WHISKEY: Bourbon, Rye, Scotch
Whiskey is also spelled Whisky in some countries. Both are correct. Whisk(e)y can be Bourbon, Japanese Style, Rye, Scotch, Single Malt, Sour Mash, etc. Often when people starting to explore the world of Whiskey ask me what is good, what is attainable, what is the best, etc., it is often hard to answer them. What was affordable and attainable just a year or two ago, is not insanely expensive and hard to find. Weller Antique is a fine example of this. It is produced from the same distillery as Pappy Van Winkle Fame. It is 107 proof and I don’t think you can find anything in that category for $25. But before you rush out to buy a bottle, you can expect to pay $100+ in 2021. Why? Because as large number of bourbon fans came on to the scene, they also started to hoard, driving up prices. Some even use it as side income – buy a bottle for $25, sell it for $100. Of course it is illegal, but there are not enough ATF agents in the USA to prevent it. The retailers have gotten on to them, and they are angry too, hence the nearly 100% markup to prevent this.
So what you see below is my ranking. I have been fortunate, and I’ve been drinking whiskey for about 10 years now, just as all this madness was starting to happen, so I had tasted all the good stuff when it was still very reasonable. That being said, there is still plenty of hidden gems out there.
If you have a question about something you do not see here, feel free to visit the @GlencairnClub on Instagram. Whatever you see there, I have tasted personally. If you have a question, just message me. I am not a brand ambassador, nor am I paid to promote any of these/those brands listed.
BOURBON: Made mostly of corn, it often has rye mixed in too. By law, it must be made from 51% corn, cut only with Kentucky Limestone water, and only aged in virgin (never before used) American Oak barrels. What do they do with the barrels after they are used? Sell them to Scotland to age their whisky.
The Elite, Elusive & Expensive…
- Michter’s 20yr
- Pappy Van Winkle 23 yr
- Pappy Van Winkle 20yr
- Michter’s 10yr
- Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2016
- Knob Creek Limited Edition 1990
- Old Forester Barrel Pick
- Old Weller Antique
- Old Rip Van Winkle
- Van Winkle Reserve Lot B
Bourbon: Great Stuff, good value;
- Michter’s Whiskey (American Whiskey is my favorite, but the whole lineup is good for the $50 pricing)
- Four Roses Single Barrel (their regular stuff is fine, but the ones in the squad bottles rounded at the bottom are often delicious)
- Elijah Craig (Single Barrel if you can find it)
- Elmer T. Lee (Another once-affordable, great bottle that is now hard to come by)
- Basil Hayden (Great for beginners)
- Jim Beam Devil’s Cut (probably the best stuff you can find for under $30)
- Buffalo Trace (the next class up from Jim Beam Black, but great drink or mixer for a very reasonable price)
- Bulliet (Another affordable, easy to find bourbon, either for sipping or mixing)
- Rock Hill Farms ($50 and becoming elusive)
- Blanton’s (once easily available, now it is allocated and doubled in price up from $60 to $120 easily)
- Colonel EH Taylor (all their stuff is good, my personal favorite is their rye)
- Jefferson’s Ocean (the marketing is that it is aged on a ship, I think it tastes more like rye but it is good stuff if you find it reasonably priced)
- Orphan Barrel (any of their expressions such as Forged Oak, Gifted Horse, Rhetoric, etc. are all very good but come at a price of $100+)
RYE: Rye is a spicier, but sweeter whiskey over bourbon, and as you might imagine, its made from those thin seeds you often see in your rye bread.
- Colonel EH Taylor (One of my favorites, at about $75)
- Lock, Stock & Barrel ($100 but some of the best you will ever taste)
- High West Double Rye (excellent rye at an affordable price, under $50)
- Thomas H. Handy (this is one of those elusive bottles from BTAC (Buffalo Trace Antique Collection) which really does not do much for me, its good, but not great)
- Michter’s (any of their ryes are good, especially if you can get your hands on the barrel proof or 10 year, across the board they are my favorite brand)
- Whistle Pig (another great rye easy to find, but not cheap at almost $100/bottle, it is however, easy to drink and a pleaser)
SCOTCH: For me, Scotch whisky is a far more complex spirit, because it has less rules than Bourbon, and can be aged in any type of barrel. While it is usually former bourbon barrels (which can only be used once), look for other finishes like Port, Rum, Rye, and one of my favorites is Sherry, which imparts a sweeter “raisin” taste to it. This is especially helpful if you do not care for the smokey peat taste.
- Talisker Storm (Combination of smoke and sweetness if you add 1/2 oz ice cube, it really opens up the flavors)
- Highland Park 12yr (Sweet, smooth, delicious. The 86 proof does cut some of the flavor down since there is more water in it than the normal 92 proof whiskies)
- Ardbeg Ten (Super smokey/peaty, almost like smoking a cigar)
- Macallan 12 (This was my favorite before I discovered Highland Park, Macallan is more expensive too, about $10 more per bottle)
- Johnny Walker Blue (While it is very smooth, it is over rated and over priced at $200/bottle – wouldn’t you rather have all 4 of the bottles above instead of just this one)?
- Johnny Walker Green (A good replacement for the blue. Completely different taste profile, but at $60 its more affordable).
- Johnny Walker Platinum (Another good exception to the Blue for a fraction of the price).
- Yamazaki 12 (Japanese whisky crafted in the spirit of Scotch, while is is my favorite, the price has now doubled to almost $150)
- Yamazaki 18 (I had the luxury of drinking both of these side by side one night and I much preferred the 12yr noted above, and its half the price)
- Balvenie Caribbean Cask (this was a favorite of Anthony Bourdain, but the only one I can get on board with is the Caribbean Cask at $70/bottle, the others I just don’t care for)
- Bruichladdich (While I have not had this in a couple of years, they have several expressions, all of them are very good.)
- Chivas Regal, Johnnie Walter Red, Black, Double Black, etc (these are all common, inexpensive Scotches you can find for under $40 and don’t feel guilty pouring over ice, in soda or even mixing in cocktails. It is not bad stuff, but it is the most common and cheapest).