The 16 Best Bottles of Whiskey Deserve Pride of Place on Your Bar Cart

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Whiskey has been around for centuries, although the Scots and the Irish will surely argue over its exact origins. It’s gone through various phases of popularity, with a significant downturn here in America from the 1970s until the early 2000s, a period during which vodka was king. But the past two decades have seen a huge resurgence for whiskey, and it’s become the most coveted and coolest of all spirits, with bourbon, rye, Irish, and other types of whiskey all enjoying immense growth and popularity. So we decided to join the long list of proclaimed whiskey lovers and write about the best whiskey brands according to our tastes.

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Whether you’re a seasoned pro who drinks his whiskey neat or someone who’s just getting into the world of craft bourbon cocktails, how do you choose the right bottle to pour? How can you tell which are the best whiskey brands and which are swill? Because whiskey has so many sub-categories and is produced by so many distilleries all over the world, the flavors can vary drastically

In this post, we’ll break down the different types of whiskey and then cover some of our favorite whiskey brands. So keep reading and get ready to enjoy some of the world’s best whiskey.

How We Review the Best Whiskey

There are so many distilleries and whiskey brands to choose from these days, and it can be hard to figure out what is the best in any category given so many options. So how did we go about selecting the best whiskey in the world?

Given that taste is entirely subjective, we tried to pinpoint what makes each of these bottles the best in its particular category based on several factors. First, and most importantly, is taste. A good whiskey has to taste delicious, regardless of reputation or hype. Second, price plays an important role, as few people have a bottomless budget when filling out their bar cart. There are some excellent whiskeys out there that are sold for hundreds or thousands of dollars (and we’ve reviewed some of them), but for most people, this is simply not affordable. There is a time and a place for selecting a high-priced bottle, but generally, we are looking for ones that anyone can buy. And lastly, that leads to availability. Again, there are some excellent bottles to cover that are extremely limited in quantity, but we tried to highlight expressions that you can easily find online.

How did we choose which categories of whiskey to include? Below our selection, you can find our guide to the most important types of whiskey produced around the globe. You know that some excellent whiskey and bourbon is made here in the United States, but you can also find truly excellent bottles of whiskey from Scotland, Ireland, Japan and Canada. In addition, we tried to select the best whiskey produced by various production methods (again, you can read more about this below). Once we selected the most important whiskey categories, we selected the best whiskey bottles in each category based on taste, price and availability.

If you love whiskey as much as we do, then we think you’ll find something to love about each of the bottles featured below.

Group bottle shot of whiskey
Group bottle shot of whiskey

1. Wild Turkey 101

BEST WHISKEY OVERALL

When you’re talking about the best bourbon for most people, you have to take both flavor and price into consideration. And in both of these categories, it’s really hard to find any faults with Wild Turkey 101, the spicy, dependable, and affordable bourbon that is bottled at a higher proof than most comparable options. The Wild Turkey distillery makes a number of other expressions, but 101 is the bread and butter bottle (there’s an 81-proof version as well, but it’s just not as flavorful). Father and son master distillers Eddie and Jimmy Russell have been behind this brand for decades, and the quality of the bourbon is hard to beat. Mix this one in any number of cocktails, or sip it on its own — you won’t be disappointed either way.

Country of Origin: USA
Tasting Notes: Vanilla, oak, caramel
Great For: Cocktails or sipping neat

Wild Turkey 101, best whiskey
Wild Turkey 101, best whiskey


Buy: Wild Turkey 101 $28.99

2. Redbreast 12

BEST IRISH WHISKEY

Redbreast is an excellent example of single-pot still Irish whiskey. This means that the whiskey is made at one distillery (Midleton outside of Cork, in this case) in a pot still from a mash bill of malted and un-malted barley. This bottle is a good intro to the world of single-pot still whiskey, aged in a combination of bourbon and sherry casks to infuse the liquid with notes of vanilla, dried fruit, and spice. Try sipping this one and comparing it with a typical Irish blend like Jameson to see how they differ.

Country of Origin: Ireland
Tasting Notes: Spice, vanilla, dried fruit
Great For: Sipping neat or with some ice

Redbreast 12, best whiskey
Redbreast 12, best whiskey


Buy: Redbreast 12 $59.99

3. WhistlePig 10 Year

BEST RYE WHISKEY

There is so much fantastic American rye whiskey, don’t get us wrong. But Vermont’s WhistlePig distillery happens to produce some of the best, although it’s certainly not the cheapest. The distillery sources this whiskey from Canada’s Alberta Distillers Limited, a large operation that makes a lot of excellent whiskeys. This is a 100 percent rye whiskey — remember, in America, rye must be made from a mash bill of at least 51 percent rye, so this is very different from your typical Kentucky rye. It’s spicy, fruity, and delicious, and works great in cocktails or on its own.

Country of Origin: USA
Tasting Notes: Baking spice, citrus, black pepper
Great For: Cocktails or sipping neat

WhistlePig Rye, best whiskey bottles
WhistlePig Rye, best whiskey bottles


Buy: WhistlePig 10 $98.99

4. Suntory Toki Whisky

BEST JAPANESE WHISKY

Japanese whiskies have blown up over the past few years here in America, and age statement bottles are hard to find and expensive. Luckily, one great Japanese whisky — Suntory Toki — has worked its way into the mainstream, coming recommended by multiple publications and whisky connoisseurs. It’s a blend of malt and grain whiskies produced at Suntory’s three distilleries: Hakushu, Chita, and Yamazaki. 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.

Country of Origin: Japan
Tasting Notes: Lemon, vanilla, spice
Great For: Cocktails, particularly a classic Highball

best Japanese whiskey Suntory Toki Whisky, best whiskey
best Japanese whiskey Suntory Toki Whisky, best whiskey


Buy: Suntory Toki $52.00

5. George Dickel Bottled in Bond

BEST TENNESSEE WHISKEY

George Dickel has been sort of an underrated Tennessee whiskey distillery for a long time, especially when compared to Jack Daniel’s. But since Nicole Austin became the head distiller, things have really taken off. There have been many interesting and really good-tasting new releases, including several versions of this bottled-in-bond whiskey (100 proof, aged at least four years). The latest edition is a steal – a 13-year-old Tennessee whiskey that is full of notes of pecan, vanilla, and brown sugar, which you can find for less than 50 bucks. This is probably one of the lesser-known brands in our guide to the best whiskey, but we don’t think you’ll regret adding this to your bar cart.

Country of Origin: USA
Tasting Notes: Vanilla, brown sugar, almond
Great For: Sipping neat or with a large ice cube

Dickel Bottled in Bond, best whiskey
Dickel Bottled in Bond, best whiskey


Buy: Dickel Bottled in Bond $42.99

6. High West Campfire Whiskey

BEST BLEND

This interesting blend of whiskeys comes from High West, the Utah distillery that both makes its own whiskey and sources from other distilleries. High West Campfire is one of the best American blended whiskeys, although it isn’t all American as it’s a mix of bourbon, rye, and Scotch 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.

Country of Origin: USA
Tasting Notes: Black pepper, honey, smoke
Great For: Cocktails or sipping neat

American Whiskey High West, best whiskey
American Whiskey High West, best whiskey


Buy: High West Campfire $69.99

7. The Balvenie 12-Year-Old DoubleWood

BEST SINGLE MALT SCOTCH WHISKY

There are so many single malt scotches to choose from, but this 12-year-old expression from Speyside’s Balvenie distillery is a solid choice that won’t break the bank. This is the sister distillery to the much larger Glenfiddich, which is just next door. DoubleWood gets its name from the fact that it’s aged in bourbon barrels and finished in sherry casks, and Balvenie, under the watchful eye of Malt Master David C. Stewart, was one of the first to give a single malt a secondary maturation period.

Country of Origin: Scotland
Tasting Notes: Vanilla, dried fig, honey
Great For: Sipping neat

Balvenie DoubleWood, best whiskey
Balvenie DoubleWood, best whiskey


Buy: The Balvenie DoubleWood $72.99

8. Evan Williams Bourbon

BEST BUDGET

Whiskey drinking can put a dent in your wallet — but it doesn’t have to. There are a handful of high-quality cheap whiskeys that outdo their low price tags. One such whiskey is Evan Williams from Heaven Hill. This cheap bottle has everything you want from a bourbon — rich caramel and vanilla notes, a complex palate with sweet and spice, and you can usually find a bottle for less than $20. This whiskey is good enough to drink on its own, but definitely keep this at home to make cocktails with.

Country of Origin: USA
Tasting Notes: Vanilla, stone fruit, caramel
Great For: Any whiskey cocktail you can think of

Evan Williams, best whiskey brands
Evan Williams, best whiskey brands


Buy: Evan Williams $16.99

9. Four Roses Small Batch Whiskey

BEST FOR COCKTAILS

Four Roses is well known for its use of 10 different bourbon recipes, a combination of two mash bills and five different yeast strains. While the Kentucky distillery’s core expression uses all ten, the Small Batch expression uses just four and ups the proof to 90. This might be a bit more expensive than your average cocktail bourbon, and you should certainly sip this on its own, but go ahead and make an Old Fashioned or any other whiskey cocktail with this and you will be very pleased.

Country of Origin: USA
Tasting Notes: Vanilla, butterscotch, oak
Great For: Cocktails or sipping neat

best whiskey for cocktails - Four Roses Small Batch Whiskey
best whiskey for cocktails - Four Roses Small Batch Whiskey


Buy: Four Roses Small Batch $34.99

10. Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Whiskey

BEST BARREL PROOF

Every whiskey connoisseur should try a barrel-proof whiskey (or keep a bottle in your bar to impress guests). What this means is the whiskey hasn’t been cut with water to proof it down before bottling, so it’s as close to sipping from the barrel as you are likely to get. Elijah Craig Barrel Proof is our top choice in this category, and it’s released three times per year. The latest batch from this winter clocks in at 120.8 proof, a manageable level given the higher ABV of some releases. Feel free to add some water to this one to rein it in if this feels too strong. For men and women who prefer strong spirits, Elijah Craig is one of the best whiskey brands to know.

Country of Origin: USA
Tasting Notes: Spice, brown sugar, vanilla
Great For: Sipping neat, or with some water or ice to cut down the proof

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Whiskey, best whiskey bottles
Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Whiskey, best whiskey bottles


Buy: Elijah Craig Barrel Proof $71.99

11. Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye

BEST CANADIAN

Canadian whisky is a category well worth exploring, from blends to rye to single malts. This bottle caught everybody’s attention when it was first released a few years ago, with a really interesting and spicy character due to its 90 percent rye mash bill. Crown Royal is better known for its inexpensive blends, but this whisky will fit your budget as well. Try using this in place of an American rye the next time you make a Manhattan at home.

Country of Origin: Canada
Tasting Notes: Dried fruit, spice, citrus
Great For: Cocktails like a Manhattan or Old Fashioned

Crown Royal Rye, best whiskey
Crown Royal Rye, best whiskey


Buy: Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye $39.99

12. Paul John Mithuna

BEST INDIAN

Unbeknownst to most, whisky is big in India. Our favorite Indian whisky is Paul John Mithuna out of party-capital Goa, which is unpeated, non-chill-filtered, and first aged in virgin oak casks before being finished in ex-bourbon barrels. Due to the tropical climate in Goa, the whisky evaporates faster while it matures, translating to a better taste at a younger age. It’s bottled at a hefty 58% ABV and has notes of orange, spice, and mocha on the palate.

Country of Origin: India
Tasting Notes: Nutmeg, vanilla, honey
Great For: Sipping neat

paul mithuna, best whiskey
paul mithuna, best whiskey


Buy: Paul John Mithuna $244.93

13. Johnnie Walker Blue Label Ghost & Rare Whiskey

THE GOOD STUFF

Every guy should try some top-shelf whisky at least once in their lifetime. Luxury whiskies are usually aged around 20-25 years and come in fancy packaging like crystal bottles and wood boxes. One of the best luxury whiskies (that you can actually get your hands on) is this Johnnie Walker Blue Label Ghost & Rare. Blue Label is JW’s high-end, celebration-level line of whiskey. Ghost & Rare is, like the name suggests, an even fancier edition of Blue Label. It’s a blend of rare whiskeys collected and blended by master blender Dr. Jim Beveridge (now retired, with Emma Walker taking over the role) to produce a flavor that’s, well, really really good.

Country of Origin: Scotland
Tasting Notes: Vanilla, subtle smoke, citrus
Great For: Sipping neat or with ice

Johnnie Walker Blue Label Ghost & Rare Whiskey, best whiskey brands
Johnnie Walker Blue Label Ghost & Rare Whiskey, best whiskey brands


Buy: Johnnie Walker Blue Label Ghost & Rare $399.99

14. Lagavulin 16-Year-Old Whisky

BEST SMOKEY WHISKY

This single malt scotch from the Islay region of Scotland is sure to set a campfire in your taste buds. It’s quite smokey, but very complex as well, with layers of fruit, vanilla, and spice on the palate. It’s perfect for a night playing cards or a late-night talk on the back porch, and very suitable for winter drinking. A very peaty whisky like this one is not exactly for the faint of heart, but it has garnered many loyal followers among those who enjoy a smoky single malt. For connoisseurs of the best whiskey, we also recommend sampling the Lagavulin produced in collaboration with Nick Offerman, an 11-year finished in Guinness casks.

Country of Origin: Scotland
Tasting Notes: Smoke, vanilla, spice
Great For: Sipping neat

Lagavulin 16 Year Old Whisky, best whiskey
Lagavulin 16 Year Old Whisky, best whiskey


Buy: Lagavulin 16 Year Old $119.00

15. Knob Creek

BEST BOURBON

Knob Creek is part of Jim Beam’s Small Batch Collection and is one of the best values you will find. The whiskey got its nine-year-old age statement back a few years ago, which is rare in this world of disappearing age statements. There are limited edition 12- and 15-year-old versions of Knob Creek as well, which are delicious, but the core expression is hard to beat. Overall, this is just a solid bourbon that you can sip or make a drink with. Classic notes of vanilla, tobacco, and stone fruit are backed by a little bit of spice and a long finish.

Country of Origin: USA
Tasting Notes: Vanilla, oak, caramel
Great For: Cocktails or sipping neat

Read More: The Greatest American Bourbon

Knob Creek, best whiskey bottles
Knob Creek, best whiskey bottles


Buy: Knob Creek $37.99

16. Wild Turkey Longbranch Whiskey

BEST CELEBRITY WHISKEY BRAND

Matthew McConaughey teamed up with the world’s longest-tenured master distiller, Jimmy Russell, and his son, Eddie Russell, to make a bourbon like he used to enjoy with his father growing up in Texas. The whiskey is filtered through two layers of charcoal, American white oak and Texas mesquite wood, adding a bit of flavor that some liken to Texas BBQ. It’s made in small batches and is a delicious sipping whiskey with subtle hints of smokey sweetness. McConaughey prefers it neat, for the record, and it’s one of the best whiskey brands available that has a celebrity connection.

Country of Origin: USA
Tasting Notes: Barbecue, spice, caramel
Great For: Cocktails or sipping neat

Wild Turkey Longbranch Whiskey
Wild Turkey Longbranch Whiskey


Buy: Wild Turkey Longbranch $39.99

What Are the Different Types of Whiskey?

If you’re unfamiliar with the different kinds of whiskey, there are really six that you have to know: Irish whiskey, Scotch, bourbon, Tennessee, rye and Japanese whisky. Each has a unique origin, distilling process, taste and even way of spelling the liquor. The Irish use the “e” along with American distillers while Scots, Canadians and Japanese distillers all leave it out. There are some major differences between how these different types of whiskey are made, and each has its own unique flavor and style.

Beyond the six listed above, there are a few more categories worth knowing as well:

Irish whiskey is often described as “smooth,” but that really doesn’t do justice to the complex and often fruity flavor of the whiskey. There is single malt Irish whiskey, blends, and single pot still, which is made from a mixture of malted and unmalted barley.

Scotch whisky (aka Scotch) is whisky made in Scotland which has very strict laws in place for distillers in terms of how it’s made. It must be aged in barrels for at least three years. If there is an age statement, that indicates the youngest whisky in the bottle. Single malt comes from one distillery and is made from 100 percent malted barley, while a blend consists of malt and grain whisky from various distilleries. Some scotch is peated, meaning that peat is burned to dry the barley infusing it with a smoky flavor, but most of it is not.

Japanese whisky adopted many of its distillation methods from Scotland, but the character of the whisky is very different. In Japan, there is a great emphasis placed on blending. Many distilleries produce several different kinds of malt whiskies using different types of stills which they then combine into their products. Some Japanese brands actually source whisky from other countries and blend it in Japan, but regulations are changing so that consumers are aware of this.

Canadian whisky is also aged at least three years in a barrel and is usually made from wheat, corn, and rye. Many popular Canadian brands are blended whiskies, like Crown Royal. Canadian whisky is often referred to as “rye,” but that does not hold the same legal definition as it does here in the US.

Bourbon whiskey must be made in America from a mash bill of at least 51% corn. The rest is usually rye or wheat and malted barley. Bourbon must be aged in a new charred oak container (virtually always a barrel) and bottled at a minimum of 80 proof. Bourbons can be made anywhere in the US, but most are made in Kentucky.

Tennessee whiskey is technically bourbon, although many distillers in the state chafe at that categorization. What makes it different? All Tennessee whiskey distillers are required by state law to produce their whiskey in state and take a filtering step known as Lincoln County Process before aging. This means the new make spirit is filtered through charcoal before barreling, which brands like Jack Daniel’s say mellows the flavor.

Rye whiskey is a type of American whiskey that’s made from a mash bill of at least 51% rye, with corn and barley also thrown into the mix as other ingredients. It follows a similar distillation process as bourbon and tends to have a spicier flavor. Rye that’s been aged for two years or more and hasn’t been blended is known as “straight rye whiskey.”

Blended whiskey is great for cocktails as it’s a mixture of different types of whiskey (and often neutral grain spirit) and can often be found at a lower price point. But bourbon, rye, and Irish whiskey are also key components of many classic whiskey cocktails.

Below are the best whiskeys to try in each category. Most range from $20 to $40 a bottle, but we’ve got a few premium options for special occasions as well. Whether you like your whiskey mixed up in a cocktail or prefer it straight in a whiskey glass, we’ve gathered the best whiskey brands for you to try below.

About the Author: Jonah Flicker

Jonah Flicker is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn, New York who covers spirits and alcohol. For SPY.com he’s written a regular Whiskey of the Week column, reviewed organic tequila, and compared the top Russian vodka brands, among other topics. He also writes about bars, food, travel, and lifestyle topics for many different outlets. Jonah has written about spirits for publications such as Robb Report, USA Today, Esquire, Maxim, Travel + Leisure, Food & Wine, Town & Country, Men’s Journal, Liquor.com, Paste Magazine, CNN, BBC Travel, and much more.

This article was last updated on Wednesday, April 20, when we added new photos, information about our review process and additional context on the different types of whiskey.

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