6 Top Shelf Whiskies Every Whiskey Lover Needs to Try At Least Once
You’re already familiar with the ABCs of beginner whisk(e)y and the best bottom shelf bottles. Now it’s time to splurge a little bit. From premium blended scotch to highly allocated, collectible bourbon, these are the six top shelf whiskies that every whiskey lover needs to try at least once—or, if your wallet can handle it, every week.
Although everyone always assumes that the Blue Label bottling is the ultimate whisky in Johnnie Walker’s extensive line, we’d argue that the Platinum 18 is the one that you should be buying. One of the only offerings from Johnnie Walker with a proper age statement, this luxe bottling is a blend of premium scotches collected from multiple regions of Scotland—including Speyside malts, known for their soft, honeyed sweetness, and more complex Highland malts—which are aged for a minimum of 18 years. On the palate, the blended scotch has notes of toffee, malted milk balls, tangerines, Frosted Mini Wheats and roasted almonds with sea salt. With a creamy, mouth-coating finish, this scotch will keep you coming back no matter the time of year or your drinking mood.
The Yamazaki 12 Year Old Single Malt is the Japanese whisky that put Japan on the map for spirits. This singular bottling is everything that you could want from a Japanese whisky. Big, complex and utterly delicious, it has notes of winter spices, vanilla, honeycomb, orange pith, vanilla wafers and a hint of malty smokiness on the finish. If Suntory could only meet the demand, we would argue that every serious whisk(e)y drinker should have a bottle of this golden dram on their bar.
Created by distillery manager John Campbell, Laphroaig Lore expertly captures the brand’s signature smoky, salty flavor. A blend of whiskies aged in quarter casks, ex-sherry casks and reused peated whisky casks, this single malt is one of the richest and most vibrant that we’ve ever tasted. On the palate, the Lore has everything you’d expect from the Laphroaig 10 year—except turned up to 11. There’s that lovely sea air saltiness, a barnyardy dampness, notes of iodine, kelp, seaweed chips, sugar cookies, and, of course, layers of smoke on top of smoke on top of smoke. When it’s cold and wet and nasty outside (aka Scotland all the time) there’s no better whisky to have in your glass.
This highly underappreciated Irish gem rivals its Scottish and Japanese counterparts. Forget any preconceived notions about what an Irish whiskey can be. Matured in ex-bourbon barrels and then finished in Oloroso sherry casks, the Knappogue Castle 16 is a delicious whopper of a whiskey. In the glass, the single malt has notes of yellow plums, apricots, white truffles, raw honey, dark chocolate and hazelnuts. It’s soft yet viscous, with a lasting finish. We swear that you’ll be converted after one glass of the stuff.
This is one of the more unconventional spirits on this list—especially unusual in the bourbon category—but its uniqueness is precisely why we love it. Aged for seven to eight years on land, the whiskey finishes its journey traveling from port to port aboard a ship for an additional five to ten months. Each release is different, and the bourbon’s flavors are contingent upon its voyage. Flavor profiles range from salt water taffy, to bread pudding, to burnt matches and butterscotch. This is the kind of bourbon you want to savor.
Barrell Bourbon (price varies between batches)
Another bourbon that changes with every release, Barrell Bourbon is a newish brand that specifically caters to whiskeyphiles’ demands for highly allocated spirits. Each release is the leftovers or unused, “off-brand” stock from a different whiskey brand, and Barrell founder Joe Beatrice brilliantly finishes and repackages each whiskey. Most of the bottlings are bourbons, but the brand also occasionally sneaks a rye or rare rum into the mix as well. All releases are bottled at cask strength and are usually single barrel vintages. One of our favorite releases was their Barrell Bourbon Batch 004, a six-year-old Kentucky straight bourbon bottled at a whopping 116 proof, which tastes like burnt English muffins, slathered in butter and marmalade, and chased with a glass of Booker’s. These are some truly amazing spirits that are definitely worth your time and money.