Whiskey (or Whisky) is among the most popular spirits on earth. Distilled from grains such as corn, rye, barley, or wheat, it can be made anywhere, though certain regional styles are protected by law. Whiskey is usually barrel aged after distillation for a relatively long period of time. It is commonly used in cocktails, as well as enjoyed neat or with ice, and has deep roots in western nations, especially Ireland, Scotland, and the USA. More recently, its popularity in Asia and the rest of the world has led to the creation of new brands and styles.
How Much Should You Spend on Whiskey?
As much as you feel comfortable. There is quality available at every price point in this category if you know which brands to look for. As with most spirits, there are bottles that are affordable and good quality to mix with, as well as options priced to sip neat. As a beginner whiskey drinker, there are a number of bottles priced under $50 that represent a great entry point for different styles. If you want to venture more into the collecting and spectating side of things, whiskey has a massive aftermarket as well. Just be warned, reselling whiskey at higher prices on the secondary market, or stashing it away for years only to sell it later, can often be frowned upon by many. The product was made to be drunk and enjoyed, and it can be seen as insulting or rude to simply buy up bottles to profit on someone else’s hard work.
Whiskey Brands’ Prices
|Price Rank||Brand||Bottle Size||Prices|
|1||Pappy Van Winkle||750ml||$799.99 - $8950|
|2||Blanton's||750ml||$139.99 - $309.99|
|3||Macallan||750ml||$57.99 - $6999.99|
|4||Glenlivet||750ml||$30.99 - $599.99|
|5||Woodford Reserve||750ml||$28.99 - $349.99|
|6||Knob Creek||750ml||$26.99 - $149.99|
|7||Chivas Regal||750ml||$24.99 - $444.49|
|8||Maker's Mark||750ml||$22.99 - $89.99|
|9||Jameson||750ml||$21.99 - $199.99|
|10||Bulleit Bourbon||750ml||$21.99 - $69.99|
|11||Crown Royal||750ml||$21.99 - $299.99|
|12||Johnnie Walker||750ml||$19.99 - $269.49|
|13||Buffalo Trace||750ml||$17.99 - $34.99|
|14||Dewar's||750ml||$17.99 - $82.99|
|15||Jack Daniel's||750ml||$16.99 - $59.99|
|16||Jim Beam||750ml||$12.99 - $43.99|
|17||Evan Williams||750ml||$11.99 - $32.99|
|18||Fireball||750ml||$11.99 - $19.99|
Factors that Affect Whiskey Prices
Due to the lengthy aging process, the price of whiskey is especially subject to supply and demand. While demand for a certain brand or even a style could spike rapidly based on press, awards, or product placement, the actual whiskey sold that year was likely produced and bottled years earlier. This means whiskey producers need to predict the future demand for their product, sometimes as far as a decade or more in advance. When a brand wins a big award or is highlighted in a magazine or television show, it can lead to demand that outstrips the estimates and cause price increases. This happened to Yamazaki and Japanese whisky in 2013, as the brand won a major award for best whisky and saw demand skyrocket, bringing the price upwards and leaving the distillery without enough whisky to satisfy demand.
Another thing that can impact the price is speculation. Many people buy up the supply of retail-available whiskey to sit on it and resell it later. This causes scarcity and price increases. Because of this practice, many brands and distributors sell certain bottles in allotted amounts, meaning your local store may only get access to one or two bottles. This also drives up prices, as many store owners will then charge significantly above the suggested retail price.
Is it Whiskey or Whisky?
Whiskey with an “e” is usually used in reference to Irish or American-made spirits, while Whisky without an “e” is usually used to describe spirits made in Scotland, Canada, Japan, and other parts of the world. The origin lies in different regional spellings between Ireland and Scotland, and in the 1960’s the spelling “Whiskey” became common in the USA due to newspaper spelling guidelines, while previously the spelling had been mixed. Today, most American-made products use the “Whiskey” spelling, but a few still use the “Whisky” spelling.
How are Whiskeys Produced?
Whiskey is made from fermented grains and then distilled into a spirit and aged. The type of grains, type of still, and aging process create a wide variety in flavor and set apart the many different styles of whiskey. Although the different styles use slightly different methods, they all follow some basic steps.
Fermentation: Grains such as corn, rye, barley, wheat, or even sorghum are mixed with water in what is called a “mash”. During this stage, enzymes break down the starch in the grains, turning them into sugar. Then yeast turns the sugar into alcohol and CO2.
Distillation: The fermented mash is then distilled into spirit, either through a pot or column still. When it comes off the still, whiskey is clear and often quite harsh in flavor. It is often called “white lightning,” “white dog,” or “moonshine.”
Aging: The distilled product is then aged in wood barrels. These barrels are most often oak, and depending on the type of whiskey, may have previously housed other spirits or wines. It is common for ex-bourbon, sherry, or port barrels to be used to age whiskeys.
Due to the long aging process, new whiskey distilleries often purchase whiskey from other older distilleries and then blend it and sell it as their own until their distilled spirits have properly aged.
Different Varieties of Whiskeys
Scotch is one of the most famous modern types of Whisky. Scotch or Scotch Whisky must be made in Scotland. That means it is going to be subject to expenses associated with imports to the USA, like the cost of shipping and import tax. Scotland primarily makes two types of whisky: malt and grain. Originally, all Scotch was malt, but in the late 1700’s, grains such as wheat or rye began being used as well. While it is currently Single Malt Scotch which is the most highly regarded and most expensive, traditionally both malt and grain scotch would be blended together in what is today referred to as a “blended scotch”. In order to be called Scotch, the whisky must be made in Scotland from either grain or malted barley and aged for a minimum of three years. Scotch is further broken down into regional styles, of which there are five. Islay is the most significantly different, as the use of peat in the malt creates a noticeably smokey flavor. Scotch is normally distilled twice, and any age statement on the bottle must refer to the youngest whisky in the bottle.
The aging process for Scotch also contributes to the cost, as Single Malt Scotch is often aged longer than other spirits. Scotland’s colder climate means barrel aging can take longer than it does in warmer climates. When your product needs to age for a decade or more, that means you need to be predicting demand that far in advance. Often, a distillery will grow in popularity faster than they anticipated, leading to an increased demand while the modern day supply was determined years prior when the scotch was barrelled.
- Recommended brands: Lagavulin, Springbank
Once the most popular spirit in the world, Irish whiskey saw a decline that by the 1980’s left only two functioning distilleries on the island. However, since the 90’s, it has come roaring back from the brink, and has been the fastest growing category in spirits. Irish whiskey must be made on the island of Ireland, must be made with malted cereal and grains, and must be aged a minimum of three years in wood. There are three designated types of Irish whiskey: Single Malt, Single Pot Still, and Single Grain. There are also blended Irish whiskeys containing a mixture of the styles.
- Recommended Brands: Teeling, Redbreast
Whiskey made from mash that is at least 51% rye. While it can be made anywhere, much of it is made in the USA. Historically, both Pennsylvania and Maryland are famous for their own styles of rye, but in modern day, Kentucky and Indiana make a large amount of American rye. Many American brands of rye whiskey simply buy their rye from MGP Distillery in Indiana and then bottle and brand it themselves. For this reason, there are a lot of rye whiskey brands that taste similar to their competition, and you may be able to buy the same product for cheaper under a different brand name.
- Recommended Brands: Old Overholt, Rittenhouse
While Canadian whiskey is often referred to as “rye,” the truth is that most contain very small amounts of rye, if any at all. Most Canadian whiskeys are made primarily of corn or other grains.
- Recommended Brands: Canadian Club
Bourbon must be made in the USA from at least 51% corn mash and aged in a new charred oak barrel. It also must contain an age statement if under four years old. Due to the requirement that it be aged in a new barrel, old bourbon barrels are often recycled in the aging of other spirits. While Kentucky makes most of the bourbon in the world, and it is often assumed that bourbon must be from Kentucky, it can actually be made anywhere in the USA.
- Recommended Brands: Elijah Craig, Wild Turkey 101, Angels Envy
Tennessee Whiskey is closely related to Bourbon, but with an extra step in production known as the Lincoln County Process. The Lincoln County Process is a filtering of the distilled whiskey through maple charcoal filters prior to barreling, which is said to improve the flavor and quality of the whiskey. As the name implies, Tennessee Whiskey must be made in Tennessee.
- Recommended Brands: George Dickel, Jack Daniels
Japanese Whisky is one of the most sought-after and expensive styles in the world currently. It is also one of the most difficult to navigate. Japanese whisky is made in a style derived from Scotch whisky, as the first Japanese whisky distillers learned from the Scots. Due to the high demand for Japanese whisky, the relative lack of knowledge among potential western buyers, and the association of Japanese culture with high quality, there are currently a number of unscrupulous brands using Japanese language and art on their labels while simply selling Canadian whisky which was shipped to Japan and bottled there. There are no strictly enforced rules about whisky production in Japan, with only an agreed upon set of guidelines between some of the distillers to regulate what can and cannot be labeled “Japanese Whisky”. Due to this, there are many products labeled as Japanese whisky which are actually aged Shochu.
- Recommended Brands: Yamazaki, Nikka, Hakushu
There are many amazing whiskies being made all over the world. In India, Amrut is the first Indian single malt. In Taiwan, Kavalan has beaten single malt scotch in blind taste tests and won numerous awards. There are whiskies being made in Mexico, Israel, Vietnam, Wales, France, Sweden, Spain, South Africa, and numerous other nations. Due to differences in international law, these products may be labeled differently than you might expect.
- Recommendations: Kavalan, Brenne Estate
How to Drink Whiskey
Traditionally, whiskey was enjoyed neat or with a bit of water. Many aficionados and experts prefer to experience the unadulterated flavors of whiskey in this manner. You can simply pour a few fingers’ worth of whiskey into a rocks glass and then add in as much or as little chilled water as you prefer.
Whiskies also make a great base for cocktails, and after cognac and other brandies became harder to find, whiskey became one of the most popular spirits to mix with. There are many classic cocktails that call for whiskey that you can explore.
Perhaps one of the easiest ways to enjoy whiskey is the highball. Simply pour a few ounces of whiskey into a tall Collins glass with ice and sparkling water. Maybe a small squirt of lemon juice if you like. It’s tall and refreshing, easy to make, and doesn’t hide the wonderful flavors of your whiskey. The Whisky highball is the preferred way to drink whisky in Japan, and many Japanese whiskies have been designed with this drink in mind.
A Brief History
The origins of modern whiskey lie in Europe. Latin-speaking monks were among the first distillers of alcohol for medicinal purposes, and often referred to the distillates as “Aquavitae”, or water of life. Eventually, the art of distillation spread outside the monasteries, and people all over Europe began distilling spirits from what they had locally. In Ireland and Scotland, this was malted barley and grains. They called their spirit “uisge beatha,” gaelic for “water of life,” and it soon spread from there. Immigrants from Ireland and Scotland brought the spirit to the US and Canada. The Gaelic word “uisge” began to be spelled as “whisky” in English, and the spirit continued to spread worldwide.
The Ten Most Popular Cocktails with Whiskey
- The Old Fashioned- Rye, Sugar, Bitters. The original cocktail. While in modern times, it can be made with bourbon, the original was a mix of rye whiskey, sugar, bitters, and water.
- The Manhattan- Rye, Sweet Vermouth, Bitters. A timeless classic, originally made with rye.
- Whiskey Sour- Whiskey(Try Bourbon), simple syrup, lemon juice, egg white, bitters. An easy template for a refreshing drink.
- Jack and Coke- Jack Daniels Tennessee Whiskey, Coca-Cola. An American dive bar classic.
- Penicillin- Blended Scotch, Lemon, Honey, Ginger, Peated Scotch. A modern classic.
- Mint Julep- Bourbon, Simple Syrup, Mint. A Southern day drinking classic.
- Boulevardier- Bourbon or rye, Campari, Sweet Vermouth. Whiskey’s answer to the negroni.
- Monte Carlo- Rye, Benedictine, Angostura bitters. A classic riff on an old fashioned.
- Sazerac- Rye, Sugar, Peychaud’s Bitters, Angostura bitters, Absinthe. The New Orleans cocktail. Sazerac Sundays!
- Hot Toddy- Whiskey, Sugar, Lemon, Bitters, Hot Tea. Yes, the original is with hot water, but you start a soup with stock, not water. Do the same here and try your favorite tea instead of plain hot water.