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The Whiskey Bucket List: 15 Whiskeys You Need to Try at Least Once

The Whiskey Bucket List: 15 Whiskeys You Need to Try at Least Once

You’ve seen all the features. The best Scotch. The Bourbon Bucket List. The Best Japanese whisky. When it comes to whiskey, bourbon, scotch, whisky or whatever else you want to call what we consider to be the finest liquor out there, you have a lot of choices. We’re going to keep talking about it until we’ve consumed at least as many different varieties as Jim Murray. This time around, the categorical gloves are coming off. The Whiskey Bucket List is a combination of rye, bourbon, Irish whiskey, Scotch, Japanese whisky and even a wheat whiskey we believe you should try. This is the ultimate whiskey bucket list, a collection of the best whiskey out there. It’s time to get to work.

Bernheim Original Straight Wheat Whiskey 7 Year Small Batch

When Heaven Hill Master Distillers got together to create the “first truly new variety of American straight wheat whiskey since Prohibition” they came up with a mash bill that uses winter wheat as the primary grain, which gives Bernheim Original Straight Wheat Whiskey a smooth, sweet flavor that’s easier to drink than even the lightest bourbons on the market. That same easy drinking smoothness makes it unique compared to other options on the market and one of the best whiskies out there for those of you that aren’t quite sure what you like yet. $30

Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel Bourbon

Buffalo Trace produces some of the best whiskey the United States has to offer and they sell (some of) it with a reasonable price tag. Not being able to produce it as fast as we drink it is an issue, but you won’t find Pappy levels of craziness with Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel. This bourbon is nuanced enough for the experienced drinker while still being light enough for the beginner. It starts with the notes you want (clove, vanilla and leather), marries with the tastes you crave (fruit, honey, light spice) and finishes nice and warm. In our opinion, this is the best bourbon whiskey that can be had at the $40 or less price point. It’s so good that it’s almost criminal to use in cocktails. $40

Old Forester Birthday Bourbon

Released on September 2 every year in honor of founder George Garvin Brown’s birthday, Old Forester Birthday Bourbon is a 12-year-old vintage-dated expression that’s just one more reason to celebrate a long weekend around Labor Day. One of the most unique things about Birthday Bourbon is the fact that it changes slightly each year, so every release—this year marks the 15th edition—is slightly different while still having the same overall, award-winning characteristics. It’s probably one of the most storied bourbons you’ll get your hands on for this price, but availability is limited. Start making friends with the people at your local bottle shop if you want to get your hands on a bottle. $80

Colonel E.H. Taylor Barrel Proof Bourbon

Colonel E.H. Taylor Single Barrel Bourbon is a fantastic, award-winning whiskey, but if you can find it, the Barrel Proof edition is even better. What makes Colonel E.H. Taylor Barrel Proof Bourbon so special? It’s bottled directed from hand-selected barrels without being cut or filtered so that the character of the whiskey reflects the way it was produced when Edmund Haynes Taylor, Jr. (now you know where the EH comes from) owned Buffalo Trace before Prohibition. It’s like drinking the past without having to skip a mortgage payment to pay for a bottle. $100

Hakushu 12 Year Old Single Malt Whisky

With gold or 1st place medals from the World Whiskies Awards, International Whisky Competition and Jim Murray himself in the Whisky Bible, Hakushu 12 Year Old Single Malt Whisky is one of the most-awarded, best whisky contenders you can get your hands on for less than a hundred bucks. Unlike some other single malt options, this Japanese whisky has a fresh nose and a fruitier palate without veering into an area that makes it too sweet to drink over a rock or two. $99

Booker’s Rye 13 Year Old Big Time Batch

The first rye whiskey ever released by the iconic Booker’s brand, Booker’s Rye 13 Year Old “Big Time Batch” immediately went on to get declared “World Whisky of the Year” by Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2017. As you might imagine, that made the already hard to find bottle almost double in price. If you can find a bottle of this whiskey for anything near its $300 retail price, buy it immediately because Murray himself described it as “a simply staggering example of a magnificent rye showing exactly what genius in terms of whiskey actually means.” That’s high praise coming from a man that’s tasted over 4,500 different whiskies. $300

Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve Irish Whiskey

More than three hundred dollars? On a bottle of Jameson? We know it sounds crazy, but hear us out. Across the board, Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve Irish Whiskey is lauded for its full-bodied aroma, mellow sweetness and a finish that hits every notable flavor. This is all due to the watchful eye of every Jameson master collaborating on the handcrafted release and its blend of Jameson’s oldest whiskeys—including a port pipe-matured pot still whiskey that adds rich, complex fruit notes. This is probably the best Irish whiskey on the market and it comes from a brand you already know you love. $330

Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 20

Come on. You knew at least one bottle of the infamous Pappy would be on the Whiskey Bucket List somewhere. For the record, every release sold by Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery can be considered a best whiskey, but the Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 20 is our favorite. There’s just something about the sweet richness and the balanced fruitiness of this particular bottle that elevates it to white whale status for bourbon enthusiasts and collectors alike. It’s expensive. It’s impossible to find. It’s also, in our opinion, the best bourbon whiskey ever made. $Good Luck

Yamazaki 25 Years Old Single Malt Japanese Whisky

Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask was another Jim Murray darling and one of the best Japanese whisky bottles you could drink if you could get your hands on it. The Yamazaki 25 Years Old Single Malt Japanese Whisky expresses similarly due to the fact that it was also aged in Sherry casks to impart that dried cherry nose, mahogany color, nuanced taste and masterful finish. As you might have guessed, this is an investment bottle of whisky if you can even find one. $3,000

A.H. Hirsch Reserve 16 Years Old

The myth. The legend. The history. No list of best whiskey would be complete without A.H. Hirsch Reserve. With the combination of it being created for a private client (Hirsch), distilled at what would eventually become Michter’s under the eye of a distiller that learned under Everett Beam and bottled by Julian Van Winkle III, A.H. Hirsch Reserve has quite a storied past that led to it consistently being ranked one of the most expensive whiskies in the world. If you can even find it to taste, you’ll enjoy its expertly balanced combination of sweetness and spice in the mouth with almost no burn on the back end. Unfortunately, for a lot of guys it’s going to remain The Best Bourbon You’ll Never Taste. $2,000

Willet “The Iron Fist” or “The Velvet Glove” 23 Year Old Rye

If there was any aspect of the world of whiskey that needs to finally have a book written about it, it’s the early single barrel expressions released when Willett came back in 2006 after almost four decades of being gone. Willett’s “The Iron Fist” and “The Velvet Glove” are a pair of very different rye whiskies that were produced in tandem as independent expressions with similar age and alcohol statements. As some of the earliest expressions the brand released, these legendary straight rye whiskey bottles are just as hard to find as Pappy. If you manage to find a bottle of either, pick it up. If you manage to find both, we better be your first call after checking your line of credit. $2,300

Balblair 21 Year Old 1993 Gordan & MacPhail Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Take everything that’s great about the Balblair distillery and combine it with the centuries old Gordan & MacPhail bottling and distilling operation to get an idea of what makes this independent bottling of a two decade old Scotch whisky so special. The 53.4% ABV Highland whisky was bottled at cask strength after being matured in a first-fill Sherry butt from 1993–2014. Figs, plums, oak, raisins, rum and chocolate are just a few of the things this Sherry monster has to offer in terms of its evolving taste and aroma. If you can find it, this is one of the best Scotch whisky bottles to add to your collection for special occasions. $260

The Balvenie Tun 1509 Batch 3

Malt Master David C. Stewart was recently declared a Member of the Order of the British Empire for his services to the whisky industry, and his latest creation for The Balvenie is a fine example why he’s basically a whisky knight. The Balvenie Tun 1509 Batch 3 is a no age statement single malt Scotch whisky made with 31 hand-selected casks from the distillery’s reserves. Twelve Sherry butts. Eleven American Oak hogsheads. Eight refill American Oak butts. After marrying for several months in a single vessel, the Speyside whisky emerged as something completely new and unique, something that’s greater than the sum of its parts but still uniquely Balvenie with a rich palate and woodiness. $320

Blade and Bow 22-Year-Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Despite the fact that Diageo’s Blade and Bow 22 doesn’t contain any whiskey produced by Stitzel-Weller, the marriage of whiskies from Bernheim and Buffalo Trace that were aged and bottled at Stitzel-Weller still leads to a remarkably easy drinking bourbon. It’s smoky and smooth while kissed with flavors of an apple pie. $170

Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch Barrel Strength

Every year, Four Roses releases a limited edition small batch bourbon whiskey bottled at barrel strength and non-chill filtered for that full “I’m drinking right out of the barrel” experience. Each yearly release is made available initially in the fall for less than a hundred bucks, but prices quickly shoot up on the secondary market even before it wins all of its awards for the year. While the recipe varies each year in terms of age, mash bill and obviously taste, the three different years we’ve sampled have all delivered on the complex, full-bodied and surprisingly smooth experience we’ve come to expect from Four Roses. $85

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