Whisky – or whiskey – is a complex spirit with bags of flavour. We bring you 10 best bottles to buy, from peaty Scotch to Japanese single malts.
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Whisk(e)y: the mythical, magical beast of the liquid world. From grain to glass, it’s a spirit that’s filled with wonderment. It’s crossed continents and broken down borders. A liquor that with one scent draws the drinker to dream of mystical lands. Here we bring you a list of 10 great whisk(e)ys that span the globe. We’ll visit Scotland, Ireland, USA and Japan. There’s a range to suit an array of palates. It’s not the definitive whisky list of must-haves, rather a suggestion of stone cold classics and contemporary young guns. One thing they have in common is that they are all extremely tasty. Whichever you pick, we hope you enjoy your dram.
Whisky or whiskey?
First and foremost, how should we spell it? Is it whisky or whiskey? We explain the difference between the two here.
A note on buying imported whisk(e)y 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. All prices below for 70cl.
Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select, 43.2% ABV, blend, Kentucky, USA
A relatively new bourbon, yet one that’s 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, and the late sweetness makes it harmonious for any whiskey cocktail. This is a perfect choice for a beginner to start their journey into whiskey fulfilment. The Distiller’s Select is the mainstay of the Woodford Reserve production, but look out for the Master’s Collection bottlings too. They sure are real doozies.
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 said punches with aplomb. At such a high ABV, Nikka believe only master blenders can detect subtle variances within the aroma, but add a touch of water and this dream will come alive.
Yamazaki 12 year, 43% ABV, single malt, Japan
Made in Kyoto in the first commercial distillery to open in Japan, this whisky is a stalwart of the burgeoning Japanese whisky scene. Along with Nikka, Yamazaki and Suntory are the founders of Japanese whisky. The 12 year boasts a richness and oiliness to make the connoisseur purr and the tropical fruit tones only add to the harmony.
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 is unique to the whisky world. The Scottish distillery grow their own barley and malt and turn it on their onsite floor maltings, boast their own coopers to tend to their casks, and have a house coppersmith to tend the stills. 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 feels like a travesty to pick just one from this veritable paradise, but Ardbeg 10 is a champion. The distillery even sent its whisky to space! In a whirlwind of smoke, rich tobaccos and coffee, Ardbeg 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 want from a blended whisky. It’s a 100% grain whisky made from blending different whiskies from distilleries around Scotland, aged in American oak. Hedonism has heady toffee and coffee nuances with some coconut arriving to whisk the drinker into a state of amazement.
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. Married with some sweet red vermouth, an added dash of bitters and stirred with ice, it reveals its full potential.
P.S. FEW is named after Frances Elizabeth Willard, a staunch supporter of prohibition and member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. She played a big part in keeping Evanston dry from 1855-1972. We like the cheeky naming policy.
That Boutique-y Whisky Company #1 35yr, 46.5% ABV, blend, Scotland
A fun-loving but serious addition to the growing craft whisky market, this is an enticing product.
It features a 50/50 malt to grain blend that includes some big-hitting world class malts like Macallan. It was the WWA World’s Best Blended Whisky 2015 and is a full-bodied, round and smooth spirit with no sharp edges and a sweet finish.
Available from Master of Malt (£119.95).
Redbreast Cask Strength 12, 59.9% ABV, Ireland
An Irish spirit that boasts more character than most due to the whiskey being distilled solely in pot stills, steering clear of the Coffey (or 'column') still, making it dark, rich and strong. At 59.9% ABV, you may need to add a touch of water but this big, complex liquid 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 huge, chewy, delicious whiskey which derives from a single still and 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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