There’s a whiskey for every occasion. Whether you’re celebrating the post-pandemic future or raising your glass to a friend’s birthday or promotion, there’s a quality brown spirit worth sipping. Shoot, we love whiskey so much, the spirit itself can make the occasion.
The only problem is — and this is a good problem, just about any way you cut it — there are about a million whiskey options out there. Luckily, we’ve tasted through quite a few and taken note of some truly outstanding options. And we aren’t just talking about top-shelf whiskey options that you really have to shell out for. We’ve got some less expensive whiskey options too, ones that punch well above their price tag.
Kentucky may be the land of bourbon, but we’ve included whiskeys from all over the globe here. It’s a popular enough spirit that great bottles are now coming out of everywhere, from Iowa to Japan. In short, if you have no other reason to celebrate, then toast to right now, a period of time that feels very much like a golden era for whiskey. Get your best whiskey glassware and ice trays ready — it’s time to enjoy a few fingers of the finest whiskey available in 2021.
The Mars Distillery, where this fine bottle is crafted, has been turning out whisky in central Japan since 1949. It’s layered, with delicate fruit notes like quince and a perfectly balanced kick of peaty smoke. It’s one of a growing number of offerings out there showing Japan’s genuine prowess in the whiskey (or, whisky) department.
In case you’ve been asleep at the whiskey wheel, rum-aged expressions are all the rage right now. This is arguably the best of them all, an impeccably smooth offering that finds the happiest of mediums between the vanilla-ness of rum barrels and the more rustic notes of a good Scotch whisky. As the label says, it’s born in Scotland and raised in Jerez. The flavor simply does not quit, lingering beautifully well after it hits your lips.
This aged delight boasts the deepest of cherry notes, like being inside of a stone fruit. There’s also nutmeg, vanilla bean, and pepper. If you’re looking for a rye whiskey that is both complex and approachable, this is your bottle.
This well-crafted option would do very well in a blind taste test with brethren bottles even two or three times its price. It’s the product of a cool collaboration between González Byass of Spain and master distiller Richard Paterson. The liquid itself has matured in sherry butts before being finished in Pedro Ximenez casks. The result? A hybrid whisky of sorts that takes on all the best qualities of a good sherry — the dried fruit notes, the nuttiness, the leathery grape qualities. It’s a gem, especially at the cost.
There’s a floral element to this Scotch that’s ultra-intriguing. Toffee leads to tea leads to honeycomb, and then there’s a burst of jasmine nectar. Too much more of the last thing and it might almost be a soapy flaw, but as it is, it’s an ideal and intoxicating addition to a finely-made whisky.
Four Roses does a bang-up job from top to bottom, including a great entry-level whiskey. But it’s in the smaller batches where you really taste the gift the Kentucky outfit has in the distillery. The Small Batch Select is a blend of six different recipes, all aged at least six years. It shows lovely berry and apricot flavors, with a bit of grassiness and some winter spice for warmth. Even better, it’s incredibly even with a gleaming, intoxicating texture.
A Windy City distillery, Koval makes a mean single barrel whiskey. The unusual grain bill of 51% corn and the balance in millet makes for some tropical flavors to round out some spicy and earthy undertones. It’s vastly approachable and worth pouring into a broad glass so you can take it all in.
This bourbon sings. It’s medium-bodied and offers nice roasted nut elements, dark fruit flavors, and a buttery, even slightly yeasty finish. While the finish isn’t all that lasting, it’s clean and robust, an ideal finale. Sip it neat and don’t bother diluting it; this bourbon does not need ice.
Aside from occupying one of the best-looking, most timeless bottles out there (seriously, it’s the bottle that catches your eye in every black and white movie of long ago), this whiskey is damn good. It marries all the things one loves in a good bourbon, from the thawing spice and toffee elements to subtle fruit notes like raisin. You even detect the benefit of ideal barrel aging, from the toast of the oak to the tremendous balance of diverse aromatics and flavors.
This whiskey from the Mile High City is created out of corn, barley, rye, and wheat. The quadruple grain approach is somewhat rare in whiskey and adds an extra layer of nuance. It’s an intricate sipper that unfolds further with every taste.
A bartender’s best friend, this bourbon is beyond great at its price point. It is proof that with a cool $20, you can come away with something not only great as a base for an Old Fashioned or Boulevardier but that you can also sip on its own without anything close to a grimace. In fact, enjoyed neat, this overachiever shows pleasant notes of rye, candied orange, and caramel. Good bourbon can come under a screw cap.
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