The art of drinking whiskey is just as complex as the art of making it. Even simple whiskies or those made with a single malt have many flavors to offer in a single sip and the aromatic experience is another story. There are many ways to drink whiskey. You can have it neat, straight, chilled, on ice, in a cocktail, or with any number of mixers.
Some whiskeys are indeed made with certain purposes in mind but the reality is, you can do whatever you want and much of it comes down to your taste and preferences. If you’re new to whiskey, though, it can be hard to differentiate the best whiskey to drink straight from the whiskey you need for your favorite cocktail.
Generally, people go for cheaper, lower-grade whiskies for their cocktails. This is because the flavors don’t need to be stellar when they’re getting mixed with other flavors. If you’re hosting a party you may also need a whole bottle if you’re making cocktails to go around, so the cheaper the better.
It stands to reason then, that the more premium, higher-quality whiskies are suited to enjoying straight and consuming more slowly. The following five whiskies are some of your best choices for drinking whiskey straight, so they’re a good place to start if you’re unsure how to proceed.
The Best Whiskey to Drink Straight
1. Balvenie Double Wood
Balvenie founder William Grant took a job as a cattle herder at just seven years old as a way to supplement his family’s income. He then took an apprenticeship as a cobbler and clerk as he got older. In 1866 he got a job as a distillery’s bookkeeper. For two decades he managed the distillery while slowly learning the process himself and picking up on secrets and techniques.
In 1886 he resigned and bought a field underneath Balvenie Castle. He eventually turned this property into Balvenie Distillery. Today, the distillery sits in the Speyside region in Scotland and is one of the most well-known and prestigious distilleries in the whole country.
Balvenie Double Wood is a single malt scotch made from fresh barley they grow themselves. Great care is taken during every step of the process. They malt it at the distillery as well using fresh spring water taken from the hills that surround the distillery.
They turn it over four times a day during the malting process to ensure even germination. After fermentation, it’s distilled twice through their special copper stills. Their stills have unique necks with boil balls that give the malt a bold and distinct flavor.
Finally, the whiskey is matured in traditional oak casks and is double-barreled in European oak casks to finish. So much time spent in oak gives it an aroma of vanilla, citrus, and honey. The palate is fruity with notes of berries and plums, followed by caramel, butterscotch, and a hint of sherry. The finish is long, warm, and slightly sweet. Wine Enthusiast gave the spirit a score of 94 points and called it “silky and downright succulent.”
2. George Dickel Bottled in Bond
It was 1867 when George Dickel moved his family from Nashville to Tennessee and bought a distillery. He worked and learned for years, perfecting his craft. Finally, he declared his spirits to be on par with the finest scotch in the world and he took on the Scottish tradition by spelling whiskey without the “e.”
The original George Dickel Distillery, unfortunately, closed during prohibition but was resurrected in 1958 by Master Distiller Ralph Dupps who believed in what George Dickel was doing. Dedicated to authenticity, he acquired the original recipes and distillation processes and ensured they were followed.
Today, Master Distiller Nicole Austin works hard to carry on the tradition of excellence as George Dickel remains a reliable, well-loved brand of whiskey.
Their Bottled in Bond Tennessee Whiskey is a follow-up to their 13-year-old smash hit that received many rewards. It’s a similar expression though it takes the flavors to the next level with a big, bold, yet approachable profile.
Aged for about 11 years, the nose offers an aroma of maple syrup, dried apple, and pecan. The palate opens with the sweetness of maple syrup, followed by notes of baked apples and roasted pecan. The finish is deep and warm with a lingering note of oak.
3. Sexton Single Malt Irish Whiskey
Sexton Single Malt Irish Whiskey is an impressive spirit. It’s produced by Proximo Spirits and overseen by Master Blender Alex Thomas. Thomas is one of the few well-known women in the whiskey industry and she boasts 13 years of experience and counting. She strives for tradition and authenticity with this blend.
Using only three ingredients – malted barley, yeast, and water – Sexton uses the distillation, aging, and maturation processes to impart the unique and complex flavor into this impressive single malt.
The whiskey is aged for only four years but they’ve selected their barrels carefully, choosing a varied selection of Oloroso sherry casks. The result is something with a bold yet approachable personality.
It opens with marzipan, baking spice, and fruity aromas on the nose, followed by a touch of dark chocolate and nuts. The aroma itself is an experience and the palate is just as complex and exciting. You’ll find refreshing and sweet notes of honey to start followed by subtle notes of spice and wood. The unique yet complementary flavors make it extremely versatile – neat, on the rocks, or in a cocktail, anything goes with this amazing single malt.
4. Powers Gold Label Irish Whiskey
Not all whiskey is suitable for drinking straight. This can be because of harsher flavors, lower qualities, or simply by design. Regardless, true sipping whiskies often run a higher price if you want a truly smooth and enjoyable flavor.
Such is not the case with Powers Gold Label Irish Whiskey. It’s good enough to have made the list and it’s also pretty affordable as high-quality whiskey goes. You can enjoy your whiskey neat without worrying about your bank account. Or, you can put it in a cocktail guilt-free for an enhanced flavor.
John Powers founded John’s Lane Distillery in 1791, thus beginning the legacy that would be the Powers label. The distillery was a strong influence in the industry, pioneering many firsts and innovative methods. It was in 1886 when their gold label expression was first created. The gold label status differentiated it from the lower-quality white labels and made it an obvious choice for sipping neat.
The aroma offers a spicy start with notes of cinnamon and white pepper with honey to balance. Clove, citrus, and butterscotch are present in the background, with the spice continuing on the palate. Notes of nutmeg hit you first followed by brown sugar, toasted oak, vanilla, and orchard fruits. The finish offers notes of barley and toasted wood.
5. Johnnie Walker Red Label
Johnnie Walker Red Label is another smooth, delectable blend of affordable premium whisky. Johnnie Walker is a renowned brand and the red label whisky is one of the best-selling scotch whiskies in the whole world. Needless to say, it’s a name you can trust. Its affordable price makes it great for parties but it’s just as well enjoyed on your own.
Johnnie Walker worked hard to build this impressive reputation, harnessing their extensive knowledge of Scotland’s malts and utilizing a careful, expert maturation process. The whisky is expertly aged in the highest quality oak casks to produce a unique and distinct flavor profile.
On the nose, you’ll find subtle hints of peat smoke that lead into a well-balanced palate. You’ll taste dried herbs, cereal, and a variety of fruit. The finish is rich with oak and spice.
The Best Whiskey Glasses
Special whiskey glasses are not just a marketing ploy. While a good whiskey will stand on its own, the type of glass you drink it from does impact the flavors and aromas to an extent.
The Rocks Glass
The “rocks glass” is a fancy name for a short, round tumbler-style glass that is the most common for enjoying whiskey. It’s a good one to make your cocktail in but it works for sipping neat, as well. The glass won’t be full, in fact, you tend to fill it only an inch or two with your whiskey.
To some, this seems useless so they opt for a shot glass instead. However, a shot glass gives you almost no opportunity to enjoy the aroma. The rocks glass gives the aromas much more room to appear.
This fancier, lesser-known shape is even better than a rocks glass for enjoying your whiskey straight. It’s tall and rounded at the bottom like a wine glass, but it tapers in again slightly at the top. This shape sends the aromas right to your nose as you sip and allows even the subtlest notes to come out.
Aroma and taste work together to create a whiskey experience and this glass allows you to pick up on everything. It also gives you a strong sense of the aromas while you take your sip, which is the way whiskey is meant to be experienced.