Luxury Whiskies Might Come off as Overrated. Here’s Why Some of Them Truly Deserve to Be on the Pedestal.
Is there anything more enticing at the end of a long day, than putting your feet up somewhere cozy, sitting back and savoring a fine whisky? It’s got to be said, there aren’t many drinks out there that can quite convey that sense of luxury or comfort, quite like whisky does.
The American comedian and TV host, Johnny Carson once said, “Happiness is having a rare steak, a bottle of whiskey, and a dog to eat the rare steak.” You won’t find much information in this article about steak. Or dogs for that matter. But if you want do check the drinks part of Johnny’s definition of happiness, we’ve got you covered. Keep reading and we’ll fill you in with our pick of classy whiskeys from around the world that everyone should try once.
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If you like your whiskies served well, you might enjoy the video upload for this topic much more than the article:
With that poured in, let’s take a sip of the first whisky listed in today’s article.
We just had to begin in Scotland, the spiritual home of whisky. And we’re starting with the distillery that produces the world’s highest-selling Single Malt Scotch, familiar the world over with it’s deer’s head logo.
First, an important definition we need to get out the way. According to the Scotch Whisky Association, a Single Malt Scotch is a whisky that’s distilled at a single distillery from water and malted barley without any other cereals added into the mix — distilled in copper pot stills and bottled in Scotland, at a minimum of 40% alcohol by volume.
Just because Glenfiddich sells bucketloads worldwide, doesn’t make it any less of a class act. It’s known as go-to of whisky connoisseurs, as well as one of the best single malts to start with of you’re a whisky newbie. Its fresh, fruity taste, means that Glenfiddich is an easy on the palette if you’re not initiated in the ways of whisky.
A bottle of the entry level Founder’s Reserve will cost an affordable $40. Or a Glenfiddich that’s been matured longer will go for a higher price —like the 30-Year-Old, which goes for over $700. Or if you have the cash to spare, a rare 50-year-old, which sells for $30 000.
Next up, another Single Malt Scotch from the same region of Scotland as Glenfiddich — Speyside, which is known as having the most accessible Scotch whiskies. Macallan is still a little heavier on the tastebuds than Glenfiddich — but for a connoisseur of luxury whiskies who savors more complex flavors, that’s nothing to worry about.
Some of the most expensive whiskies in the world are Macallan. Like the Macallan M, a 6-litre bottle that’s sold at auction for for $630 000. And it has a reputation for being one of the most luxurious Scotch brands. But’s it doesn’t have to be crazily expensive. The Macallan 12-Year-Old sells for a reasonable $70 — or splash out on an 18-Year-Old for $800.
If you’re wondering why whiskies indicate an age, no it’s not because they don’t need to carry an ID into the bar. The age of a whisky indicates the number of years it’s been matured for in barrels. The longer it’s been matured, the finer the whisky. Because with time, it picks up new flavors from the wood, and whatever’s been in the barrel before. For example, most Macallans mature in sherry casks, meaning it picks up a few sherry notes along the way. And needless to say, the older it is, the more expensive.
If that’s what you call outrageous, it’s excusable considering it’s at least “whisky”. Wait till you read up to the last one of the Top Ten Most Expensive Bottled Water.
Now for some whiskies that are a bit more of an acquired taste. And in this case, a little harder to pronounce from looking at the label. Once more — luh-FROIG. And the reason this one takes that bit more getting used to is down to one key part of its flavor profile. The fact that it’s smoky.
Laphroaig comes from the Scottish island of Islay — one of the six regions of Scotch whisky production. And it’s well-known that Islay whiskies are smoky. Because when the barley is malted — that means lightly toasted before being fermented — in Islay they use locally sourced peat — slow-burning soil — to fire things up. And you feel that when you take a sip.
Laphroiag is also one of the most easily recognizable Scotch whiskies. In Britain, it has a royal warrant — that means it’s an official supplier to the royal family. A 10-year-old will cost $60. But if you want to go that bit more exclusive you could choose a 25-year-old for $500.
Talking of smoky luxury whiskies, this one, also from the Islay region, is legendary among experienced whisky drinkers. Because its smoky flavor comes like a slap in the face — like hot chilis, wasabi or blue cheese — and like all of those, you’ll probably either love it or hate it.
The 10-Year-Old is known as a true smoke bomb, and measures 96 on the Phenol Parts per Million scale that measures smokiness — yep, they actually have a scale for measuring that. And the fact that it’s 46% alcohol helps even further with that kick. And it comes with a price tag of $60 — or a 25-Year-Old will sell for $2000.
Johnnie Walker Blue Label
Until now, all the whiskies we’ve covered have been Single Malts — remember, that means from the same batch from the same distillery. So, it’s about time for our first blend — a mixture of different single malts.
True whisky lovers tend to see blends as a turn-off, something inferior to single malts, and with less character. But they’ll usually make an exception for a really great blend — and this is one of those.
Based in Ayrshire, Scotland, Johnnie Walker is the highest-selling Scotch Whisky brand and specializes in blends. And right at the top of their range, you’ll find the Blue Label. A bottle will cost around $220. And it’s worth it. Because with this one, Johnnie Walker have really pulled out all the stops with their blending expertise. Critics say that it has the perfect balance between smoky and smooth.
Chivas Regal the Icon
If a whisky enthusiast ever tells you that blends are cheap and trashy, throw this one at them. Because Chivas Regal’s the icon is known for being the pinnacle of blended whiskies. It’s made of 20 rare, old Scotch whiskies — some of them so rare and old that the distilleries they’re from closed down long ago. Which goes some way to explaining its price tag of $3500.
The Icon comes in a bottle specially handcrafted by Scottish glass makers, and the verdict is, if you’ve got the cash to spare, this is one of the luxury whiskies so fine that it really is worth what you pay for it.
Bushmills Single Malt
Remember when we called Scotland the spiritual home of whisky? Well, time for an apology to any Aluxers from Ireland. Because Ireland also has a claim. And there’s an ongoing dispute between the two countries as to who was the first to distil the drink they both call the water of life. But we’ll stay out of that one — and just say that both countries make some amazing whiskies.
And Bushmills, based on the coast of Northern Ireland, happens to be the oldest whiskey distillery in the world to get a license, back in 1608. And it’s not just about history, it still delivers quality. For something on the exclusive side, don’t go for their blends — which are decent, just not exactly luxury whiskies — try any Bushmills single malt, which start at $45 for a 10-Year-Old.
Next, a brand that’s known for making some of Ireland’s best luxury whiskies, especially form their small batch range, aged in Central American rum casks. And this distillery is also noteworthy for being the youngest on our list. It was set up in 2015, with the aim of reviving the whisky heritage of Dublin — which was once proud center of distilling.
On the topic of Irish whiskey, a couple of key facts. Scotch and Irish whiskey do have a lot on common — like the fact they’re both made from barley. But while Scotch is usually distilled twice, Irish whiskey is distilled three times. The Irish version of the drink is also known for being smoother and easier to drink than Scotch, although not as complex to the experienced whiskey-drinker.
And the final difference — is the spelling. While the Irish spell it with the ‘e’, the Scottish spell it without. And it’s worth mentioning that when Americans make whiskey, they use the Irish spelling — with the ‘e’ that is. Talking of which, time to switch continents and get talking American whiskies.
Jefferson’s Ocean Aged at Sea
Our first pick of American whiskeys has to be a bourbon. That classic American spirit, that’s uses corn for its main ingredient, and is almost exclusively made in Kentucky.
Jefferson’s are based in Louisville, Kentucky, and make a classy range of bourbons, any of which we’d be happy to recommend. But we chose it’s Ocean Aged at Sea partly out of novelty value. Because, just like the label tells you, this drink is matured in barrels on a ship — yep, it really is aged at sea. And some say this gives it its unique salty taste.
Not everybody’s convinced that aging it as sea really does anything to the taste — but whether you believe or not, you can still appreciate it as a quality bourbon. And it sells for $90 a bottle.
William Larue Weller
Next up, a legendary bourbon, with a serious price tag to match. It gets its named from one of Kentucky’s first whiskey-makers. And it comes from the USA’s oldest distillery, Buffalo Trace in Frankfort, Kentucky. Perhaps even more impressive, the distillery managed to stay open during the Prohibition in the 1920s, as they persuaded customs officials their spirits were purely for medicinal purposes. That’s got to deserve a toast to William Larue’s health.
This one’s at the top of the W. L. Weller range of wheated bourbons — that means they’re made of wheat, as well as the minimum 51% of corn that goes into the mix. And it distinguishes itself by being the only one in the range to have the founder’s full name, William Larue Weller, instead of the less exclusive ones which just call themselves W.L.. And of course, it’s pricier, at $700 a bottle.
Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve
If bourbon’s your drink of choice, this is the one you just have to try — even if it’s just once. It’s known as the bourbon that everyone wants but no one can get. Fans of Pappy spend a lot of time trying to hunt down a bottle, and bars that stock it charge $100 a shot.
It gets its name from Julian van Winkle, who started out as a liquor salesman for W.L. Waller company, before buying his own distillery. It’s also distilled in Frankfort, Kentucky, and uses a secret family recipe. If you can find one, you’ll have to pay around $900 for the privilege of enjoying a bottle of Pappy.
WhistlePig’s Samurai Scientist
Time to move on from bourbon to another classic North American spirit — rye. Luxuries Whiskies from Scotland and Ireland use barley for their base, and bourbon uses corn, while rye uses — you guessed it, rye. The grain that goes into the bread you’ll find in health food stores. It’s a favorite in Canada as well as the USA, and cocktail fans will know it as a main ingredient in a Manhattan.
WhistlePig may not be the most glamorous of names, but they come out with some fine rye whiskies. And this is one of their best — matured in barrels imported from Japan, that were originally used to store the Japanese plum drink, umeshuu.
From rye matured in Japanese barrels, let’s move on to whisky that’s actually distilled in Japan. If you’re surprised to see Japan on this list… well, time to get with the script. The Japanese now make some of the best whiskies in the world. They base them on recipes for Scotch, but they sure know how to make these whiskies their own.
The Yamazaki is Japan’s oldest whisky distillery, dating back to 1923. That’s when they discovered that features of Japan’s geography made it ideally suited to whisky production. Like the pure crystalline water. And the extreme changes in temperature that come in handy for the maturation process.
Yamazaki’s biggest seller is the 12-Year-Old, which is a fan favorite of whisky lovers, and sells a $170 a bottle. And their longer-matured whiskies go for serious cash, like their 25-year-old, which costs $9000.
Another Japanese whisky with a great reputation, and probably one of the best-known smokey luxury whiskies from Japan. The 12-year-old costs $200. And the 25-year-old, known for being its finest, goes for $6000.
The price comes partly from the fact that Japanese distillers often import the ingredients from Scotland. Including the barley, and in the case of Hakushu, even the peat, to give it that smoky flavor. As well as that, the high quality and lower production quantities, all add up to mean that — yeah, Japanese whiskies are expensive.
Our last pick is owned by the Suntory brand — which also owns Hakushu. The difference is that while Hakushu is a single malt, Hibiki do blends. And for some many whisky-lovers, Japan’s finest blends. An upmarket choice is the Hibiki 17-Year-Old, which sells for around $500 a bottle. For something more affordable, but still high quality, you could go for the Hibiki Harmony, at $100.
When you think of whisky, what’s the first whiskey brand you think of?