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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The 'entry-level' bottle of this Islay single malt is aged for 16 years, but Lagavulin also offers a Distiller's Edition, finished in sherry casks, alongside occasional rare and exclusive drops. Consistently the recipient of gold awards, this is a Scotch you simply have to try.
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.
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”.
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.
Founded in 1840 by two brothers, this distillery was one of the pioneers of Scotch single malt which has resulted in worldwide popularity today. Its whiskies have won several awards and with a range of aged bottles available including some Limited Editions, there is something for everyone.
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!
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.
Hailing from the Scottish valley of the same name, this brand has been producing whisky since the 1800s. Recognised as a premium brand now, Glenlivet batches range from 12-year to 50-years of ageing, but no matter which you get, you'll be rewarded with a delicious drop.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Proper No. Twelve
Conor McGregor's brand of whiskey is decidedly Irish. Smooth and easy-drinking with hints of vanilla and honey, this is a whiskey that will be hard to put down. Enjoy neat or in cocktails.
Exceptionally smooth is the only way to describe this triple-distilled Lowland Scotch by Auchentoshan. Their Three Wood offering is lovingly matured in bourbon, Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez casks that brings a distinct mellow and fruity flavour to the palate. For those who have tried Scotch whisky and feel that it’s not for them, give this a try before you call it a day.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Made in New York, most famous offering is the Baby Bourbon which is made in smaller barrels for a smokier, more charred flavour.
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.
The Oriloff of bourbons. Seen knocked back with coke by tradies in pubs. Not used for much more. You’re better than Cougar.
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.
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
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.
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.
A multi-award winner for a reason, Eagle Rare is an outstanding bourbon that’s been aged in oak for over 10 years. It is masterfully crafted by using product from only 1 single barrel and no blending from others. The rareness of this prized bourbon is most evident in its beguiling and complex nose. It’s also the only bourbon to ever win the double gold medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition five times.
From the oldest standing distillery in Ireland, Bushmills presents Black Bush. With a deep amber colour the whisky expresses a rich spice and tea leaf nose. This is of course the result of ageing in Oloroso Sherry casks which provides a distinct flavour to this light-bodied Irish whiskey which is hand crafted in small batches.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Ichiro’s Malt & Grain Blended Whisky
King of the Japanese indie whisky makers is Ichiro Akuto and his Chichibu Distillery. The man’s vision was to offer a quality Japanese whisky experience that was affordable for everyone. The result is Ichiro’s Malt & Grain Blended Whisky that is non-chill filtered and with no colouring added. Stocks can also be limited.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The flagship product of Lark Distillery is matured for 5-8 years in small barrels which have a much larger surface area-to-volume of liquid. This allows a faster rate of evaporative losses and a considerably shorter maturation period than that required with the larger barrels commonly used in Scotland. Its distinctive profile is created with Tasmanian (Franklin) barley malted at the Cascade Brewery.
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.