Whiskey Purchase: A Buyer’s Guide.

I’ve fielded several questions in the past about how to select a bottle of whiskey.  I recently posted about different types of whiskey and how you might know if you like a certain whiskey or not.  That was based on mash bill percentages, and chances are if you liked one type on the list you might like another.  So what if you are out and you don’t have your handy dandy cheat sheet?  What then?  give up?  No way!  Here are a few easy ways to select a whiskey without the help of a cheat sheet or having much knowledge.

1) Always buy whiskey that is higher than 80 proof.  I’ve said it before, but alcohol in Whiskey is like salt in cooking.  It enhances flavor and brings out subtleties in the flavor profile that a watered down 80 proof whiskey will not.

2) Don’t buy on price alone.  More expensive isn’t always better.  There are some smaller distilleries (micro-distilleries) that are coming into vogue right now, and they have to charge a higher price for their whiskey because they have far greater overhead.  That doesn’t mean that they are better than cheaper whiskey.  One of my favorites is Ancient Ancient Age 10 Star, a 90 proof whiskey that costs under $15 a fifth.

3) If you are new to whiskey start with Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey.  Bourbon has certain rules that govern being able to call it bourbon, and those rules by and large ensure a higher quality product.  Things like a minimum aging of 2 years, and most are aged at least 4 years.  No artificial colors or flavors can be added, and if they say straight they are not blended.

4) Finally, never buy a blended whiskey.  I know some people swear by Canadian blends, but to me they all lack flavor and character of straight whiskey.  When they blend whiskey they are adding GNS ot it or what is referred to as “Grain Neutral Spirits”, basically vodka.  They add it to extend the amount of whiskey they can sell, and blends just taste nasty to me.

So there you have it, 4 easy steps to ensure you buy a quality whiskey.  Now get out there and explore!



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18 Comments on “Whiskey Purchase: A Buyer’s Guide.”

  1. June 23, 2010 at 11:06 am #

    Good info Don. You started me on Knob Creek, which checks all these boxes.

    • Don
      June 23, 2010 at 11:09 am #

      Yes it does Jim. It is a great whiskey, but so does the Elijah Craig whiskey that was your first, and so do dozens of others, and it is tough to go wrong if you follow those basic rules.

  2. Bob
    June 23, 2010 at 4:30 pm #

    I would love to be more knowledgeable and/or discerning about whiskey. I know I like it – that’s about it. Perhaps Jim can get me started on Friday?

    Don, do you venture to Ringwood often? I’d love to sit down and have a few drinks with you.

    Keep it up guys.


    • June 23, 2010 at 4:38 pm #

      Don got me started on Knob Creek, which is a mid-priced, very satisfying and well balanced whiskey. It’s a great place to start. I might have to sneak some into the lake. I finally have a reason to get one of those cool flasks!

    • Don
      June 23, 2010 at 4:43 pm #

      Well Bob, I’d like to say yes to the venturing out to Ringwood, but I was just there in April, and the time before that was 10 years ago. So I don’t have a very good track record of getting out East. That said, Jim and I are working on a number of initiatives that might get me out there more frequently. That remains to be seen. If I do, I’d love to do the same. Jim will say to try Knob Creek. A great bourbon. But depending on your tastes I might be able to make some more targeted suggestions.

  3. June 23, 2010 at 4:37 pm #

    Good info. I’m a whiskey nOOb, so anything helps, really. Thus far, my preferences have taken me towards Scotch. Keep up the posts on this subject, Don. I want to know more, so I can eventually make an informed purchase.

    • Don
      June 23, 2010 at 4:45 pm #

      I’m trying to like scotch again, but it is a long road back. I had an experience with it in college that keeps me away. Bourbon seems to have such a fresher cleaner flavor that I truly enjoy.

  4. June 23, 2010 at 4:43 pm #

    I think Don should do a Top 5 Noob Whiskeys post, outlining the best starter hooch for the discriminating neophyte. I always recommend Knob Creek because Don told me to start there and I love the stuff, but I’m sure there are a few others that would do as well.

    I will say the Wild Turkey tasting we did last week was an eye-opener for me (not so much the next morning, though). I hadn’t tried different whiskeys back to back like that, and really came to quickly appreciate the differences.

    I think that’s the idea: the five whiskeys every noob should buy and try back to back. Maybe choose a leader of the pack / starter whiskey and then four others to explore styles and variations without breaking the bank.

    Hell, I’ve written half of it for you already, Don!

    • Don
      June 23, 2010 at 4:48 pm #

      You should just keep going and pick any 5 from the list I posted last week.

      • June 23, 2010 at 4:51 pm #

        Boo! I don’t want to pick from a laundry list of 40 different whiskeys – I want 5 must-gets!! There’s way too much leeway to screw up. We need expert guidance, Don, not generalities!! Or at least I do.

        • Don
          June 23, 2010 at 4:53 pm #

          I’ll give it due consideration.

        • Don
          June 23, 2010 at 5:09 pm #

          How about you do the same for craft beer? We can compare posts.

  5. June 24, 2010 at 12:14 pm #

    Nice job Don! I agree with Jim, just tell people what to buy or else! I think it can be tough, finding a good place to start and some clear-cut suggestions would be a big help for lot of people. I’m going to start w/ the Knob Creek because it gets a thumbs-up from both bros (like Siscal & Ebert) but it would be cool to have other good starter options as well.

    • June 24, 2010 at 12:25 pm #

      At least we don’t have to guess who’s Siskel and who’s Ebert…

    • Don
      June 24, 2010 at 12:55 pm #

      I can do that, but I really have a hard time coming up with just 5. The whiskey world is so huge I can’t just limit myself to 5, but I guess for the sake of the noobs I’ll give it a shot. One other problem, and this is a real problem is not all whiskeys are carried in all states, so I might recommend something that isn’t available other places. I’ll put some thought into it and come up with something.

      • June 24, 2010 at 2:50 pm #

        Roger that… not all whiskeys are available in all states. Right now, liquor is sold by the state only here in WA. From what I know, the prices are high, and selection is low. Ugh.

        • Don
          June 24, 2010 at 3:38 pm #

          Yes Tex, Washington has absolutely inane liquor laws. Idaho’s are almost as bad, but not quite. So I will do my best to come up with 5 that are pretty ubiquitous but no promises.


  1. New “Old” Bourbon May Miss the Mark « Beer & Whiskey Brothers Blog - January 31, 2011

    […] make this entry into the “Barely Bourbon” category.   If you will recall on my “Whiskey Purchase: A Buyer’s Guide” The first rule is always buy a whiskey that is over 80 proof.  This is because You need to […]

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