes it a direct hit for the American palate and a total miss for international Scotch drinkers? Are we the beneficiaries of a low price because this stuff is relatively unknown in its country of origin? Having gone through a few bottles, I still can’t figure it out.

Whatever the case, I’d say that Speyburn compares extremely favorably with the other much better-known “budget” scotches: Glenlivet 12 and Glenfiddich 12. Those two titans are best known for throwing down some simple and timeless flavors at about a $25 price point. For Glenlivet, a little smoke with some apple, and for Glenfiddich, fresh pear. They’re everywhere, but they’re everywhere for a reason. What’s familiar is often what’s comfortable.

Speyburn, on the other hand, doles out a surprising amount of complexity if you feel like digging. The nose is an intriguing combination of meyer lemon, star anise, and fresh-cut lumber. Nothing shouts at you, but it’s nice to actually smell a $20 whisky. So often, you’re walloped with ethanol reek at that price point—which I should mention is not elitism. It’s just a reality I’ve come to understand as a parameter. If you’re a knife juggler, you’re going to foot some ER bills. If you review cheap booze, you quickly begin to expect cheap booze to smell like it.

The taste is straightforward with a couple interesting twists on your “normal-grade” scotch. It’s inoffensively sweet and malty, but as it develops there’s an ever-so-slight amount of salt and nuttiness that’s quite pleasant. Let it linger on the palate, and a little bit of herbaciousness wakes up. On its way out, there’s nothing showy, but also nothing unwanted. Like Glenlivet 12, there’s apple. Unlike Glenlivet 12, there’s some mintiness in place of peat smoke.

Really, from start to finish, Speyburn 10 offers everything I think people like about the “Glenwhatever” variety of single malt scotch. What I like about Speyburn 10 is that it offers some unconventional curve balls that, frankly, it really doesn’t have to for anyone to buy it at the price they’re asking. It’s a budget scotch that forces hardly any of the trade-offs that “budget” usually implies.

With respect to the rest of the product line: skip the more expensive Arranta, because it sucks. Speyburn also offers a cheaper NAS product in the Bradan Orach, though it’s only a few dollars cheaper. Paying about two or three extra dollars and getting an age-stated single malt as an upgrade seems like a no-brainer to me.

Nose: Understated, but with lemon, cedar, and anise.
Taste: A honeyed arrival with salty walnuts and fennel bringing up the rear.
Finish: Green apples and a little bit of bitter mint.
Misc: 43% ABV. Surprising, given that almost everything else at this price tier clocks in at 40%.
Price: $20
Overall Rating