Choosing the best whiskey to drink neat or on the rocks depends on your preferences regarding the type of whiskey, the flavor you enjoy, and affordability.
Typically, a straight or sipping whiskey is appreciated for its smoothness, leaving a soft and rich finish on the palate and throat.
Types of Whiskey
There are different types of whiskey distilled worldwide. The main whiskey types and where they come from are as follows:
- Bourbon – United States
- Scotch – Scotland
- Irish whiskey – Ireland
- Canadian whisky – Canada
- Japanese whisky – Japan
All types of whiskey are distilled from fermented grains such as corn, wheat, barley, and rye and then aged in barrels and must be bottled to a minimum of 40 ABV (alcohol by volume).
Each above-mentioned country has a set of regulations for producing and aging its whiskey. The differences in barrel types, aging time, and distillation techniques contribute to the different kinds and best whiskey To drink straight.
Whisky or Whiskey
There has always been confusion regarding the correct spelling of whiskey. However, there is no incorrect spelling.
It is generally spelled whiskey with an “e” in the United States and Ireland, and whisky without an “e” in Scotland, Canada, and Japan.
What is used to make whiskey?
Whiskey can be made from grains like malted barley, rye, corn, or wheat which dictate the flavor and name of the final product.
For example, Bourbon must have at least 51% corn, and rye whiskey must have a minimum of 51% rye in its mash bill.
How is Whiskey Made
The same basic steps are followed to produce whiskey.
- The grains used for the whiskey being made are mixed with water and yeast, then heated and stirred to ensure a well-combined “mash” that is ready to ferment.
- The mash is then stored for one to two weeks to ensure complete fermentation. During this fermentation process, the compounds break down, producing ethanol or ethyl alcohol.
- On completion of fermentation, the liquid is strained off from the fermented solids. The liquid (ethanol) is used to make whiskey.
- The distillation process purifies the ethanol by heating and vaporizing and collecting the vapor as it recondenses into a liquid. As a result, many impurities are left behind, and the resulting liquid is purer and has a higher alcohol percentage.
- The first 35% of the distillation, known as the “heads,” is discarded because it contains highly toxic methanol or acetone. The following 30% is known as the “heart” and is the desired pure product. The remaining 35%, known as the “tails,” is not refined enough and is kept for further distillation.
- After distillation, the spirit goes through an aging process whereby the whiskey is stored in wooden barrels for a minimum of two years.
- Distilleries use different types of barrels to impart a unique flavor and the period of aging also varies depending on the desired quality.
- Before bottling, the whiskey is diluted with filtered water to achieve the desired ABV%.
Types of Whiskey
Different types of whiskey are defined by factors such as country of origin, type of grain used, distilling, blending, and the aging process.
- Single Malt whisky is produced from one distillery and must be distilled from a mash consisting only of malted barley. A single-malt whisky can include whisky from several different barrels from the same distillery.
- Single-grain whiskey is made from grains such as corn, wheat, or rye and usually includes some malted barley, providing the enzymes needed in the mashing process. Malted barley must be included in whiskey produced in Scotland or Ireland.
- Blended whiskey is a product that contains a mix of barrel-aged malt and grain whiskies. It could consist of whiskies produced at different distilleries.
- Bourbon Legislation determines that to be named Bourbon, the whiskey must be produced in the United States and must have at least 51% corn in its mash bill. In addition, Bourbon must be aged in newly charred oak barrels, enter the barrels at a maximum of 125 proof, and be bottled at no less than 40% ABV. Bourbon has a sweet caramelized flavor.
- Tennessee whiskey goes through sugar maple charcoal filters before aging, giving it its unique flavor.
- Rye whiskey: If produced in the United States, rye whiskey must have a mash bill of at least 51% rye and be aged for at least two years in newly charred oak barrels. Rye whiskey tends to be lighter-bodied than other types of whiskey.
- Scotch whisky uses malted barley and must be distilled in pot stills, aged, and bottled in Scotland, and legislation determines that the Scotch be left to age in oak casks for at least three years. The Scotch Whisky Association registers five regions having distilleries and whiskies with unique characteristics and flavors. The regions are Campbeltown (3 distilleries),The Highlands (30 distilleries), The Lowlands (18 distilleries), The Isle of Islay (9 distilleries), and Speyside (50 distilleries).The majority of Scotch sold yearly are blended whiskies made from two types of whisky; Single malt or single grain Scotch whisky. “single” refers to the whisky being distilled at one distillery. The three different blends of scotch whisky are:
- Blended grain scotch whisky – a blend of two or more single grain whiskies from different distilleries
- Blended malt scotch whisky – consists of a blend of two or more single scotch whiskies from different distilleries
- Blended scotch whisky – this is a blend of single malt scotch whiskies with single grain scotch whiskies. The peat used in the ovens to dry the malt lends to many whiskies having a peaty, smokey flavor.
- Irish whiskey must be distilled, aged, bottled in Ireland, made from malted barley, and may include other cereal grains. Irish whiskey must be matured in oak casks for a minimum of three years and bottled at, at least 40% ABV.
- Canadian whisky has to be produced and aged in oak barrels not exceeding a capacity of 700 liters for at least three years in Canada. In addition, Canada allows its whiskey to have additives and flavorings such as caramel, providing whiskies of varying tastes and characters.
- Japanese whisky is closer to Scotch than any other style, using malted barley, double distilling, and maturing in barrels of American oak, Sherry casks, or Japanese Mizunara oak which imparts unique characteristics. Japanese whisky tends to be less peaty than Scotch whisky
The label on each bottle of whiskey should indicate the following factors to assist you in choosing a whiskey:
Age – indicates how long a whiskey has been aged in barrels, and the years stated will refer to the youngest barrel used in the batch.
Country of origin – will indicate which country produced and distributed the whiskey, for example, Scotland, Japan, United States, or Ireland.
Alcohol Content – will be displayed as ABV % (alcohol by volume) or proof to indicate the amount of alcohol in the bottle.
Type of whiskey – Single malt, blended, Bourbon whiskey, Tennessee whiskey, etc.
Listed below are whiskies selected from the various types of whiskey and major countries producing and distributing whiskey:
Buffalo Trace Bourbon is made at the Buffalo Trace distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky, where they have been distilling Bourbon for more than 200 years and is owned by the Sazerac Company.
Buffalo Trace Bourbon, bottled at 45% ABV after it has been aged for nine years, has a complex taste profile with notes of caramel, spice, and butterscotch, leaving a long, smooth finish, perfect for drinking on the rocks or sipping straight.
The Woodford Reserve Distillery is a National Historic Landmark in Kentucky, United States, and has been making Bourbon there since 1812. The Woodford Reserve Bourbon is triple distilled and aged in charred new oak and then sherry barrels.
Woodford Reserve is bottled at 45% ABV and is best to drink straight with smooth, complex flavors and notes of citrus, chocolate, and spice with an almost creamy finish.
The Balvenie Double Wood is a single malt 12-year-old whisky from the Balvenie distillery that is first aged in ex-Bourbon oak barrels and then transferred to Oloroso sherry casks to mature for a further nine months.
Balvenie Double Wood has a sweet taste with notes of vanilla, spice, nuts, and dried fruits with a rich, smooth finish.
It is best enjoyed straight and is recommended as an ideal whisky for those starting their journey into the highly satisfying world of whiskey.
Johnnie Walker Blue Label is a blended whisky combining single malt and single grain whiskies sourced from distilleries throughout Scotland for their time maturing in barrels, quality, and character to create a consistent and extraordinary whisky.
Johnnie Walker Blue Label has a velvety combination of honey, orange, and vanilla with notes of sherry, dark chocolate, and hazelnut leading to a long, rich, smokey finish.
It is best sipped straight with the palate cleansed with ice-cold water between sips.
Redbreast 12 Years is an Irish pot still whiskey that is triple-distilled at the Midleton distillery in Ireland and matures in Bourbon barrels and Spanish sherry casks. Redbreast is created by blending various aged whiskies from these barrels.
The sherry flavor imparted from the Oloroso sherry casks comes through more prominently as the whiskey stays in the bottle for a protracted time.
Redbreast is very smooth to enjoy straight with undertones of cherry and hints of nutmeg and cinnamon.
Forty Creek whisky is made of rye, barley, and corn distilled individually and aged for 6-10 years in charred barrels, with rye being aged in lightly charred barrels, barley in medium charred, and corn in heavily charred barrels.
Once matured, the barrels of rye, barley, and corn are blended, and then the blend is further aged in sherry casks for six months.
Forty Creek Barrel Select is medium-bodied with tastes of honey, vanilla, hints of cocoa, and smokey flavors with a smooth, lingering finish. This straight whiskey is best on the rocks but is excellent for sipping neat.
Yamazaki is a distillery in Japan owned by Suntory. The Yamazaki single malt is distilled in Japan from a mash bill that is 100% barley and follows a production style similar to Scotch whiskey.
This whiskey ages in three different oak barrels; Bourbon, Spanish sherry, and Japanese Mizunara, giving it its distinctive rich flavors of ginger, coconut, and pineapple with a long smooth finish with spicy notes.
Yamazaki Single Malt is a very smooth whisky best enjoyed neat on its own or straight on the rocks.
Best Whiskey To Drink Straight – Conclusion
Choosing a clear winner in a whiskey category is tricky due to the variety of whiskies available with vastly different characteristics and flavors.
It becomes a matter of personal preferences, which is why we have selected what we consider to be the best whiskies produced in significant whiskey-producing countries worldwide.
All the whiskies selected above are highly recommended as flagship whiskies in their particular country or style providing a smooth, silky, and distinctive finish on the palate, making them perfect for drinking straight or on the rocks if preferred.