There are many things that are special about whiskey. But what we love the most here at Oak & Eden is how each whiskey is unique from all others. Whether it is a different region, different style, or just a different barrel of single malt, each whiskey brings its own unique flavors and tastes to the table.
Since there are so many options, it is important to taste a variety of different whiskies. It is the only way to develop your palate, learn what you like and don’t like, and find the best whiskies out there in the world. Whether you’re a fan of the old fashioned or you like to sip your whiskey straight, there’s something for everyone.
But if you don’t have the time to taste all the different kinds of whiskey from all the different distillers in the world, don’t worry, we have you covered. We’ve compiled our list of must try whiskies, covering the gamut of styles and flavors, so that you can get a taste of what different styles of whiskey have to offer.
Here is your guide to finding the best whiskey for you, and the whiskies that you must try to develop your palate.
What Gives Whiskey Its Flavor?
The deep, complex flavor profile that you’ve come to expect from whiskey is, perhaps surprisingly, largely thanks to the wood casks in which it’s aged. Before entering the barrels, whiskey is a clear, sharp liquor, but spending time in the wood softens it and allows it to develop all those notes that whiskey is known for — flavors of vanilla, caramel, smoke, or even leather.
Those casks also give distillers the option of adding a little extra flavor by using vessels that once held something else. For example, if you want to give whiskey a fruity flavor, you can age it in former sherry casks. If you choose charred oak casks, the finished product is likely to taste smokier and richer. The aging process is really where you have the opportunity to play.
So, beginner whiskey drinkers should know that when they don’t like the taste of a specific whiskey, it’s likely that they don’t like the characteristics of the wood in which it was aged. Luckily, you have many options to choose from, so you’re sure to find something you enjoy at any price point.
How To Taste Whiskey
Before we can get into the best whiskeys that you must try, we feel it would be a disservice to leave you without any idea of how to taste your whiskey like a pro. While tasting technique is not one of the most important things about enjoying whiskey, it can help you identify flavor notes and elements that you might miss otherwise.
Step One: Observe the Whiskey
The first step to tasting your whiskey is to observe it. But before you can observe you have to put it in the right glass. While the Glencairn style glass, with the bulbous bottom and tapered lip, is the ideal glass for a whiskey tasting, using a rocks glass is going to be fine as well.
Then you should start by looking at your whiskey in your glass. For this reason it is important that you use a clear glass to taste your whiskey. The color of your whiskey comes from the aging process, which is also where the flavor of whiskey is derived.
The darker the color of a whiskey, the heavier and more robust you can expect the flavors and aromas to be.
Step Two: Smell Your Whiskey
Before you can taste your whiskey, you should smell it first. Aroma and smell makes up a good portion of your sense of taste, so allowing the scents of the whiskey to wash over your nose before drinking can prepare your taste buds to taste the whole whiskey.
You should do this by gently placing your nose near the opening of your glass and gently inhaling through your nose. Taking a large wiff right from the glass will give you a big inhale of alcohol vapor, which will fry your olfactory sense and leave you feeling… well… not great.
You should also avoid swirling your whiskey like a wine before smelling. Yes, swirling the beverage will release the aroma, but it also releases more alcohol vapors, which is why it is okay for lower ABV drinks like wine and less smart with hard liquors like whiskey.
Step Three: Sip Your Whiskey
The final and everyone's favorite step of tasting your whiskey is to sip it gently and small. Remember that, while whiskey is delicious and fun to drink, there is a difference between tasting your whiskey and downing your whiskey.
Start by taking a very small sip and holding it in your mouth for a bit before swallowing to allow the flavor to hang around on your tongue for a bit. As you keep sipping you can slowly increase your sip size as your tongue and mouth adjust to the alcohol content.
Whiskey Tasting Pro Tips
Before we dive into the delicious whiskies that you have to taste at some point to truly taste all that whiskey has to offer, we want to give you a few final expert tips to taste your whiskey like a pro.
Do Not Sip Water After Your Whiskey - While water can be a good choice to cleanse your palate in between whiskies, you don’t want to sip water in between sips of the same whiskey. The finish, or aftertaste, of the whiskey is one of the crucial elements of the flavor. Allowing each sip to build on the next will allow you to continue tasting subtle flavors and experience the full finish of the whiskey that you are sipping on.
Add a Bit of Ice or Water - Another tip that can help you experience everything in a whiskey is adding just a touch of water or a cube of ice to your glass. This will gently dilute the whiskey, decreasing the ABV without significantly altering the other flavor elements of your whiskey. With a lower ABV, your tongue will be better able to identify very subtle notes and elements of the whiskey.
Chew Your Whiskey - The final tip is one that you can take or leave depending on how seriously you take your whiskey tasting. If you really want to get all the flavor from your whiskey, you can swirl it around your mouth, and “chew” the whiskey so that it coats every surface of your mouth. Different parts of your mouth taste different elements of flavor, so coating your whole mouth can bring out new and interesting things.
If you follow these tips, and the steps above, then you are ready to taste whiskey with the experts of the world.
5 Must Try Types of Whiskey
Now we are finally ready to dive into our list of 5 of must try types of whiskey. Rather than taking the approach of telling you an exact whiskey brand to search for, we are instead just going to delineate the major types of whiskey that you have to try in order to experience the many different flavors of whiskey. Without further ado, here is our list of 5 must try whiskeys.
#1 Bourbon Whiskey
The first type of whiskey that you must try is bourbon whiskey. This option comes from close to home, and it’s close to our hearts.
Bourbon whiskey must be made in the United States, with a majority of bourbon being produced in the state of Kentucky. Bourbon whiskey is made with a mash bill of at least 51% corn, and must be aged in new, charred oak barrels for a minimum of two years.
This American whiskey is notorious for its vanilla and caramel flavor notes. The best bourbon is a gently sweet, warm, and delectable spirit that tastes great on the rocks or in your favorite whiskey cocktails and mixed drinks.
We offer a great bourbon whiskey at Oak & Eden which you can read more about here.
#2 Scotch Whisky
Now we are going to hop across the pond to the United Kingdom for our next must try type of whisky. You may have noticed we are spelling whisky without the “e” in this section, because that’s the way the Scots do it.
Scotch whiskey must be made and aged in Scotland, and many Scottish people claim that Scotland is where whiskey was invented, although the Irish would beg to differ. Scotch whiskey is traditionally made with malted barley, and must be aged in oak barrels for a minimum of three years before bottling. There are several regions known for their whisky distilleries, including Islay, Highlands, Lowlands, Speyside, and Campbelton.
Scotch whiskey is a much more aggressive flavor than bourbon, with a famous smoky, peaty flavor profile and spice. The best Scotch whiskey is also known for its malted flavor, a side effect of the use of malted barley in the mash bill. Johnnie Walker is one well-known brand of Scotch, as are Laphroaig and Macallan.
#3 Rye Whiskey
Rye whiskey does not have a regional specification as to where it can be made, which is why you find rye whiskies made all over, but mostly still in the United States and Canada.
Rye whiskey must be made with a mash bill containing at least 51% rye, with the other 49% coming from a combination of other grains. Rye whiskey, like bourbon, must also be aged in new oak barrels for a minimum of two years, but only if produced in the United States.
Rye whiskey packs a bigger and bolder taste than bourbon whiskey while still staying away from the smokey elements that Scotch is known for. The best rye whiskey is spicy, smooth, and round, with a bit of a bite and the same smooth bourbon finish. Wild Turkey is one notable brand.
#4 Irish Whiskey
If we were going to put Scotch on the list then you know we had to put Irish whiskey up here too. Whether whiskey was invented in Ireland or Scotland, we may never know, but what we do know is that both are delicious.
Irish whiskey must be made in Ireland using grains that are commonly found in Ireland. Irish whiskey is most typically made using unmalted barley, and is dried without exposure to smoke. Irish whiskey must also be aged for a minimum of three years before it can be bottled and consumed.
The best Irish whiskey is a much lighter, fruitier, and mellower type of whiskey than Scotch and most other types of whiskey. The barrel aging still gives Irish whiskey a caramel and vanilla/oak finish, potentially with notes of dried fruit, making irish whiskey a very pleasant whiskey to drink straight or on the rocks. Jameson is one very popular brand.
#5 Wheat Whiskey
And the last inclusion on our list is one that you likely don’t encounter every day, but should be a whiskey that you try at least once in your lifetime. Wheat whiskey can be made anywhere in the world but is most commonly made in the United States.
Wheat whiskey must be made with at least 51% wheat in the mash bill, but some master distillers choose to use 100% wheat in their wheat whiskey mash bills. Easier to find is wheated bourbon, which replaces the rye in a traditional bourbon, which mellows and sweetens the flavor.
Wheat whiskies are generally very mild and pleasant sippers. You can really taste the cereal grains in a wheat whiskey or wheated bourbon in a way that can change the way you think about whiskey. Maker’s Mark is one potential option.
The Best Whiskey: Honorable Mentions
While the whiskeys listed above are iconic, but they’re nowhere near the only options on the market. If they’re not satisfied with the options above, whiskey lovers should consider trying one of these whiskey:
- Japanese whisky. Options from Japan tend to be very similar to Scotch, and Suntory is a popular option.
- Tennessee whiskey. Tennessee whiskey, like Jack Daniels, is charcoal filtered.
- Canadian whisky. This whisky tends to be both light and sweet.
What Is The Best Whiskey: Takeaways
There are few things as fun as tasting and trying different kinds of whiskey. And now you know all the techniques you need to taste your whiskey properly, and the 5 types of whiskey that you must try.
Make sure to observe, sniff, sip, and savor your whiskey when you are tasting it to allow the flavors to wash over you. Feel free to dilute or chew on your whiskey in your mouth to increase the flavor perception, but do yourself a favor and avoid swirling your glass before smelling.
So what truly is the best whiskey? Well the answer is simple - whatever whiskey you like the best. At the end of the day, whiskey is about enjoying your favorite liquor the way that makes you the happiest.
Oak & Eden offers a variety of expertly crafted whiskies, including bourbon, rye, and wheated bourbons that you are bound to love. Check out our selections here.
Wheat Whiskey & Wheated Bourbon Explained | Distiller
What Is Irish Whiskey? | The Spruce Eats
What is Scotch Whisky? | World Whisky Day