Whiskey 101: Best Whiskey (Bourbon, Scotch&Irish) for Beginners
The world of Whiskey is so complex when there’re multiple categories and various tastes as well as flavors.
For people who love whiskey, it’s perfect because you can always try something new and different to keep your taste fresh. However, for beginners, it means you need to pick up one bottle from thousands of choices to start.
If you know a bartender or there’s a bar around the block, you can easily get the answer. They will offer you something smooth and less rough, meanwhile, affordable. Don’t know anyone who is familiar with whiskey? Not a problem, check out the list below and find the best fit based on the price, taste, and easiness of buying one.
There’re, in general, 6 types of whiskeys based on the places of origin.
Scotch: Only produced in Scotland. Fermented from malted barley only. Distilled twice mostly. Aged 3 years at least.
Irish Whiskey: Made in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Made from barley, malted and unmalted. Pot still ( a type of distillation that is tradition, slow, and flexible compared to modern column still ) only and distilled triple mostly.
American Bourbon: Can only be produced in the US, Kentucky usually. Should be made of at least 51% of corn and aged in charred oak barrels.
American Rye: Made in the US. Grain mixture which is at least 51% rye.
Canadian Whiskey (Rye): Most Canadian whiskeys have a grain mixture of at least 51% rye.
Japanese Whiskey: Produced in Japan only and can be fermented from malted barley, corn, or rice.
Quick Solve: What Is The Best Whiskey For Beginners
There’re indeed some whiskeys that are less hard for beginners to drink, like the Tennessee Whisky (Jack Daniel), Japanese, and Irish are all good for beginners.
Of all these whiskeys, there’s actually one that is less friendly to beginners, Scotch, the Single Malt particularly.
Single Malt Scotch: Not A Very Good Choice for Beginners
All single malt scotches are more expensive than other whiskeys.
Indeed, single malt stands for high quality. One bottle of it takes 100% malted barley, double distillation, and 3-year minimum aging in oak barrels. Complex, demanding, and time-consuming. As a result, a single malt starts at around 40$ while the other cheapest whiskeys cost $10 or even less.
Also, single malt scotch is a liquor that’s famous for its complex flavor.
Each distillery has its recipe and every bottle tastes different: fruity, peated, smokey, salty, grass, earthly, toffee, etc. You can barely taste the differences. So, it can be a waste for a beginner to drink an expensive and nice scotch.
Besides, Single malt Scotch is never easy for beginners.
Plenty of Scotches kicks off with a strong peated, smoky flavor. It may remind you of iodine or disinfectant. Only those who are experienced can really appreciate the taste and take it as God’s gift.
Warping up, as a beginner who has no special preferences, an expensive and rough spirit may scare you off.
FAQ: Where does that peated taste come from
They will bake the barley with peat. The time and strength of the baking, the amount of peat, and the smoke are all important factors that affect the taste of the Scotch.
Better Don’t Try Bottles With Cask Strength & Barrel Proof Tag
Distilleries will release some bottles with a cask-strength or barrel-proof tag. That means they don’t water down this drink before they bottle it.
To sell more whiskeys, distilleries will release standard bottles: the very basic ones, usually starting from 40% – 45% ABV, a taste that most people can handle. When they take some high-proof (50% to 70% ABV) liquors from the barrels, they will dilute them.
As the alcohol content suggests, any bottle with these two tabs is more alcoholic and much stronger than those are 40% or 45%. For beginners, if you’ve never been through some practice, a cask strength may turn you into a hater of whiskey.
Best Bourbon for Beginners: Jim Beam Kentucky Straight Bourbon
Price: $14 to $16
Strength: 40% ABV / 80 Proof
Fewer people will put Jim Beam as the best bourbon on their lists though it’s genuinely the best selling globally. They say Jim Beam is too soft and has nothing special. That is true. But isn’t that good for a beginner?
You don’t need any complex flavors for entry. Just the original taste of bourbon – sweet, thick, and alcoholic. When you reach the point that Jim Beam is too easy for you, explore some flavorful bottles: Bulliet, Four Roses, Wild Turkey, Maker’s Face, etc.
The basic reason why Jim Beam is best for beginners
The price! It starts at around $14. And can you imagine that? While others start at $20 and $25, a Jim Beam costs you so little. What else do you need? You can buy it at any store, market, or mall. You don’t need to order online and wait for a week.
Easy, affordable, and convenient. That’s why you, as a beginner, should pick a bottle of Jim Beam.
Another Good Bourbon for Beginners: Buffalo Trace Bourbon
Price: Starts at $25
Strength: 40% ABV / 80 Proof
The Buffalo Trace undoubtedly is a fine whiskey for beginners
What makes it so special? It’s aged for 8 years while other distilleries will only age their entry bottles for 1 year around or even months.
Such a long time of aging gives the drink ultimate smoothness and minimized burning mouthfeel. Compared to Jim Beam, it tastes sweeter. As its grain mixture is around 80% to 90% of corn.
Other than sweetness, Buffalo Trace has a more complex taste. The notes of vanilla, cinnamon, anise, and pepper will be the shining point. You can taste something that’s more than rye, corn, and malt.
Another Option for Beginner Bourbon: Jack Daniel’s
Strength: 40% ABV
There’s a special branch of bourbon, the Tennessee Whiskey.
It’s produced by the same standards as bourbons. The only difference is that Tennessee whiskeys need to undergo a Lincoln County Process, in which the distilleries will filter the whiskey through a bed of maple charcoal before it’s put in barrels.
As the leader of Tennessee whiskey, Jack Daniel’s is the first and only option for us. Buy the standard bottle: Old No.7, aka Black Label, without hesitation.
How does it taste? Delicious.
If you’re someone who loves vanilla latte, you will say the same. With a compound flavor of oaky, vanilla, and creamy banner, you taste only a few bitter and spicy. The balance of sweet and char is great.
mellowed drop by drop through 10-feet of sugar maple charcoal
This makes Old No.7 the smoothest whiskey I’ve drunk. For beginners, a smooth and soft mouthfeel is important. If you can’t even take a sip and let it stay in your mouth for a while, how can you taste its flavors?
Some people think it’s “too sweet and soft”, which is kind of correct, it’s not best for sipping.
You can try to make cocktails with it. For a party, what’s the easiest and most popular cocktail? The Jack & Cola. Mix Old No. 7 with twice the amount of coke. Enjoy!
Best Rye for Beginners: Wild Turkey 101 Rye
Strength: 101 Proof
Fermented from more than 51% of rye with around 37% corn, Wild Turkey 101 Rye is such a classic bottle of straight rye. It has everything that good rye should have: the rye flavor, spicy, peppery taste with a warm and intense cheery note.
Take a sip, that light sweet is companied by an intensive spice of cinnamon, pepper, and other baked spice. Like eating a toffee, that warm sweet really makes your tongue relax.
Swallow it, the long, spicy sweetness will stay for quite a while on your buds. Now, personally speaking, it would be one hell of joy if you eat a pickle or any salty sour snacks.
Not just for sipping, this rye is also a perfect mixer for Manhattan (a whiskey cocktail) and other flavorful cocktails.
Sweet, spicy with a long finish, that’s all you can get from Wild Turkey 101 Rye. Starting at $40, you can buy it in most stores.
Best Scotch (Blended) for Beginners: Ballantine’s Blended Scotch Whiskey
Strength: 40% ABV
Before you say anything bad to this bottle, take a look at the price, around 16 bucks for 750ml. Is there anything better than Ballantine’s for a beginner?
I know it’s light and its fragrance is weak. But for beginners, it’s so hard to taste all those deep and complex flavors and hints. An easy, affordable, and smooth blended Scotch is fair enough.
Sipping, highball, cocktail, you can do whatever you want with it without worrying about wasting your money.
Three Blended Scotch for Beginners
There’re so many complex flavors of scotch. To enjoy them, we need more practice with some other bottles. Below, three extra blended scotch bottles will be introduced to you. Hopefully, they suit you well and can serve as a stepping stone to the single malt challenge.
Most Popular Blended Scotch Whisky: Johnnie Walker Black Label
Johnie Walker’s Black Label is, no doubt, more popular. It’s the No.1 most-selling blended scotch in the world.
With the complex flavors from a blend of multiple scotch whiskeys from various areas of the country, this bottle is flavorful. A rich fruity, vanilla, creamy toffee with a lightly smoky finish is what impresses you. You can see this bottle on most bartenders’ shelves for its complex characteristics, a perfect choice for sipping and mixing.
Compared to Black Label, the Monkey Shoulder has been underestimated.
Glenfiddich, Balvenie, and Kininvie, the three best Speyside single malt scotches are used in its blend. The peated taste of the spirit may make you frown at first. But taste deeper, soon, the apricot, plum, and caramel notes will please your buds. A perfect practice if you want to start your journey to single malt.
A Good Beginner Choice for Peated Whiskey: Black and White
Started by James Buchanan in the 1890s, Black and White Blended Scotch Whiskey is famous for its high quality and friendly price. Everybody can enjoy the peated flavor for just $15. Everybody loves it, movie makers (007), writers (Scott Fitzgerald), poets, and songwriters put this in their work.
It was the most popular scotch in the 20th century, welcomed by royal families around the globe. Though it had a hard time, luckily, Diageo brought it back to life and we can enjoy this classic old blend.
Best Irish Whiskey for Beginners: Jameson
Strength: 40% ABV
Speaking of beginner Irish whiskey, there’s only one choice, Jameson, a blended bottle that is triple distilled with pot still and bottled after at least 4-year aging. Its demanding distilling and aging give incredible smoothness and lighter taste.
For beginners, you may be scared away by the extremely alcoholic smell when you pour some drops of Jameson. Aggressive and strong liquor, that’s most people’s first impression when they put Jameson close to the nose.
However, when you venture to take a sip of Jameson, you will be surprised. That expected hard, spicy, and burning taste never shows up. Instead, a smooth mouthfeel is what you can feel.
Then, a clear and fresh taste of malt, vanilla, and fruity. A mixed taste of ripe citrus, banana, and a bit plummy.
Unlike bourbons and scotches, Jameson is never spicy, peppery, or smoky at all. Freshness is the characteristic.
$20 for a fresh, smooth, and fruity whiskey. Deal!
Best Japanese Whiskeys: Suntory Whisky Toki
The Japanese “re-created” scotch.
In 1870, they started to make whiskeys. What they aimed was to create a whiskey that was less hard for Asians who couldn’t handle the peated, smoky, and thick taste of scotch. They did that.
Based on scotches, they made light, smooth Japanese whiskeys with various grains. For Japanese whiskeys, you can find single malts (similar to scotch), blended, corn (similar to bourbons), and rice (like soju, but whiskey legally).
So, if you ask me the best beginner Japanese whiskey, well, no answer for that.
We can start from the cheap ones though, like Suntory Whisky Toki, a blend of malt and grain whiskey of Suntory’s Yamazaki, Hakushu, and Chita. Before you buy an expensive Yamazaki or Hakushu bottle, the Toki is a good entry for around $45.
Another thing about Japanese whiskeys is that quite a large amount of old whiskey drinkers in the US hate them.
First of all, they all taste lighter. “Tasteless” is a word coming out of their mouths often.
The second thing is the cost. Japanese whiskeys are expensive because of taxes (inevitable) and high set prices.
Still, Japanese whiskeys are pretty popular among younger whiskey consumers for their exquisite packaging and unique oriental flavors.
Should whiskey be drunk neatJack Rob2022-09-08T07:11:37+00:00
Yes, if you want to taste the real flavors of whiskeys, you should drink them neat. By doing so, try to sense the woody, spicy, and other flavors like smoky, peated, floral, fruity, salty, grassy, and earthy.
Also, whiskeys are matured in barrels. For instance, bourbons are aged in charred oak barrels. Take a sip of bourbon, and try to taste a smoky oaky flavor.
As for scotch whiskeys, different distillers will barrel their liquors in different casks, including American bourbon barrels, Spanish Orlosso casks, sherried barrels, and port casks. Some whiskeys will even be aged in two barrels early or late.
What to Mix (and Not Mix) with WhiskeyJack Rob2022-09-08T07:02:55+00:00
You can mix whiskeys with juices, alcohol, syrup, honey, milk, and water.
Juices like apple, kiwi, orange, lemon, lime, pear, peach, and grape juices ease the drink, making it softer and easier to drink, also, adding a fresh fruity taste.
A lot of cocktails use milk, alcohol, syrup, and honey to make the whiskey tasty. You can check the receipts online and make your own cocktails at home.
When whiskeys are too strong for you, water helps you cut them down and make them easier to drink, though this also waters down the flavors of the drink. Also, adding a few drops of water is believed to help release the flavor of whiskey, making it tastier.
You should not mix whiskeys with energy drinks, cough syrup, coffee, and extracts. There’re components that will make the drinks toxic.
Can you drink 100% alcohol?Jack Rob2022-09-07T07:52:40+00:00
No, you can’t. 100% alcohol is also called rubbing alcohol. It’s mostly used as a cleaner and disinfectant. Researches show that 90% to 100% alcohol will burn the esophagus. And even if you try to water it down to something lower than 90% and drink it, there’s a higher chance for you to block out and die. 1 to 3 ounces of 100% alcohol can get you drunk, 8 ounces will kill you or at least, burn your inners.
Which alcohol is most powerful?Jack Rob2022-09-07T07:51:41+00:00
The world’s strongest liquor is Spirytus Stawski, a Polish vodka that has 96% strength. You must not drink it directly. It burns every part of your body that it passes, your tongue, throat, and stomach.
Which is better: Scotch or Bourbon?Rio Emperio2022-08-18T09:34:43+00:00
Well, this will depend on the drinkers’ preference. Bourbon is somewhat sweet while scotch has a bit of smokiness. In terms of nutrition, both spirits are the same. But both are made from different grains, which is why they taste different.
Is whisky and bourbon the same thing?Rio Emperio2022-08-23T02:59:14+00:00
No, they’re not the same thing. Whiskey is the name for an alcoholic beverage that’s made from grains, aged in oak(or other wood barrels), and bottled. And bourbon is a branch of whiskey, the full name of it is America bourbon whiskey. It’s a kind of whiskey made in the US that followed a series of processes and standards.
To warp up, all bourbons are whiskey, and whiskey is not bourbon.