Whiskey is one of those spirits that takes a lot of time to get into—and like coffee, might be the definition of an acquired taste.
But provided you’ve attuned your palette, the whiskey world almost always has something new and exciting in store. Whiskey, scotch, rye, and bourbon—are all consumed on a massive scale. In the United States alone, over 500 million liters of sold annually, and that number is only increasing.
The proliferation of craft beers and specialty drinks in the states like likewise boosted whiskey into the forefront of alcohol. And while your trusty Tennessee Whiskey will always be widely available, why not branch out this year and try something new?
We’re going to be going into the cutting edge of whiskey and breaking down the top 5 best whiskeys of the year. And for those a little more unfamiliar with how whiskey works, we’ll also be explaining what you need to know and what to look for in a whiskey.
Finally, we’ll be wrapping up with our Buyer’s Guide and taking a look at some final stipulations before it’s time to get to drinking.
What to Look For In Whiskey
Whiskey, rye, bourbon, and all titles similar can be confusing for someone who’s never taken a full step away from beer or mixed drinks. And not to worry—we’ve got all of the information you need when it comes to whiskey.
Whiskey is a spirit distilled from grain mash. You may find the term spelled with or without the “e,” but in either case, you can expect whiskey to be filled with grains and a wooden taste.
Why the wood? Because whiskey is traditionally aged in barrels, and often for about three years. Whiskey is also unique in that many different types of drinks are actually whiskey in disguise. Each of the following terms refers to whiskey either made in a certain way or produced in a certain country:
- Tennessee Whiskey
- Single Malt
While it may be confusing at first to think of all of the above as whiskey, there’s a specific reason for each to have been given their name. And while we don’t have time to get into all of them, here’s what you need to know about specific ones:
When it comes to scotch, the important thing to remember is corn. Scotch has to be made from at least 51% of corn mash. And if that sounds specific, you may be surprised to learn that scotch (alongside many other whiskey types) have very, very specific requirements in laws across the world.
All scotch whiskey is aged in barrels and needs to age for a minimum of three years. But even if you follow every step to a “T” when it comes to making scotch, you may not have technically made it—as all scotch has to be made in Scotland, or it isn’t scotch at all.
In many ways, it is a similar scenario with bourbon—which has similar requirements to make and is exclusively made in America.
Bourbon must be made in charred oak barrels and can be up to 80% alcohol. Bourbon must also be made from 51% corn, but you don’t need to worry about waiting. Bourbon has no requirement of age. That is unless you drink straight bourbon.
Even more specific when it comes to whiskey is Tennessee Whiskey, which as you may have guessed, must be made in Tennessee. This one is much easier to understand, since the mixture is bourbon.
However, Tennessee whiskey is known for a unique flavor that comes from filtration through charcoal. This gives the whiskey a more smokey flavor in the eyes of some.
The final major whiskey type we’ll cover is rye, which is primarily made from the rye grain. Rye is traditionally made in Canada but can be made all over the world. Canadian whiskey, on the other hand, has a unique blend of grains and is exclusive to the Great White North.
So, what do you need to look for in a whiskey? That depends; what sort of pallet do you have?
Each type of whiskey will taste significantly different. The aging process, the barrels used to ferment them, the grains; all have a significant effect on the result.
Before going for one of the whiskey brands we’ll mention below, we recommend getting familiar with the general family of flavors of whiskey, and tasting rye, bourbon, and scotch before committing. We’ll also go over other types in our Buyer’s Guide.
How We’ve Chosen Our Whiskey
Our whiskey has been chosen to cover many different types of this spirit while still giving a special focus to unique flavors and respect for the history of the drink.
While these whiskey brands have been aged in different barrels and for a different number of years, there’s no good way to definitively rank these flavors. As such, we recommend trying out the whiskey that seems to have the flavor profile that best matches the types of whiskey you normally enjoy.
For example, if Jack Daniels is a staple in your liquor cabinet, then perhaps another Tennessee Whiskey will serve you well. However, if you’re daring, branching out to different types will help you expand your palette and recognize different flavors.
Who knows? You may just find your new favorite whiskey along the way.
Top 5 Best Whiskeys for 2018
Here are some of our top picks to try out this year.
1792 Full Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon
This Kentucky Bourbon has consistently made the top of many a whiskey list. Known for its sweet flavor and hot finish, this bourbon is not designed for the sensitive.
The creators of this Bourbon from the Barton 1792 Distillery have released many different variations of this batch, and each comes with a different flavor and proof. Fans of bourbon will appreciate the kick this product has, and at a proof as high as this, you’re going to need to make sure you’ve eaten well beforehand.
We recommend the 1792 Full Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon for those who want a drink that’s tough but flavorful at a mid-range price.
Jameson 18-Year-Old Limited Reserve
For those who aren’t exactly new to the whiskey world, Jameson will be a welcome sight. This Irish Whiskey (which must be made exactly where you’d think) is one that’s been aged a great deal longer than the typical fare from the company.
Jameson 18 Year Old is reported to be a flavorful, almost sweet whiskey as is a tradition with Irish creations. The taste has significant less kick than the 1792 full proof and carries a hint of nuttiness to round off the flavor.
It’s not easy to get a hold of, especially as bottles continue to sell throughout the end of the year, but the truth is that this unique spin on a classic whiskey option is certainly one that deserves your attention.
We recommend Jameson 18 Year Old Limited Reserve for those who alright with their bourbon tasting more complex than meets the eye—or mouth.
Bruichladdich The Organic 2009
Moving away from bourbon for a moment, single malt whiskeys like these are especially known for their rich flavor, but Bruichladdich is a company that demands more of even itself.
Living up to its title, The Organic 2009 from Bruichladdich was made with organic, sustainable grains. The result is a light, sweet creation that hits hard with the malt flavor and leaves with just a bit of citrus by the end of its time with you.
Bruichladdich can be enjoyed either straight or in an Old Fashioned, but regardless, there are many different reasons you can try this drink out. Whether you’re big on sustainable creations or just want to branch out into single malt, this is a great option for either.
Old Overholt Bonded Rye
This creation from The Olds is sure to prove that the age of your whiskey has little to do with flavor.
The Olds is a manufacturer that’s not afraid to get somewhat confusing with their naming system, and their Old Overholt creation is lovingly branded “The Oldest of The Olds.” This rich rye is one that’s firmly dedicated to mixology. While it can be taken straight, it is the ability for this spirit to turn into a base for some incredible mixed drinks that we’ve mentioned it here.
If you like harder drinks that are more reminiscent of 1792 Full Proof or likewise, then we recommend giving this rye a shot. Just come prepared with plenty of sour mixes, simple syrups, and fresh citrus.
Laphroaig 10-Year-Old Scotch
It would almost feel wrong to complete our list without mentioning a fine scotch. And a fine scotch this is.
Laphroaig prides itself in making products that hold tradition. The company is insistent on clarifying that the way Laphroaig is made today is the same way it was made almost a century ago.
And we can’t fault them for the commitment, as this 10-year-old scotch is one that’s got a premium taste at a reasonable price. The nose is especially sweet, which counteracts a bit of a seaweed taste. Of course, the spiced finish that’s prevalent in scotch can be found here as well.
Laphroaig has held awards for this drink before, and we’re sure they’ll be holding them for a long time to come, as new generations of whiskey enthusiasts come of age and recognize the value in keeping a good scotch around to sip on the rocks.
The best whiskey is almost an impossible task to find. There are so many different flavors, fermenting styles, creations, and small batches being made, to find one that’s right for you is going to be a challenge.
However, if you feel as if you are up to the task, we do have a few recommendations to make.
The first of which is to learn how to talk whiskey. You make have noticed our references to the nose, taste, and finish of a drink. These are the simplest way to approach the smell, taste, and aftertaste, respectively.
We recommend taking your favorite whiskey out and uncovering what sorts of tastes and smells you appreciate. You’d be surprised to find that you don’t need to be a whiskey snob to recognize that you may appreciate a woody flavor over a smokey one, or that you want richness over sweetness.
Whiskey tasting is a category that’s a bit of a rabbit hole, so don’t feel as if you need to know everything about these drinks before committing. We purposely picked more affordable creations so that you could have the chance to try out a manufacturer before committing to the higher-priced drinks.
For instance, if you enjoyed the taste of Laphroaig’s 10-Year-Old Scotch, you may want to keep a bottle of their 27-Year-Old Scotch on hand for special occasions.
In many ways, whiskey provides the opportunity for you to hone your palette and get comfortable expressing exactly why you think the drink in your hand may just be the best whiskey of this year.
Regardless, we hope that our list has given you a few distilleries to check in with, or maybe a place for you to pick out a gift for the whiskey enthusiast in your family.
Of course, remember to drink responsibly, and take the time to appreciate the taste. After all, this whiskey wasn’t meant for shooting. So take your time, get out your favorite record, book, or chair, and enjoy your best whiskey either on the rocks, mixed with other flavors, or straight.