A Tale of Mash and Oak, Part VI: Sam’s Recommendations

Here are some suggestions to help set the stage as you begin exploring the world of whiskey.

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Scotch
My personal favorite!

  • Glenmorangie: This is my strong suggestion for your intro to Scotch, and it remains one of my go-to favorites. Very smooth with notes of honey, nuts and orange, with an amazing toffee finish. About $30 per fifth, 80 proof, aged in barrels that previously held bourbon.
  • Glenlivet 12 Single Malt: Similar to Glenmorangie but with a little more bite and a hint of smokiness. About $25 per fifth, 80 proof, aged in bourbon and sherry casks.
  • Johnnie Walker Black Label: This blend includes whiskies from more than three dozen distilleries, including Talisker, Lagavulin and Cardhu. Definitely delivers a peated taste, balanced well with vanilla, toffee and a slight citrus note. About $30 per fifth, 80 proof.
  • Highland Park 12 Year Viking Honour Single Malt: A good choice if you’re settling into a groove with Scotch. The name may give you pause (I was a little hesitant), but Highland Park, located in the Orkney Islands, is the northernmost distillery in Scotland. The islands were settled and ruled by the Vikings, hence the name. This whisky has sweet notes of honey and vanilla with earthy hints to balance it out, and there’s just a touch of smoke at the end. About $50.00 per fifth, 80 proof, aged in sherry casks.

Irish Whiskey

    • Tullamore D.E.W.: Skip the Jameson and go straight for this one. It’s a blend of single malt, grain and pot still whiskeys. Fairly smooth with bit of a bitterness and nice subtle, hints of sweetness (I mostly taste honey). About $20 per fifth, 80 proof, aged in bourbon and sherry casks.
    • Teeling Small Batch: This blend delivers a lot of sweet notes like coconut, honey and corn, and it is on the richer side. About $35 per fifth, 92 proof, aged in American oak, finished in rum casks.
    • Connemara Peated Single Malt: Very few Irish distilleries produce peated whiskey, and if you like a heavy, smoky, earthy glass, this one is for you. About $40 per fifth, 80 proof, aged in bourbon barrels.
    • Green Spot Single Pot Still: A good next-level option if you’re enjoying Irish whiskey. It’s a little more on the fruity side, with hints of apples and berries, with a sherry-toffee finish. About $50 per fifth, 80 proof, aged in bourbon and Oloroso sherry casks.

Bourbon
Bourbon holds a special place in my heart. My dad has become a connoisseur and introduced me to it, and my mom is from Kentucky, so there’s lots of family pride involved. The three of us compiled this list of favorites. A good thing to note with bourbon is that the predominant corn content tends to make it sweeter than most other whiskeys, but trust me, it does not taste like a sugary cocktail.

  • Buffalo Trace: Very popular and widely available. It’s a classic bourbon with fruity notes and a little vanilla hint at the end. About $25 per fifth, 90 proof.
  • Corner Creek Bourbon: A good introductory choice and a great bang-for-your-buck value. Notes of vanilla and butterscotch with just a little hint of spice. About $30 per fifth, 88 proof.
  • Four Roses Single Barrel: I’m a big fan of this one. Pricier, it features more spice and bite. Very rich, with a smooth finish and little hints of toffee and sugar. About $40 per fifth, 100 proof.
  • Blade and Bow: Highly recommended when you’ve made the rounds and you’re ready to step up. It has a great spicy-sweet balance with potent vanilla notes. About $50.00 per fifth, 100 proof.

Japanese Whisky
A quick disclaimer here, as I’m not yet well-versed in this category. I have a running list of varieties to try, but I haven’t gotten through them all. Here are a few notables from my experiences thus far.

  • Suntory Whisky Toki: A blend of selected malt and grain whiskies from the Hakushu, Yamazaki and Chita distilleries, it is light-bodied with prevailing sweetness. About $35 per fifth, 86 proof, aged in American and Spanish oak casks.
  • Nikka Whisky from the Barrel: Very woodsy and smoky, with notes of cinnamon and orange zest. About $50 per fifth, 102.8 proof.

Canadian Whisky
Again, I’m still getting familiar with Canadian whisky. I’ll update these recommendations as I go. 

  • Lot No. 40 Rye Whisky: This whiskey has distinct black-pepper notes, along with hints of coffee and tobacco and a little brown-sugar sweetness. About $36 per fifth, 86 proof.