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In the big world of whiskeys, there's a bottle out there for every taste, price point, and preference. Nowadays, you can find whiskey made in every corner of America, indeed every corner of the world, each with its own specific character and identity. Whether you’re looking for the perfect whiskey to pair with a cocktail, something really smoky and assertive, or a smooth sipper, we’ve got you covered. Here are some of the best bottles of whiskeys available.
Best Overall: Four Roses Single Barrel
Four Roses is a Kentucky bourbon that ticks all the right boxes—it’s affordable, has a variety of different expressions to choose from, and it tastes great on its own or mixed in a cocktail. Mike Vacheresse, the owner of Travel Bar in Brooklyn, N.Y. (which features over 450 different whiskeys), is a fan of the Single Barrel expression. “Four Roses Single Barrel is the benchmark for me for all other bourbons in terms of proof, flavor, and cost,” he says. “Its high rye mash bill gives [it] a pleasant spicy note, and it has a big mouthfeel and an incredibly smooth finish.” Master Distiller Brent Elliott uses two mash bills and five yeast strains to create a total of 10 different recipes to make this flagship bourbon, while each Single Barrel release uses just one recipe to highlight a unique feature of the whiskey.
Best Irish: Redbreast 12 Year
While there are cheaper Irish whiskey blends available, Redbreast is worth the splurge. There's no blend here—instead, it’s a single pot still Irish whiskey, meaning it's made from a mash bill of malted and unmalted barley and produced at one distillery in copper pot stills. The whiskey is aged for 12 years in a combination of ex-sherry and bourbon casks, imbuing it with rich red berry, spice, and sweet vanilla flavors. “Redbreast is the pot still showcase,” says Vacheresse. He considers it an excellent whiskey teaching tool and the perfect introduction into the Irish pot still category.
Read Next: The Best Irish Whiskeys
Best Japanese: Hakushu 12 Year
Japanese whiskey, particularly from Suntory, can be very costly and hard to get, but this bottle from the Hakushu distillery in the Japanese Alps is phenomenal. It features crisp notes of unripe melon and apple, along with just a hint of smoke. This 12-year-old whiskey makes a delicious (if expensive) highball, although you might want to save this to sip. Lynnette Marrero, bar director for Llama Inn and Llama San NYC, calls it “delicious, grassy, a little smokier than other Japanese whiskeys.”
Best Rye: Pikesville Straight Rye
Two styles of rye whiskey dominate the whiskey market these days: rye made from a 95 to 100 percent rye mash bill, or the Kentucky-style mash bill that usually contains just above 50 percent rye, the minimum legally required to be classified as rye whiskey. Pikesville, which falls into the latter category, was originally made in Maryland and is now distilled in Kentucky by Heaven Hill. “Pikesville is my favorite rye because it provides a great symphony of flavors from the rye spice, baking spices, the high proof (110), and maturation from the six years in the barrel,” says Paul Gonzalez, head bartender for the Allegory Bar at D.C.’s Eaton Hotel. “The strong taste of cherries, vanilla, and baking spices give it a really fun take on a cherry Coke.” Try this in a classic cocktail like a Manhattan.
Best Scotch: The Balvenie DoubleWood
Among a slew of single malt scotch to choose from, with various regions showcasing different styles and flavors, The Balvenie stands out as one of the best. The distillery was an early adopter of cask finishes with its DoubleWood 12, which is matured in ex-bourbon barrels and finished in sherry casks. “The beauty of this bottle really shines in the notes that explode from the second aging in Oloroso sherry barrels,” says Pamela Wiznitzer, a consulting bartender. “That rich, round finish gives this scotch a bit more chewiness and lasting linger that I love with every sip.”
Best Peated Scotch: Laphroaig 10 Year
Peated scotch is infused with smoky flavors by drying the malted barley used in the mash bill, using peat as a fuel source. And within the category of peaty scotches, there are also really divisively peaty scotches. Laphroaig, which is distilled on Islay (where Scotland’s best known smoky scotch comes from), has been best described as acrid, medicinal, and saline. The core bottling is this dependable 10-year-old, but the range goes far beyond that with some ultra-aged expressions and the annual Cairdeas release, which is finished in different cask types each year.
Best Sherry Cask Scotch: The GlenDronach Revival
For at least part of the aging process, many Scottish distilleries use sherry casks in addition to ex-bourbon barrels to add bold, dried fruit and spice flavors to the whiskey. But some distilleries exclusively age their whiskey in these seasoned barrels, like The GlenDronach. “The 18-year-old Allardice may not be the most famous single malt in the world, but it is perhaps one of the most perfect,” says Daniel Burns, lead bartender at Elixir Saloon in San Francisco. “Its deep sherry notes and flavors of toasted nuts and jammy fruit last seemingly forever on the palate.” The 18-year-old whiskey is matured entirely in Spanish Oloroso sherry butts, no color is added, and it delivers one of the best full-flavored sipping experiences.
Read Next: The Best Whiskey Decanters
Best Bourbon: Wild Turkey 101
The basics of bourbon are simple: it must be made from a mash bill of at least 51 percent corn, aged in new charred oak containers, and produced in the U.S. If you’re going to drink bourbon, why not drink something priced for the bottom shelf that tastes like the ones on top? Wild Turkey 101 is reasonably priced and provides flavor and proof well above your average 80-proof bottle. “The high proof provides the burn that makes you respect it,” says Gonzalez. “The iconic flavor of baking spice and toasted pecan, with a pleasant funkiness, sets it apart from a lot of other bourbons in its class.”
Best Barrel-Proof: Stagg Jr.
Barrel-proof whiskeys get as close to drinking straight from the barrel as most people can get, with an ABV often exceeding 60 percent. The higher proof offers an unadulterated whiskey-drinking experience with an amplified range of flavors. One notable bottle is Stagg Jr., part of Buffalo Trace’s highly sought after annual Antique Collection. This collection includes the excellent George T. Stagg bourbon, but this younger version is easier to obtain and usually just as good. “Stagg Jr. is so unfairly under the radar,” says Vacheresse. “Whiskey drinkers are blown away when they are introduced to a few different batches side by side.” This bourbon is bottled at a barrel proof of 128.6, yet it drinks fairly easy with notes of caramel and candied cherry throughout.
Best Canadian: Lot No. 40
From one of the lesser-known Canadian whiskey brands, Lot No. 40's highly-regarded bottle is a 100 percent rye whiskey. This single copper pot still whiskey is distilled in small batches at Hiram Walker in Windsor, Ontario. Look for a little bit of spice here, but overall, this is a smooth sipper with notes of cocoa and caramel that pop in the palate.
Best for Sipping: Aberlour A'Bunadh
This cask strength single malt scotch has something of a cult following, and with good reason: this high-proof, sherry cask single malt is consistently delicious. “This is a rare example of a single expression being recognized and sought after by consumers, while the rest of the brand lineup is mostly [underrecognized],” says Vacheresse. Add a bit of water or drink it neat—however you prefer, Aberlour A’Bunadh does not disappoint. Take your time with this as you sip to unveil layer after layer of flavor.
Best Under $50: Evan Williams Bottled-in-Bond
Good whiskey doesn't have to cost a fortune, especially when it comes to bourbon. One of the best cheaper bottles is from Heaven Hill’s Evan Williams. The regular black label expression is just fine, but take things up a notch with the Bottled-in-Bond version. As mandated by law, it is 100 proof and aged for at least four years, delivering a surprising amount of flavor at what can only be considered a steal. “This is one of the best value bourbons on the market,” says Gonzalez. “[It] has huge notes of roasted peanuts with a slight hint of vanilla, and a bold, sweet, and nutty flavor that compliments the high proof.”
Best for Old Fashioneds: Woodford Reserve Double Oaked
Woodford Reserve launched its Double Oaked expression in 2012, and after initial aging, this bourbon is further matured in barrels that are lightly toasted and then heavily charred. This gives the whiskey a full, almost smoky flavor that brings a cocktail to another level. “It's a full-bodied whiskey with loads of vanilla, caramel, fruit, and spice notes, all of which are enhanced by their inclusion in the classic Old Fashioned,” says Burns. “Double Oaked also has a nice rich, creamy mouthfeel that works super well with a muddled sugar cube, well soaked with bitters.”
Most Innovative: Bruichladdich Islay Barley
Scotland’s Bruichladdich distillery is always experimenting with new innovations. “Their philosophy on whiskey is simple but effective: they care about what they do, and it comes through in their product,” says Brendan Bartley, beverage director of Bathtub Gin and The 18th Room. Wiznitzer agrees, noting, “This distillery (in my opinion) turns out some of the most innovative consumer bottlings in all of Islay.” The Islay Barley 2011 release is a true experiment in terroir. It’s an unpeated whiskey distilled from a mash bill of barley grown on six Islay farms in 2010, highlighting the flavors of stone fruit, green apple, and citrus zest that the climate and soil bring to the grain.
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Jonah Flicker is an experienced writer who has been covering spirits and traveling the world visiting distilleries for the past six years. His work has appeared in many different national outlets covering trends, new releases, and the stories and innovators behind the spirits. His first love remains whiskey, but he is partial to tequila, rum, gin, cognac, and all things distilled.