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Our Tasting Notes On The Best-Selling Whiskies In The U.S.

The whiskey market has been growing healthily for years now. Like beer, that has led to a wide range of superb craft options springing up in every corner of the country. The thing is, craft whiskey is still relatively niche and locally-driven. When you do see a smaller whiskey brand on the mainstream market, it often means they were bought out or signed a distribution deal. Even still, the vast, vast majority of whiskey sold in the U.S. comes from the big-name brands that have instant label recognition.

You probably already know the names of all the best-selling whiskeys in America, is what we’re saying. Here’s a better question: Do you know how the best-selling whiskeys in the U.S. taste? Do they live up to the hype? Are we crazy for buying them en masse? We decided today was the day to find out.

The whiskeys listed below are the ten that industry watchers name as the “best-selling” in the U.S. market. There are some “huh?” whiskeys on this list (they might be different for you, depending on where you live) next to old-school, well-known classics. After sharing what distillers and blenders say these whiskeys should taste like, we compare them with our notes and rate whether they hold up.

10. Johnnie Walker Scotch Whiskey

ABV: 40%
Distillery: Various Scottish Distilleries (Diageo)
Average Price: $38.99

Distiller’s Tasting Notes:

“Nose: Take in the luxurious scent of rich and tropical dark fruits with hints of sweet vanilla. Palate: Savor the depth of flavor developed from maturation in oak casks, combined with creamy toffee notes that come from grain whiskies. Finish: This iconic whisky delivers a smooth and warming smoke finish, characteristic of all Johnnie Walker whiskies.”

Our Take:

We’re using Johnnie Black for this exercise since A) it’s blended as a sipping whisky and B) it’s one of the best-selling whiskies in the whole damn world. Does it hold up? For the most part, yes. There’s certainly a sense of slightly tropical fruits and vanilla but it’s not pronounced. There are echoes of smoke, oak, and malts with a clear sweetness that you could argue is toffee. None of it overpowers or really takes you deep into those senses though.

Overall, this is a very easy-drinking entry-level blended scotch that works perfectly in a highball with a nice, fizzy mineral water.

9. Black Velvet Canadian Whisky

ABV: 40%
Distillery: Black Velvet Distillery, Lethbridge, AB (Heaven Hill)
Average Price: $10.99

Distiller’s Tasting Notes:

“Remarkably smooth with hints of caramel, vanilla, coconut, and rye spiciness.”

Our Take:

“Remarkably” is a strong word to use here. Full disclosure, I have a soft spot for this Canadain whisky. My grandmother’s go-to drink was Pepsi and Rye with Black Velvet, and we shared a lot of them. Rye spice and coconut definitely stand out when BV is taken uncut. The caramel has a grainy and slightly saccharine edge while the vanilla is there but a bit muddled by the alcohol.

This is a hot whisky that’s not for the faint of heart if taken straight. On the rocks, it’s surprisingly tolerable. Cut with cola, this going to go down almost too easily.

8. Evan Williams Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

ABV: 43%
Distillery: Heaven Hill, Bardstown, KY
Average Price: $13.99

Distiller’s Tasting Notes:

“Nose: Light with deep vanilla and mint. Taste: Notes of oak, brown sugar, and caramel. Finish: Medium to long.”

Our Take:

This whiskey really does hit the marks it lays out. There’s a clear sense of bourbon vanilla and the mint does tingle a bit in the background. The sugar is probably the most prominent note as the oak char adds a slight dryness. The finish is warm, a little spicy, and certainly lingers (the classic “Kentucky hug”).

This is an easy shot with a beer back at any dive bar happy hour. It works on the rocks too or as a Mint Julep base. It’s also a lot cheaper than Jack if you want to cut it with a sugary soda or fizzy water.

7. Seagram’s 7 Crown American Blended Whiskey

ABV: 40%
Distillery: Seven Crown Distilling Company, Norwalk, CT (Diageo)
Average Price: $14.99

Distiller’s Tasting Notes:

“Nose: Alluring, clean, and crisp with a hint of citrus. Taste: Smooth sweet taste. Finish: Creamy vanilla finish.”

Our Take:

It’s hard to get behind these tasting notes, to be honest. While Seagram’s 7 is definitely a palatable blended whiskey, it has some rough edges. There’s a lot of vanilla that, when added to 7-Up, creates a sort of boozy cream soda. Admittedly, that quality has its charms. But on its own, that vanilla is covered up by hot and astringent alcohol with more of a plastic butterscotch wrapper edge than anything else.

7&7 is a classic cocktail for a reason. Stick with that and don’t sip this neat.

6. Maker’s Mark Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

ABV: 45%
Distillery: Maker’s Mark Distillery, Loreto, KY (Beam Suntory)
Average Price: $29.99

Distiller’s Tasting Notes:

“Aroma: Woody oak, caramel, vanilla, and wheat prevail in the nose. Taste: Sweet and balanced with caramel, vanilla, and fruity essences. Finish: Smooth and subtle.”

Our Take:

Oak is a great place to start with Maker’s. There’s always a fair amount upfront that carries straight on through to the end. Classic notes of vanilla and caramel dominate as a mild sense of sharp wheat spiciness and dark fruit linger.

Thanks to those spices and fruit, this works well in Manhattans. It’s also very quaffable as a highball with some good mineral water and a lime wedge.

5. Jameson Irish Whiskey

ABV: 40%
Distillery: Irish Distillers (Pernod Ricard)
Average Price: $29.99

Distiller’s Tasting Notes:

“Nose: Smooth and mellow. Taste: The perfect balance of spicy, nutty, and vanilla notes with hints of sweet sherry and exceptional smoothness.”

Our Take:

Mellow is a great describer for this triple distilled Irish tipple. For the most part, this sip lives up to its promises. There’s a clear sense of vanilla thanks to the ex-bourbon barrels. The spiciness and nuttiness are in the background with a note of florals. The plummy end is subtle but there.

This is a very easy whiskey to drink. Mineral water, ginger ale, on the rocks, a shot, or cocktail base, it’s really dealer’s choice.

4. Jim Beam Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

ABV: 40%
Distillery: Jim Beam Distillery, Clermont, KY (Beam Suntory)
Average Price: $17.84

Distiller’s Tasting Notes:

“Aroma: Oaky vanilla, spicy backdrop. Flavor: Medium-bodied, mellow hints of caramel, and vanilla.”

Our Take:

Yeah. This is a classic and simple bourbon that gets the job done. It’s the bedrock for which a lot of other bourbons are built: caramel, oak, vanilla, mild spice, alcohol warmth, maybe a brief nod to an apple orchard, leading to a short finish with a little more oak.

This is a great utility bourbon to have on hand. While we would use more refined versions of Beam’s line for cocktails, this pretty much works for every other drinking variation.

3. Fireball Cinnamon Whisky

ABV: 33%
Distillery: Various Canadian Distilleries (Sazerac Company)
Average Price: $17.99

Company’s Tasting Notes:

“…Imagine what it feels like to stand face-to-face with a fire-breathing dragon who just ate a whisky barrel full of spicy cinnamon.”

Our Take:

Red Hots covered in cinnamon syrup is the best way to describe this. It’s sweet and, yes, cinnamon-y but more in an artificial flavor way. The lower ABV does help it be a little easier to shoot when last call comes around. But just beware of the sugar crash the next day.

2. Crown Royal Canadian Blended Whisky

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ABV: 40%
Distillery: Gimli, Manitoba & Amherstburg, Ontario (Diageo)
Average Price: $28.99

Distiller’s Tasting Notes:

“Nose: Rich and robust, with slight hints of vanilla and fruit. Palate: Delicately smooth and creamy with hints of oak and the sweet flavor of vanilla. Finish: Long and lingering.”

Our Take:

This hits pretty close to what the distillers say. There’s a subtle sense of orchard fruit, honey, and vanilla. Oak is definitely there with an almost dry sense of char and, dare we say, bitterness? There’s a slightly rough edge to the alcohol warmth that’s not harsh enough to be off-putting.

Again, this is a great utility whisky to have around. Try it on the rocks and go from there.

1. Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey

ABV: 40%
Distillery: Jack Daniel’s Distillery, Lynchburg, TN (Brown-Forman)
Average Price: $24.99

Distiller’s Tasting Notes:

“Balance of sweet and oaky flavor.”

Our Take:

It’s kind of hilarious that “balance of sweet and oaky flavor” is all that Jack Daniel’s puts out there. Respect to the God. There’s a definite sense of wood, vanilla, caramel, and bananas to go with those understated distiller notes. The wood carries through to the end with a slight hint of spice, florals, and more banana as the dram ends pretty abruptly.

Swig it from the bottle like a rock star, shoot it at a happy hour, drink it on the rocks, Jack and Coke, Lynchburg Lemonade, Jack and Ginger, Jack and Soda … there are a lot of applications for this one.

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