Whiskey has been, is and always will be cool. Period. It’s been enjoyed beside campfires on the American frontier, in swanky Irish bars, and at the trendiest cocktail bars in 2019. Great whiskey has been the alcohol connoisseurs drink of choice for so many years for a few good reasons: it has a totally unique taste, and it can be enjoyed in a variety of ways.
But whether you’re a seasoned whiskey drinker or someone who’s just getting into the liquor, trying a new bottle is daunting. Because whiskey has so many incarnations produced by so many distilleries all over the world, the flavors can be drastically different.
If you’re unfamiliar with the different kinds of whiskey, there are really six that you have to know: Irish, Scotch, bourbon, Tennessee, rye and Japanese. Each has a unique origin, distilling process and resulting taste, so if you’re new to whiskey, it’s best to taste each and see which one you like.
Below are the best whiskeys to try in each category. All are around $15 to $40 a bottle, so you can pick some up without too much risk.
1. Buffalo Trace Bourbon
Bourbon is one of the most loved whiskeys around – especially in the States. Although you can spend hundreds on a fancy bottle, you really don’t have to. Case-in-point: this celebrated, mass-produced bottle of Buffalo Trace bourbon. Distilled in charred oak barrels (as all bourbon should be), it boasts a mellow taste with the balance of sweet and smoky that you want in a true American bourbon. Sip it slowly while you unwind (it’s 90 proof), or use it in an old fashioned cocktail that will make your guests come begging for a refill.
2. Jameson Caskmates
BEST IRISH WHISKEY
As you might have guessed, Irish whiskey is made exclusively in Eire (Republic of Ireland) or in Northern Ireland using yeast-fermented grain mash or a mash of malted cereals. Although this bottle of Jameson Caskmates has an unusual distilling process, connoisseurs agree that it’s one of the best irish whiskeys out there – especially for the price. The whiskey is finished in casks that have been used for brewing beer, upgrading the classic Irish taste with a note of fruity malt. Even though it’s shaken hands with a stout beer, you’ll still get to experience a real Irish whiskey.
3. Old Overholt Rye Whiskey
BEST RYE WHISKEY
Made in North America using a rye-heavy mash, rye whiskey produces a slightly spicy flavor that makes it especially good in cocktails. You don’t have to spend a lot to get a great rye, so we recommend this affordable Old Overholt (as do others). It’s been around since 1810, and for a while after prohibition, it was the most popular spirit in America. It’s tasty and easy to drink on its own but really shines in a manhattan or old fashioned cocktail.
4. Suntory Toki
BEST JAPANESE WHISKY
Japanese whiskys (they spell it without the ‘e’) have blown-up fairly recently in North America, although they can still be hard to find and expensive. Luckily, one great Japanese whisky – Suntory Toki – has worked its way into the mainstream, coming recommended by multiple publications including Esquire. It’s made from a blend of Hakushu white oak cask malt, Chita grain whisky, Yamazaki white oak cask and Spanish oak cask whisky. These whiskys come from different time periods, which gives the bottle its name, Toki, meaning “time” in Japanese. 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.
5. George Dickel Barrel Select
BEST TENNESSEE WHISKEY
This George Dickel is first steeped in charcoal (making it a Tennessee whiskey) before being aged 10-12 years and subsequently hand-selected by Master Distiller John Lunn. Its silky, velvety taste delivers notes of vanilla and spice that make it highly drinkable, even if you’re new to whiskey. Still not convinced? Check the scoreboard. This bottle has won awards including multiple medals from the Beverage Testing Institute, as well as second place at the Ultimate Spirits Challenge.
6. High West Campfire
BEST AMERICAN WHISKEY
Some American-made whiskeys don’t fall into the category of bourbon, rye or Tennessee, making them simply American whiskey. This High West Campfire is one of the best American whiskeys, with a blend of bourbon, rye and Scotch whiskeys 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.
7. Glenfiddich 15 Year
BEST SCOTCH WHISKY
Scotch has an earthy, smoky flavor that comes imported exclusively from (you guessed it) Scotland. The high-class liquor is aged in oak casks and typically made from grain or malted barley, and the name drops the ‘e,’ spelling it ‘whisky’ like the Japanese. We highly recommend this Glenfiddich 15 year as a go-to bottle for special occasions or a treat at the end of the day. Its warming feel, notes of honey and flavors of cinnamon and toffee have earned it a gold medal with Whisky Masters, as well as a silver medal at the International Wine and Spirit Competition.