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Whiskeys That Deserve Way More Respect Than They Get

There are a lot of reasons why a certain whiskey might not get the respect it deserves. In some cases, you have expressions or brands that are worldwide best-sellers, but every critic and mixologist will tsk if you dare touch the stuff. In other cases, pop culture will anoint a certain bottle worth your money and shelf space, thereby eclipsing sometimes dozens of other bottles that are just as good. Maybe even better.

Then there’s the fact that the industry has such a deep bench of expressions these days, most are inevitably going to get ignored. Don’t believe us? Buffalo Trace alone has 47 whiskey varieties available at the moment with many of those getting yearly re-releases. It can be dizzying.

To help you parse out the underhyped bottles on grocery store shelves, we thought we’d call out ten bottles we think don’t get the due they’re owed. Our reasons are simple: These are bottles that a lot of people know, sure, but they’re also the bottles the gatekeepers (critics, writers, so-called aficionados, bartenders, and even whiskey drinkers) slag off more than they celebrate. So, let’s bury the negativity today and dive into bottles that deserve a little more respect the next time you’re in a bar or shopping at your local liquor store.

The ten expressions below span whiskey regions and styles. They’re all fairly easily sourceable. And they all have their merits as mixers, shooters, or sippers.

Crown Royal Fine Deluxe Blended Canadian Whisky

Crown Royal

ABV: 40%
Average Price: $28

The Whiskey:

Crown Royal is a Canadian blend that was made specifically for the arrival of the British monarchs back in the 1930s on their first visit to Canada. The blend marries 50 Canadian whiskies of varying grains and aging lengths from the 1-million-barrel Gimli aging facility in Manitoba.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a clear sense of vanilla next to ripe berries and a hint of maple syrup sweetness. The sip holds onto the vanilla and bright berries as hints of oak temper the sweeter edges of the syrup. The end is short, sweet, fruity, and lightly spicy and warm.

Bottom Line:

Canadian whisky deserves more respect in general. A great place to start is with a bottle of Crown Royal. A lot of folks use this as a mixer with Coke or ginger ale, which is perfectly fine. It also works on the rocks in a pinch and makes a decent old fashioned.

Chivas Regal 12

Chivas Regal

ABV: 40%
Average Price: $35

The Whiskey:

Chivas Regal is one of the biggest whiskies in the world, but that’s mostly outside of the U.S. The juice is a classic blend that is specifically built to be in a glass filled with rocks and maybe a splash of water.

Tasting Notes:

Cedar with hints of citrus, anise, banana, and salted caramel greet you. Creamy vanilla marries mild nutty notes as the nose carries on through the palate with hints of black pepper and malt. The finish is mellow, spicy, and creamy, albeit short.

Bottom Line:

This is a classic all-around for a highball or on the rocks. It’s a shame it gets overshadowed by bigger scotch blends (cough, cough … Walker … cough, cough) and almost ignored by bourbon fans given the vanilla, spice, caramel, and nuttiness in the body of the dram.

Black Velvet Reserve Canadian Whisky

Black Velvet

ABV: 40%
Average Price: $15

The Whiskey:

Sticking with the under-appreciated Canadian whiskies, Black Velvet Reserve is a shockingly good whisky for its price. No, it’s not the be-all-and-end-all of Canadian whisky. But it’s cheap and very drinkable. The actual juice is an Alberta spirit mostly rendered from corn and rye that’s blended before it goes into the barrel for eight long years.

Tasting Notes:

Peppery rye mingles with toasted oak, rich vanilla, and a nice dose of sweet caramel. A slight fruit note arrives — think cherry — that counterpoints the spicy rye while the oak and vanilla fade into the background. A slice of citrus arrives late and ends the finish rather abruptly, but nicely.

Bottom Line:

Look, we’re talking about a $15 bottle of whisky. It’s meant to be enjoyed with a glass of ice, mixed, or part of a highball. At the end of the day, if given the choice between something like Evan Williams — which also costs about $15 per bottle — and this, we’re going with this every time.

Jim Beam Black

Jim Beam

ABV: 43%
Average Price: $22

The Whiskey:

This bottle from Jim Beam replaced their 8-year expression but keeps the deeply well-rounded qualities of that bottle. The juice is basically Jim Beam that’s aged almost twice as long, brought down to proof with Kentucky’s famous soft limestone water, and then bottled.

Tasting Notes:

Classic notes of bourbon vanilla meet caramel, corn, and a hint of oak. This sip is the epitome of smooth. The plastic-y nature that can peek into regular Jim Beam is completely gone, leaving that vanilla, caramel, oak, light cherry fruit, and a final wisp of smoke on the very end.

Bottom Line:

Fred Noe, Beam’s iconic Master Distiller and living bourbon legend, drinks this stuff at home. We know what you’re thinking: How can we call out one of the best selling whiskey brands on the planet as not getting enough respect? Because of those sales numbers, folks tend to dismiss Beam as being too big to care about or too industrial.

It’s not. This is a damn fine workhorse bourbon for around $20. That’s a hard feat to pull off these days.

Ancient Age Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Buffalo Trace

ABV: 40%
Average Price: $13

The Whiskey:

Hailing from Buffalo Trace, this nearly-bottom-shelf bourbon is rarely cited as a bourbon you should be drinking if you want something both good and cheap. The juice is the same mash bill as Buffalo Trace’s much-lauded and beloved Blanton’s Single Barrel. Granted this is not a single barrel, but it’s the same juice that’s blended with other barrels that weren’t deemed quite good enough to become Blanton’s.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a clear note of corn up top with vanilla, caramel, and a bit of butter. The sweetness leans into toffee territory with a mild hint of spice next to a caramel corn feel. The end is cut short by a rush of citrus and you’re left with a slight warmth.

Bottom Line:

At $13, you could do a lot worse than this bottle. If you’re mixing up simple drinks, it’s a solid candidate.

It’s also better than Evan Williams. There, we said it.

Cardhu 12 Speyside Single Malt

Diageo

ABV: 40%
Average Price: $60

The Whiskey:

Cardhu is one of those little Speyside distilleries that gets lost in the shuffle very easily. The juice in this bottle is a classic malt that leans heavily into the fruitier and sweeter side of scotch single malts, as opposed to the heavily smoked side of the style.

Tasting Notes:

Spicy apple next to hints of other tropical fruits greet you. There’s a bit of butterscotch lurking in the background, with a very, very distant echo of smoke. The malts, spice, apple/pear, and sweet velvet nature linger for just the right amount of time as it fades away.

Bottom Line:

The Cardhu 11 was a big surprise in this year’s Diageo Rare by Nature collection. So this whisky squarely falls into the category of needing more respect by simply needing more recognition as something worth seeking out.

Wild Turkey Bourbon

Wild Turkey

ABV: 40.5%
Average Price: $22

The Whiskey:

This is a bottle of Turkey that eschews the higher proof of Wild Turkey 101 for a much more approachable 81 proof. The juice is classic Turkey with a high-rye mash, straight-forward maturation, and high-quality crafting.

Tasting Notes:

Stonefruit, vanilla, corn, and caramel greet you. There’s a hint of rye spice in the body with apples and mild Christmas spices. The end is short-ish with hints of that apple, corn, vanilla, and spice peaking back in.

Bottom Line:

Yes, Wild Turkey is popular. But, let’s face it, Wild Turkey is looked at as a kid’s whiskey that you abscond with for high school parties. A brand that you’re supposed to age out of. That’s bullshit, if you ask us.

This is a perfectly fine bourbon at a good price that works really well as a mixer for cocktails and highballs.

Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 Tennessee Whiskey

Jack Daniel

ABV: 40%
Average Price: $25

The Whiskey:

The beauty of Old No. 7 comes through in the process. This is a low rye whiskey (only eight percent) that goes through the famed Lincoln County Process. That’s where the whiskey is filtered — one drop at a time — through a large stack of sugar maple charcoal. This adds depth to the dram while taking off the harsher edges more associated with a young bourbon. It’s also what makes it Tennessee whiskey.

Tasting Notes:

Bananas seared in brown butter mingle with vanilla crackers and a slight corn essence. The sip adds to that with a bitter charred oak edge with a hint of spicy warmth. The end is short, full of that buttery banana, and slightly warm.

Bottom Line:

Jack Daniel’s is the best selling whiskey in the world. You’ll also always see people roll their eyes at you when you offer it to them at a bar or whiskey event. There’s just something about being number one at anything that makes people dismiss or even hate it.

Again, we call bullshit. This is perfectly fine workhorse whiskey for this price point and it has stood the test of time for a reason.

Hatozaki Pure Malt Japanese Whiskey

Hatozaki

ABV: 46%
Average Price: $65

The Whiskey:

This whisky from the Kaikyo Distillery in Akashi, Japan, is an easy-drinking blend of malt whiskies from Japan and malts imported from Scotland. The whiskies are aged in three different casks — bourbon, sherry, and Mizunara — before it’s brought down to proof and bottled.

Tasting Notes:

The malt comes through with a honeyed sweetness next to bright orchard fruits and a hint of dried wood. The fruit becomes more dried as the malts sweeten and the dried florals arrive next to a very light sense of vanilla pudding. The end is sweet and slow, with a final billow of spicy tobacco smoke.

Bottom Line:

You could probably insert almost any Japanese whisky in this slot as deserving of more respect from American whiskey drinkers. Still, Hatozaki is a fine blend of malts that offers a chance to take a light dip into the style. It’s also a great candidate for a highball.

Bernheim Original Wheat Whiskey

Heaven Hill

ABV: 45%
Average Price: $32

The Whiskey:

While wheated bourbons are all the rage at the moment (Pappy and Weller being the most sought-after examples), wheat whiskies have not quite hit as resoundingly … yet. Bernheim Original Wheat Whiskey — from Heaven Hill — flips the script and uses mostly winter wheat that’s supported by small doses of corn and malted barley. The juice is then aged for seven years in new oak.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a honey sweetness that works well with the grain and vanilla on the nose. The sip hits on notes of spice, bright berries, and buttery toffee with a velvet body. The end brings about round toasted oakiness with a little more of the spice and buttery toffee as it fades across the senses.

Bottom Line:

This whiskey is starting to win big awards and will be popping up a lot more soon, especially given its accessible price point. Try it now! Use it as a cocktail base or on the rocks.

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