Most of you probably enjoy a few fingers of whiskey from time to time. If not, it is never too late to start, responsibly of course! Personally, few things are as enjoyable for me as sipping on a nice whiskey while smoking a good cigar. Doing both of those things doesn’t happen often but when it does I really try to enjoy it and soak up the experience.
There was a time when I was pretty uneducated in the different types of whiskeys and there is a decent chance some of you might be as well so I thought we would discuss it in some detail. I am sure most of you know that Scotch, is indeed, a whiskey. You probably also know that bourbon doesn’t have to come from Kentucky to be bourbon (although scotch does need to be made in Scotland to be scotch.)
Once you get past those basics the amount of diversity found in whiskey can be a bit confusing. If you are like me, you have no doubt pretended to know the difference between rye whiskey and single malt scotch when out with your buddies.
Here is a quick review of the basics
Distilled from a mash of water, yeast, and malted barley and aged in oak barrels for at least three years. Scotch can be one of two types. It can be a blend of whiskey from different distilleries or it can be made by just one distillery. If it is made by one distillery it is called “single malt.” As mentioned above, in order to earn the name scotch, it must be made in Scotland. If you are looking for a good blend you can try Johnnie Walker Blue. However, if you have been paying attention then you know single malt is all the rage these days.
Like anything that is “the rage” it tends to drive prices up so be careful what you pick up. Just because it is expensive doesn’t guarantee quality. A reasonably priced single malt is the Balvenie Double Wood 12 Year. You can usually find it for around $50.
Typically made from corn and aged in new oak barrels. While Kentucky still has the reputation for making some of the best bourbon in the world, there are a ton of small craft distilleries that make excellent bourbon. I like bourbon because it still is a great value. I am a huge fan of Makers Mark which you can get for $20 – $30 a bottle. Blanton’s Bourbon Single Barrel is also good, starting at around $40/bottle.
Similar to bourbon, except of course that it is made mostly with rye and not corn. Rye whiskey’s popularity took a dive after the Prohibition Era but in recent years has made a comeback. I am not a big fan of rye whiskey but I am told that Sazerac makes a good one for about $27. If you want something a little more serious in the rye category you can check out Woodford Reserve for about $40 per bottle.
Now that we have that covered let’s talk about 10 of the very best whiskeys out there. Some of the prices aren’t for the faint of heart but I promise you these are all amazing.
Elijah Craig Bourbon. Every year Heaven Hill releases a special limited edition bottling of this wonderful whiskey. It is aged 20 years and takes on some amazing and robust flavors. $175
The Macallan 15. Just last weekend I had the chance to enjoy a few fingers of this amazing single malt scotch. You will find notes of rich chocolate, with a hint of orange, rose, cinnamon and raisin. Pair it with a nice cigar and you can’t go wrong. $110 – $130 per bottle.
Highland Park 18 Year Old. Another single malt scotch many people consider this the best in the world (not sure I agree but it is certainly good.) You will find notes of oak (duh!), smoke and sweetness in this whiskey. $120.
Spice Tree. Some of the snobbier whiskey drinkers turn their noses up to blended scotch. Don’t be like them. Compass Box makes a great one that includes notes of spices and vanilla. $60.
Lagavulin Single Malt 16 Year Old. This classic single malt starts smoky but ends with vanilla and caramel notes with a dry finish. $70.
Redbreast 12 Year Old. We can’t leave off our Irish friends of course! This is an excellent Irish whiskey that many people consider the only Irish whiskey worth drinking. You will find strong notes of dark fruit. The finish is long and creamy with custard and spice. Order online and you can find this between $40 – $50 a bottle.
Four Roses Single Barrel. Yes, yes I know. Pappy Van Winkle tends to be the single barrel of choice these days. Avoid the trendy pick and stick with Four Roses. This one also has dark fruit notes with a sweet cocoa, maple and spicy finish. $50.
Lot No. 40 Canadian. If you can’t leave off Irish whiskey than you certainly can’t forget our neighbors to the north. This is considered the best Canadian whiskey out there. I don’t drink enough to say one way or the other on this one. This is strong rye whiskey that has won many awards. $60
Yamazaki Single Malt 18 Year Old. Japanese whiskey is one of the most underrated whiskeys out there. If you are looking to try something new I highly recommend this. A few years ago someone gave me a bottle of this for free because they didn’t think it would be any good (they never even tried it!) Lucky for me. It combines wonderful flavors of apple and smoke. This one can be expensive but I have found it for as little as $200 bottle.
Which whiskeys have we left off the list? Tell us in the comments!