Determining the best top range whiskey was not an easy task. The whiskey industry is huge and even among the best quality distilleries and expressions, there is still plenty of room for opinion and preference. Several factors went into this list, including age statements, the production process, the complexity of the final result, and, of course, the glowing reviews from both the public and recognized establishments such as The World Spirits Competition and the like.
The quality in these expressions is unparalleled, something that can’t be denied even by the harshest of critics. You can question their flavor profiles or the intensity of the nose – not everyone loves fruity palates or strong aromas – but this is where subjection ends. These whiskies are made by distillers and blenders who know what they’re doing, employed by companies that are centuries old.
Feel free to pick up these bottles with the highest of expectations – you won’t be disappointed. Before you do anything else, pour a glass and take a sip neat. Experience these whiskies as they were intended. After that, go ahead and add some rocks, splash some water in, or make that ultra-premium cocktail if you must!
The Best Top Range Whiskey
1. Laphroaig Lore Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Laphroaig Lore Single Malt is an impressive and complex spirit, thanks to the many different barrels it ages in. First-fill bourbon, Oloroso Sherry hogsheads, and quarter casks all contribute to the many flavor notes present in this rich and smokey tribute to the managers and creators of Laphroaig’s past.
The distillery began in 1815 when Donald and Alexander Johnston leased an impressive 1,000 acres on the island of Islay. Originally, they wanted to raise and sell cattle on the land which led them to grow their own barley, meant to feed said cows. Things went according to plan at first, until a particularly plentiful harvest left them with extra barley. They decided to distill it into whiskey, which they sold to locals.
It soon became apparent that whiskey was more profitable than cows, so they officially opened as a distillery before too long. The company remained in the Johnston family for almost 100, until Ian Hunter passed away with no children and left the distillery to his trusted, long-time secretary. The distillery is still going strong today and this particular single malt was created to pay homage to the likes of Donald, Alexander, and Ian, who played such large roles in the history of Laphroaig.
It has a rich and smoky aroma with notes of ash and ocean spray. The palate follows with vanilla, bitter chocolate, salted caramel, vanilla, and roasted chestnuts – the perfect balance of warm and sweet. The finish offers chocolate chip cookies, malt grain, tropical fruit, and a healthy dose of peat.
2. Lagavulin 16 Year
Located on the beautiful banks of Lagavulin Bay, Lagavulin Distillery is among the oldest in Scotland. Distilling was happening along the Bay as early as 1742, where as many as ten illegal stills were operating by the turn of the century. Although they’d already been making whiskey for quite some time, it wasn’t until 1816 that the first legal distillery was founded by John Johnson and a second by Archibald Campbell.
Soon, Alexander Graham purchased Johnson’s distillery and merged with Campbell’s opening under the Lagavulin name. Lagavulin 16 is perhaps the most intense and smokey single malt whiskies around. This is because the peated barley they use gets up to 20 times more exposure to peat smoke than that used for most Scotches.
Once distilled, the whiskey is matured for 16 years in barrels that used to hold bourbon. The nose is deep, rich, and intense with smoke, earl grey, and wood spices. The palate is similar, with notes of peat, smoke, and a salty tang, balanced by sweeter notes of honeyed oak and vanilla. The finish is just as intense with notes of caramel and fruit beneath the strong notes of peat and smoke.
3. The Macallan 18 Year Sherry Oak Single Malt Scotch Whiskey
Rightfully earning a score of 92 points from Wine Enthusiast, this 18-year-old whiskey is considered by many as the best single malt Scotch in the world. This is, of course, subjective and opinions differ, but the general consensus does speak to the incredible quality and intense complexity of this amazing expression.
The distillery has a meticulous, innovative, and well-oiled distilling process that ensures quality at every step. That combined with their insistence on using only the finest ingredients around, means that The Macallan 18-Year Single Malt Scotch is a force to be reckoned with.
The distillery is located along the River Spey, on an estate called the Easier Elchies House. The Macallan has been distilling there since Alexander Reid established the estate’s first licensed distillery. He named it after an ancient church that was burned down in the 15th century, so the history runs deep in this place. He began by drinking the whiskey himself through the winter and selling it to travelers who were passing through. Popularity grew quickly, however, and today the company is one of the best.
On the nose, you’ll find notes of ginger and toasted oak with a background of raisins, cinnamon, and vanilla. The palate is rich with notes of bright orange followed by clove, spice, and toasted oak, leading into a sweet, sharp finish of ginger, orange zest, and other dried fruit.
4. Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Bourbon
Elijah Craig is another strong player in the world of whiskey, with their Barrel Proof Bourbon earning a Double Gold Medal at the San Francisco World Spirit’s Competition. It was also given an extraordinary/ultimate recommendation from the Ultimate Spirits Challenge, and The Whiskey Advocate has named it Whiskey of the Year.
Elijah Craig began his distilling journey in 1789 when he built a distillery on his land in Lebanon and has been credited as the first person to mature bourbon in charred oak casks. His innovation and open mind earned him the “Father of Bourbon” title, one he has never lost. Elijah Craig is a staple in the collections of bourbon lovers and newbies alike.
This Barrel Proof Bourbon opens with notes of toasted oak, caramel, oranges, and apples. The palate is rich with notes of vanilla, butterscotch, caramel, with notes of black pepper and cinnamon to balance the sweetness. The finish is long and layered, showcasing all flavors from the body before slowly fading.
5. Johnnie Walker Blue Label
Last but not least is another name from the world of whiskey that simply can’t be ignored. Johnnie Walker Blue Label is the company’s flagship expression and is still considered its best by new and old fans alike. Its supreme quality earned it a Double Gold Medal at the 2013 San Francisco World Spirits Competition.
Founder Johnnie Walker passed on the distillery to his son Alexander Walker in 1857, who soon began greatly improving the selection of whiskies and growing the business to exponential heights. The Blue Label expression and its old, timeless recipe is the perfect representation of what Johnnie and Alexander Walker were all about and what they meant to accomplish.
On the nose, you’ll find the aroma of bittersweet chocolate, tobacco, and caramelized oranges. The palate offers notes of roasted nuts, smoky chocolate, dates, tobacco, and brown spices. The finish is beyond smooth with a touch of milk chocolate, pecan pie, figs, and peppercorn.
Beyond the Top Shelf
This list of top-shelf whiskies was curated with accessibility and attainability in mind. Even if you’re ready for the ultimate splurge, the average person isn’t about to spend six digits on a bottle. However, that’s not to say no one will! The bottles listed above are top-notch, consistently produced, widely available, and reasonably priced for what they are.
Sometimes, though, it’s fun to look at some of the more wild options out there and think about how the “other half” lives, so to speak.
For example, a bottle of Glenfiddich 1937 is extremely rare and highly sought-after. It’s thought that only 60 bottles are left in existence, and you’ll only find them at auction these days. Considered one of the best in the world, it’s drawn from a cask made in 1937 – possibly the oldest whiskey you’ll ever drink! The cost for such an experience? About $70,000.
Taking it a step further is the Macallan M. Crafted from whiskies aged 25 to 75 years, this rare expression is a true whiskey delicacy. Part of the value comes from the decanter, made with handcrafted crystal and designed by experts. It’s also a six-liter bottle, though the extra contents are a small consolation when you’re paying more than $600,000.
Almost unbelievably, there are many more like this! Whether it’s a rarity like the 1937 expression or a novelty like crystal decanters, there’s almost no limit on what some passionate collectors will spend to add bragging rights to their shelf.