The 50 Best Whiskeys in the World
Whiskey drinkers have never had it so good. Over the past decade or so, the number of varieties has exploded, presenting tipplers with a mind-boggling array of options. You can now drink bourbon that’s aged entirely on the ocean, a truly kick-ass rye, or Japanese single malts that beat the Scots in blind taste tests. All this poses a serious — if highly welcome — dilemma: What the hell should I drink? In addition to putting our own taste buds to work, we recruited 18 top experts from the wide world of whiskey — writers, bartenders, restaurateurs (and in some cases, all three) — who have collectively sampled over 1,000 bottles. Somehow, we narrowed them down to these 50, most of which can be found at any good liquor store and none of which should fail to please. So whether you’re looking for massive peat smoke for a frigid winter night, an easy weekend sipper on the rocks, or a budget bourbon for a pitcher of Old Fashioneds, we’ve got the perfect bottle for you.
Monkey Shoulder Blended Malt Scotch
A great blended malt should be more than the sum of its parts. Monkey Shoulder — a blend of the single malts Glenfiddich, Balvenie, and Kinivie — pulls that off in spades. It makes a solid match for ice and a splash of soda, and it’s one of the best damn Scotch and limes we’ve ever had. [Get it delivered by drizly.com; $36, 750ml]
Bushmills Black Bush Whiskey
This spicy blend is a favorite of Jack McGarry, a co-owner of The Dead Rabbit in New York. “Due to the heavy Sherry component,” Jack says, “the blend possesses wonderful Christmas cake notes of dried fruits and the prerequisite Christmas spices.” Despite its festive wintertime flavors, it’s suitable for year-round consumption. [Get it delivered by drizly.com; $47, 750ml]
Hudson Baby Bourbon
Mention the word “bourbon,” and most of us immediately think “Kentucky”; after all, the spirit has been made there for more than 200 years. But Tuthilltown in Hudson, New York — the state’s first distillery to open since prohibition — adds a worthy contender to the American tradition with this 100-percent corn bourbon. When you bring it to your mouth, you can detect the brand new charred American Oak barrels it’s been conditioning in, and its lightly sweet, roasted corn flavor makes it a good bet for those new to the craft whiskey world. [Get it delivered by drizly.com; $41, 375ml]
WhistlePig Straight Rye
Hardcore rye distillers and drinkers tend to scoff at WhistlePig, which has been known to buy whiskey from another distiller then age, blend, and bottle it as its own. But controversy doesn’t change the fact that this is fantastic rye whiskey: big, bold, with warm flavor notes reminiscent of clove, nutmeg, and toffee. [Get it delivered by drizly.com; $72, 750ml]
Compass Box Hedonism Quindecimus Whisky
The youngest malt in the blend is 20 years old, creating a sweetness (think honey and flowers) that comes along with a heavy richness and no peat. This is one unique Scotch, it’s also a rare one. At around 6,000 bottles, get it while you can.
Buffalo Trace W.L. Weller 12
There are few bourbons more coveted than Pappy Van Winkle 12-Year Lot B. The problem: That bottle is impossible to find without a tremendous markup. Our advice: skip the Lot B and get this bottle instead. “Regaled as the ‘inexpensive’ Van Winkle Lot B, this wheated bourbon is one of the best values on the market,” says Bill Thomas, owner and whiskey curator at Washington, D.C.’s Jack Rose Dining Saloon. Though it’s quickly becoming scarce, it shouldn’t run more than $40. There are plenty of bloggers out there who think that you can approximate a bottle of Pappy blending this with another whiskey, but why bother when it’s so good?
Maker’s 46 is a lab experiment gone right. “They set out to enhance the iconic Maker’s Mark, and succeeded by placing seared oak staves into a small batch bourbon for 90 days,days,” says Thomas. “The result is everything you loved about Maker’s with more complexity and an extra shot of well-balanced oak notes.” [Get it delivered from drizly.com; $46, 750ml]
“A question I get a lot,” says Tommy Tardie, owner of The Flatiron Room in New York, “is ‘What’s your favorite whisky?’ Not an easy answer as my preference changes depending on the season, the temperature, where I’m at, and even my mood.” There’s one whiskey that’s always been in his top five, though: the Glendronach 18. “It’s brilliant,” he says. “One sip and notes of leather, tobacco, polished wood, and sweet sherry notes linger on my palate forever.”
Tullamore D.E.W. “Phoenix” Irish Whiskey
Inspired by the Irish town of Tullamore’s rebirth in the 18th Century — and subsequent founding of the distillery — this is an Irish whiskey you should do your damnedest to find. (Oddly, it’s only available in airport shops.) Next time you seek out whiskey from the Emerald Isle, forgo famous staples like Jameson and sling back some fine sips of Tullamore D.E.W. By blending golden grain, malt, and pure pot still whiskey, then letting it rest in sherry casks, a whiff of Phoenix hits you like freshly picked autumn apple dipped in caramel to match (minus that annoying stickiness).
George Dickel Superior No. 12 Whisky
Don’t know the difference between Tennessee whiskey and bourbon? This bottle from Dickel is your perfect introduction (and for only $25 a pain-free lesson). According to Thomas, Tennessee whiskey “uses the Lincoln County Process: filtering the whiskey through sugar maple charcoal before it hits the barrel.” The resulting whiskey is smooth and warm — with a nice kick, but not too hot. [Get it delivered by drizly.com; $40, 750ml]
Today Rittenhouse is made in Kentucky, but it’s still produced in the pre-Prohibition tradition of whiskey from the Monongahela River area of Pennsylvania where the brand hails from. This 100-proof whiskey goes down smooth, making it one of the better sipping ryes out there. And you can’t argue with the price tag: less than $30. [Get it delivered by drizly.com; $25, 750ml]
The Balvenie Caribbean Cask 14-Year-Old Single Malt
St. John Frizell, owner of Brooklyn cafe and bar Fort Defiance, can’t get enough of this Scotch finished in rum barrels. “It’s surprising how much rum character comes through,” he says. “It’s beautiful Balvenie whiskey, but with graceful notes of almond, lime rind, tropical fruit, allspice, and nutmeg. These are rum punch flavors, straight out of the West Indies.” [Get it delivered by drizly.com; $74, 7450ml]
Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Perhaps the ultimate whiskey for bargain hunters, it’s aged for 12 years, bottled uncut (at 138 proof) and unfiltered, and sells for about $50 (if you can find it). It has all of the characteristics of Heaven Hill bourbons (Evan Williams, Elijah Craig, Henry McKenna), with flavors of caramel, apple, vanilla, and cinnamon, but with more depth and intensity. This bourbon can be quite dangerous as it doesn’t drink as hot as the proof may suggest. It also makes a phenomenal Old Fashioned with just a touch of sugar and a few dashes of bitters.
Highland Park Ice Edition
Highland Park takes its limited edition releases seriously. All the more reason to grab one of the 3,915 bottles of this Norse legend–inspired single malt. Seventeen-years-old and aged primarily in ex-bourbon barrels, the bottle alone makes this the kind of Scotch you keep as a bar’s centerpiece or give to a friend who’s about to get married. But show-stopping appearance aside, make sure you drink it. Ice Edition is a full-bodied experience from nose to finish ending with a pleasant woodiness and mild spice.
Redbreast 12-Year-Old Irish Whiskey
When you walk into a bar and spot Redbreast 12, order it immediately. Made from the mash of malted and unmalted barley, this traditional pot still whiskey is warm, with a spicy kick you won’t soon forget. [get it delivered by drizly.com; $66, 750ml]
Blanton’s Original Single Barrel Bourbon
Blanton’s Original Single Barrel Bourbon is damn tough to outshine. The whiskey bleeds of satisfying orange and vanilla notes, and comes in one of the single most iconic bottles seen behind a bar. When booze meets lip, it coats your mouth with caramel and citrus, leaving just a slight burn in the back of your throat. [get it delivered by drizly.com; $65, 750ml]
The Famous Grouse
The Famous Grouse has been renowned since 1842, when its creator was asked to supply a whiskey for a royal dinner attended by Queen Victoria. Today, the regal blend has become Scotland’s best-selling whiskey on account of its storied legacy, its trademark malty flavor profile, and its reasonable price (about $25 a bottle).
Bulleit Rye should be the first whiskey you buy when stocking your bar. The clean spice and sweet vanilla flavors are complex and smooth enough to be savored neat. Yet this impressively affordable spirit is a cocktail’s best friend, seamlessly blending and complementing any bitters or liqueurs you throw at it. [get it delivered by drizly.com; $35, 750ml]
Jameson 18-Year-Old Limited Reserve
You’ve probably had Jameson Original at more than a few dive bars, but to get a bottle of the award-winning 18-Year-Old Limited Reserve, you have to hunt. It blends three whiskeys, which are aged in sherry casks and finished for six months in bourbon barrels. The result? An intriguing and pleasing blend of vanilla, almond, and toffee, mingling with a tinge of woodiness. [get it delivered by drizly.com; $149, 750ml]
Aberfeldy has been making single malt in the Scottish Highlands since 1896 using only fresh water from the Pitilie Burn — the stream that runs alongside the distillery. The fruity, malty Aberfeldy 12-Year-Old brings invigorating notes of honey and spice, it also makes one hell of a hair of the dog.
Michter’s US-1 Unblended American Whiskey
With caramel, coffee, and brown butter notes to finish, this is a reasonably priced and readily available bottle of whiskey anyone can get behind. Thanks to aging in older barrels, this whiskey has a bit more sweetness than the Michter’s Bourbon. [get it delivered from drizly.com; $49, 750ml]
Yamazaki 18 Single Malt Whiskey
Japan has been producing great whiskey for decades. Tardie says that its popularity, however, didn’t become mainstream until the last few years. “In 2013 the Yamazaki Sherry Cask was awarded ‘World Whisky of the Year,’ and demand for anything Japanese went gangbusters,” says Tardie. “The Yamazaki 18 is a tremendous whiskey. Unfortunately, the lack of availability and the steep pricing will limit the number of people who actually get to try it.” Good luck.
Mellow Corn Whiskey
Called “the newest bartender obsession” and a “bourbon on steroids,” there’s a very good reason Mellow Corn has become such a popular whiskey among mixologists across the country: while it does taste a little like ginger candy and vanilla, Mellow Corn really opens up when combined with other ingredients. Sure, “it’s “funky stuff” on its own,” as Mike Shain, general manager at Danny Meyer’s New York City bar Porchlight tells us. But you’ll cut it some slack as soon as you see what it can do for your cocktails in Porchlight’s pre-bottled Whiskey & Cola. Or after your third shot. Whatever comes first. [get it delivered by drizly.com; $19, 750ml]
Balvenie Doublewood 12 Whiskey
Balvenie’s one of those distilleries that never gets enough attention for its interesting releases. Doublewood is one of its finished whiskies, where two different barrels have been in play. Tardie explains the whiskey spent over a decade in refill American oak casks, before being finished in first-fill European oak sherry casks. “Balvenie’s Doublewood was the early pioneer of introducing double maturation to the whiskey world,” says Tardie. A great sipping whiskey, the sherry wood adds an interesting layer of intrigue. [get it delivered by drizly.com; $64, 750ml]
Lot 40 Rye
Nicholas Pollacchi, acquirer of rare spirits and owner of The Whisky Dog, thinks this stellar sipper is worth any world of pain the morning after. He calls this single pot still rye “smoother than a baby’s hiney.” It’s made with 90 percent unmalted rye grain and 10 percent malted rye, which he says gives this whiskey its spectacular aroma and velvet-like mouth feel. “The perfect balance of floral and fruitiness is matched by the peppery earthiness. It’s one of the best ways you’ll ever spend $40.”
Glenrothes 2001 Vintage
Pollacchi says this distillery has always been close to his heart, and the 2001 vintage is “dangerously easy to drink.” It was originally bottled in 2013 (Speyside distillery Glenrothes releases whisky by vintage year, the year of distillation), and Pollacchi raves over its notes of toffee, dark cherries, and baking spices. “If you have never tried a Glenrothes, start here.”
Four Roses Single Barrel
Four Roses is famous for its unusual process of combining two different mashbills with five proprietary yeast strains to create 10 bourbons that are blended back together. The Single Barrel, however, is no blend. It uses only Four Roses’ 35 percent rye mash bill and a yeast known for its smooth, light vanilla and fruit character. The resulting Single Barrel is rich with notes of prune, maple, and toffee. [get it delivered by drizly.com; $44, 750ml]
Jim Beam Black
This famously smooth, creamy whiskey with soft caramel notes has set the bar high for Kentucky bourbons. Jim Beam Black benefits from a few extra years of aging in white oak barrels, which set it a solid notch above Jim Beam Original. Full-bodied with some hints of warm oak, this whiskey recently won the Bourbon Trophy at the 2016 International Wine and Spirits Competition.
Midleton Dair Ghaelach
Using a rare method that whiskey distilleries haven’t practiced since the 1800s, this blend of single pot still whiskeys is finished in brand new Irish oak barrels after its typical aging period in bourbon barrels. The result is an Irish whiskey through and through, with a spicy taste up front and a sweet apple finish.
This one just hit the shelves, but Pollacchi is already smitten. “With aromas of french vanilla, caramel crunch, and charred oak,” he says, “you know you are in for a treat with this dram.” Booker’s Rye was created from the last barrels Booker Noe (the late and great master distiller at Jim Beam) ever laid down to mature.
This is the standard bearer of the Lagavulin portfolio, and arguably of the whole of peated and Islay whisky world. Thomas has made it his go-to because of the bottle’s balance: “The peat delivered on a bed of sweetness is the perfect introduction to one of the world’s greatest whisky-producing islands.” [get it delivered by drizly.com; $79, 750ml]
Redemption Rye presents a strong case for Indiana-made whiskey. Thomas thinks this is the sort of bottle that can change opinions. The young brand has classic American rye flavors — dark fruit and spice — and pushes its rye content to 95 percent (the law only requires 51). [get it delivered by drizly.com; $30, 750ml]
“This distillery is very selective over its releases, and this 19-year-old is one of its oldest expressions,” says Pollacchi. Bottled at 46% ABV, this Speyside distillery gives us a whisky well-worth adding to your portfolio. “Bright citrus notes and tropical fruit on the nose are matched by charred oak on the palate,” Pollacchi says, “giving this dram an unusually complex finish that is rarely seen from this region.”
Our desert island Irish whiskey?
This single pot still Irish whiskey is spicy, with hints of menthol, and offers a smooth vanilla finish. [get it delivered by drizly.com; $59, 750ml]
When Ben Rojo, bartender at Angel’s Share, first got into Scotch whisky, he was drawn immediately to the peat monsters of Islay — stuff his wife claims turns his breath to “bandaids and cigarette butts.” He says his tastes have mellowed a little since then, “but Bowmore 15 is still my security blanket.” It’s got all the hallmark smoke and salinity that he fell in love with, and its tempered with the fruit and caramel of the finishing sherry casks.
Willett 2-Year Rye
Thomas calls Willett’s 2-year-old rye expression “arguably the best young cask-strength rye on the market.” He explains, “it delivers such depth and complexity at such a young age, you can’t wait to watch it grow up.” If you ever get the rare chance to sample something older, expressions as old as 25 years exist. But be prepared to shell out hundreds at that point — or just buy more of the stellar 2-year.
Another of Japan’s increasingly in-demand and always-rare offerings, Hibiki 17 may be easier to find than Yamazaki’s teenage whiskeys, but it’s no less delicious. “If you’re lucky enough to run into one of these bottles at your local spirits store,” says Thomas, “buy it!”
Macallan 15 Fine Oak
Tardie says Macallan is “without question one of the most recognizable brands in the list — and for good reason. “The Macallan produces some of the finest whiskies available,” he explains. “Guinness Book of World Records even confirms The Macallan to be the most expensive whiskey sold at auction.” Fortunately, the 15-year Fine Oak is much more obtainable. “This is the perfect whiskey to have at a dinner party,” says Tardie, “Impressive, recognizable, and oh-so-good.” [get it delivered by drizly.com; $135, 750ml]
Crown Royal’s Northern Harvest Rye
Crown Royal’s Northern Harvest Rye blend quickly grabbed everyone’s attention after writer Jim Murray gave it 97.5 points out of 100 in his annual Whisky Bible. And for less than $50, you can taste for yourself why Canadian whisky is back on top of the world. [get it delivered by drizly.com; $47, 750ml]
Knappogue Castle 16
Ireland may be dominated by one or two major brands, but Knappogue Castle is a secret that’s becoming harder to keep each year. “It’s great to finally see Irish whiskey besides Jameson getting the attention it deserves,” says Thomas. “This Irish single malt, aged in both ex-bourbon and ex-sherry barrels, gives the more well-known sherried Macallan 18 a run for its money.” That’s all you need to know.
Watershed Distillery Bourbon
No rust belt residue can be found on this ridiculously smooth 94-proof small-batch Watershed Bourbon from Ohio. It’s incredibly drinkable (watch out) with hints of butterscotch and bold notes reminding you that it spent three years in a char #4 (the heaviest char) American Oak barrel. This spelted bourbon (it’s made with a mash bill of corn, rye, wheat, malted barley, and spelt) proves that craft bourbon need not hail from Kentucky.
Old Forester Birthday 2015
Since September 2, 2002, Old Forester has been celebrating its founder’s birthday by releasing a limited, small-batch 12-year whiskey annually. The aromas are sweet Old Forester (vanilla, cinnamon, chocolate, and juicy orange), but they’re balanced by a woody richness and robust finish.
Writer’s Tears Copper Pot
Truer labels have never been written (or gracefully slapped onto a finer-looking bottle): “I traded my tomorrow to remain in yesterday… whiskey tears are fading now, each one cries another day.” Waxing poetic on imbiber’s dreams of yesteryear aside, this stellar blended whiskey contains pot still and malt whiskey. Sure, it’s aged impeccably and laced with ginger-y, honey-studded notes, but what makes it a real standout in our collection is that it comes to its maturation in flame-charred bourbon barrels. The result? A beautiful amber hue and an unforgettable taste.
Knob Creek 2001
When seventh-generation distiller Fred Noe discovered a cache of whiskey his father, Booker, barreled before his death, the younger Noe decided he would use it to create Knob Creek 2001 Limited Edition as a tribute. Noe’s eulogy in bourbon was left to age five years more than original Knob Creek, and that extra time in the barrel was well spent. The whiskey is well-balanced and eminently sippable — a near perfect remembrance of a man’s life’s work in whiskey.
This bourbon is better traveled than you will likely ever be. During its six months at sea, the whiskey crossed the equator four times and made port in 30 cities on five continents. Of course, it never got off the boat. Trey Zoeller locked scores of barrels up in a container, put them on a ship without passports, and just slapped on a few return to sender labels. Sure, it’s a marketing gimmick — a clever one at that — but the result is a really excellent bourbon. We’ll chalk it up to a half year of agitation from the swaying ocean, but this whiskey has beautiful notes of vanilla, wood, and char — and we think we can detect just a hint of salt and brine from its long voyage.
The mash used to create Glenmorangie Signet is made with a portion of heavily roasted chocolate barley — just like what’s used in stouts and porters. As you might expect the whiskey has notes of coffee and cocoa, but also sweetness of apricot and raisins. In short, the perfect nightcap.
The Macallan Rare Cask
Matured entirely in Spanish sherry casks selected by master distiller Bob Dalgarno, The Macallan Rare Cask is a serious no-age-statement whiskey. There’s so much to love here. The citrus and cocoa on the nose, the beautiful red color, the fruity, nutty flavors, and the warm, smokey finish. [get it delivered by drizly.com; $320, 750ml]
Lock Stock & Barrel 16 Straight Rye
Cooper Spirits launched its first Lock Stock and Barrel expression in 2012, as a stunning 13-year-old straight rye that quickly disappeared from shelves for its rich, velvety character. The company smartly decided to hold a few of its charred oak casks for further aging, giving us the exquisite 16 Year. While the 13-year is back, the 16 is rare indeed. The flavor is familiar, yet bold in a way unlike any other rye we’ve tried.
How do they make bourbon in Evanston, Illinois? With a whole lotta rye. This epic bourbon has a floral edge — it almost reminds of us gin – that gets washed away by a finish that’s studded with cloves and butterscotch. [get it delivered by drizly.com; $49, 750ml]
This bottle is further proof not all world-class whiskeys require an age statement. A fine addition to the Laphroig line, Lore displays a nearly perfect balance of spiced fruit and honey pizzicato contrasted by smoke, peat, and sea salt. The crescendo lingers on the tongue long after the dram is done and leaves your mouth demanding an encore.