If you’re a whiskey drinker, you’re spoiled for choice. Your local liquor store probably has dozens of bottles of Scotch, bourbon, rye, and Irish whiskey available, all of them unique, and many of them delicious. But when it comes time to choose, it’s easy to find yourself reaching for the old standbys. Why take a chance on something new when you know exactly what that bottle of Jameson or Maker’s Mark is going to taste like, after all? Yet that too-cautious approach to buying booze might be causing you to miss out on something great. To help you discover your new favorite drink, we’ve put together this list of 10 under-the-radar whiskeys that you need to try.
1. Wild Turkey 101
Ron Swanson’s father may have put Wild Turkey on his cornflakes, but that’s not the only way to enjoy this under-appreciated Kentucky bourbon, which is potent without being overwhelming, according to fans. Still, many people pass Wild Turkey 101 when restocking their liquor cabinet – it was the 18th-best-selling whiskey in the U.S. in 2014, behind Canadian Club, Dewar’s White Label, and Southern Comfort. They may be missing out on a gem.
“This is the strongest of the mass-market bourbons, and by a wide margin at that, yet at the same time it’s not a fearsome tiger that scares novices away,” wrote Richard Thomas of The Whiskey Reviewer.
2. New Holland’s Beer Barrel Bourbon
Can’t decide between whiskey and beer? New Holland’s Beer Barrel Bourbon is bottled by New Holland Brewing in Holland, Mich., a company best-known for its craft beers. But they made a foray into the spirits business a few years ago when they began aging bourbon in barrels that previously held Dragon’s Milk, a barrel-aged stout.
“Because the bourbon sits in those barrels for 90 days, the edge is removed and the bourbon takes on some of the smooth, malty characteristic of the beer the barrels once held,” Nicholas Brennan, who writes the Hoppy Times & Mixed Moments craft beer and cocktail blog for ChicagoNow, told The Cheat Sheet. “It’s a delicious bourbon for the connoisseur, but it’s very appealing to the masses because the barrel aging process really mellows it out.”
3. Rebel Yell Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Rebel Yell tends to live somewhere near the bottom shelf at your local liquor emporium. But that’s no reason to turn up your nose at this budget-friendly spirit, which retails for about $11 a bottle. Will Gordon, the Bottom Shelf columnist at Serious Eats, declared Rebel Yell “damn fine” and a good bet for budget-conscious drinkers. “It’s very smooth for the category, with very little burn, and it’s almost overly flavorful. It starts with a burst of honey that sticks around till the end, and it picks up a touches of vanilla, cream, and orange along the way.”
John Rempe, a spirits expert at Luxco, which bottles Rebel Yell, told The Cheat Sheet that it’s a particularly good bet if you’re mixing drinks, offering “honey and butter notes followed by hints of plum and raisins.”
4. Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Another wallet-friendly option at about $25 a bottle, Buffalo Trace tends to earn high marks from experts, though it’s not as popular as some of its similarly priced competitors on the bourbon scene, like Maker’s Mark and Knob Creek.
Buffalo Trace has a “smooth finish and pleasantly sweet notes of oak, toffee and anise,” Jason Callaway, a certified sommelier and the beverage director at Bacon Bros. Public House in Greenville, S.C., told The Cheat Sheet, adding that he highly recommends the spirit.
5. 2 Gingers
If you’re in the mood for an Irish whiskey, the chances are good you’re going to reach for a big-name brand like Jameson or Bushmills. But the once-small selection of spirits from the Emerald Isle has grown in recent years, including newer entrants to the market like 2 Gingers. While they may lack the pedigree of the old standbys, that doesn’t mean they’re not worth taking a look at.
Kieran Folliard, a Minnesota bar owner, created 2 Gingers, which is now made at Ireland’s Kilbeggan Distillery. The spirit will appeal to anyone who is looking for a smoother and less peaty alternative to traditional Irish whiskeys, says Paul Zahn, a beverage and event expert. It’s aged for four years and has “fruit notes [that] make it a perfect whiskey for sipping or cocktails,” Zahn said.
New to the market in mid-2015, Barrelhound Scotch whisky is designed to appeal to bourbon drinkers who are looking to make a foray into the world of Scotch. Produced by Chivas Brothers, it’s a blended Scotch that’s aged American oak. There’s not another product quite like it out there, and at the moment you can only get your hands on a bottle in New York or Washington, D.C.
The Whiskey Reviewer rated Barrelhound a B+, calling it “extremely easy to drink … a great whiskey for someone who is putting their toes in the water.” Plus, at about $30 a bottle, it’s fairly affordable, especially if you’re looking for a spirit for cocktails. Barrelhound’s “strong suit is its unparalleled mixability,” said Rachel Sandon at DCist, who tried it in a number of light, summery drinks.
7. Redbreast 12
Another Irish whiskey that flies under the radar of more casual drinkers, Redbreast 12 has a loyal and devoted following who are eager to sings its praises. Unlike most Irish whiskeys, Redbreast is made in a single pot with a mix of malted and unmalted barley, which gives the spirit a distinctive flavor.
Food writer Larry Olmsted declared Redbreast 12 his favorite Irish whiskey. “Redbreast is very much full-flavored, noticeably darker and richer and with a more aggressive taste than most Irish whiskies, while sharing the smoothness and drinkability its brethren are known for.”
8. High West Campfire
Utah might not be a place most people look to for great booze, but the High West Saloon & Distillery in Park City churns out an impressive mix of craft spirits, most of them whiskeys and many well-received by connoisseurs. Yet with more than a dozen different products available, it’s bound that one or two would be overlooked. According to Aaron Goldfarb at Esquire, more people should be paying attention to High West Campfire.
“Their one release I never see getting the respect it deserves is Campfire, a unique blend of sweet bourbon, spicy rye whiskey, and a smoky peated scotch,” he wrote. “It’s delicious and far cheaper than any great single malt from Islay.”
9. Laphroaig 10
For many drinkers, single-malt Scotch sits at the top of the whiskey pyramid, which makes it hard to label any one underrated. Still, some bottles get more attention than others, which can lead Scotch novice to simply reach for the familiar. If you’re looking to explore the world of Scotland’s signature spirit, Zahn suggests Laphroaig 10, which he calls “one of the most distinct scotches in the market.”
Laphroaig 10 is an Islay Scotch that retails for about $50 a bottle, making it an affordable indulgence. “The liquid is full bodied and smoky …. [and] has a surprising sweetness with hints of salt and layers of peatiness,” said Zahn. If you want to take a chance on a fuller-flavored Scotch, this may be the one to try.
10. Crown Royal Hand-Selected Barrel
For a variety of reasons, Canadian whiskies tend not to get a lot of respect from serious drinkers. In the U.S., that’s partly because Canadians are keeping most of the good stuff for themselves and sending us their leftovers, according to Bloomberg. But the reputation of liquor from north of the border is gradually improving with the introduction of more premium spirits like Crown Royal Hand-Selected Barrel.
Unlike your dad’s Crown Royal, which is a blend, the Hand-Selected Barrel contains Coffey Rye whisky from a single barrel. Drink Hacker, which rated it an A-, described it as sweet, “soothing,” and “fun to drink.”
“I’m simultaneously shocked and happy that this tastes as good as it does,” wrote Josh Peters in his review at The Whiskey Jug. Crown Royal Hand-Selected Barrel is currently available in Texas and other select markets.
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