Top 7 Whiskey Bottles to Start Your Collection With
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Buying Great Whiskey Doesn’t Have To Be Tough; 7 Great Bottles to Start Your Collection With

The world of whiskey is wide and deep, regardless of your particular tastes. Between scotch whisky and the American whiskey types such as bourbon and rye, there’s an undeniable plethora of options, and there’s never been a better time to dive in. Here’s a guide to buying bourbon, rye and scotch for every level of whiskey drinker.

For the Whiskey Newbie: Basil Hayden Bourbon

Basil Hayden, produced by Jim Beam in Clermont, Kentucky, serves as an excellent introduction to the world of Bourbon Whiskey. You may recognize other names from the Beam catalog: brands like Booker’s, Knob Creek, Jim Beam and more. 

As far as the family tree goes, Basil Hayden was created as an extra old bottling of Jim Beam, meant to deliver extra flavor and complexity but at an approachable proof. An easy bottle to begin sipping neat, Basil Hayden also works well in whiskey-forward cocktails such as an Old Fashioned or a traditional Kentucky Lemonade. 

If you enjoy Basil Hayden and want an immediate upgrade to flavor (and proof!), Knob Creek and Baker’s both have your back.

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The Classic Bourbon Lover: Woodford Reserve

While slightly more expensive than Basil, Woodford Reserve brings a sweeter, oakier profile to your pour. Distilled by the Brown-Forman group, Woodford Reserve sits alongside Old Forester in the Kentucky portfolio for the brand. With a touch more tannin, plenty of maple, vanilla and toffee, there’s a reason Woodford Reserve is the presenting whiskey partner of the Kentucky Derby each May.

Woodford Reserve is the frontrunner for bourbon distilled by Brown-Forman in Kentucky, and it shows. Crafted under Chris Morris’ watchful eye, each special edition from the distillery draws on the success of the classic Woodford Reserve blend of whiskey. As a result, Woodford is the perfect sipper for classic bourbon lovers and those who are looking for a touch more flavor in every pour. 

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The Cigar Connoisseur: Angel’s Envy

For a sweeter, dessertier pour, look no further than Angel’s Envy. There is perhaps no better widely available whiskey to pair with a cigar. Angel’s Envy is a great summer sip neat or on the rocks. Less common in American whiskey than in Scotch, Angel’s Envy spends time aging in a standard, charred oak barrel and then is transferred to Port wine barrels for a couple of months of finishing.

This finishing time sees the Port wine influence the bourbon, bringing notes of blackberry, honey, tobacco and toffee. Finishing whiskey in wine barrels is a newer approach being taken in the whiskey industry, but it’s begun to take off thanks to the pathfinding efforts of brands like Angel’s Envy. 

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The Quintessential Rye: Wild Turkey 101 Rye

It’s a bold statement, but I’ll go ahead and make it: If there’s only one rye you need on your shelf, it’s Wild Turkey 101 Rye. “Jack of All Trades” is an overused term, but it couldn’t be truer here. 

Distilled by Bruce, Eddie and Jimmy Russell in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, Wild Turkey’s legacy for making great whiskey is almost as old as the modern era of American Whiskey itself. Previously a hard-to-find release, I’m thankful that Wild Turkey and its corporate entity, Campari, have put some serious steam into making Wild Turkey 101 Rye available again. Bottled at 50.5% ABV, this rye whiskey has plenty of kick to keep your Boulevardier or Manhattan drinking as it should. A neat pour is an inviting experience with layers and layers of sweet cream, honey, clove and tobacco: a pure rye spice experience. Finally, throwing it on a large ice cube for the summer won’t dilute it down to whiskey-water the first time you turn your back. The best part? For $32, this high-proof, master of all whiskey should be the cornerstone of your new whiskey collection. 

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Big Bold Flavors: Balcones Limited Edition Single Cask Rye (ReserveBar Exclusive)

It’s no secret that Texas Whiskey can sometimes be polarizing. Honestly, it took me years to find a bottle from the vast selection of expressions that crossed my desk that impressed me. Distilled by Balcones in Texas and bottled especially for ReserveBar, this was the Texan spirit that shone after years of hunting, and even more surprising: it was a Rye. 

As noted with Wild Turkey’s 101 Rye, this subset of American Whiskey is known for being bold, spicy, barrel-driven and, instinctually, never short on flavor. Possessing a wide, interesting, and delicious whiskey selection on hand these days requires far more than just Kentucky whiskey, and there’s no flavor profile more at the other end of the flavor wheel spectrum than this Texas product. This bold, syrupy, punchy, powerful rye whiskey features lots of barrel char, peppercorns, molasses, and toffee notes with a long, earthy finish. A perfect yin to Wild Turkey’s yang, Balcones will never leave you short on flavor.  

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An Intro to Single Malt Scotch: GlenDronach 12 Year

Every budding whisk(e)y shelf needs a bottle of scotch whisky to grace its presence, and there are few distilleries that can combine pedigree, quality, value and dashing good looks in quite the same way as a Whiskey Raiders favorite like GlenDronach. 

An undeniable leader in the category of lightly and heavily sherried whiskies (its single malt matures in sherry casks rather than just barrels that used to hold bourbon), even GlenDronach’s entry-level 12-Year-Old is a must-have for whiskey drinkers old and new. Blending crisp apple, sweet malt, spicy tobacco and a rich, stewed fruit character, if there’s one single malt to make the introduction to Scotland, you’re looking at it here. 

If you’re already a fan and looking to take that next step and invest a few more dollars into your drams, GlenDronach 15 Year and Speyburn 18 Year Old are absolute stunners and won’t break the bank. 

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Peat Lovers: Laphroaig 10 Year

There are few sensations like a good adventure, and whisky fans would be remiss to overlook Laphroaig 10, perhaps the most boldly flavored whisky to come across our desk. 

Distilled on the isle of Islay in Scotland, Laphroaig features a heavily peated whisky style. Its barley is first cold smoked with peat, then roasted, fermented and distilled. The result is a shockingly affordable whisky with a flavor profile like few others. Rich lemon butter, barbecue smoked ribs, diesel, coal, iodine and briny sea air come together to produce a single malt that will leave no drinker without an opinion. 

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No matter the direction you choose, buying whiskey can feel like a real chore, especially with a variety of good options to choose from and many more pitfalls to mistakenly select. Whether you’re starting your home bar, trying to select a winner for a friend or colleague, making a Father’s Day selection or any other reason, we’ve got your back. Each of these great whiskeys makes a great introduction to the best you can buy today.

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Jay West, better known as t8ke across the internet and beyond, is a multi-disciplined spirits writer, media personality and above all else, drinks enthusiast. From tastings to conventions and events, you can always expect to find Jay wherever fine drinks are being served.