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Best Overall: Four Roses Single Barrel at Drizly
This Kentucky bourbon 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.
Best Rye: Pikesville Straight Rye at Drizly
With notes of cherry, vanilla and baking spices, this whiskey is great in a classic cocktail like the Manhattan.
Best Bourbon: Henry McKenna Single Barrel at Caskers
It's the only extra-aged, bottled-in-bond, single barrel bourbon currently available today.
Best Scotch: The Balvenie DoubleWood at Drizly
A second aging in Oloroso sherry barrels gives this scotch a rich, rounded finish.
Best Irish: West Cork 8-Year Single Malt at Drizly
The well-balanced palate features pretty notes of dried apple and honey leading to a baking-spice finish, and all at an approachable 80 proof.
Best Canadian: Lot No. 40 Whisky at Drizly
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 Japanese: Hakushu 12 Year Old at Drizly
It features crisp notes of unripe melon and apple, along with just a hint of smoke.
Best Peated Scotch: Bowmore 12 Year Old at Caskers
In this 12-year-old expression, the peatiness is balanced out by a rich array of fruit and spice flavors, along with notes of honey and vanilla.
Best Sherry Cask Scotch: The GlenDronach Allardice at Drizly
Matured entirely in Spanish Oloroso sherry butts, the 18-year-old whiskey delivers one of the best full-flavored sipping experiences.
Best Wine Barrel Aged: Starward Nova Single Malt at Caskers
This Australian single-malt is aged in ex-wine barrels, resulting in a fruitier and jammier whisky than anything found in Scotland.
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 whiskeys you can get your hands on now.
Best Overall: Four Roses Single Barrel
Region: Kentucky | ABV: 50% | Tasting Notes: Plum, Cherry, Vanilla
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 more than 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 building block of the whiskey.
Best Rye: Pikesville Straight Rye
Region: Kentucky | ABV: 55% | Tasting Notes: Cinnamon, Vanilla, Oak
Two styles of rye whiskey dominate the whiskey market these days: rye made from a 95% to 100% rye mash bill; and the Kentucky-style mash bill that usually contains just above 50% 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. Try this in a classic cocktail like the Manhattan, where those characteristic spicy rye notes will harmonize beautifully with the rich sweetness of the vermouth.
“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. The strong taste of cherries, vanilla and baking spices gives it a really fun take on a cherry Coke.” — Paul Gonzalez, head bartender for the Allegory Bar at D.C.’s Eaton Hotel
Best Bourbon: Henry Mckenna Single Barrel
Region: Kentucky | ABV: 50% | Tasting Notes: Caramel, Vanilla, Cinnamon
Bourbon aficionados have to become familiar with a whole bevy of inscrutable terms—"age statement," "bottled-in-bond," "single barrel"—but even the casual imbiber who doesn't know all the definitions would have to conclude it's impressive if a whole bunch of them show up on the same bottle. Produced at Heaven Hill Distillery, the Henry Mckenna Single Barrel is the only extra-aged, bottled-in-bond, single-barrel bourbon currently available today. If that doesn't impress you, it was also named "Best in Show" at the 2019 San Francisco World Spirits Competition, due in no small part to its generous palate featuring notes of caramel, butter, cinnamon, and vanilla.
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Best Scotch: The Balvenie DoubleWood
Region: Speyside, Scotland | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Raisin, Vanilla, Spice
Among an abundance 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. That rich, round finish gives this scotch a bit more chewiness and lasting linger that I love with every sip.” — Pamela Wiznitzer, consulting bartender
Best Irish: West Cork 8-Year Single Malt
Region: Ireland | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Dried apples, Honey, Baking spices
While some American consumers regrettably limit their consumption of Irish whiskey to the occasional shot purchased by a casual acquaintance at a sports bar, there's also a vibrant and growing list of Irish craft whiskies that deserve our attention. West Cork produces a gorgeous single-malt that sees Irish barley and local spring water going into a hand-built copper pot still, with the resulting distillate matured for eight years in first-fill, flame-charred bourbon barrels—leading to far more depth and character than fans of other whiskies may typically associate with the category. The well-balanced palate features pretty notes of dried apple and honey segueing to a baking-spice finish, and all at an approachable 80 proof. You won't want to shoot this one.
Related: The Best Whiskey Decanters
Best Canadian: Lot No. 40 Whisky
Region: Ontario, Canada | ABV: 43% | Tasting Notes: Vanilla, Raisin, Coffee
When you think of Canadian whisky, the purple velvet-draped Crown Royal might be the first thing that comes to mind. There are some decent expressions to be found from that popular brand, but there is a whole world of lesser-known Canadian whiskies to sip out there. One highly regarded bottle is Lot No. 40, a 100% rye whisky that is distilled 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 Japanese: Hakushu 12 Year Old
Region: Yamanashi, Japan | ABV: 43% | Tasting Notes: Green apple, Citrus, Smoke
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.”
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Best Peated Scotch: Bowmore 12 Year Old
Region: Islay, Scotland | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Peat, Chocolate, Cherry
While the Scottish island of Islay is known for producing whiskys featuring heavy smoke flavors (a byproduct of the use of peat from the local bogs to toast the barley). Bowmore is only mildly peated compared to some other Islay bottlings—but the smoke character is nevertheless distinctly present. That said, the peatiness is balanced out in this 12-year-old whisky by a rich array of fruit and spice flavors, complimented by notes of honey and vanilla. The distillery is the first recorded to be in operation on Islay, and this long, storied history is present in this approachable yet pleasantly smoky single malt.
Best Sherry Cask Scotch: The GlenDronach Allardice
Region: Highlands, Scotland | ABV: 46% | Tasting Notes: Dark chocolate, Walnut, Spice
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.
"If you can get your hands on The GlenDronach 18-year-old Allardice, count yourself lucky. It's such a beautiful example of what can happen when you age a single malt in sherry casks for nearly two decades—wonderfully rich flavors emerge." — Prairie Rose, Editor
Best Wine Barrel Aged: Starward Nova Single Malt
Region: Australia | ABV: 41% | Tasting Notes: Caramel, Plum, Burnt orange
If you’ve never tried an Australian whisky, you’re not alone. Australia is a relative newcomer to the craft spirits scene, but the absence of any long-standing distilling traditions in that country has led to some innovative approaches to establishing a regional style. For Starward, the first Aussie distiller to achieve widespread distribution in the US, that innovation has taken the form of a unique aging process: when it comes time to put their single-malt whisky into barrel, they skip the ex-bourbon or Sherry casks, and instead source ex-shiraz and cabernet barrels from local wineries.
The result is an 82-proof whisky with a fruitier, jammier nose than anything found in Scotland (or, for that matter, in the many nations whose distilling traditions are unabashedly Scottish in origin). Playful notes of plum and cherry segue into a malty, toasty, and tannic palate that might just be the perfect stepping-stone for that wine drinker who thinks they don’t like the hard stuff.
Related: The Best Whiskey Stones
Best Barrel-Proof: Stagg Jr. Bourbon
Region: Kentucky | ABV: Varies per batch | Tasting Notes: Brown sugar, Cocoa, Baking spices
Barrel-proof means that the whiskey has not been cut with water to reduce the alcohol content, often down to 40% ABV, before bottling (legally it can be up to 1% lower, though). This is as close to drinking straight from the barrel as most people can get, with an ABV often exceeding 60%. The higher proof offers an unadulterated whiskey drinking experience with an amplified range of flavors—and of course, you can proof it down yourself with some water, if you like. Stagg Jr. is the younger brother to George T. Stagg bourbon, also made by Buffalo Trace, but it’s 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.”
Best for Sipping: Aberlour A'Bunadh
Region: Speyside, Scotland | ABV: Varies by batch | Tasting Notes: Sherry, Spice, Vanilla
This scotch has something of a cult following, and with good reason: it's a high-proof, sherry cask single malt that 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 for Old Fashioneds: Redemption High Rye Bourbon
Region: Indiana | ABV: 46% | Tasting Notes: Pepper, Mint, Ginger, Caramel
It's the age-old question: should you make your Old Fashioned with bourbon or rye? There are fine whiskies in each category that produce delicious Old Fashioneds—bourbon makes a rounder and sweeter drink, while rye gives you a spicier, leaner cocktail—and each has its adherents. So when it comes to choosing a "best-of," why not have your cake and eat it too? With a mash bill that includes 60 percent corn and a healthy 36 percent dose of rye, the High Rye Bourbon from Redemption Whiskey is about as close as you'll get to a best-of-both-worlds scenario. When expertly blended with sugar and bitters, the plush body from the corn intermingles perfectly with the herbaceous spiciness of the rye and leads to a truly bold and harmonious drink. Crucially, the high ABV (92 proof) also means that your cocktail will remain sturdy and satisfying, even after the ice begins to melt.
Related: The Best Bourbons Under $50
Most Innovative: Bruichladdich Islay Barley
Region: Islay, Scotland | ABV: 50% | Tasting Notes: Honey, Citrus, Vanilla
Scotland’s Bruichladdich distillery is always experimenting with new innovations. Experiments in the concept of terroir in whisky, aging its annual Octomore series in different barrel types, and often making some of the most heavily peated whisky you can find are just some examples. “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 whisky 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.
Best Under $50: Buffalo Trace Bourbon
Region: Kentucky | ABV: 45% | Tasting Notes: Vanilla, Caramel, Sweet corn
Buffalo Trace’s eponymous bourbon really stands out from the pack in terms of flavor and price. If you’re looking for a dependable bourbon (or any whiskey really) for less than $50, give this one a try. It’s unpretentious and flavorful, with an ABV that makes it stand up to being used in any cocktail. There are so many good bourbons from the distillery that are expensive and hard to find, and that’s great for collectors. But for the average drinker, stick with this workhorse that is vibrant and bold.
Related: The Best Whiskey Glasses
Four Roses Single Barrel (view at Drizly) is our editors' choice for the best overall whiskey. Though it will vary depending on the barrels, the consistently strong flavors of oak and vanilla, complimented by the higher proof, make this an excellent sipping or mixing bourbon—and a great value for the price.
How is whiskey made?
Whiskey is a distilled spirit made from a mash bill of grain. Depending on the country, this can mean single grains or a combination of barley (malted or unmalted), corn, rye, oats or others. After distillation, the spirit is typically put into oak barrels to age for a period of time. Again, this depends on the country, but it could be anywhere from six months (or fewer) to 60 years.
What are the different types of whiskey?
Different types of whiskey are made in different countries; in fact, some can legally only be made in a particular country. In the U.S., whiskeys include bourbon (at least 51% corn), rye (at least 51% rye), and single malt (barley). Single malt scotch is made in Scotland from a mash bill of 100% malted barley. Single pot still is made in Ireland from a mash bill of malted and unmalted barley. Other countries typically (but not exclusively) make whiskey (or whisky) from malted barley, like Japan and India.
What's the best way to drink it?
A rich, high-proof whiskey loves a big, gorgeous piece of ice, while a more elegant whiskey will shine with just a few drops of water, or might even be best served neat. For your more affordable whiskeys, explore the expansive world of whiskey cocktails: You can't go wrong with classics like the Old Fashioned, the Sazerac, or the Manhattan, but don't sleep on modern creations like the Paper Plane, the Gold Rush, or the Penicillin.
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This roundup was updated by Jesse Porter, who finds that keeping a bottle of whiskey on his desk next to his computer helps improve his overall workflow and thus writes it off monthly as a business expense.
Jonah Flicker is an experienced writer who has been covering spirits and traveling the world visiting distilleries to taste and discover for 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.
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