Don’s top 5 Whiskeys for Noobs

OK, so some of you have really been brow beating me for this post, so here it is, and it better be one of my best traffic’d posts ever, since you have all been clamoring for it.  This is a symbiotic relationship…I produce, you read…Got me?!  OK, not that I’ve got that little bit off my chest I will continue with what I think are the absolute best 5 whiskeys for the novice whiskey drinker…heretofore referred to as noobs.

Being a Noob, I probably don’t want to blow your head off with some uber high proof juice that will curl your nose hairs and set your chest ablaze, so I will keep it tame, yet challenging.  These are all whiskeys I have drank, and will drink again, but are also accessible.  For those of you wanting a higher degree of difficulty, I will also make recommendations within recommendations for whiskey that might be a touch more challenging.  So strap in, here we go…

Lets start off slow and I will get progressively more challenging.

Whiskey #1–Ancient Ancient Age Ten Star.  This is a 90 proof bourbon that has excellent flavor for a traditional bourbon.  It is also the cheapest whiskey I will suggest today.  I picked up this fifth for under $15 at my local liquor store and I have been extolling its virtues ever since.  I think this is a very good whiskey for the noob (notice as how I turned you into an object by calling you “the” noob?)  This bourbon uses a classic mash formula high in corn, and not too spicy or challenging.  It has a great sweetness to it and is equally comfortable with you next to a cozy fire, as it is on the patio during a warm summer evening with a nice cigar.  This came to me as I was exploring the lower shelf in the liquor store, and it is by far the hidden gem.  For more of a challenge you might want to try Knob Creek, a 100 proof bourbon that takes the spice up a notch.  If you want to explode get a fifth of Bookers at 124-127 proof that will blow your head off, but in a very good way!

Whiskey #2–Bulleit. This is perhaps one of the best expressions of a high rye mash bill.  It is smooth and spicy but brings some good heat and a nice finish.  It is a little more challenging, but I know you all can handle it.  If the spice is too much for you, throw a couple of ice cubes in the glass to cool it down a bit.  This one is a little more expensive at about $25 but when you finish it you will have a really cool bottle to put stuff in.  For some reason in my house sea shells are the order of the day, and they always end up in the bathroom.  I personally think one of those 70’s sand sculptures would look pretty cool in this bottle.  To get a touch more challenging you might want to try Wild Turkey 101.  101 proof and the stuff of legends, WT will deliver a spicy punch with tones of vanilla and pear.  If you really want to sweat give the Fighting Cock a try.  This is a 103 proof, and aged 6 years in oak, its a little like liquid fire, but I never learned not to play with matches.

Whiskey #3–Old Weller Antique. This bourbon is made with Wheat instead of Rye in the mash bill.  This softens the flavor and spice of the bourbon considerably, to the point where I would actually recommend this for the noob even though it weighs in at a hefty 107 proof.  Aged seven years in oak, this is an absolutely beautiful bourbon whiskey that blends the sweetness of the corn with the vanilla and caramel flavors from the barrel better than most whiskeys, making this truly special.  And at about $25 for the fifth it is a very good value too.  I struggled to come up with a couple of alternatives for this whiskey, but I think the Old Rip Van Winkle 10 year might be a good one, as well as the old master Pappy Van Winkles 15 year old.  Both are also great expressions of the style, but will dip heavily into your pocketbook.

Whiskey #4–Russel’s Reserve Rye 6 Year. OK, with these last two I thought I might push you a little out of your comfort zone and get a touch more challenging.  Rye is just like bourbon, but they have switched the percentages of corn and rye.  So where a typical whiskey might be 70 % corn and 15-20 % rye, Rye is typically 51-65% rye with the corn coming in at anywhere from 25-35% of the mash bill.  This makes the whiskey very spicy, but gives it a rich and wonderful earthiness that is unique to the spirit.  I chose the Russell’s Reserve Rye because it is perhaps one of the less challenging ryes out there.  At 90 proof  it has a great flavor of plumb and white grape but has the big earthiness that is typical of rye, and a nice clean finish with just a touch of spice.  It is fast becoming one of my favorite Wild Turkey products and it is a very delicate rye that I think you will love. It is a little more expensive at about $30-$35  a bottle, but it is well worth your investment.  If you want to get a little more daring, I would suggest the Van Winkles Family Reserve Rye. This is more aggressive, and has been aged for 13 years in oak, but is a great expression and if you can find it I highly recommend it.

Whiskey #5–Jameson Irish Whiskey. Now, I’ve gone completely off the reservation here.  I have never reviewed an Irish Whiskey for the site, but eventually I will.  This is a great whiskey to begin your exploration out of bourbon and into other types of whiskeys.  Irish whiskey to me is somewhere between Bourbon and Scotch.  It does have a peaty kind of earthiness that can be found in Scotch, but it has a crispness to it that is more akin to bourbon.  Jameson is a great way to begin this exploration.  This is the only 80 proof whiskey I will recommend here, because the earthiness of Irish whiskey makes the flavor challenging and lively, where 80 proof bourbons tend to be lifeless to my palate.  If you want something that might be still a little more challenging and give you even more of that earthy, peaty Scotch flavor give Bushmills a try.

So there you have it.  My five whiskeys for noobs.  If you don’t like my suggestions, come up with your own.  There is very little that can go wrong when you explore the wide world of whiskey.


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32 Comments on “Don’s top 5 Whiskeys for Noobs”

  1. Rob Crozier
    June 25, 2010 at 1:01 pm #

    Excellent post and very much appreciated! Your knowledge in the whiskey/bourbon department is highly regarded as you have given me some excellent advice and tips to start me in the right direction. I’m sure this post will be a classic that other blogs will latch onto and use to start other noobs in the right direction.

    • Don
      June 25, 2010 at 1:16 pm #

      Well it damn well better be! It took me over an hour to write! That is a significant investment for this lousy blog. Just joking. I actually enjoyed writing it, and trying to come up with the top five with alternates, etc. It was kind of fun.

  2. June 25, 2010 at 1:18 pm #

    Thanks Don, great starter. Actually I was hoping for some chest fire but I guess that’s something for a future post. No Knob Creek?

    • June 25, 2010 at 1:24 pm #

      Knob is nestled into the the Ancient Ancient 10 suggestion as an alternative. It’s about $35 a bottle, so I think he’s going for the cheaper, less challenging alternative here. But he started me on Knob and I love the stuff.

  3. June 25, 2010 at 1:22 pm #

    This is great Don. While I’d normally insult you here, and trust me I have PLENTY of material, I’ll instead say thanks for putting this together. I think I might grab each of these and do a flight. I think enjoying a nip of each back to back will be very educational.

    • Don
      June 25, 2010 at 5:37 pm #

      That would actually be very cool. There are a lot of differences between each, and it would give you a great spectrum of what is out there.

  4. June 25, 2010 at 1:30 pm #

    Awesome. I was salivating reading about these different whiskeys. I believe I’ll see what my friendly state-owned liquor store has to offer… if any. I have had Jameson before, and enjoyed it thoroughly.

    • June 25, 2010 at 1:44 pm #

      I’m curious to see what you can get in a control state Tex. But Don is in one too and can get these gems, so maybe there’s hope.

    • Don
      June 25, 2010 at 5:39 pm #

      Actually, Tex, I can only get four out of the five I put up here. The Russel’s Reserve Rye was sent to Jim and myself from Wild Turkey for a blogger’s promotional Jim wrote about. I can’t get it, and it has me a little worried. With as good as it is, I’m gonna have to do a little bootleggin to get me some.

  5. Bob
    June 25, 2010 at 1:39 pm #

    Wait, you’re supposed to sip Jameson? Kidding. This is great, Don, thanks. I’m going to put a bid in to have you canonized for this post. (Is that appreciation enough?)

    All joking aside, this will be a very useful list. I’ve seen most of these in the liquor stores, but never had any direction to buy with confidence. Well done.

    • June 25, 2010 at 1:43 pm #

      I was shocked Don actually put Jameson in there, Bob. He’s strictly a bourbon guy from what I know. I wonder what other little secrets he’s hiding…

      • Don
        June 25, 2010 at 5:42 pm #

        Ha! Shows what you know! One of my favorite mixed drinks is one part Jameson and one part Baileys Irish Cream. That is a drink and a half! But I also appreciate a good Jameson’s on its own every now and then. Canonized? Huh. Does that mean I can never have sex again?

      • Bob
        June 25, 2010 at 10:27 pm #

        I was more saying that Jameson is one of my favorite shots at the bars…not so much a sipping, appreciating drink. It’s good to know all the shots I downed actually would have tasted great if I decided to savor them.

        As for the canonization, i’ll put a good word in…it wouldn’t be the first time that someone…never mind.

        Anyway, much appreciated. Where would you rate something like Maker’s Mark – that seems in the higher price range and more socially hip?

      • June 27, 2010 at 6:21 am #

        Bob, you ask about Maker’s Mark;
        it’s a jolly good bourbon, good and honest.
        They only sell one expression which is a No Age Statement (NAS) but in reality this is on average around a 6y whisky. I recently had the pleasure of meeting the folk from MM at this year’s Munich whisky festival and they allowed me to taste four different offerings; White Dog (new make), 1y, the ‘normal’ NAS and a 9y which they called over-aged. This 9y was brilliant!
        My final say; Try MM it’s decent stuff.

        Finally, if you can find it, please do try the annual releases of GT Stagg. Always very high proof (or %ABV) but add water and you’ll experience the best bourbon ever. It was even voted best whisky in the world some years ago, over and above Scotches and all the rest!

      • Don
        June 28, 2010 at 2:35 am #

        Keith, good reply. I would have thrown in GT Stagg on the first bourbon as an alternatie, but I can only with good conscience put on bourbons that I have actually tried. Being in a control state, I haven’t had the pleasure to meet up with Mr. Stagg as of yet, but soon I hope.

  6. June 25, 2010 at 1:39 pm #

    I’ve been getting myself slowly into Scotch Whisky lately. Any knowledge on those? And any recommendations for a starter that won’t burn a whole in their pocket?

    • June 25, 2010 at 1:41 pm #

      I’m curious about Scotch, too. But I know Don nearly killed himself drinking the stuff in college (something about Scoresby’s, a gorilla and a kilt) and now he has sworn it off.

      • June 25, 2010 at 1:59 pm #

        haha Sounds like a tequila story there.

        I’m not big on bourbon. Bourbon barrel beers just come off too much like the liquor. But I have had a few beers aged in Scotch barrels that were amazing and very smooth. That is why I thought I would try in that direction.

        • June 25, 2010 at 2:05 pm #

          I haven’t done much scotch drinking, but I’m ready to start. I’ve heard it’s earthier and bigger than bourbon, which sounds pretty cool. Probably due to the peaty water they use in making it. Anyway, I might have a scotch guys sending me some suggestions, and if he does, I’ll share them with you, Mike.

    • Don
      June 25, 2010 at 5:42 pm #

      Mike give the Wheat Bourbon a try. I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

      • October 13, 2010 at 7:51 pm #

        Ahhhh Single Malt Scotch! Love it! Love it! Love it! Autumn is Whisk(e)y event time in the great Northeast. Both the Single Malt Whisky Society of America and Malt Advocate host several events in the area. Although admission isn’t cheap ($100 to $150 per event which includes food, booze, and sometimes swag), it’s a great opportunity to try an amazing variety of whisky from Scotland, Ireland, Japan, and depending upon the event, even the USA. If you consider what the average bar charges for a dram of excellent whisky, these events represent a really good value if your passion is whisky.

        What is most amazing about Single Malt Scotch Whisky is the huge amount of flavor variations within a rather small country. The flavors can be spicy, smoky, sweet, salty, medicinal, herbal, and everywhere in between. For someone just starting out, I would recommend the classics, i.e. Glenlivet, Glenfiddich, or Macallan. If you want to branch out a bit, try a Dahlwhinnie or perhaps a Glenkinchie. And if you can handle some serious smoke, try a Lagavulin 16 or a Talisker 10 (try Laphroiag 10 if you want to really go off the deep end!). Here is some additional information about the Extravaganza:

        Peace Yo!

  7. June 25, 2010 at 7:23 pm #

    D’ Oh! That’s what I get for skimming over posts. Still good stuff Don, thanks for putting it together.

    • Don
      June 28, 2010 at 11:02 am #

      You skimmer, You!

  8. June 28, 2010 at 8:21 pm #

    Agreed about the Weller being a great value. I personally place Knob Creek and some of the Elijah Craig in the same categories.

  9. October 25, 2010 at 11:27 pm #

    Excellent guide for Noobs like me; is it alright if I share a link to your post on my blog?

    • October 26, 2010 at 5:27 am #

      Of course – share away!

    • Don
      October 26, 2010 at 10:28 am #

      Go for it!

  10. October 26, 2010 at 2:17 pm #

    Thanks for this, Don! I often find myself a bit overwhelmed with whiskey options.

    Now, the big question: if I’m going to homebrew a barleywine and use whiskey-soaked oak chips in secondary, what whiskey should I soak my oak chips in?

    • Don
      October 26, 2010 at 3:14 pm #

      Well, funny you should ask. My Brother Jim brewed a porter that was “Barrel Aged” by soaking wooden cubes in whiskey. He used Elijah Craig. If I were making a barleywine however, I would use Old Weller Antique. The high ABV wil go perfectly with a barleywine, and the flavor profile is softer than a big smoky Elijah Craig. That would be my reco. Try the OWA.

  11. dan
    August 12, 2014 at 5:16 pm #

    I have a bottle of old weller bourbon whiskey and looks similar to the picture you have by your #3 whiskey. The only exception is that the top of the bottle has a gold background and not red. How can I find out how old this bottle is?

    • Don
      August 12, 2014 at 5:59 pm #

      You can look on the bottom of the bottle and it may have the year on it. Most whiskeys do in raised glass.


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