Whiskey is a classic spirit enjoyed throughout the world for centuries. Although almost always associated with Scottish and Irish culture, many others around the world have taken it under their wing. America, Canada and Japan also produce their own versions many whiskey connoisseurs praise.
But if you’re a novice to this spirit, which is the best whiskey for beginners? First, you should plan on trying a variety of different whiskeys to see which one suits you (not in one night, of course). Then, base the ones you intend to taste on what kind of alcohols you can already tolerate.
Sipping this Article:
- The Basics
- The Best Whiskey For Beginners by Type
In the case you haven’t yet tasted whiskey, there are a few things you should know. Mainly, understand that whiskey is at least 40% alcohol by volume (ABV). This means it has a strong taste along with a subsequent burning sensation. This burning sensation increases the higher the AVB.
However, this does subside and the taste becomes more pleasant after awhile. Then, tones and notes of spice, fruits, smoke or other flavors come through. This is what whiskey lovers prize.
All whiskeys come from one or more cereal grains. These include wheat, barley, rye and/or corn. Barley can come malted or un-malted and either one makes a great whiskey. However, un-malted must combine with another grain. No whiskey will come with 100% malted barley and still sit in the classification of a grain whiskey.
Plus, there are different laws between countries that regulate what constitutes a whiskey. For instance, in Ireland, for a product to classify as a grain whiskey, it must use a continuous still and have no more than 30% malted barley. Continue to read the article to know more about this and to find out what is the best whiskey for begginers according to the type of the spirit.
Grain whiskey comes in two basic types: single and blended. These are in reference to the number of distilleries. Single grain whiskey means it came from a single distillery and can be produced using other grains besides malted barley, contrarily to single malts. Blended grain whiskey is, however, a combination of several single grain whiskeys.
These often have a taste that’s light and clean. This type is one of the best whiskey for beginners because of their mild taste, the notes that come through tend to be sweet and floral.
Here’s 3 brands that are a perfect fit for the category “Best Whiskey for Beginners”:
- North British Whisky (Scotland): heavy coffee, oak and sherry notes;
- Teeling Single Grain Whiskey (Ireland): notes of kiwi, green apple and grape jam;
- Glendalough Double Barrel Single Grain (Ireland): sweet and creamy with notes of butterscotch.
Single pot still whiskeys come exclusively from Ireland and always comprise malted and un-malted barley. And, as the name suggests, must use pot stills for distillation. Malted barley adds a malty, biscuit-type of aroma and un-malted is what gives whiskey a spicy kick with a texture.
Many single pot still whiskeys have a leathery, oily and/or creamy texture with a taste that some describe as cocoa, peach, apricot, honey, spices (like cloves) and/or tropical fruits.
The Best Single Pot Whiskies for Beginners are:
- Green Spot: fruity and malty with hints of mint, barley, vanilla and toasted wood;
- Yellow Spot: barley-rich with sherry-like orchard fruits;
- Redbreast: honey, vanilla, fruit, spice and citrus that’s smooth and creamy;
- Midleton Barry Crocket Legacy: sweet tobacco, barley, floral honey, citrus, cut hay, rosemary and toffee apples.
100% malt whiskeys must use a pot still. These are often double (Ireland) or triple (Scotland) stilled. The grain soaks to germinate seeds as if growing a plant. When the husk breakdown, the grains create enzymes that convert starches into sugars.
Find out the 6 Best Single Malt Brands!
There are two types of malt whiskey: single and blended. Just as with grain whiskeys, this refers to the number of distilleries. But the flavor profiles of either of these types can come in a huge range. None can come under a single or general description.
Malt whiskeys can be bold, light, smoky, mellow, woody, malty, fresh and/or ripe. It depends on the whiskey, where it comes from and how the grain dried.
Here’s 5 brands that have great potencial to be considered “The Best Whiskey for Beginners”.
- Glenlivet (Scotland): honey, apples, vanilla, pineapple, cinnamon;
- Glenfiddich (Scotland): sweet mellow fruitiness with a hint of pear;
- Bushmills 10 Year (Ireland): fruity banana chocolate pudding with hints of floral;
- Tyrconnell (Ireland): nutty, honey and citrus;
- Shelter Point Single Malt (Canada): campfire kissed caramel.
Bourbon is quintessential American whiskey. According to US regulations today, for something to be bourbon it has to meet five requirements:
- Made in the USA;
- Comprises a minimum of 51% corn;
- Distilled no more than 160 proof;
- Put into a barrel at 125 proof or less;
- Put into a new charred oak barrel.
It’s also important to note that there are no particular aging requirements. That said, if something is a “Kentucky Bourbon,” then it ages for at least one year. Ones aged for at least two years are “Straight Bourbon.”
Because corn is the base for all Bourbon Whiskey, the flavors encompass things like brown sugar, honey, caramel, nutty, fruity, vanilla, cinnamon, spicy, oaky, woody and noticeable hints of corn. The following all come from Kentucky:
- Jim Beam (Clermont): vanilla and corn with sourness;
- Maker’s Mark (Loretto): fruity and rich with sweet notes of spiced honey and citrus peel;
- Bulleit Bourbon (Lebanon): sweet nutmeg, oak, vanilla, caramel and orange zest;
- Woodford Reserve (Wolcott): complex cinnamon, cocoa and citrus with notes of toffee, caramel, chocolate and spice;
- Wild Turkey (Lawrenceburg): toffee and caramel;
- Pappy van Winkle (Frankfort): intense and fruity.
Tennessee whiskeys are bourbons and comply with the five requirements as mentioned above. The differences are that it only comes from Tennessee and it has something called the “Lincoln County Process,” this filters the whiskey through sugar maple charcoal.
Sugar maple timbers are set alight until charred. This gets chopped into chips and put into a vat. The whiskey releases into the vat and the chips take out all the impurities. This means the corn base further filters to add to the spicier flavors already characteristic of bourbons: sugar, honey, vanilla, maple syrup and caramel.
Some of the best Tennessee Whiskey for beginners are:
- Jack Daniels (Lynchburg): wood, resin, fresh leaves and brown sugar with a hint of bananas;
- George Dickel (Tullahoma): spicy and mellow with hints of pine and buttery caramel;
- Benjamin Prichard’s (Kelso): peach, spice and orange zest with ripe creamy and fruity notes;
- Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery (Nashville): toasted oak and sweet spice;
- Chattanooga Whiskey Company (Chattanooga): full bodied chocolate malt.
Rye Whiskeys are a whiskey that purely comes from the “new world,” meaning Canada and the United States. However, both countries have completely different ways of producing them. When you see a whiskey advertised as “Canadian Whisky,” “Rye Whisky” or “Canadian Rye Whisky,” these terms mean the same thing.
Canadian types will use as much as 90% rye in their mash whereas there’s at least 51% rye in the types from the United States. Plus, the US has more stringent regulations that are similar to bourbon: distilling content can’t be higher than 160 proof and it must undergo aging in charred new oak at 125 proof or less.
Any rye whiskey that has 51% or more of rye in the mash produces flavors that are hot, peppery, spicy, earthy, bread-like, herbal and sometimes pickle-like.
Here’s 5 brands that meet the criteria for best whiskey for beginners, in the Rye Whiskey Category:
- Knob Creek Rye (Kentucky): honey-sweet rich caramel with hints of ginger and menthol;
- Rittenhouse Straight Rye (Kentucky): warm sweet pepper with spicy vanilla;
- Sazerac Rye (New Orleans): sweet vanilla, pepper, anise and clove;
- Alberta Premium Dark Horse Rye (Canada): bold and strong;
- Lot Nº40 (Canada): vanilla and pepper with sharp citrus.
Blended whiskies are when two or more types of whiskeys blend together to produce a final product. Generally, a less flavorful and cheaper whiskey acts as the base that gets mixed with a flavoring whiskey. However, different countries have varying regulations for what defines a blended whiskey.
There are three kinds of blended whiskies in Scotland: Malt, Grain and Scotch. Malt and grain are the sole ingredients but blended Scotch has more than one type. In Ireland, there’s only one that comprises grain with malt or pot still flavoring. Canada usually blends theirs with corn and a lower-proof rye, wheat or barley.
US blended whiskey must have somewhere between 20% to 50% straight whiskey, then aged for two years or more at a max ABV of 62.5%. Because blended whiskeys can comprise a host of varying flavors, the profile can range from balanced and light-bodied to smooth, honeyed or toasty. So, what is the best whiskey for beginners? Here’s 5 blended whiskey brands you should taste:
- Crown Royal (Canada): candy apple with caramel, vanilla and citrus with a doughy cakey-type flavor;
- Johnnie Walker (Scotland): rich, dark and intense tropic fruitiness;
- Hibiki Harmony (Japan): hibiscus, honey and wood;
- Tullamore D.E.W. (Ireland): honey, fruity and biscuit-like;
- Firestone ; Robertson (America/Texas): vanilla, oak and pear with coffee, banana, caramel and honey butter.
Still wondering about the best whiskey for beginners? We gave you quite a list. Even though it may seem like an overwhelming list of whiskeys to try, believe it or not, this isn’t all of them. There are many more. If you’re just starting out, create a list of whiskies to try from each type. Make a note of how you like them and what flavors you gleaned.
Some you’ll love and others will make your face sour, but you’ll never know until you try it. But, no matter what, it will be an adventure.