What Whiskeys Will I Like?

It is Interesting how often I get this question.  Whiskey can be quite intimidating for people who have never had it before, or the extent of their experience is getting so wasted on Jack Daniels in college that they haven’t touched the stuff for 20 years!  Well just like craft beer, Whiskey has gone through a kind of metamorphosis in the last several years.  I think as the baby boomers age, and the gen x’ers have entered parenthood, they are looking for something a little unique.  Craft beer and whiskey both fit that mold.  Craft beer is all about trial and error.  At least it is that way for me, but at $20 to $75 a pop for whiskey it can be a rather daunting purchase.  How will I know if I like this whiskey?  Will I be throwing away $45 on a whiskey I can’t stand?  All legitimate questions.

Well our friends over at liquor.com have put together a cheat sheet on some of the different flavor profiles of various whiskeys, specifically bourbon.  They categorize the bourbons into three different categories.  They focus on one particular aspect of bourbon, and that is the mash bill.  Specifically what grains and in what percentages are used to flavor the mash that goes into fermentation.  First is traditional bourbon which has roughly 70% corn, 15% rye, and 15% Barley.  Next is the high rye recipes that use a higher percentage of rye to give the bourbon a spicier kick, and finally is wheat bourbons that replace the rye with wheat to get a softer flavor profile without as much aggressive spice as the rye can impart to the bourbon.  This is their list…

TRADITIONAL BOURBON RECIPE:

  • Baker’s
  • Booker’s
  • Elijah Craig
  • Evan Williams
  • Jim Beam
  • Jim Beam Black
  • Knob Creek
  • Old Crow
  • Wild Turkey
  • Ancient Ancient Age 10 Star

HIGH-RYE RECIPE:

  • Basil Hayden’s
  • Buffalo Trace
  • Bulleit
  • Eagle Rare
  • Four Roses
  • George T. Stagg
  • Old Forester
  • Old Grand-Dad
  • Woodford Reserve

TRADITIONAL WHEAT RECIPE:

  • Maker’s Mark
  • Old Fitzgerald
  • Rebel Yell
  • Van Winkle
  • W.L. Weller

Chances are that if you like one of the bourbons in this category you will like the others.  At least that is their assumption.  To me there is a lot of variety even within each mash style, so you will need to do some experimentation, but for a basic starting point this is a good list.

I would add to it a list of ryes.  See Bourbon is required to use a minimum of 51% corn in its mash to be called bourbon.  Rye on the other hand flips this percentage and uses at least 51% rye in its mash.  It makes for a nice earthiness and many have a spicy kick, but some not as much.  There is a pretty broad spectrum in the rye category as well.  Here is a list that you can try.

RYE WHISKEY:

  • Old Overholt
  • Jim Beam
  • R1
  • Van Winkles Family Reserve Rye
  • Wild Turkey Rye
  • Russell’s Reserve 6 Year Old Rye
  • AH Hirsch 22Year Old Rye
  • Sazarak Rye
  • Rittenhouse Rye

These are some good places to start.  The AH Hirsch will set you back about $175 but it is amazing!  If that is too rich for your blood, try the Van Winkles Family Reserve Rye for about $45.  Still too high go for the Wild Turkey at about $20, it too is very well done and a great value.  It is a little more expensive to get into Whiskey, but it is well worth the investment.  I currently have about 30 bottles at the house and I am always collecting more in the bunker.  If you don’t have the inclination to collect so many bottles, take the list with you to a restaurant or local watering hole and do a little experimentation.  It is a great hobby, and one that will give you many hours of enjoyment.

-Don

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32 Comments on “What Whiskeys Will I Like?”

  1. June 15, 2010 at 12:26 pm #

    Nice list of good whiskeys, Don.

    Drinking whiskey is a hobby, huh? Does Kathy buy that, or does she thing you’re a lush?

    • Don
      June 15, 2010 at 12:31 pm #

      I don’t care what she thinks! To me it is a hobby. I’ve actually been very good about not overdoing it, and drinking in moderation and responsibly, so she is on board. I thought this was a good starting point, and from there this list can grow exponentially.

  2. Rob Crozier
    June 15, 2010 at 12:28 pm #

    This is so awesome – thanks for sending. I will keep this list handy when visiting the store. By the way, the Elijah Craig bourbon you recommended was a total hit at the party I served it at; even non bourbon drinkers were trying it after hearing the praise it was getting!

    • Don
      June 15, 2010 at 12:33 pm #

      Cool Rob. It is a big flavor, and at a great price. It claims it is the first true “Small Batch” bourbon. I don’t know if the claims are true, but it is a great bourbon. Glad your guests liked it. Now go try the Knob Creek!

      • Rob Crozier
        June 15, 2010 at 12:49 pm #

        I may have to try some of the less expensive ones first as this graduation party I threw cleaned me out financially for a while. I’ll put a bug in one of my buddies ears to buy the Knob Creek.

        • Don
          June 15, 2010 at 12:51 pm #

          If you can find it try the Ancient Ancient Age 10 Star! It is awesome and less than half the price of the Knob Creek.

  3. June 15, 2010 at 12:57 pm #

    Nice, Don. I think it’s important for people to understand the distinctions in these types of whiskey. I love me some Bourbon, too.

    • Don
      June 15, 2010 at 1:01 pm #

      I personally thought it was funny the amount of disparity in the list even within each category. For example the High Rye list Had your favorite the Stagg, but it also had Woodford Reserve. There is a huge spectrum of quality between the two, but the mash bills are similar.

  4. June 15, 2010 at 2:10 pm #

    Nice, helpful to a dunce like me. I am assuming these are all blends? Do you get into single malt?

    • Don
      June 15, 2010 at 2:23 pm #

      These are not blends! Parish the thought! Blech. Blends in Bourbon are when the bourbon maker adds GNS to the bourbon to extend it. GNS stands for Grain Neutral Spirits, or Vodka for short. Blends taste horrible and I don’t buy them. Now, there are blends in Scotch, which I think refers to blending malts as opposed to single malt whisky. If you ever see blended on a Bourbon bottle leave it alone. Search for Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. That way you know you are getting the real thing without fillers.

      • June 15, 2010 at 2:47 pm #

        Did you answer Nate’s question? Do they blend different types of malt when making whiskey? Or is it typically a single variety of malt?

        • Don
          June 15, 2010 at 2:49 pm #

          Just one typically. And for Bourbon the Malt is almost an afterthought. The barley is just necessary for fermentation and imparts very little flavor.

  5. June 15, 2010 at 3:58 pm #

    So which of these styles is best with all the ice? 😉

    • Don
      June 15, 2010 at 4:09 pm #

      If you are talking about “All” the Ice, It would have to be Shackelton’s Whisky in Antarctica.

    • June 15, 2010 at 4:38 pm #

      The answer is “all of them!”

      thanks for ripping that wound open, Scott. 😉

      • Don
        June 15, 2010 at 4:56 pm #

        You know there is a very old saying that goes “send them to college, buy them books, and all they do is eat the covers”. I think I understand that now.

  6. June 16, 2010 at 6:43 am #

    Oh dear, shall we start a discussion as to why ice should never be allowed anywhere near whisky. Or even whiskEy?

    In fact, save your ice for your coke as that shouldn’t go near whisky either.

    (Insert smiley, tongue in cheek little gif thing here 😉
    Keith
    WhiskyEmporium

    • June 16, 2010 at 9:34 am #

      Oh we’ve had that discussion, Keith. I make Don crazy when I tell folks who are getting into whiskey to start with ice. There’s been some flame wars in the comments around here!

    • Don
      June 16, 2010 at 9:44 am #

      Thank You Keith. If you look back to a post I did on Russell’s Reserve Bourbon, you will find a lengthy argument in the comment field about this very subject. I don’t say that Ice has no place, but all things in moderation, and the only way to find the “best” way to drink a whiskey or whisky is to first try it neat, so you can appreciate its full bodied flavor or flavour as you British say. Then as for American Whiskey, cooling it with a single cube or two at the most can produce different, and sometimes better flavor as the whiskey opens up. Higher proof whiskeys can also be enjoyed with a splash of water to appreciate their full flavor profile. Now I’m not sure you agree, but that is how I have approached my tasting so to be able to report on the full range of flavor of any particular whiskey. My brother Jim likes the “Sno Cone” method, and I’ve been trying to break him of this nasty habit. 😉

      • June 16, 2010 at 10:06 am #

        It’s probably all those bourbon slushes mom and dad would make when they hosted bridge club. We’d always sneak a taste and get a little dizzy.

        • Don
          June 16, 2010 at 10:09 am #

          Truthfully, I think that is where I developed my love for the stuff. I would drink/eat half of that giant pitcher mom would put in the freezer. I’m sure she never noticed! 🙂

      • June 16, 2010 at 10:15 am #

        Have you ever tried to recreate them? Could be a fun recipe to share with the folks here.

        • Don
          June 16, 2010 at 10:18 am #

          Never once. I know that mom used Orange juice and bourbon, and I think some sugar, but I’m not sure about the full recipe. I can google it.

        • Don
          June 16, 2010 at 10:21 am #

          Bourbon Slush recipe
          Old-Fashioned Glass
          alcohol
          7%

          Scale ingredients to servings
          7 cups water
          3 cups bourbon whiskey
          12 ozfrozen lemonade
          6 ozfrozen orange juice
          1 1/2 cups sugar
          2 cupsstrong tea

          Here is a recipe that looks similar to what she used to make. I think (Since I’m Diabetic) I would nix the sugar, or at least cut it in half.

      • Rob Crozier
        June 16, 2010 at 12:35 pm #

        As a newbie into the world of bourbon, my recent purchase of Elijah Craig 12 Year Old was first tasted neat, as Don suggested, and then with an ice chip – not an ice cube; the difference was amazing as it opened up the taste and released flavors that were not there on the original sip and smoothed it out some. To each his own but Don’s advice was well heeded and made a new experience a great one.

        • Don
          June 16, 2010 at 12:56 pm #

          Ha! Jim! 😛

      • June 16, 2010 at 2:04 pm #

        Don’t “Ha!” me, Don. Rob says the experience was better with ice. Which means it’d be even better with even more ice. 😉

        • Don
          June 16, 2010 at 3:42 pm #

          Why don’t you go take about 100 aspirin next time you have a headache. If two work well, if you take 100 you probably won’t ever have a headache again! 🙂

  7. June 16, 2010 at 3:32 pm #

    Water does indeed open whisk(e)y, but the temperature of ice kills flavours.
    I absolutely agree with adding 2-3 drops of water with a pipette and all drams will change. As for better or worse? It depends upon personal preferences.

    I will say that if you’re lucky enough to find and try some GT Stagg it needs plenty of water. You can add 5 drops from a pipette at least 6 times and it will improve every time.

    Regards,
    Keith
    WhiskyEmporium

    • Don
      June 16, 2010 at 3:51 pm #

      Keith here is where you and I will part company in our points of view. I think that cooling can actually bring out different flavors too. Sometimes they are sweet, sometimes they are astringent, but flavors are changed through cooling on my palate. Also it can tame a finish that is too big to handle without drastically changing flavor. I guess it is all a matter of personal preference. But I think there is a place for cooling whiskey, of course the best way is to just put the whiskey itself in the freezer for a few minutes.

  8. June 18, 2010 at 12:30 am #

    Great stuff! I’ve got to get me some of this eventually. Don, you suggested the Knob Creek last time?

    • Don
      June 18, 2010 at 10:30 am #

      KC is a really good starting place Scott. I suggest that. And I have it on the most renown authority (Jimmy Russell Master Distiller for Wild Turkey and all around guru) that you shouldn’t use more than 3 ice cubes in your whiskey! I’m sure Jim will mention this in his post today!

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