The intelligent investor's guide to spirits

Money asked top connoisseurs to identify their favorite undervalued spirits. These hidden gems will set you back less than the standard labels and impress your friends more. Bottoms up!

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With Scotch, don't assume older or pricier guarantees better taste. "Not all whisky benefits from extended maturation," says Charles MacLean, author of "Scotch Whisky: A Liquid History." If it ages too long, you'll taste mostly the wood of its cask. According to MacLean, 18 years is optimum for richness, flavor and price. Scotch aged 18 years sells for around $70 - about 50% less than the cheapest 25-year-old. Also, don't overlook blends, which contain whiskies from several distilleries, plus grain whisky. "These by no means are a poorer relation to single malt," says MacLean. They're usually smoother, besides being a better value.

As for American whiskey, bourbon may have reigned for the past century, "but rye is a great value, comparatively," says Allen Katz, spirits education director for distributor Southern Wine & Spirits of New York. The best bottles are easily the equal of premium bourbon in complexity - and often well under it in price.

Our picks:

Rittenhouse Bottled-in-Bond Rye, $16: It won North American whiskey of the year at the 2006 San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

Chivas Regal 18-year-old, $65: Named 2007 Scotch blend of the year by Malt Advocate, it's usually several bucks cheaper than competitor Johnnie Walker.

Wild Turkey Russell's Reserve Rye, $33: This spicy six-year-old small-batch rye comes from a company better known for its bourbon.

Highland Park 18, $85: It's among the best 18-year single malts on the market.

NEXT: Vodka
Last updated December 19 2008: 10:43 AM ET
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