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Best Whiskeys For Your Money

Whiskey
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Updated June 3, 2024

Exploring the world of whiskey is an endeavor worth savoring with every sip, but it can be overwhelming with so many options out there. There are dozens of whiskey varieties available, each with its regional history, different production methods, use of various types of wood barrels to age the liquor, flavor profiles, and more. Even the spelling of whiskey (or whisky) depends on the region. For example, it tends to be spelled whiskey in America and Ireland and whisky in Scotland, Japan, and Canada.

“As the saying goes, no two whiskies are the same,” shares Kelsey McKechnie, The Balvenie Malt Master. “There is lots of innovation in the industry and countries from Scotland to Tasmania are making their own.” Of course, she explains that depending on the country of origin, there are different regulations.

“To actually be a Scotch whisky, there are strict legal provisions that govern how Scotch whisky is made under United Kingdom law to protect Scotland’s national spirit. For instance, Scotch Whisky must be made in Scotland from whole grains, water, and yeast and bottled at a minimum strength of 40% abv,” she says.

Things to consider when buying (or trying) a whiskey

“There are so many different styles and flavor profiles out there that it can be overwhelming for newcomers,” says Lisa Quartin, Whiskey Enthusiast and Executive Bourbon Steward, WSET Level 1—Spirits. “Plus, whiskey is subjective. Attending tastings, whether at a bar, restaurant, or distillery, via an online event, or at a friend's house, is the best way to try different whiskeys and determine your preferences.”

Ask yourself the following questions before you buy a bottle of whiskey.

How much can I afford to spend?

There are so many whiskeys on the market that you can usually find something within your price point. However, like any top-shelf liquor, a high-quality bottle will likely be worth the price. Buying a smaller bottle of good whiskey within your price point may be better than simply buying a bottle of the cheap stuff.

Are you sipping or mixing?

Some whiskey is meant to be sipped alone, and others are great as a base for cocktails like an old fashioned, a whiskey sour, or a Manhattan. Quartin suggests trying a ginger drink, like ginger ale or ginger beer, when you mix a whiskey drink because ginger typically pairs well with many whiskey flavors. Blended whiskeys are a better choice than single-malt to use in mixed drinks. Single-malt Irish whiskey or Scotch whiskey, and others are better independently, so you can enjoy its full flavor profile.

What flavors appeal to me?

Depending on the whiskey you choose to drink, there are many different flavor profiles. For example, I love the smoky taste of a peated Irish whiskey, and my husband loves the taste of an oaky bourbon with caramel or vanilla notes.

Quartin says, “I generally enjoy a range of profiles, from sweet, floral, oaky, vanilla, honey, spicy, to smoky and peaty. It can depend on the mood, season, location, and quality of the whiskey. I usually default towards Irish Single Pot Stills with their dark fruits and nutty and oily nature, but there’s also something about the combination of a peated and Port finished whiskey that I absolutely love.”

Our picks for the best whiskeys

Best for entertaining: Colonel E.H. Taylor bourbon

Best for entertaining
Colonel E.H. Taylor bourbon

Colonel E.H. Taylor bourbon

A colleague shared, jokingly, “every time I tell myself I won't drink the whole bottle within a week, every time I fail. It's just delicious.” This limited edition Kentucky bourbon hits all the right notes: buttery plum and oak nose, a citrus palate, and a smoky aftertaste with a finish of oak and tobacco. At $78 a bottle, it is at a higher price point than some, but if purchasing it won’t break your bank, it’s a small-batch bourbon that will likely please new and seasoned bourbon drinkers.

Specifications:

  • Size: 750ml
  • Region: Kentucky
  • ABV: 100%
  • Tasting notes: Plum, oak, tobacco
  • Price at publish: $78.99

The bottom line:

A small-batch, high-quality bourbon with notes of plum, oak, and tobacco with a citrus palate that everyone can enjoy.

Get it here: Colonel E.H. Taylor bourbon


Best Japanese whiskey: Yamazaki 12 year or Nikka Yoichi Aromatic Yeast 2022

Best Japanese whiskey
Yamazaki 12 year

Yamazaki 12 year

Nikka Yoichi Aromatic Yeast 2022

Nikka Yoichi Aromatic Yeast 2022

Yamazaki is smooth like Scotch but has a distinctive Japanese whiskey flavor. It is aged in casks of three different kinds of oak (American, Spanish, and Japanese). It has a delicate, dry finish with dried fruits and honey aroma.

Nikka Yoichi Aromatic Yeast 2022 leans toward a similar aroma profile to ginjo sake, but it stands out as another fantastic single malt Japanese whiskey with fruits and soft oak appeal with oceanic notes, according to some tasters. An elevated experience, it is the pricer of these two top tier Japanese whisky offerings.

Specifications:

  • Size: 750 ml (both)
  • Region: Vale of Yamazaki (Yamazaki), Japan and N/A Japan
  • ABV: 75.5% (Yamazaki) and 48% (Nikka)
  • Tasting notes: Dried fruits, honey, delicate and dry; oceanic notes, soft oak and fruits
  • Price at publish: $149.99 and $244.99

The bottom line:

These are two Japanese whiskey options that are among the best the Japanese whiskey industry offers in the United States.

Get it here: Yamazaki 12 year or Nikka Yoichi Aromatic Yeast 2022


Best whiskey for an old-fashioned cocktail: Powers Irish Rye

Best whiskey for an old-fashioned cocktail
Powers Irish Rye

Powers Irish Rye

Some ryes can taste harsh (at least for some palettes), but this one is a smooth, woodsy, drinkable 100 percent Irish rye whisky that can do double duty in an old-fashioned cocktail, thanks to its subtle notes of clove and vanilla that add to the taste. If you don’t want a cocktail, this is a drinkable rye on its own. “Top shelf whiskeys, regardless of style, go well in classic cocktails like an Old Fashioned,” says Quartin. “They usually make the cocktail that much more incredible.”

Specifications:

  • Size: 0.75 l
  • Region: Middleton, Ireland
  • ABV: 43.2%
  • Tasting notes: Clove and vanilla
  • Price at publish: $33.99

The bottom line:

A smooth, 100 percent Irish rye whiskey that adds to the flavor of an old-fashioned cocktail but goes down easy on its own.

Get it here: Powers Irish Rye


Best affordable whiskey: Sazerac Rye

Best affordable whiskey
Sazerac Rye

One could say “insanely affordable” for one of the most drinkable Kentucky whiskeys out there, according to those who love rye whiskey. This is a straight rye aged six years in new charred American oak barrels made from at least 51% rye grain. The orange zest note gives it a zing, and the smoky clove goes down smoothly.

Specifications:

  • Size: 750 ml
  • Region: Kentucky (n/a region)
  • ABV: 90
  • Tasting notes: Orange zest, dark fruit, and clove
  • Price at publish: $29.99

The bottom line:

This Kentucky rye whiskey is inexpensive and delicious. It is smooth and has hints of orange and clove on the tongue.

Get it here: Sazerac Rye


Best Scotch whisky: Balvenie 12 Yr. Double Wood Scotch

Best Scotch whisky
Balvenie 12 Yr Double Wood Single Malt | 750ml

Balvenie 12 Yr Double Wood Single Malt | 750ml

This award-winning Balvenie is a 12-year-old double wood that is matured in two wood types. It starts off in American oak, which gives the whisky its vanilla spice, and then it ages for nine months in European oak sherry casks, adding a layer of fruit and honey. The flavors build beautifully together without a strong bite that may put new Scotch drinkers off. The end result is a drinkable, handcrafted single-malt Scotch that is extremely smooth and affordable for a Scotch of its caliber. “At Balvenie, we use a wide range of cask types to deliver unique flavors across our range; the contents that the finishing cask have previously held play a great role in affecting the oak, and as such, the seasoned oak plays a huge part in the flavor we are able to create with our Balvenie spirit,” shares McKechnie.

Specifications:

  • Size: 750 ml
  • Region: Speyside, Scotland
  • ABV: 43%
  • Tasting notes: Sweet fruit and Oloroso sherry notes layered with honey and vanilla
  • Price at publish: $60.99

The bottom line:

An affordable single-malt offering from an award-winning distillery, this Scotch is a beautiful (and affordable) offering from Balvenie.

Get it here: Balvenie 12 Yr. Double Wood Scotch


Best Irish whiskey: Redbreast 27

Best Irish whiskey
Redbreast 27

Redbreast 27

This 27-year-old single pot still Irish whiskey is matured in bourbon, sherry, and ruby port casks and is the oldest permanent release in the Redbreast family of whiskeys. I was lucky enough to try Redbreast whiskey at a tasting event, and the maker was one of my personal favorites. It is truly a complex Irish whiskey tasting of ripe plums, dark cherries, and summer berries with a hint of heat and spices like vanilla, cinnamon, red pepper, nutmeg, and toasted oak. Smooth, silky, and delicious, but all of this comes at a premium price.

Specifications:

  • Size: 750 ml
  • Region: Midleton Distillery in County Cork, Ireland
  • ABV: 53.5% ABV
  • Tasting notes: Dark fruits, berries, spices, herbs, vanilla, and blood orangePrice at publish: $703.99

The bottom line:

This is a top-shelf aged single pot still Irish whiskey at an expensive price point, but worth it for its complexity and smooth taste.

Get it here: Redbreast 27


Best Canadian whiskey: Lot 40 Canadian Rye Whiskey

Best Canadian whiskey
Lot 40 Canadian Rye Whiskey

Lot 40 Canadian Rye Whiskey

Canadian whiskey tends to be made from blends, but this bottle is recommended by whiskey enthusiast Stacie Stearns, Ohio Liquor Board Consultant and 2023 Irish Whiskey Award Nominee. Made for easy sipping, this whiskey has a lovely oak finish with a hint of spice.

Specifications:

  • Size: 750 ml
  • Region: Country/Canada
  • ABV: 43%
  • Tasting notes: Rich caramel and oak tones on the nose with touches of butterscotch, spicy cinnamon & clove
  • Price at publish: $36.49

The bottom line:

A Canadian rye whiskey recommended by the experts with warmth and spice made for easy sipping.

Get it here: Lot 40 Canadian Rye Whiskey


Best bourbon: Michter's US1 Bourbon

Michter is a highly recommended bourbon maker in Kentucky. This small-batch bourbon features corn mash and has a complex nose with camphor, corn, and wood smoke, with rye underneath. It finishes with a wood note and a hint of maple syrup.

Specifications:

  • Size: 750 ml
  • Region: Kentucky
  • ABV: 45.7%
  • Tasting notes: Caramel and vanilla
  • Price at publish: $40.99

The bottom line:

A small-batch bourbon that (to this taster) smells and tastes like smoke and maple, with sweet vanilla and caramel tasting notes.

Get it here: Michter's US1 Bourbon


Best whiskey to give as a present: Russell's Reserve

Best whiskey to give as a present
Single Barrel Bourbon | Small Batch Bourbon by Russell's Reserve | 750ml | Kentucky

Single Barrel Bourbon | Small Batch Bourbon by Russell's Reserve | 750ml | Kentucky

A gift is subjective. As an Irish whiskey lover, they may suggest something different from a Scotch drinker. My colleague who knows his whiskey recommended this small batch of bourbon for its taste and reasonable price tag for something of its caliber. From the Wild Turkey Distillery, this is “a really smooth, drinkable bourbon, which is kind of astonishing for something with a 55% ABV,” according to tasters.

Specifications:

  • Size: 750 ml
  • Region/State: Kentucky
  • ABV: 55%
  • Tasting notes: Nose of caramel, toffee, and vanilla. Flavors of spec, wood, and fruit.
  • Price at publish: $57.99

The bottom line:

This small-batch offering is a great gift for bourbon lovers and is a step above some of its competitors for the price.

Get it here: Russell's Reserve


Best whiskey in a can: Two Stacks, Dram in a Can

Best whiskey in a can
Two Stacks, Dram in a Can

Two Stacks, Dram in a Can

Canned cocktails and wine are all the rage, and now you can enjoy a “dram in a can” as well. I found this whiskey to have a slight bite with a mild sweetness. Best of all, without the slightly metallic taste that can happen with canned drinks. I could see this used as a mixer or enjoyed on its own, as it is made from grain, malt, and pot-still whiskey.

Specifications:

  • Size: 100 ml can (comes in a four-pack)
  • Region/Country: Ireland
  • ABV: 43%
  • Tasting notes: Notes of shortbread, toasted almond & peeled apple with soft milk-chocolate and dried fruit
  • Price at publish: $19.99

The bottom line:

A perfect dram in a can (the first of its kind) that is portable and delicious alone or as a mixer.

Get it here: Two Stacks, Dram in a Can


How we selected the best whiskey

With the U.S. liquor laws determined on a state-by-state basis, there are wonderful whiskeys that didn’t make this list because of their limited availability. I decided to recommend them based on chats with experts and whiskey connoisseurs, while also being mindful that our list contains the best whiskeys that are readily available throughout most of the country.

Types of whiskey

Among the most commonly recognized types are below:

  • Irish whiskey
  • Scottish whisky (also called Scotch)
  • Canadian whisky
  • Japanese whiskey
  • Bourbon
  • Rye whiskey
  • Single malt whiskey
  • Single distillery whiskey
  • Corn whiskey

While every whiskey is different, sippers (myself included) may describe a whiskey as peaty, smokey, nutty, woodsy, caramel, vanilla, or spice. Whiskey is known as a “brown” liquor, but it can present itself in varying shades like amber, pale gold, or a deep reddish brown depending on many factors, including its age and the type of wood it was matured and/or finished in. Taste is subjective, after all, so you may have to try several before you find your favorite one. We’ve created a round-up based on recommendations from whiskey experts and enthusiasts to help you.

Tips for how to drink whiskey

There is no hard and fast rule for drinking whiskey. “Whisk[e]y is for everyone, and it is really up to you how you drink it, whether that be in a cocktail, neat, with or without ice, or a refreshing high ball,” says McKechnie. “It doesn’t matter if it's a single malt or a blend, the important thing is to experience the flavor and enjoy!”

Some people like it neat, others put ice into their glass (others think ice and water will dilute it), and some drinkers prefer mixing it into a cocktail. It all comes down to what you prefer.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

What is best to mix with whiskey?

Mixing a whiskey-based cocktail can be done with ginger ale, ginger beer, coca-cola, lemon soda, hot apple cider (paired with bourbon is delish), Earl Gray tea, club soda, and the list goes on. It depends on how you want to drink your whiskey. Quartin suggests trying carbonated mixers such as ginger ale, cola, seltzer, or even a sparkling lemonade. They typically blend well and complement many whiskey profiles.

What is single malt whiskey?

Single malt whiskey is made from 100 percent malted barley by an individual distillery.

What is the difference between whiskey and bourbon?

Bourbon originated in Kentucky and is a type of whiskey made from blended grains. According to the American Bourbon Association, it must be produced in the U.S., include at least 51% corn, aged in a new charred oak container, and be free from added substances.

What is blended scotch whiskey?

A blended Scotch whiskey is made from a blend of grain whiskeys and single malts from a variety of distilleries. It is typically less expensive than single-malt or single-barrel scotch whiskey.

How many calories are in whiskey?

A shot of whiskey is likely 105 calories, maybe a little less or more, depending on the kind of whiskey.

What is whiskey made out of?

Whiskey is made out of fermented grain mash and is usually aged in oak wood barrels, although some Japanese whiskey is made from rice and is distilled in stainless steel.

What do casks do?

Casks are where the whiskey is aged, and the type of wood or material of the cask helps make the flavor profile of the liquid. “Each of our expressions is unique, but underpinned by a rich, luxuriously smooth, and distinctively honeyed character, which is the signature flavor of The Balvenie. Sherry casks often play a role in our Single Malts to bring out our much-loved flavor profile,” says McKechnie. “We love to experiment with lots of different types of casks to finish our whiskies, and for our core single malts like those in our Cask Finishes range, each whisk[e]y is matured in two casks to help bring more complexity to each single malt.”

How do you store whiskey?

Store your whiskey upright in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight.

Whiskey is for everyone, from mellow bourbons, to honied Scotch and global offerings from around the world.

The information presented here is created independently from the TIME editorial staff. To learn more, see our About page.

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