There are no shortage of lists that attempt to outline the best Bourbon, Scotch or Whiskeys on the planet. Some will use quantitative analysis. Others skew to qualitative. That’s the thing about a good Bourbon, Scotch or Whiskey; everyone has a different opinion, because everyone’s taste profile is different and everyone value’s different characteristics. My wife, when I first met here 3+ years ago, swore by her love of Jameson. To her, it was in fact, the best Whiskey in the world. Today, she wouldn’t be caught dead drinking, let alone owning a bottle of Jameson.
Over the past 3 years, I’ve tasted more whiskeys than I can remember. I think that’s a good thing. I’ve tasted rare and hard to find Whiskeys. I’ve sadly tasted cheap and horrible tasting Whiskeys, like Fireball. I’ve had great tasting and cheap Whiskeys; a rarity, but so satisfying when it happens. Some of these Whiskeys are great for mixing, some can and should be had neat, while others taste better with an ice cube or drop of water. That’s what I love about Whiskey; there’s no right or wrong way to drink it and they all taste different.
Before I go any further, it’s important to understand that every Scotch, Bourbon and Rye is a Whiskey. But, not every Whiskey is a Bourbon or a Rye or a Scotch. So when I say, “My Top 10 Whiskeys” you’re going to see Bourbons, Ryes and Scotches mixed together.
So, with that said, here’s the best of the best, based on my tastes, preferences and palate.
W.L. Weller 12 Year: Made irrationally famous because Julian Van Winkle said it was his favorite and it was then shown to have the same mash bill as the famed Pappy Van Winkle 15 year, it’s a gem. But, all that hype made it hard to come by. At $25 a bottle, it’s a perfect example of great Bourbon, not having to be expensive. Good luck finding a bottle though. Even on Craiglist market, this $25 bottle will sell for nearly $100. W.L. Weller 12 is my go to bourbon, when I want something neat or with a cube. I never use it as a mixer.
Four Roses Yellow Label: At $20, it’s a steal. Yes, it’s like they’re paying you for it. I love Four Roses Yellow Label. My wife loves the more expensive Single Barrel. Four Roses is what is my must have bourbon in an Old Fashioned. It’s smooth and balanced.
Michter’s 10 Year: Another, impossible to find, great bourbon. If you see it in-store, it’ll retail for $85. On the secondary market, expect to pay $200. Where Weller and Four Roses are incredibly smooth, with virtually no finish. Michter’s is smooth, with a pungent nose and a complex finish that sneaks up you. Love this bourbon. No ice needed. Serve neat.
The Glenlivet Archive 21 Year: The first Scotch to make the list. I went back and forth between this and The Macallan 21. Both are phenomenal. But, The Macallan is nearly twice the cost at $300 a bottle. The Glenlivet 21, however, can be had for $140. Yes, that’s expensive. But, it’s so freaking good. Smooth, no bite and big flavor. If I could afford it, I’d be drinking this every day.
Pappy Van Winkle 15 Year: The first and only Pappy to make the list. I have the 10, 12, 15, 20 and 23 year. The 10 is raw and unfinished. Not my style. The 12 year “Lot B” is good, but isn’t something I’d drink neat or on the rocks. It’s very nice for livening up a good Old Fashioned. The 20 I really love. It doesn’t get enough love out there. The 23 is the hardest to come by. That scarcity, I tend to think, clouds people’s judgement and evaluation of the Bourbon. Personally, I think it’s too aged. But, the 15, yeah, it’s just right. It’s so full of flavor, but not overpowering. I can sip on this all night long.
Yamazaki 12 Year: For a while I was really into the art of Japanese Whiskey. Where the USA and Scotland favor single malts and blends are considered cheap, Japan views blending as a way to be creative and develop unique flavors. I like Hibiki 12, but it doesn’t hold a candle to Yamazaki 12. Everyone who samples my bottle, remarks at how incredible it is. A different Yamazaki; one finished in a Sherry Cask, was recently anointed the title of Best Whiskey In The World.
Bulleit Bourbon 10 Year: I really like Bulleit. I don’t love it neat. I don’t love it on ice. But, I really like it in a Manhattan, Mint Julep or Old Fashioned. There’s something about it’s taste profile that makes it the perfect compliment to so many other ingredients. It’s the classic team player on a sports team. Bulleit isn’t the leader or the best player, but without Bulleit, you just don’t win.
Basil Hayden: This was the Bourbon that got me started into dark spirits. It was the first Bourbon I ever ordered. There’s many similarities to Basil Hayden and Bulleit 10. They both have a certain lack of refinement. They have an edge. But, where as Bulleit has too much edge to be something I drink neat, Basil Hayden, when in the right mood, is definitely something I can enjoy with a cube.
Angel’s Envy Cask Strength: Received this as a gift and was instantly blown away. Cask Strength Bourbon has generally proved to be just too powerful for me. Too much bite, too much finish. Even as much as I love Four Roses, their 2014 Limited Edition Single Barrel Cask Strength is just too much for me. But, for whatever reason Angel’s Envy has figured out how to give you something powerful, but not overpowering. This, my friends, will keep you warm on cold winter nights.
Larceny: In all my Whiskey sampling, I realized I prefer wheated Bourbons over rye Bourbons. The wheat is smoother, with less bite than rye. Again, palate, is personal. You can find this gem for about $28 at most liquor stores. If you’re just getting into Bourbon and can’t find the W.L.Weller 12, this is a great introduction into the world of Bourbons.
Beyond the top 10, some other Whiskey’s that I’ve sampled that are worth your time as you explore would be Lagavulin 16, Kings County Bourbon, Balvenie Caribbean Cask 14, Whistle Pig Rye 10 and Makers Mark (original). All are interesting, unique and different.
Taste is personal. That’s the beauty of Whiskey. There’s something out there for everyone. These be my favorites, but your’s could be something else. Get out there and start sampling.