Best whisky – taste tested

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.

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

Woodford Reserve 
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.
 
From around £30. Read more on the Woodford Reserve website


Nikka from the Barrel, 51.4% ABV, blend, Japan

Nikka from the barrel

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

From around £34. Read more on the Nikka Whisky website
 

Yamazaki 12 year, 43% ABV, single malt, Japan

Yamazaki

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.

From around £80. Read more on the Yamazaki website
 

Balvenie 17 year, Doublewood, 43% ABV, single malt, Speyside, Scotland

Balvenie
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.

From around £80. Read more on the Balvenie website

 
Ardbeg 10 year, 46% ABV, single malt, Islay, Scotland

Ardberg
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.

£42.00. Buy from Ardbeg
 

Compass Box Hedonism, 43% ABV, blend, various, Scotland

Compass Box 
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.

£66. Buy from Compass Box


FEW Bourbon, 46.5% ABV, blend, Illinois, USA 

FEW bourbon
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. 

From around £50. Read more on the FEW website
 

That Boutique-y Whisky Company #1 35yr, 46.5% ABV, blend, Scotland

Boutiquey Whisky

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.  

From around £120. Read more on the That Boutique-y Whisky Company website


Redbreast Cask Strength 12, 59.9% ABV, Ireland

Red Breast

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.

Around £80. Buy from the Jameson website
 

Powers John’s Lane 12 year old, 46% ABV, single still blended barrels, Ireland

Powers whisky

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.

Around £45. Read more on the Powers website

More on spirits... 

The best rum
The best bourbon
The best artisan gins
The best traditional gins
10 spirits to buy to stay on-trend

Which whisk(e)y do you drink? We'd love to hear your product suggestions.

This review was last updated in March 2017. If you have any questions, suggestions for future reviews or spot anything that has changed in price or availability please get in touch at goodfoodwebsite@bbc.com.

Comments, questions and tips

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Petra Hees's picture
Petra Hees
14th Jun, 2017
Laphroaig Quarter cask
Bagram2005
31st May, 2017
Midleton Very Rare
George Kensington
16th Mar, 2017
Aberlour, single malt, 12 years. 'Good spirit' for this price. :)
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