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A Whiskey Writer Breaks Down The Bottles He Always Keeps On His Bar Cart

Christopher Osburn has spent the past fifteen years in search of “the best” — or at least his very favorite — sips of whisk(e)y on earth. He’s traveled to over 20 countries testing local spirits, visited more than 50 distilleries around the globe, and amassed a collection of bottles that occupies his entire basement (and infuriates his wife).
In this series, he cracks open his worn “tasting diary” and shares its contents with the masses.

If you’re anything like me, you like to keep a well-stocked bar cart. But picking the right bottles isn’t always easy. You need to have a nice mix of lower-end expressions to use for cocktails as well as a few higher-end picks for slow sipping neat or over ice. Eventually, you’ll want to have multiple bottles of rum, tequila, various whisk(e)ys, gin, and vodka on hand. You’ll need a few mixers, too.

Today we’re going to help with your all-important whisk(e)y selections. I’ve listed ten bottles from the main categories/regions of whisk(e)y. I keep them all on my personal bar cart, but I’m also a whiskey writer. You’ll probably want to just pick one or two to get you rolling.

If you want to grab any of these up without leaving home, click on the prices to give them a shot!

Single Malt Scotch — GlenDronach 12 Year

best whiskeys for home bar cart
GlenDronach

ABV: 43%

Average Price: $67

The Whisky:

If you’re going to have a single malt on your bar cart, it should be GlenDronach 12. This non-chill filtered highland malt is aged in both Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez sherry butts from Spain. The result is a truly special whisky that leans into what makes sweeter scotches so enticing.

Tasting Notes:

Take a moment to give this whisky a proper nosing and you’ll find aromas of sweet cinnamon, dried apricots, and brown sugar. The sip delivers notes of buttery caramel, sweet cherries, toasted marshmallows, and a subtle nutty sweetness. The last drop is warming, long, and ends with a final kiss of sweet treacle.

Bottom Line:

Sherry has a long history in Scotch whisky (sweet and smoky alike). One of the best for the money and most easily findable is GlenDronach 12. Buy one bottle and this will instantly become your go-to sipper.

Straight Rye — WhistlePig 10

WhistlePig

ABV: 50%

Average Price: $84

The Whiskey:

WhistlePig is truly an international whiskey. This rye whiskey is first distilled and aged in Canada before being matured again in Vermont at WhistlePig’s farm. It spends a total of ten years in the barrel, giving it a nice combination of peppery rye and sweet caramel.

Tasting Notes:

On the nose, you’ll find hints of toasted marshmallows, berries, charred oak, and peppery rye. On the palate, you’re gonna get flavors of allspice, sticky toffee pudding, creamy vanilla, and a nice kick of peppery rye to finish it all off. The end isn’t too long but definitely settles in your senses with all that spicy warmth and sweet nuances that make it so popular.

Bottom Line:

There’s a reason WhistlePig has almost universal name recognition and so many awards. It’s a special rye whiskey that deserves a spot in your mixing and sipping rotation.

Straight Bourbon — Old Forester 86

Old Forester

ABV: 43%

Average Price: $23

The Whiskey:

There are a ton of bourbons we could put here. But we believe Old Forester’s entry-level bourbon is the right pick. It’s made up of 72 percent corn, 18 percent rye, and ten percent malted barley. That classic mash bill gives the juice a perfect, well-rounded flavor just as suitable for mixing into your favorite cocktails as drinking neat.

Tasting Notes:

Before taking a sip, breathe in the scents of caramel corn, brown sugar, and dried fruits. The first sip yields buttery caramel, molasses, charred oak, and a nice hint of spicy cinnamon. The finish is long, warming, and ends with a note of sweet brown sugar.

Bottom Line:

Old Forester 86 is a high-quality, reasonably priced bourbon that’ll suit any bar cart. It’s on par with the likes of Buffalo Trace, Maker’s Mark, and Bulleit but a little cheaper (and pretty easy to find).

Blended Scotch Whisky — Monkey Shoulder

Monkey Shoulder

ABV: 43%

Average Price: $35

The Whisky:

Your bar cart needs a good, blended whisky. Monkey Shoulder is a blend of whiskies from three Speyside distilleries in the William Grant portfolio — known widely for single malt classics like Glenfiddich, The Balvenie, and Kininvie. This blend is noted for its easy-to-drink and easy-to-mix flavor profile.

Tasting Notes:

On the nose, you’ll likely get hints of dried orange peel, cinnamon, charred oak, and sweet vanilla. Take a sip and you’ll be immersed in a world of clover honey, caramelized sugar, dried fruits, and winter spices. The finish is medium in length and ends with a final flourish of oak and caramel.

Bottom Line:

Monkey Shoulder will become your go-to cocktail mixer. Use it for penicillin, Scotch sours, and rusty nails — or any other cocktail that you’re hankering for.

Tennessee Whiskey — George Dickel No. 8

George Dickel

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $22

The Whisky:

For a long time, there was only one name in the Tennessee whiskey landscape: Jack Daniel’s. But for me, it’s George Dickel that I want on my bar cart. Its No. 8 is its flagship whiskey. Made by Master Distiller Nicole Austin, the whiskey is known for its double distillation, charcoal mellowing (the famed Lincoln County Process), and high-corn flavor.

Tasting Notes:

Take a moment to breathe in the aromas of charred oak, subtle vanilla, and spicy cinnamon. The palate is piled high with notes of butter cookies, allspice, and creamy caramel. A nice, warming finish of subtle cinnamon and brown sugar closes things out peacefully.

Bottom Line:

If you’re looking for something from Tennessee, Dickel will not disappoint. This easily findable whiskey is cheap, sweet, and perfect for mixing.

Japanese Whisky — Mars Shinshu Iwai 45

Mars Shinshu

ABV: 45%

Average Price: $40

The Whisky:

There are much better-known Japanese brands than Mars Shinshu, but most of them are also a lot more expensive. This offering has gained a following in the last few years because of its well-balanced, fruity flavor that appeals to scotch, Japanese whisky, and bourbons fans.

Tasting Notes:

On the nose, you’re met with scents of caramel apples, dried fruits, and sweet vanilla. The palate swims in brown sugar, creamy caramel, sweet chocolate, and sticky toffee pudding depths. The finish is long, filled with pleasing heat, and ends with a nice final note of caramelized sugar.

Bottom Line:

If you’re going to add a Japanese whisky to your rotation, grab a bottle of Mars Shinshu Iwai 45 before demand drives up the price. The whisky really highlights the subtlety of the style while also serving a solid mixer and sipper.

Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon — Old Grand-Dad Bonded

Jim Beam

ABV: 50%

Average Price: $20

The Whiskey:

Ask any bartender for a bargain, bottled-in-bond selection and they’ll mention Old Grand-Dad. A member of Jim Beam’s “The Olds” expressions (along with Old Overholt Rye and Old Crow), this bonded bourbon is a must-have for your bar cart because of its versatility and mixability thanks to a slightly higher ABV and a hefty rye measure in the mash bill.

Tasting Notes:

Your nose will be greeted with hints of candied orange peels, toasted vanilla beans, and a big ol’ dose of charred wood. The palate is a menagerie of crème Brulee, citrus zest, buttery caramel, and, to finish, a subtle dose of cracked black pepper.

Bottom Line:

It’s always good to have a high-proof whiskey in your bar cart for mixing into old fashioneds, Manhattans, whiskey sours, and every other mixed drink you enjoy. This also works well on the rocks or with a splash of Coca-Cola or ginger ale.

Peated Single Malt — Lagavulin 16

Lagavulin

ABV: 43%

Average Price: $100

The Whisky:

It should be noted that peated whisky isn’t for everyone. It’s smoky, rich, and a little over-the-top for some drinkers. If you already enjoy peated scotch, we think you can’t do much better (for the price) than Lagavulin 16. While it is squarely in the peat arena, it still has a complex mix of whisky notes that keep us coming back again and again.

Tasting Notes:

On the nose, you’ll find scents of herbal tea, sweet vanilla, and a healthy dose of rich peat smoke (think a campfire by the beach). The sip serves up notes of dried cherries, raisins, and sweet treacle. A final, warming gulp of brine, peat, and smoky charred oak comes at the close.

Bottom Line:

If you’re a fan of smoky whisky, you should have a bottle of a Lagavulin 16. It’s a nice, smoky, warming dram on a cool night. If you’re not a fan of smoky whisky (or not sure), this is still a good place to enter the peaty side of the whisky world.

Canadian Whisky — Pike Creek 10-Year-Old

Pike Creek

ABV: 42%

Average Price: $35

The Whisky:

Historically, Canada hasn’t received much respect in the whisky world (even though the much-beloved WhistlePig is mostly Canadian whisky … go figure). That’s been changing over the past few years, thanks to a handful of distillers, tasters, and blenders cranking out award-winning expressions. Pike Creek 10 is one of those offerings. It’s aged for ten years before being finished in rum barrels.

Tasting Notes:

Give this whisky a proper nosing and you’ll find notes of spicy rye, sweet caramel, and a nice, nutty sweetness. Take a sip and you’ll be treated to hints of creamy vanilla, spicy cinnamon, allspice, and a nice, gentle, sweet rum finish.

Bottom Line:

If you want to up your Canadian whisky game, grab a bottle of this complex, highly sippable expression. It’s also a very affordable whisky, with a lot going on — making it a great workhorse whisky for your mixing and sipping.

Irish Whiskey — Teeling Small Batch

Teeling

ABV: 46%

Average Price: $40

The Whiskey:

Teeling is a big name in the Irish whiskey world. Its Small Batch is their flagship expression. This blend of grain and malt whiskeys is aged in ex-bourbon casks before finishing in rum barrels. The result is a well-rounded, sweet, smooth whiskey that belongs in a permanent position on your bar cart.

Tasting Notes:

On the nose, you’ll be greeted with aromas of baked apples, dried fruits, cinnamon, and orange peels. The palate is ripe with creamy custard, lemon zest, cooking spices, and buttery caramel. The finish is long, warming, and ends with a final note of brown sugar and spice.

Bottom Line:

Always keep a reasonably priced Irish whiskey like Teeling Small Batch on hand for sipping, mixed drinks, and a classic Irish coffee.


As a Drizly affiliate, Uproxx may receive a commission pursuant to certain items on this list.

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