Contrary to popular belief, there’s a whole world of whiskey out there aside from the usual suspects pumped unrelentingly out of the distilleries of Scotland and the American south.
Of course, there’s plenty of quality whiskey coming out of the old-school powerhouses as well, so we’re undertaking the daunting task of guiding you on a whiskey world tour. 50 brands that you should be aware of when you see them sitting on the shelf of any bar.
You’ll probably know some, you probably won’t know a lot, but Whiskey is as much about the journey as it is the destination anyway.
Characteristics of Scotch Whiskey: Depends largely on the region of Scotland. Milder whiskeys come from the southern Lowlands, while bolder, smokier whiskeys are made in the Highlands. Probably the most variety of any Whiskey region in the world, we could probably make a list of 50 Scotch Brands alone and not scratch the surface.
Price Range: $40 – $8000
Notable fans: Christopher Hitchens, Richard Nixon
Easily the most famous scotch brand in the world. Whiskeys range from the entry-level Red Label to the tip-top Blue Label. Johnnie Double Black, Green, Black, Gold and Platinum labels (in that order) all provide happy mediums to suit your budget. They also do a range of John Walker & Sons whiskeys, which are about as premium as they come.
Price range: $45 – $4,500
Notable fans: Hunter S. Thompson
Very famous, take the more traditional route of bottling per age, ranging from the cheapest 12-Year-Old, through the mid-range 18-Year-Old, to the most expensive 25-Year-Old, Ultis and “The Icon” whiskys. 4.5L cradles of Chivas 12 are also available for about $350 a pop, if you prefer to take a more Costco-inspired approach to your scotch.
Price range: $59 – $44,000
Notable fans: Inspector Morse
Famous, yet more experimental with a wider range of ages available, all of which are single malt. For the uneducated, that means that only one type of malted grain can be used in the whiskey’s production, which in the case of Scotch is always barley. Glenfiddich also sell a 50-year-old whiskey which goes for $55k a bottle, funnily enough available now at Dan Murphy’s.
Price Range: $80 – $1,000
Based on the Isle of Skye, making them one of the most remote distilleries in Scotland. Make famously smoky, intense single malt whiskeys that are regarded as some of the classic examples of scotch, ranging between 10 and 35 years old.
Price range: $69 – $6,200
Make entirely single malt whiskeys from deep in the Scottish Highlands. Use the tallest stills in Scotland, which they claim gives their whiskey a lighter, purer, more floral, fruity flavour. Glenmorangie also offer a range of whiskeys aged in bourbon casks and “finished” used for things like port, sherry and sauternes.
Price range: $90 – $3,000
Notable fans: Ron Swanson, Nick Offerman
Preferred scotch of Ron Swanson (particularly the distiller’s edition, which he describes as the Nectar of the Gods), based on the Isle of Islay. Most popular single malt is the 16-Year-Old, which is typically peaty and smoky. Because “clear alcohols are for rich women on diets”.
Price range: $85 – $150
One of the six lowland distilleries, making 12 Year and 14-Year-Old (Distiller’s Edition) single malts. Most Lowland distilleries triple-distil their whiskey, giving it a lighter taste. Lowland scotches are sweeter, brighter, and much more flowery on the palate as a rule, with Glenkinchie being the most popular of the lot.
Price Range: $50-$60
Famous for the rounded bottle, make 12 and 15-Year-Old blends generally regarded as fantastic value for money. Well rounded, light and tasty, without anything harsh, and probably the cheapest 15-Year Old scotch you’re gonna find. Good for a beginner!
Price range: $175 – $200,000
Royal Salute – The upper crust of Chivas Regal’s collection, making incredibly fine and expensive whiskey blends from malts ranging from 21 to 50 years. Come in a porcelain bottle, with the most expensive bottle costing a cool 200k. A 50mL shot bottle of the 21-Year-Old will set you back $15, for a little perspective.
Price range: $40-$50
Premium whiskey blend made of single malts from Kininvie, Balvenie and Glenfiddich. Generally preferred for use in cocktails and with mixers. Very smooth, very sweet and drinkable. Only 27 casks are used to make each batch though, which makes it a little bit boutique in its own right.
Price range: $30 – $11,500
Aim to upend the traditional view of blends being inferior to single malts. The everyday Ballantine’s Scotch is a blend of over 50 single malts and is a popular entry-level drop. Spend the extra $10-$20 and get the 12-Year-Old over the standard Ballantine’s though.
Price range: $35-$50
Pretty cheap, commonly seen as a basic in bars when they don’t use Johnny Red. Some like it, some think it tastes cheap and grainy. Spend a little extra on the 12-Year-Old or sherry cask finish if you plan on drinking it straight.
Price range: $35 – $3,500
Similar price to Grant’s and Ballantine’s, with a few mid-range options thrown in there to keep the aficionados happy. The entry-level white label enjoys solid reviews and won Gold at the San Francisco Spirit Awards though, making it a preferred alternative to other cheap brands in terms of taste for many.
Price range: $35
Named after a legendary Scottish Warrior, a newer brand that pretty much sets the benchmark for quality in entry-level whiskey. Solid value, if a little basic, and goes down smooth either neat or with a mixer.
Price range: $90 – $2,000
Notable fans: Prince Charles
Royally appointed to the Prince of Wales, one of Islay’s oldest and most prestigious scotch makers. Coming from Islay, Laphroaig whiskys share the same smoky, peaty, seaweed-y characteristics as their neighbours and generally have a rich, full flavour. Not for the faint hearted.
Characteristics of Bourbon/Kentucky/Tennessee Whiskeys: Aged in new, charred oak barrels, giving American whiskey a much smokier, intense flavour. Bourbon has to made from at least 51% corn, although Rye Whiskeys are also made in the US. Bourbon is generally seen as sweeter and fuller-bodied than Rye, which is drier, fruitier and spicier.
Price Range: $35 -$250
Notable fans: Mila Kunis (apparently)
Everyone knows them. Make bog-standard white label bourbon, as well as a range of Bourbons and Ryes flavoured with Honey, Maple, Cinnamon etc. In fairness, you can also buy a range of premium Jim Beam selections, with the Distiller’s Masterpiece being aged by Jim Beam’s grandson and setting you back $250 a bottle.
Price range: $35 – $1100
Notable fans: Frank Sinatra, M, Lemmy from Motorhead
Equally famous as JB, but make Tennessee whiskey instead of bourbon. Have some premium offerings, as well as a range of flavoured alternatives to the original black label. Frank Sinatra was a famous fan though, being buried with a bottle of Old No.7, and their most premium, limited offering is named after the great man himself.
Price range: $40 – $85
Has a slightly more hipster vibe, but made by the same company that owns Jim Beam and Suntory Whiskey in Japan. Been made for over 50 years, yet only achieved popularity in Australia recently for its distinctly improved, small-batch flavour. Despite what you might think due to the scale of their production, every bottle is still hand-dipped in the famous red wax that covers its top.
Price range: $55 – $250
One of the oldest Bourbon brands, yet not well known in Australia due to the distillery ceasing operations for large parts of the 20th century. Since its comeback, has seen rave reviews for its taste and value as a mid-tier Bourbon.
Price range: $55-$70
Made in New York, most famous offering is the Baby Bourbon which is made in smaller barrels for a smokier, more charred flavour.
Price range: $40-$60
Owned by the same company that also owns Smirnoff, Johnnie Walker, Bailey’s and Guinness. Surprising that it’s not bigger, but sits in a similar vein in terms of price and quality. Well reviewed and solid value, but YGQYPF.
Price range: $35
The Oriloff of bourbons. Seen knocked back with coke by tradies in pubs. Not used for much more. You’re better than Cougar.
Price range: $55 – $150
Notable fans: Frank Underwood, John Wick
Famously single barrel-produced. Getting into the premium area of bourbon, regularly medalling in spirit competitions the world over. A noted choice of Frank Underwood, and you can’t argue with that. Blanton’s is made in a reserved area of the larger Buffalo Trace distillery, which in itself has some notable drops worth trying.
Price Range: $50-$60
Also owned by Diageo, offers small batch Tennessee Whiskey which was originally intended to compete with scotch in terms of smoothness and flavour. As such, they use the traditional Scottish spelling of Whisky on their labels.
35 Maple Street
Price range: $150-200
A newer, more modern spirit maker with ties to one of Calfiornia’s most successful wine familes. 35 Maple Street make a range of premium small batch spirits, from Whiskey to Rum. Bib & Tucker Bourbon is their most famous offering, but it’ll set you back more than most.
Price range: $40-$60
Notable fans: Mathew McConaughey, Hunter S. Thompson
Another famous one, seen in an odd way of being a little classier than Jim Beam, yet a choice of old-fashioned, rustic types in the American South. Pretty straightforward in taste, and they’ve been trying particularly hard to shake off the white-trash, macho reputation of the brand in recent years.
Characteristics of Irish Whiskey: once the most popular type of whiskey in the world. Made in a similar way to Scotch, but with less peat, typically leading to a smoother finish. Similar to scotch, offered in single malt varieties and blends of varying tastes and costs.
Price range: $35-$650
easily the best selling and best known Irish whiskey. Standard Jameson is 12-Years Old, but the more premium 18-Year-Old and reserve labels are regarded as some of the best whiskey widely available. Some Irish pubs go through 20 bottles of the stuff per day.
Price Range: $50 – $150
Notable fans: Lisbeth Salander
A blend of all 3 types of Irish Whiskey (single malt, single pot still and grain whiskey). Ireland’s fastest growing Whiskey Brand, doubling their sales since 2005, and the first brand to introduce Whiskey finished in cider casks.
Price range: $40-$45
Traditionally aged in old bourbon barrels, which Dubliner claim gives their Irish Whiskey a much warmer, sweeter taste. Also offer an Irish Whiskey Liquor which is the Paddy answer to Southern Comfort.
Price range: $100 – $175
One of Ireland’s most celebrated distilleries, yet pretty unknown down under. Glendalough 13-Year-Old Single Grain won Best Irish Whiskey at the 2015 San Francisco World Spirit Awards. Glendalough also make Poitin, a sort of Irish moonshine which was outlawed in the mid 1600’s.
Price range: $75-$200
Still pot Irish Whiskey that supposedly offers a very similar drinking experience to a fine bourbon. To achieve that, they’ve followed the traditional Irish method of combining a spiced pot still whiskey with a single malt. They also offer a cask strength variety, cranking the ABV from 40% to 52%. We love the name!
Price range: $60 – $2,400
Make a huge range of very premium, single malt, single grain and small batch Irish whiskeys ranging up to 30 years old. Made in the first new distillery in Dublin to open up in over 125 years, and taking off like a rocket. Teeling also make a 52.5% Poitin, which is clearly made for the bravest among us.
Price range: $250-$400
Rare and expensive. Founded in 1984, they’ve created a whiskey blending annual selections of the best Whiskeys from the old Midleton Distillery, which to this day contains the largest pot still in the world. Hence why it’s called “Very Rare” by Midleton themselves.
Price range: $75-$200
Reaching the upper crust of Irish whiskey, their base level blended whiskey will set you back $75 and is limited to 5,000 bottles per batch. Single malt whiskey aged in Bourbon and Sherry Casks, offering one of the most classic Irish Whiskey experiences available.
Price range: $40-$50
Made in the world’s oldest distillery, and potentially a better shout than Jameson for the price. Very much an entry level option for someone looking to get into Irish Whiskey, but offers the smooth, distinctive flavour that you’d expect and has previously won gold at San Francisco too. Traditionally made in The Emerald Isle since 1757.
Characteristics of Japanese Whisky: the latest cool spirit to drink, experiencing a boom in popularity over the last couple of years since it became more readily available around the world. Made with techniques much like Scotch, but often much lighter, sweeter, and more delicate in flavour. Only 2 major companies exist, making different brands of whisky at different distilleries under different labels.
Price range: $40-$60
Known from Lost in Translation, the original Japanese Whisky and by far the most well-known. Sweet, smooth, and full-bodied, made of blends from Suntory’s more premium distilleries.
Price range: $120 – $800
Made by Suntory in their Yamakazi distillery. The range contains 3 whiskeys, an entry-level blend, along with 12 and 18-Year Old Single Malt. Yamakazi whiskeys offer a rich colour and a softer, sweeter flavour. Available aged in Bourbon and Sherry Casks as well.
Price Range: $120-$600
Another single malt made by Suntory in the Hakushu distillery, but much lighter in colour and livelier in flavour. Drier, stronger tasting, and also available as a blend, a 12-Year Old single malt and an 18-Year-Old single malt.
Price range: $120-$400
Suntory’s premium range of blends, offered as 3 distinct whiskeys: the entry level harmony blend, along with more expensive 12 and 17-Year-Old whiskys. All are made of selected single malt and grain whiskeys from both Suntory distilleries. Seen by many as the pinnacle of Japanese Whiskey.
Price range: $70-$105
The product of Japan’s other major distiller, located in the Japanese mountains at a location providing similar water and grain as you’d find in Scotland. Make smokier, peatier whiskeys than Suntory.
Characteristics of Canadian Whiskey – Traditionally made using more rye than American or Scotch whiskeys, traditional Canadian whiskey is often much lighter in colour. Mainstram Canadian whiskey is often coloured and flavoured with other grains to give it a more traditional whiskey colour and flavour.
Price range: $35-$200
Notable fans: James Bond, Queen Victoria, Don Draper
Cheap, dependable, very popular and more often drunk with mixers than anything else. Made since 1858 and the upper tiers of Canadian Club’s range were the choice of both James Bond and Queen Victoria. The Benchmark for Canadian Whiskey.
Price range: $60-$600
Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye was named world whiskey of the year in Jim Murray’s 2016 Whiskey Bible. Lower end Crown Royal whiskeys also available, slightly more expensive than Canadian Club but a better drop for the aficionado.
Price range: $40-50
Bet you didn’t know Fireball was Canadian! Blended and flavoured with Cinnamon, generally drunk by people who have little to no regard for their vocal cords.
Price range: $150
As patriotically Canadian as it gets, Caribou Crossing is the first single barrel Canadian Whiskey ever made. You pay a premium, but you’re getting a Canadian whiskey that’s about as meticulously aged and bottled as they come.
Price range: $150
100% straight Rye Whiskey, initially made and aged in Canada before being aged for another 7 years in Vermont, USA. 50% ABV, very strong, very dry, but regarded as delicious too. Made by the former master distiller from Maker’s Mark.
Characteristics of Australian Whiskey – A new power on the Whiskey World Stage. Numerous distilleries cropping up in southern Australia, with Tasmanian distilleries using the Scottish characteristics of the region to create smokey, smooth whiskeys. Other craft distilleries cropping up in major cities, too.
Price range: $170 – $500
Make Australia’s best whiskeys, and have won the title of World’s Best Whiskey at the San Fran Spirit awards too. Near impossible to buy these days, very expensive, but always in hot demand both locally and world-wide.
Price range: $80-$100
Made in Victoria from locally sourced barley to create an immensely popular new-world whisky. Also offer a Wine Cask variety, aged in local wine barrels.
Price range: $85- $220
Another very popular Tasmanian distillery, making single malt and heavily peated scotch-style whiskeys. Also offer wine-inspired varieties, finished in local pinot noir and port barrels for a deeper, richer flavour.
Price range: $125-$200
Cask-strength single malt that goes into the bottle at about 60% ABV. Very rich, very flavourful and very complex, with a range of tasting notes identified throughout their entire range.
Price range: $70-$100
Distilled deep in Australia’s Barossa Valley, making a range of younger whiskeys that range from 8 to 14 years old. A solid entry point to new-world whiskey.