Whisky is incredibly simple in ingredients and, in general, in the process of making it. The resulting product, however, is sublimely complex and comes in more variations than you can probably imagine.
We won’t get into it too much but whisky is typically from Scotland while others - spelled whiskey with an "e" - are from elsewhere, namely Ireland and America. However, you’ll see some exceptions like Maker’s Mark and Old Forester.
It’s the taste we’re concerned with, not how it’s spelled.
Related:best gins from around the world
Here you’ll find a wide range of options spanning the globe. Not all whisky is a mouthful of smoke so if that’s not your thing, there are smooth Scotches and sweet bourbons to satisfy your tastebuds. Vote for your favourite below.
1. Ailsa Bay - Sweet SmokeView now at Amazon
As the name suggests, this whisky perfectly balances the profile of a sweeter Scotch with smokiness, making it perfect for those wanting to find a middle ground between mainland and Islay.
This is the first distillery to have precision methods so Ailsa Bay is made to an exact 022 peaty parts and 019 sweet parts per million. It is also the only whiskey to be ‘micro matured’ in small Hudson Baby Bourbon casks for six to nine months before moving to American Oak.
2. Glenfiddich - 21View now at Amazon
For something dark, rich and complex, the Glenfiddich 21 year old single malt is an excellent choice. The whisky is finished in Caribbean rum casks for an unusual character and a deep amber colour. There are layers upon layers of flavour and when you think it’s done, you’ll discover another. The rum cask gives notes of banana, vanilla, ginger, dried fruit and more. It’s also rich with oak and leather.
3. Nikka - Whisky From The BarrelView now at Amazon
Don’t underestimate a blended whisky from Japan with an understated bottle. Nikka From The Barrel punches above its weight. At 51.4% you might think it is barrel-proof but it actually isn’t.
It packs in so much body and flavour for the price, this is one of the biggest bargains you’ll find in the whisky world. It’s finished in barrels after the blending process and there are layers upon layers here from butterscotch all the way to tobacco.
4. Laphroaig - 10View now at Amazon
This is from the Isla region of Scotland so it’s one for the peat heads out there who like a smokey tipple. The malted barley is dried by burning peat only found on the island.
Like Glenmorangie, the 10 year old is the original Laphroaig, and that drying process gives it a huge hit of smoke (really, prepare yourself) followed by tastes of seaweed and a medicinal herbal sweetness.
You’ll either love it, or hate it.
5. Lagavulin - 16View now at Amazon
Considered a classic around the world and favourite of Ron Swanson of Parks and Recreation, Lagavulin is not a whisky for the novice drinker.
It has an extremely smokey nose followed by an intensely rich and malty flavour with fruity sweetness. A long spicy finish rounds things off and makes Lagavulin a benchmark with which to compare all Islay whiskies.
It pairs particularly well with blue cheese.
6. Glenmorangie - 10View now at Amazon
Put simply, this should be part of every home bar. Glenmorangie’s 10 year old, aka ‘The Original’, is a true classic single malt Scotch. It’s simple and soft to drink yet has a complex and slightly sweet flavour with a burst of zesty fruit and delicate floral tones.This is one to give friends as a gateway whisky.
7. Bulleit - 95 RyeView now at Amazon
It’s called ‘95’ because the mash is made up of that percentage of rye, the remainder barley. That’s a really high ratio, so while the original Buillet is a classic bourbon, we like the rye version for its spicy flavour.
Unlike scotch, bourbon is sweeter and here you get toffee and maple flavours. It’s still smooth enough to drink neat but try using it for cocktails like an old fashioned for that extra level of flavour.
8. Elijah Craig - Barrel ProofView now at Amazon
For something special of the bourbon variety, you’re in good hands with this small batch Kentucky straight from Elijah Craig. It was bottled at a whopping 62.1% which is actually, somehow, one of the weaker editions.
There’s plenty of vanilla and maple flavour but a spicy heat from the booze, too. This won the whisky of the year 2017.
9. Old Pulteney - 12View now at Amazon
This is the standard Old Pulteney but don’t write it off based on that. This is a delicious 12-year-old single malt Scotch at a surprisingly affordable price. This multiple award winner offers an excellent balance of light delicate flavours like apple with a deeper, salty and spicy finish.
Based in Caithness, it is produce from the most northerly distillery in Scotland.
10. Redbreast - 12View now at Amazon
If you want something from Ireland, this single pot still whiskey from Redbreast is debatably the best you can get and comes highly recommended from Jim Murray and other critics. It has also won plenty of awards.
Like many Irish whiskeys, it is triple distilled making it oh-so smooth, and Redbreast has a rich and spicy body followed by a creamy finish.