The 15 best whiskeys to buy now, from bourbon to Scotch

No matter what style your prefer, we’ve got you covered

These days, there is so much whiskey to choose from, with countless bottles in all categories from bourbon to Scotch to American single malt to everything in between. It can be a challenge to sort through them all, and there are indeed plenty of excellent options to consider for the best whiskey brands. But some do stand out from the pack, so we’ve put together this list to help steer you towards some of the best whiskeys to buy in different categories. Happy hunting, and cheers.

Our Best Whiskey Picks

Maker’s Mark Cask Strength Bourbon. Photo by Maker’s Mark

Maker’s Mark is sometimes overlooked in the “best whiskey” conversation, but the cask strength version of this bourbon deserves to be in the discussion. The distillery, owned by Beam Suntory, makes a wheated bourbon that is a bit softer and sweeter on the palate than others due to the exclusion of rye in the mashbill. Regular Maker’s is good, but the Cask Strength expression is one of the best you can find. It is bottled between 108 and 114 proof—that’s lower than some other barrel-proof whiskeys, which is a good thing because it dials up the flavor without blowing out your palate.

Russell’s Reserve 10 Year Old. Photo by Russell’s Reserve

How do you choose the best bourbon out of so many stellar options? The whiskey has to be delicious, properly aged, and accesible—all of these apply to Russell’s Reserve 10 Year Old. This bourbon is a few years older than the core Wild Turkey 101 and bottled at lower 90 proof. You can find similarly aged whiskeys for triple the price, but there’s really no need to splurge because this bottle delivers exactly what you’re looking for in a Kentucky bourbon.

Michter’s US1 Kentucky Straight Rye. Photo by Michter’s

Michter’s releases its rye whiskey as a single-barrel expression, meaning that each bottle comes from one individual barrel as opposed to a blend of many. There may be some variation between bottles because of this, but overall this is a fantastic rye whiskey that delivers equal notes of sweet and spice thanks to the “barely legal” Kentucky style mashbill of just over the required 51 percent rye grain. Use this in a cocktail or sip it neat—either way you won’t be disappointed. And if you’re looking for something a bit stronger, check out the barrel strength version.

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof. Photo by Elijah Craig

Barrel proof means that no water has been added to the whiskey before bottling to bring down the ABV, so it’s basically as close to sipping from the barrel as you can get. Elijah Craig is made at Kentucky’s Heaven Hill Distillery, and while the core expression is a dependable and affordable bourbon, this more premium barrel-proof version is worth adding to your bar cart. It comes out in three batches per year, and depending on the casks selected the whiskey ranges in proof from about 118 all the way up to a hefty 136. Add a bit of water or ice if you want to tame it a bit, or just sip it neat and feel the heat.

Bardstown Bourbon Company Collaborative Series Foursquare. Photo by Bardstown Bourbon Company

Bardstown Bourbon Company devotes most of its production to making whiskey for other brands, much like MGP in Indiana. But this Kentucky distillery also has its own lineup of excellent whiskeys, including the Collaborative Series. The Foursquare edition is a blend of seven-year-old Indiana rye and 17-year-old Tennessee bourbon finished for almost two years in barrels sourced from the Barbados rum distillery Foursquare. The result is one of the best cask-finished whiskeys you can find, with a burst of brown sugar and tropical fruit notes that make this whiskey sing.

Redbreast 15 Year Old. Photo by Redbreast

Irish whiskey has exploded in popularity, with blends from well-known brands like Jameson leading the way. But for a superior drinking experience try Redbreast, a single pot still Irish whiskey made at Midleton (the same distillery that produces Jameson). “Single pot still” means the whiskey is made at one distillery in a pot still from a mash bill of malted and unmalted barley. This 15-year-old whiskey is the pinnacle expression from Redbreast, aged in bourbon and sherry casks that infuse it with rich notes of dried fruit, vanilla, spice and a bit of fruitcake on the palate.

Westland Garryana Edition Eight. Photo by Westland

This Seattle distillery is making some of the best American single malt you can find with a range of different expressions. The eighth edition of Garryana, part of the Outpost Range, is named after the native Pacific Northwest oak that is used to make some of the barrels it’s aged in. The latest release was something of a sherry bomb, with nearly half of the whiskey spending about four years in Pedro Ximenez casks. Notes of dark berries, chocolate, espresso, spice, and raisin combine, resulting in a bottle that you’ll want to come back to and try again.

Aberlour 18. Photo by Aberlour

Most of the whisky made at this Speyside distillery is double aged in bourbon barrels and sherry casks before being married together, resulting in a rich balance of oaky vanilla notes and spicy dried fruit flavors. The 18-year-old expression is a standout expression from this distillery, and one of the best unpeated scotches overall. Nearly two decades in oak has given this single malt a rich character that is a perfect encapsulation of a well-aged scotch whisky.

Highland Park 18. Photo by Highland Park

Highland Park is a distillery located in the far north of Scotland on the archipelago of Orkney. The theme there is mostly based around the residents’ Viking heritage, which is why this 18-year-old single malt is called Viking Pride. This is an excellent peated whisky, with notes of smoke that are pronounced but not overpowering. It’s matured mostly in first-fill European and American sherry casks for nearly two decades, resulting in a complex expression full of honey, brown sugar, dark chocolate, and mulled spices.

Knob Creek Bourbon. Photo by Knob Creek

The best whiskey cocktails are often the classics, like the Old Fashioned or Manhattan. Of course, you can get as creative as you want when mixing up a batch of drinks, as long as you are using a good whiskey as the base ingredient. Knob Creek Bourbon is a wise choice, because this 100-proof nine-year-old whiskey, part of Jim Beam’s Small Batch Collection, is flavourful and strong enough to shine through whatever other ingredients you are mixing with.

Woodford Reserve. Photo by Woodford Reserve

It can be a lot of fun to splurge on whiskey, but sometimes you just want to find a dependable bottle that won’t put the hurt on your savings account. For those situations, turn to Woodford Reserve. This bourbon falls under the Brown-Forman umbrella, the same company that makes Jack Daniel’s and Old Forester, but this bourbon stands apart from those brands. It’s always flavourful with pronounced notes of stone fruit, vanilla, oak and caramel, and it punches well above its price range.

Ardbeg 25. Photo by Ardbeg

This bottle is a splurge, make no mistake. But the 25-year-old expression from Islay distillery Ardbeg is one of the best peated whiskies you will ever taste. A quarter century in barrels has slightly toned down the assertive smokiness that defines Ardbeg’s whiskies, but there is still enough to bring that defining character front and center. There is ample spice on the palate, along with vanilla, citrus, fruit, and of course the peat you’d expect.

John Classic Select Cask. Photo by John Classic

There is great whisky to be found all around the world these days, including India which has become a hot bed of high-quality single malts. The climate in Goa, where Paul John is located, is quite literally hot—the tropical heat here has a big impact upon the whisky as it ages. The distillery’s Classic Select Cask expression is fruity, spicy, and full of caramel and toffee notes. It’s bottled at a strong 55.2 per cent ABV, so go ahead and add a drop of water to unlock some new flavors and tone it down a bit if you prefer.

Hakushu 18. Photo by Suntory

You’ve probably heard the news—Japanese whisky is very rare and very expensive these days (although getting slightly less so). But age statement bottles from distilleries like Hakushu, one of the Suntory distilleries along with Yamazaki and Chita, are just some of the best in this popular category. The 18-year-old expression from Hakushu, a distillery located in the Japanese Alps, is fantastic with notes of light peat, baking spice, honey, vanilla and oak are delectable. If you’re looking for a reason to splurge, this is a bottle that will not disappoint.

Bearface Matsutake Whisky. Photo by Bearface

This is one of the more interesting Canadian whisky releases in recent years, and the first in Bearface’s Wilderness Series. It’s a blend of whiskies, including one that is flavored with matsutake mushrooms that were foraged in the Canadian forest. The other whiskies in the blend were aged in sherry casks and red wine barrels, giving it notes of caramel, maple, and a hint of honey, along with a subtle savory note.

Drink whiskey the way you like it. Photo by Charl Folscher/Unsplash

What are the different types of whiskey?

There are many differences between different types of whiskey depending on where it’s made. Overall, whiskey is a distilled spirit made from a mash of fermented grains. Bourbon must be made from at least 51 per cent corn and aged in new charred oak containers (virtually always barrels). Single malt scotch whisky must be made from a mashbill of 100 per cent malted barley at one distillery and aged for a minimum of three years (ex-bourbon barrels are frequently used). Irish whiskey must be made on the island of Ireland from a mash of grains and aged for three years. These are just some examples, and there are many other styles to explore.

How should you drink whiskey?

The short answer is however you like it. There is no wrong or right way to enjoy whiskey. If you prefer cocktails, there are plenty of options and whiskey goes well with other ingredients. But consider trying whiskey on its own as well to explore the flavors. A Glencairn glass is a good way to nose and taste whiskey neat, and some people like to add a splash of water. A tumbler works just fine if you’d like to add some ice. Just remember to drink it in the way that you like best.

How did we choose the whiskey on this list?

We considered different factors when picking these whiskeys, with the emphasis being on taste. Because after all, despite a bottle’s availability or the hype surrounding it, that is the most important thing. Tasting whiskey involves a combination of sensations, including the nose, palate, mouthfeel and finish. And each category has different characteristics, so part of the process is to consider how an individual pick fits into its style overall. The bottles on this list represent the best whiskey brands based on all of these options, providing a good overview of selections you can easily purchase in person or online that are good examples of each individual category.

Why should you trust us?

Jonah Flicker has been writing about whiskey and other spirits for a decade, visiting distilleries around the world to meet the people behind the bottles and find out more about their stories. He is a judge for the John Barleycorn Awards and New York World Wine and Spirits Competition, and his work has appeared in many national other lifestyle outlets besides Robb Report, including Esquire, Food & Wine, Men’s Journal, CNN, USA Today and more.

This story was first published on Robb Report USA