The 16 Best Bottles of Whiskey Deserve Pride of Place on Your Bar Cart

suntory whisky bottle, best whiskey of
Courtesy of Suntory
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Whiskey has been around for centuries, although the Scots and the Irish will surely argue over its exact origins. It’s gone through various phases of popularity, with a significant downturn here in America from the 1970s until the early 2000s, a period during which vodka was king. But the past two decades have seen a huge resurgence for whiskey, and it’s become the most coveted and coolest of all spirits, with bourbon, rye, Irish, and other types of whiskey all enjoying immense growth and popularity. So we decided to join the long list of proclaimed whiskey lovers and write about the best whiskey brands according to our tastes.

Whether you’re a seasoned pro who drinks his whiskey neat or someone who’s just getting into the world of craft bourbon cocktails, how do you choose the right bottle to pour? How can you tell which are the best whiskey brands and which are swill? Because whiskey has so many sub-categories and is produced by so many distilleries all over the world, the flavors can vary drastically

Andy J Batioff
2 years
Sorry there is not enough whiskey in the world for this alcoholic!!!!!
Tim Chan
2 years
We're a men's lifestyle site so tried to pick brands geared towards men. But everyone loves whiskey...
Tim Chan
2 years
Not at all! We're a men's lifestyle site so we're trying to pick brands geared towards men,...

In this post, we’ll break down the different types of whiskey and then cover some of our favorite whiskey brands. So keep reading and get ready to enjoy some of the world’s best whiskey.

Andy J Batioff
2 years
Sorry there is not enough whiskey in the world for this alcoholic!!!!!
Tim Chan
2 years
We’re a men’s lifestyle site so tried to pick brands geared towards men. But everyone loves whiskey…
Tim Chan
2 years
Not at all! We’re a men’s lifestyle site so we’re trying to pick brands geared towards men,…

What Are the Different Types of Whiskey?

If you’re unfamiliar with the different kinds of whiskey, there are really six that you have to know: Irish whiskey, Scotch, bourbon, Tennessee, rye and Japanese whisky. Each has a unique origin, distilling process, taste and even way of spelling the liquor. The Irish use the “e” along with American distillers while Scots, Canadians and Japanese distillers all leave it out. There are some major differences between how these different types of whiskey are made, and each has its own unique flavor and style.

Beyond the six listed above, there are a few more categories worth knowing as well:

Irish whiskey is often described as “smooth,” but that really doesn’t do justice to the complex and often fruity flavor of the whiskey. There is single malt Irish whiskey, blends, and single pot still, which is made from a mixture of malted and unmalted barley.

Scotch whisky (aka Scotch) is whisky made in Scotland which has very strict laws in place for distillers in terms of how it’s made. It must be aged in barrels for at least three years. If there is an age statement, that indicates the youngest whisky in the bottle. Single malt comes from one distillery and is made from 100 percent malted barley, while a blend consists of malt and grain whisky from various distilleries. Some scotch is peated, meaning that peat is burned to dry the barley infusing it with a smoky flavor, but most of it is not.

Japanese whisky adopted many of its distillation methods from Scotland, but the character of the whisky is very different. In Japan, there is a great emphasis placed on blending. Many distilleries produce several different kinds of malt whiskies using different types of stills which they then combine into their products. Some Japanese brands actually source whisky from other countries and blend it in Japan, but regulations are changing so that consumers are aware of this.

Canadian whisky is also aged at least three years in a barrel and is usually made from wheat, corn, and rye. Many popular Canadian brands are blended whiskies, like Crown Royal. Canadian whisky is often referred to as “rye,” but that does not hold the same legal definition as it does here in the US.

Bourbon whiskey must be made in America from a mash bill of at least 51% corn. The rest is usually rye or wheat and malted barley. Bourbon must be aged in a new charred oak container (virtually always a barrel) and bottled at a minimum of 80 proof. Bourbons can be made anywhere in the US, but most are made in Kentucky.

Tennessee whiskey is technically bourbon, although many distillers in the state chafe at that categorization. What makes it different? All Tennessee whiskey distillers are required by state law to produce their whiskey in state and take a filtering step known as Lincoln County Process before aging. This means the new make spirit is filtered through charcoal before barreling, which brands like Jack Daniel’s say mellows the flavor.

Rye whiskey is a type of American whiskey that’s made from a mash bill of at least 51% rye, with corn and barley also thrown into the mix as other ingredients. It follows a similar distillation process as bourbon and tends to have a spicier flavor. Rye that’s been aged for two years or more and hasn’t been blended is known as “straight rye whiskey.”

Blended whiskey is great for cocktails as it’s a mixture of different types of whiskey (and often neutral grain spirit) and can often be found at a lower price point. But bourbon, rye, and Irish whiskey are also key components of many classic whiskey cocktails.

Below are the best whiskeys to try in each category. Most range from $20 to $40 a bottle, but we’ve got a few premium options for special occasions as well. Whether you like your whiskey mixed up in a cocktail or prefer it straight in a whiskey glass, we’ve gathered the best whiskey brands for you to try below. 

  

1. Wild Turkey 101

BEST OVERALL

When you’re talking best bourbon, you have to take both flavor and price into consideration. And in both of these categories, it’s really hard to find any faults with Wild Turkey 101, the spicy, dependable, and affordable bourbon that is bottled at a higher proof than most comparable options. The Wild Turkey distillery makes a number of other expressions, but 101 is the bread and butter bottle (there’s an 81 proof version as well, but it’s just not as flavorful). Father and son master distillers Eddie and Jimmy Russell have been behind this brand for decades, and the quality of the bourbon is hard to beat. Mix this one in any number of cocktails, or sip it on its own — you won’t be disappointed either way.

Wild Turkey 101Courtesy of Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey 101

$28.99
  

2. Redbreast 12

BEST IRISH WHISKEY

Redbreast is an excellent example of single-pot still Irish whiskey. This means that the whiskey is made at one distillery (Midleton outside of Cork, in this case) in a pot still from a mash bill of malted and un-malted barley. This bottle is a good intro to the world of single-pot still whiskey, aged in a combination of bourbon and sherry casks to infuse the liquid with notes of vanilla, dried fruit, and spice. Try sipping this one and comparing it with a typical Irish blend like Jameson to see how they differ.

Redbreast 12Courtesy of Whiskybase

Redbreast 12

$59.99
  

3. WhistlePig 10 Year

BEST RYE WHISKEY

There is so much fantastic American rye whiskey, don’t get us wrong. But Vermont’s WhistlePig distillery happens to produce some of the best, although it’s certainly not the cheapest. The distillery sources this whiskey from Canada’s Alberta Distillers Limited, a large operation that makes a lot of excellent whiskeys. This is a 100 percent rye whiskey — remember, in America, rye must be made from a mash bill of at least 51 percent rye, so this is very different from your typical Kentucky rye. It’s spicy, fruity, and delicious, and works great in cocktails or on its own.

WhistlePig RyeCourtesy of WhistlePig

WhistlePig 10

$98.99
  

4. Suntory Toki Whisky

BEST JAPANESE WHISKY

Japanese whiskies have blown up over the past few years here in America, and age statement bottles are hard to find and expensive. Luckily, one great Japanese whisky — Suntory Toki — has worked its way into the mainstream, coming recommended by multiple publications and whisky connoisseurs. It’s a blend of malt and grain whiskies produced at Suntory’s three distilleries: Hakushu, Chita, and Yamazaki. It has a light taste with hints of fruit, honey and citrus, making it ideal in a highball cocktail, although it’s also great on the rocks.

best Japanese whiskey Suntory Toki WhiskyCourtesy of Drizly

Suntory Toki

$52.00
  

5. George Dickel Bottled in Bond

BEST TENNESSEE WHISKEY

George Dickel has been sort of an underrated Tennessee whiskey distillery for a long time, especially when compared to Jack Daniel’s. But since Nicole Austin became the head distiller, things have really taken off. There have been many interesting and really good-tasting new releases, including several versions of this bottled-in-bond whiskey (100 proof, aged at least four years). The latest edition is a steal, a 13-year-old Tennessee whiskey that is full of notes of pecan, vanilla, and brown sugar, which you can find for less than 50 bucks.

Dickel Bottled in BondCourtesy of George Dickel

 

Dickel Bottled in Bond

$42.99
  

6. High West Campfire Whiskey

BEST BLEND

This interesting blend of whiskeys comes from High West, the Utah distillery that both makes its own whiskey and sources from other distilleries. High West Campfire is one of the best American blended whiskeys, although it isn’t all American as it’s a mix of bourbon, rye, and Scotch that no one else can claim. The taste is equal parts unusual, distinctive and delicious, with hints of sweet honey from the bourbon, fruity spice from the rye and smokiness from the Scotch. Although it can be mixed, it’s best enjoyed straight while catching up with a group of friends.

American Whiskey High WestCourtesy of Drizly

High West Campfire

$69.99
  

7. The Balvenie 12-Year-Old DoubleWood

BEST SINGLE MALT SCOTCH WHISKY

There are so many single malt scotches to choose from, but this 12-year-old expression from Speyside’s Balvenie distillery is a solid choice that won’t break the bank. This is the sister distillery to the much larger Glenfiddich, which is just next door. DoubleWood gets its name from the fact that it’s aged in bourbon barrels and finished in sherry casks, and Balvenie, under the watchful eye of Malt Master David C. Stewart, was one of the first to give a single malt a secondary maturation period.

Balvenie DoubleWoodCourtesy of Total Wine

The Balvenie DoubleWood

$72.99
  

8. Evan Williams Bourbon

BEST BUDGET

Whiskey drinking can put a dent in your wallet — but it doesn’t have to. There are a handful of high-quality cheap whiskeys that outdo their low price tags. One such whiskey is Evan Williams from Heaven Hill. This cheap bottle has everything you want from a bourbon — rich caramel and vanilla notes, a complex palate with sweet and spice, and you can usually find a bottle for less than $20. This whiskey is good enough to drink on its own, but definitely keep this at home to make cocktails with.

Evan WilliamsCourtesy of Evan Williams

Evan Williams

$16.99
  

9. Four Roses Small Batch Whiskey

BEST FOR COCKTAILS

Four Roses is well known for its use of 10 different bourbon recipes, a combination of two mash bills and five different yeast strains. While the Kentucky distillery’s core expression uses all ten, the Small Batch expression uses just four and ups the proof to 90. This might be a bit more expensive than your average cocktail bourbon, and you should certainly sip this on its own, but go ahead and make an Old Fashioned or any other whiskey cocktail with this and you will be very pleased.

best whiskey for cocktails - Four Roses Small Batch WhiskeyCourtesy of Drizly

Four Roses Small Batch

$34.99
  

10. Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Whiskey

BEST BARREL PROOF

Every whiskey connoisseur should try a barrel-proof whiskey (or keep a bottle in your bar to impress guests). What this means is the whiskey hasn’t been cut with water to proof it down before bottling, so it’s as close to sipping from the barrel as you are likely to get. Our choice is Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, which is released three times per year. The latest batch from this winter clocks in at 120.8 proof, a manageable level given the higher ABV of some releases. Feel free to add some water to this one to rein it in if this feels too strong.

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof WhiskeyCourtesy of Drizly

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof

$71.99
  

11. Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye

BEST CANADIAN

Canadian whisky is a category well worth exploring, from blends to rye to single malts. This bottle caught everybody’s attention when it was first released a few years ago, with a really interesting and spicy character due to its 90 percent rye mash bill. Crown Royal is better known for its inexpensive blends, but this whisky will fit your budget as well. Try using this in place of an American rye the next time you make a Manhattan at home.

Crown Royal RyeCourtesy of Crown Royal

Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye

$39.99
  

12. Paul John Mithuna

BEST INDIAN

Unbeknownst to most, whisky is big in India. Our favorite Indian whisky is Paul John Mithuna out of party-capital Goa, which is unpeated, non-chill-filtered, and first aged in virgin oak casks before being finished in ex-bourbon barrels. Due to the tropical climate in Goa, the whisky evaporates faster while it matures, translating to a better taste at a younger age. It’s bottled at a hefty 58% ABV and has notes of orange, spice, and mocha on the palate.

Paul John Mithuna

$244.93
  

13. Johnnie Walker Blue Label Ghost & Rare Whiskey

THE GOOD STUFF

Every guy should try some top-shelf whisky at least once in their lifetime. Luxury whiskies are usually aged around 20-25 years and come in fancy packaging like crystal bottles and wood boxes. One of the best luxury whiskies (that you can actually get your hands on) is this Johnnie Walker Blue Label Ghost & Rare. Blue Label is JW’s high-end, celebration-level line of whiskey. Ghost & Rare is, like the name suggests, an even fancier edition of Blue Label. It’s a blend of rare whiskeys collected and blended by master blender Dr. Jim Beveridge (now retired, with Emma Walker taking over the role) to produce a flavor that’s, well, really really good.

Johnnie Walker Blue Label Ghost & Rare Whiskey, best whiskey brandsCourtesy of Reserve Bar

Johnnie Walker Blue Label Ghost & Rare

$399.99
  

14. Lagavulin 16-Year-Old Whisky

BEST SMOKEY WHISKY

This single malt scotch from the Islay region of Scotland is sure to set a campfire in your taste buds. It’s quite smokey, but very complex as well, with layers of fruit, vanilla, and spice on the palate. It’s perfect for a night playing cards or a late-night talk on the back porch, and very suitable for winter drinking. A very peaty whisky like this one is not exactly for the faint of heart, but it has garnered many loyal followers among those who enjoy a smoky single malt.

Lagavulin 16 Year Old WhiskyCourtesy of The Whisky Exchange

Lagavulin 16 Year Old

$119.00
  

15. Knob Creek

BEST BOURBON 

Knob Creek is part of Jim Beam’s Small Batch Collection and is one of the best values you will find. The whiskey got its nine-year-old age statement back a few years ago, which is rare in this world of disappearing age statements. There are limited edition 12- and 15-year-old versions of Knob Creek as well, which are delicious, but the core expression is hard to beat. Overall, this is just a solid bourbon that you can sip or make a drink with. Classic notes of vanilla, tobacco, and stone fruit are backed by a little bit of spice and a long finish.

Read More: The Greatest American Bourbon

Knob CreekCourtesy of Knob Creek

Knob Creek

$37.99
  

16. Wild Turkey Longbranch Whiskey

BEST CELEBRITY WHISKEY BRAND 

Matthew McConaughey teamed up with the world’s longest-tenured master distiller, Jimmy Russell, and his son, Eddie Russell, to make a bourbon like he used to enjoy with his father growing up in Texas. The whiskey is filtered through two layers of charcoal, American white oak and Texas mesquite wood, adding a bit of flavor that some liken to Texas BBQ. It’s made in small batches and is a delicious sipping whiskey with subtle hints of smokey sweetness. McConaughey prefers it neat, for the record, and it’s one of the best whiskey brands available that has a celebrity connection.

Wild Turkey Longbranch WhiskeyCourtesy of Amazon

Wild Turkey Longbranch

$39.99
  

About the Author

Jonah Flicker is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn, New York who covers spirits and alcohol. For SPY.com he’s written a regular Whiskey of the Week column, reviewed organic tequila, and compared the top Russian vodka brands, among other topics. He also writes about bars, food, travel, and lifestyle topics for many different outlets. Jonah has written about spirits for publications such as Robb Report, USA Today, Esquire, Maxim, Travel + Leisure, Food & Wine, Town & Country, Men’s Journal, Liquor.com, Paste Magazine, CNN, BBC Travel, and much more.

  

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Some FAQs About Whiskey

What is Whiskey?

Whiskey is a type of spirit that is distilled from grain and is typically aged in barrels, which gives it color and flavor. It can be enjoyed mixed with a cocktail, neat, or over some ice, and contains at least 40% alcohol by volume. There are many different varieties from countries all over the world including America, Ireland, Scotland, England, Japan, India, and Taiwan.

How is Whiskey Made?

The process of making whiskey differs depending on where it's being produced, but overall it involves a rough 4-step process of mashing, fermentation, distillation, and maturation. For single malt scotch, raw barley is partially sprouted or allowed or germinate before being heated and dried to stop this process. The sugars are extracted from the barley through a process called mashing in which it's combined with water and heated, and then yeast is added during fermentation to turn the sugar into alcohol. Start to finish the process can take anywhere from 48-96 hours.

Then, the liquid is distilled in either pot stills or column stills to increase the alcohol content. The new make spirit is then aged in wooden (usually oak) barrels (this is where the phrase "barrel-aged" comes from). American bourbon, rye and Tennessee whiskey must be aged in new charred oak containers, while whisky and whiskey from other countries is often matured in used barrels.

Is There a Difference Between Whiskey and Whisky?

You may be surprised to know that both of these spellings of whiskey are correct — whiskey refers to spirits distilled in Ireland and the US, whereas whisky is how the drink is spelled in Scotland, Canada and Japan. Whiskey differs greatly in taste and appearance depending on its country of origin, due to differing rules about how it is made. Each country has pretty strict guidelines about how whiskey is produced and aged.