From grain to glass, whisky (or whiskey, if it’s Irish or American) is a spirit that’s crossed continents and broken down borders, and each place imparts a unique quality to its flavour profile.
Here, we bring you a list of the best from around the world, including Scotland, Ireland, America and Japan, with something to suit every palate.
It’s not the definitive whisky list of must-haves, rather a suggestion of stone cold classics and hip newcomers. One thing they have in common is that they’re all extremely tasty.
A note on buying imported whisky in the UK: Where possible, we’ve linked to where you can buy direct from the distillery, but where this is not the case, a quick web search will bring up options from online drinks specialists, nationwide supermarkets or global marketplace sites. (Prices are for 70cl.)
The best whiskies from around the world
Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select, 43.2% ABV, blend, Kentucky, USA
A relatively new bourbon, yet one housed in the longest-serving distillery in Kentucky. A firm favourite with bartenders and purists alike, Woodford Reserve delivers a richness and depth to savour, the late sweetness makes it perfect for cocktails. This is a perfect choice for beginners. Look out for the Master’s Collection bottlings, too.
Nikka from the Barrel, 51.4% ABV, blend, Japan
At a bottling strength of over 50% ABV, this Japanese number packs a punch – however, it rolls with the punches in grand style. It’s strength means Nikka believe only master blenders can detect subtle variances within the aroma, but add a touch of water and this drink will come alive.
Balvenie 17-year, Doublewood, 43% ABV, single malt, Speyside, Scotland
The toast of Speyside is double-matured and cask finished. It receives an American oak and European sherry oak maturation, which delivers all the dried fruit and vanilla notes a whisky lover could hope for. Balvenie remains independently owned and unique in its self-sufficiency. The Scottish distillery grow their own barley and malt and cover every stage of the whisky-making process themselves. Everything under one roof.
Ardbeg 10 year, 46% ABV, single malt, Islay, Scotland
Ardbeg has won best single malt in the world multiple times. Ardbeg 10 is a compulsory lesson in smoked whisky. Visit Islay on the West of Scotland and you’ll land in whisky nirvana. On this small strip of land, numerous legendary distilleries bring their products alive with the addition of smoked peat. It’s almost impossible to pick just one, but Ardbeg 10 is a champion. The distillery even sent its whisky to space! In a whirlwind of smoke, rich tobaccos and coffee, it delivers on every level. Be prepared however, this is not a dram for the faint-hearted.
Compass Box Hedonism, 43% ABV, blend, various, Scotland
Blended Scotch, forever the bridesmaid and never the bride. However, this number has everything you could ask for. It’s 100% grain, made from blending different Scottish whiskies, aged in American oak. Hedonism has heady toffee and coffee nuances with a touch of coconut, amazing.
FEW Bourbon, 46.5% ABV, blend, Illinois, USA
Hailing from Evanston, Illinois – a place that was dry for over a century – FEW is a spirit with light, bouncy characteristics. A blend of corn, rye and malt, it’s a true cocktail bourbon. Mix it with sweet red vermouth, a dash of bitters and some ice and it reveals its full potential. We also like it’s tongue-in-cheek name – Frances Elizabeth Ward was a staunch supporter of prohibition and played a big part in keeping Evanston dry.
Redbreast Cask Strength 12, 59.9% ABV, Ireland
An Irish spirit that boasts more character than most (thanks to its distilling process in pot stills), it’s dark, rich and strong. At 59.9% ABV, you may need to add a touch of water, but this big, complex drink is a noteworthy reminder of how Irish whiskey is in the midst of a renaissance.
Powers John’s Lane 12 year old, 46% ABV, single still blended barrels, Ireland
A delicious, chewy whiskey which rests in ex-bourbon and ‘Oloroso’ fortified wine casks. It’s named after the original Powers distillery on John’s Lane in Dublin, as a homage to the early days of the brand. Spice and honey marry together with some deep charred wood to fortify the notion that Irish whiskey is back with a bang.
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This review was last updated in August 2020. If you have any questions, suggestions for future reviews or spot anything that has changed in price or availability please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.