This list is in no particular order. It represents a mix of rare and widely available whiskies that frequent my liquor cabinet.
Laphroaig-Perhaps no whisky is as evocative of a place as Laphroaig, albeit a place I’ve never been to. Laphroaig, Lagavulin, and Ardbeg are the “big 3” of Islay scotch, but for me Laphroaig is the quintessential. Smoky, yes, but so rich and complex beyond the initial soot. Seaweed and iodinie are common descriptors, and, in addition to the peat content, the reason most scotch fans either love it or hate it. I’ve had several of the expressions, but for me the 10 year is the most in your face, in a good way. Bonus points for being a great floater for the Penicillin cocktail.
Pappy Van Winkle 15-A rare case where something lives up to the hype. Hard to get? Yes. Worth the hunt and $$$? Yes. Pappy manages to be both fiery and gentle at 107 proof. All the roundness and softness that wheated bourbons are known for but not lacking in flavor, bite, or spice. It’s so rich that even if the stock were unlimited and cheap, this would not be an everyday pour for me. Now, every Sunday night…that I could wrap my glass around.
Old Forester Birthday Bourbon-This is a special yearly release from Brown Forman, makers of Woodford Reserve. It comes out each fall. It’s perfect for fall as it has a lot of the apple cider type flavor that Woodford has but typically at a higher proof. I usually find a bottle of Birthday Bourbon for my wife, as her b’day is around the same time. If you can't find it you could do worse than the standard Woodford Reserve offerings, which include the original 90.4 proof, Double Oaked, and now a Single Barrel Double Oaked.
The Buffalo Trace distillery makes a ton of great whiskies--including the aforementioned Pappy--but be sure not to overlook their flagship label, Buffalo Trace. The ideal everyday pour. Simple and straightforward bourbon, perfect for a Tuesday night in front of the television, or with a good book. No shame in drinking it any night though, as it does have some interest and could hold its own as a nice digestif, or with a pipe or cigar if you’re so inclined. At $25 dollars a bottle, you can’t go wrong. Use it in an Old Fashioned, or put it out at a party and not worry about those among us who mix bourbon and cola or ginger wasting your pricier pours.
Rittenhouse Rye 100 Proof Bottled in Bond
This one is hard to find at times due to the rye boom, but seems to be in good supply at the moment. For just over $20, this one is what I use all winter for making Manhattans and Old Fashioneds. And when I am running low on other stuff, I drink it neat, and am always amazed at what a solid pour this is in it’s own right. It’s spicy, and rich, has interesting chocolate notes, and is juicier than a lot of ryes. The screwtop bottle and BIB label brings coolness to the brand, and I like the name, too. Though it’s made in Kentucky, it’s a tribute to old style PA ryes. Another cult favorite rye worth a mention is Wild Turkey, but NOT the 81 proof rye. Gotta be the 101, but good luck finding it.
High West Rendezvous Rye
There are a bunch of great “sourced” whiskies, many of them ryes from LDI in Indiana. An example is WhistlePig, which puts out a great 100% rye whisky that’s fantastic. But for my money, Rendezvous is the best rye I’ve had (with the possible exceptions of the two ryes in the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, which I did not include on this list for purposes of length). Rendezvous is spicy and minty and so pleasant. The cheaper rye they put out, Double Rye, is similar in profile but not as good on the whole. Another interesting whisky from High West is Campfire, a blend of scotch, rye, and bourbon, but if I could only have one bottle of High West in my cabinet it would probably be the Rendezvous.
Four Roses Single Barrel
This one has been climbing my ladder of favorites for some time. It's replaced Woodford Reserve as my favorite whisky in the $30-40 range. It’s so juicy and rich, yet floral and delicate. Rich, honeyed mouthfeel, a bit of brown sugar and cinnamon spice, and a nice soft finish. There are specialty bottlings of this as well. I had a store selected barrel bottled at a higher proof. It was nice, but I think the standard 100 proof widely available bottling was better. A little out of my budget for an everyday pour, but has the right mix of mellow and complex to be in the regular rotation.
The Balvenie I’ve had most frequently is the DoubleWood, due to price constraints. But I’ve also had the Caribbean Cask, Single Barrel 15, and a friend was generous enough to share some of the 21 year old PortWood finish. All fantastic whiskies, with a great house style. Like honey in a glass. A great scotch that oozes luxury not only in concept and packaging, but in the contents of the glass.
George T. Stagg
A yearly staple of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, this beast of a bourbon is hard to come by but will knock your socks off if you can find it. Did you ever have the concentrate of a fruit juice? To me, Stagg is like bourbon concentrate. All of the classic bourbon flavors of vanilla, caramel, spice, and oak, ramped up a notch (or 2 or 3 notches.). Even more so than Pappy, this is not an everyday pour, regardless of availability. Just too overwhelming. For those of you more into scotch, Aberlour A'bunadh may be the counterpart to Stagg across the pond. It's big and rich and high proof, as well. There are other cask strength whiskies that are easier to come by than George T. Stagg. Stagg Jr. came out last year and will probably come out again. Also Elijah Craig 12 year Cask Strength was a bargain at $40. Tons of flavor, hoping that one will be a yearly release.
What are some of your favorites?