Whisky is a spirit as rich in history as it is in flavour. Its origins are shrouded in the mists of time, with roots stretching back to the ancient Celtic traditions of Scotland and Ireland. Since then, whisky (or whiskey, as it’s usually known in Ireland and the United States) has evolved into a global phenomenon, with an array of styles and types that cater to diverse palates and tastes.
These range from smoky, peated Scotch to the smooth, sweet notes of American Bourbon and the delicate, nuanced character of Japanese whisky. Each style has its own unique identity. But, at its heart, whisky is about the deep, complex flavours that come from its primary ingredient – cereal grain. This grain, be it barley, corn, rye, or wheat, is not just a base, it’s the very essence of whisky, providing a foundation upon which layers of flavour are built.
The type of grain varies by style and country. Malted barley is the key ingredient in single malt whisky. In contrast in the USA, a mashbill of corn, wheat, rye, and barley is used to make wonderful whiskeys like bourbon.
Through the processes of malting, fermentation, distillation, and ageing in oak barrels, whisky acquires a range of flavours – from the rich, warm notes of vanilla and caramel to the subtle hints of fruit, spice, and smoke. It’s a spirit which invites savouring, whether enjoyed neat, with a splash of water, on the rocks, or in classic cocktails like the Old Fashioned or the Whisky Sour.
One thing we always want to make clear is: price and quality are two distinct concepts. You can get great whiskies for very little. On the other hand, you can pay vast sums for a spirit that just isn’t for you.
When it comes to pricing, whisky can vary widely based on several factors. Age is a significant determinant – older whiskies, due to their long maturation and the natural evaporation of the spirit (the ‘angel’s share’), tend to be more expensive. The type of cask used for ageing also plays a role, with rare or unique casks (such as sherry or wine barrels) adding to the cost.
Production methods contribute as well. Small-batch or single-barrel whiskies, which offer a unique and specific character, can command higher prices. You’ll also find limited-edition releases – be they experimental or particularly rare – which typically lean to the higher end. Read our whisky guides for deeper information.
With that in mind, our in-house tasting team has put together their top picks to suit every budget and occasion.
At the more affordable end, we have a selection of reliable, everyday whiskies that offer straightforward, enjoyable flavours, perfect for casual sipping or mixing in cocktails. These whiskies are often younger, with less time spent in barrels. Regardless, they still deliver in spades.
Despite the price, these budget-friendly whiskies are a real tribute to the craftsmanship and innovation of distillers. The versatility makes them ideal for both traditional and inventive whisky-based drinks thanks to a broad spectrum of flavour profiles, from classic notes of oak and vanilla to more exotic hints of peat and spices.
Regardless of the price, we love these whiskies, and think no bar should be without them!
Moving into the mid-range, these whiskies offer a little more depth and complexity. These include some wonderful single malts and blends from around the globe, where the emphasis is on crafting a unique and high-quality taste. With longer ageing periods, often in speciality casks, these whiskies have some brilliantly nuanced flavour profiles.
This extra complexity makes these ideal for neat sipping. However, for the home mixologist, they can certainly be put to great use in cocktails that call for a more flavourful base. These whiskies offer the ideal mix of quality and affordability, allowing for a luxurious experience without an extravagant price tag…
At the very top end of the spectrum, you’ll find the premium whiskies, representing the pinnacle of the distiller’s art. These whiskies are about exceptional quality, rarity, and often, heritage. These include some of the best-aged examples from the world’s top distilleries, with names like Balvenie, Ardbeg, and Yamazaki.
These are also rarer spirits which exude craftsmanship, complexity, and offer a unique experience. Naturally, they make brilliant gifts if you’re feeling very generous, and are a great choice to toast or commemorate a special occasion or milestone.
Of course, you can drink your whisky any way you like. That said, these are definitely ones we prefer to enjoy neat or with minimal accompaniment. There’s so much character and flavour here, we want to experience it all…
In selecting whiskies on the more wallet-friendly end of the spectrum, the focus was on finding those rare gems that punched above their price tag, offering richness and complexity without a hefty cost. These whiskies needed to be more than just affordable… they had to impress with their flavour and adaptability, proving that great whisky doesn’t always have to come at a high price.
For the mid-range category, our team aimed to discover whiskies that represented a leap in refinement and elegance. Chosen for their intricate and nuanced flavour profiles, these whiskies are perfect for both savouring neat.
As for the high-end, premium whiskies, the emphasis was on the art of whisky making as well as the provenance of the whiskies themselves. We looked for whiskies that represented the styles and regions, with plenty of time in oak for complexity and richness. These selections weren’t just about an exceptional taste experience; they were about appreciating the craft and tradition that go into creating a top-tier whisky.