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The Best Sipping Whiskey to Enjoy Right Now

The Best Sipping Whiskey to Enjoy Right Now

Whiskey (or “whisky,” as some countries prefer the spelling) is an iconic cocktail ingredient as the base for Old Fashioneds, Manhattans and other classics. But it’s also ideal for sipping straight, whether neat or adjusted with a splash of water or a cube of ice.

The grain-based spirit, which encompasses variations depending on where it’s made, is produced worldwide. In some regions, the mash bill (recipe of grains) is strictly regulated. For example, in the United States, bourbon must be at least 51% corn, while rye must be at least 51% grain. Meanwhile, single malts, particularly Scotland’s Scotch, are all or mostly malted barley. Irish whiskey, Canadian, Tennessee whiskey and Japanese whisky, among others, all boast characteristics that set them apart from one another.

But while each of these whiskeys has distinctive nuances, they have much in common, too. In particular, the flavors often spotlight the underlying grains and the contributions of barrel aging, specifically vanilla and caramel tones and spice. (Note: whiskey also includes some unaged variations, like America’s moonshine or white whiskey.)

But what makes a whiskey suitable for sipping? According to the pros, it’s about finding a spirit that you want to spend a little time with.

What Is the Best Sipping Whiskey?

“The best sipping whiskeys are ones that are either soft or bold,” says Tyler Naumann, director of restaurants at Austin’s Loren Hotel at Lady Bird Lake. “Soft in the sense that you can enjoy a glass without it being too invasive to your senses. Bold in the sense that it triggers you to evaluate flavors. Anything that falls in the middle is distracting.”

Robin Robinson, author of The Complete Whiskey Course, adds that a sipping whiskey “should be familiar, like a favorite chair or piece of clothing, something you put on easily and feel immediately at home with.” Further, “it should call to mind a special place or time in your life with a friend or loved one—and all the better if they’re there sipping it with you.”

What’s the Right Way to Enjoy Sipping Whiskey?

Sipping neat is a good introduction to whiskey, but it isn’t necessarily the smoothest experience. Adding a splash (or more) of water or an ice cube to chill and melt slowly can help mellow the edge of higher-proof whiskeys, as well as unlock additional nuance in the aroma and flavor. Traditional orders like “bourbon and branch water” and “whiskey and water” have evolved for good reason.

Is Single-Malt Scotch the Only Sipping Whiskey?

Hardly. While single-malt Scotch is a beautiful thing, it’s not the only one worthy of sipping straight. Frankly, it’s a misperception that since many single malts are relatively rare or expensive the category equals the “best” bottle. In fact, quite a few people prefer to enjoy smooth blended Scotch, which combines distillate from multiple Scotch distilleries. And if it’s single malt you seek, consider giving American single malts and bottles from around the world a pour.

Are these the only whiskeys we recommend for sipping? Of course not. But these selections are an excellent starting point.

The Best Bourbon for Sipping

Barrell Vantage

Barrell has long focused on blending and creative cask finishes; this is no different, with a mix of straight bourbons distilled in Indiana, Tennessee and Kentucky, finished in Japanese Mizunara, French oak, and toasted American oak, and bottled at cask strength. Oak and maple aromas mingle with a hint of apricot. The big, bold palate suggests honey drizzled over stone fruit, while lemon-peel brightens the clove-accented finish. 94 Points  — Kara Newman 

Total Wine

The Best Rye for Sipping

A Midwinter Nights Dram Act 9

The ninth annual release of this blend of straight rye whiskies, this year finished in ruby and tawny Port barrels, is as excellent as ever. Toffee and espresso aromas include a faint spearmint whiff. Oak, toffee, and dried cherry lead the palate; a splash of water brings out an intriguing leathery note and hints of plum skin and dried cranberry tartness. The final exhale channels dark chocolate-covered dried cherries, finishing with echoes of menthol and clove. 96 Points  — K.N.

Total Wine

The Best Scotch for Sipping

The Dalmore 15 Years Old

Red fruit and allspice aromas lead into a big, punchy palate. Each sip opens rich, with smoked cherry, vanilla bean, dried fig and chocolate-covered caramels. It finishes dry, with cigar wrapper, leather and a hint of clove. To be clear, the effect is dry but never austere: think comfy leather chairs and indulgent cigars. Finished in a variety of sherry casks. 94 Points  — K.N.

Total Wine

The Best Irish Whiskey for Sipping

Redbreast 12 Year Old Irish Whiskey

Sip or mix a first-rate toddy with this classic. Baked apple and pear notes mingle with caramel and a light sprinkle of baking spice, leading into a long but bright finish. The flavor stands up well to dilution, making it a favorite for cocktails. 95 Points  — K.N.

Total Wine

The Best Japanese Whisky for Sipping

Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt Whisky

The luxe aroma mixes rich butterscotch and apple sweetness. On the palate, this whisky is light and gentle, interspersing fruit and smoke and finishing with a spark of cinnamon heat. Add a splash of water; recommended for sipping. 93 Points  — K.N.

Total Wine

The Best Tennessee Whiskey for Sipping

George Dickel Bottled in Bond Tennessee Whisky

This is Dickel’s second bottled-in-bond release, distilled in 2008 and released at 11 years old. Bottled at 100 proof, it’s a powerhouse of a whiskey, in terms of strength and flavor. Resounding caramel and toffee intertwine into a long, mouthwatering fade, accented with cinnamon sizzle and a hint of caramel apple. Mix into whiskey sours and other cocktails. Best Buy. 95 Points  — K.N.

Total Wine

The Best American Single Malt for Sipping

The Best Canadian Whisky for Sipping

Crown Royal 18 Extra Rare

A new release for 2022, this blended Canadian whiskey has a tawny hue and rich vanilla and maple aromas. The complex, slightly candied palate suggests almond croissant, buttery brioche, banana bread and lots of nutmeg, cardamom and cinnamon, winding into a warming finish. It’s a whole delicious bakery in a glass. 96 Points  — K.N.

Total Wine

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