VineRoutes on Threads

Buyer’s Guide: 18 world whiskies to try

May 17, 2024
From the US and Canada, to Ireland, Scotland and Japan, Tod Stewart has curated this ‘sip list’ of some of his favourite world whiskies

A dram fine day. “World Whisky Day” lands on the third Saturday in May each year. But do we really need a specific “day” to celebrate whisk(e)y? Here are some VineRoutes recommended selections you might want to consider (% alc./vol. is given when the spirit exceeds 46%):


BourbonThose who find typical American bourbons too heavy and aggressive should consider a shot (or two) of Basil Hayden Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey ($60). Made from the legally required 51 percent corn, the mashbill for this elegant number contains a fairly high amount of rye, which adds a distinctly peppery note to the baked apple, butterscotch, vanilla, and crème brulée aromas and flavours.

Maker's MarkThe 46th try was a charm for Master Distiller Kevin Smith when crafting the Maker’s Mark 46 ($62) expression. Intense caramel, crème brûlée, tangerine, cocoa powder and flower blossom aromas give way to a smooth, silky, viscous palate featuring warm toffee and fruitcake nuances; long, spicy finish. From a (credibility) sustainable distillery (B-Corp™ certification; Regenified™ Tier 2 certification). 

WhiskyMichter’s US-1 Original Small Batch Sour Mash Whiskey ($90) has been recognized as “The 2023 Most Admired Whiskey In The World” by Drinks International. While I’m not entirely sure what this means, I will agree that this is indeed an admirable whiskey. There seems to be some distinct rye spice  elements on the nose, combined with intense butterscotch, orange marmalade, a dash of charred oak, and some fresh, almost perfume-like undertones. Crisp and spicy (rye again?), with a brisk – almost lean – profile, but with enough sweet oak and vanilla custard flavours to keep everything balanced and in check.

Pappy Van WinkleI’ve had the pleasure (honour?) of tasting this iconic wheated bourbon on two separate occasions (though, of course, not the same bottle). The Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 23 Years Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Bottle #K4476 ($6,000 – $8,000 est, 47.8% alc./vol) from the Old Van Winkle Distillery is impossible to find, and equally impossible to afford if you do happen to find it (my price estimates are, in reality, probably significantly lowball). On the nose it could almost be mistaken for a rare, exquisitely aged rum, with its lush, ripe, aromatic notes of vanilla and butterscotch, but there’s enough wood smoke, coffee, candied orange peel and hints of pine resin to put it firmly in the bourbon world. Peppery, spicy, and multi-faceted on the palate, with recurring notes of butterscotch, vanilla, nougat, toffee, treacle, and baking spice. Finish is smooth, silky, and about a mile long. Pretty delicious. Nice place to visit; can’t afford to live there.


Rye WhiskyThankfully, Canadian whisky is returning to its glory days. Even the larger, more established distilleries are crafting some excellent expressions. Among the many highlights of my stay at the “Rye Ranch” (courtesy of Alberta Distillers Ltd.) was being one of the first “civilians” to taste the distillery’s latest expression. Reifel Rye ($50) is a “high rye” number (yes, you can make a Canadian “rye” without using any rye at all) showing distinctive, dusty/spicy rye on the nose, with subtle hints of vanilla custard, dried fruit and chocolate. Smooth, warm, mildly fruity/spicy and beautifully balanced. A fitting homage to distilling pioneer George H. Reifel.

Dillon'sSomewhat of a pioneer himself, Geoff Dillon had a dream to create an authentic Canadian rye whisky. He’s done admirably well with the Dillon’s Single Grain “Three Oaks” Rye Whisky ($50). Made from a mash bill of 100% Ontario rye and aged (as the name suggests) in a combination of new Ontario oak, new American oak, and first-fill bourbon barrels, it shows classic, spicy/dusty rye on the nose, with a hint of dried citrus peel. Warm, round, and balanced in the mouth, with layers of fruity/spicy rye, vanilla, and caramel, it’s quite elegant and gentle, while remaining elegant and complex.

By the way, if you want to turn yourself into a Canadian whisky expert (and enjoy a deep dive into Canadian distilling history) be sure to check out the third edition of Canadian Whisky: The Essential Portable Expert by Davin de Kergommeaux (also an expert; possibly portable). Significantly rewritten and revised, the fact that the book is in its third edition speaks to the popularity of Canadian whisky at home and abroad.


WhiskeyGone are the days of all Irish whiskey being “light, delicate, and fruity.” Today’s Irish craft distillers are resurrecting the “old” style of whiskey: richer, bolder, and assertive, yet still retaining the delicacy inherent in thrice-distilled drams. The WritersTears Copper Pot Irish Whiskey from Walsh Whiskey ($60) is a marriage of malt and pot still whiskies. Expect to find some forward, fruity nuances (apple and pear), combined with hints of vanilla pod and balking spice on the nose. On the palate, warm honey, vanilla, and ginger are interlaced with some malty undertones. Fruity/honey notes leave a lasting impression on the finish. A sophisticated and elegant offering from the Emerald Isle. Keep your eye open for other expressions like the “Double Oak” and “Redhead.”


WhiskyJapan’s whiskies went from unknown to insanely coveted to unavailable seemingly overnight. Apparently, this even caught Japanese distillers off guard. Stocks of aged whiskies literally evaporated, leaving producers with a void to fill; a hole that has been plugged largely by malt and grain whisky blends. This, however, is not a bad thing, as Japanese blends are more approachable – in both price and profile – than age-specific single malts. Suntory Whisky Toki ($64) is a good example. This is a complex, fruity dram, with herbal notes along with Asian pear, green apple, sweet grain, mint, and vanilla nuances. Impeccably balanced, with toasted grain, ripe pear, subtle honey, and a gentle smoky note. Blended whiskies often get ignored. Don’t ignore this one.

Nikka WhiskyIn 1934, Scottish-trained Masetsaka Taketsuru left Suntory and established Nikka Whisky, the “other” distilling powerhouse in Japan. Today it boasts a lineup of exquisite whiskies including Nikka From The Barrel Japanese Whisky (51.4% alc./vol, $70, 500ml). This is a whisky blended from over 100 malt and grain whiskies (some of which may not be Japanese) bottled “from the barrel” (though not quite at cask strength). Expect a nose redolent of orange marmalade, treacle, toasted nuts, nougat, and cocoa powder. This is a big, powerful, warm whisky that sports flavour notes of toffee, buttered nuts, dark chocolate, and spice cake. In spite of the power and complexity, it retains Nikka’s “house style” that emphasizes impeccable balance over brute power.


ScotchI’ve had some truly memorable distillery visits, and my visit to the Laphroaig distillery on the beautiful isle of Islay was no exception. Its flagship Laphroaig 10 Year Old ($100) sports typical Laphroaig smokiness that intermingles with some delicate, fruity aromatics. Dried fruit on the well-integrated palate, with caramel, toffee, and spice flavours that trail off onto a dry, mildly briny end note. I tried this with some blue cheese, which introduced some vaguely nutty flavours to the finish. Not for the faint of heart, but lovers of this style will certainly warm to this expression.

ScotchFor a luxe getaway, it’s hard to beat Tofino, BC’s, The Wickaninnish Inn. I had the pleasure of a great stay there as a guest of The Glenrothes Distillery. (Writing rarely pays, but there are, admittedly, some pretty nice perks.) Not only was I deliciously wined and dined, but I was also introduced a full range of the Scottish Speyside distiller’s single malt whiskies. These included the 12, 18, and 25 year old variations. All were outstanding, but the one that really caught my interest was The Glenrothes Maker’s Cut (48.8% alc./vol, $150). Matured in casks “seasoned” with sherry, it boasts aromas of dark chocolate, toasted hazelnut, and marzipan, with deep, rich, cocoa and sultana flavour nuances.

The BalvenieSpeaking of luxe, The Balvenie Double Wood Aged 12 Years ($140) is definitely worth seeking out if you are looking for a Highland malt that almost screams “luxury”. Fragrant buckwheat honey, heather, toasted hazelnut, candied citrus and butterscotch aromas segue into a rich, unctuous palate delivering flavours of fruitcake, sultana, caramel and vanilla that linger memorably on the finish that also adds a dash of lively spice. A plush leather armchair of a dram.

GlenfiddichStill family-owned and independently operated (since 1887), the Glenfiddich Distillery continues to craft a range of interesting expressions to this day. Its Glenfiddich Bourbon Barrel Reserve 14 Year Old ($100) takes whisky aged in ex-bourbon barrels and finished in heavily charred new oak. The result is a malt offering notes of toasted almond, citrus zest, vanilla, toffee, pear, honey, and a hint of banana. Smooth, round, and mildly viscous on the palate, it shows vanilla, mocha, and a mild, peppery spice that lingers pleasantly.

WhiskySays the Glenfiddich website of the Glenfiddich Solera Reserve 15 Year Old ($120): “…aged in European oak sherry casks and new oak casks, the whisky is mellowed in our unique Solera Vat, a large oak tun inspired by the sherry bodegas of Spain and Portugal. Never emptied and kept half full of whiskies since 1998.” Okay, you’re unlikely to find sherry bodegas in Portugal (unless I’ve been asleep at the wheel and Iberian wine laws have changed significantly), but that’s a minor quibble: this is a very enjoyable dram. The wood is less forward than the above expression, allowing more “distillery character” to show through. Vanilla fudge, nougat, toasted hazelnut, and ripe pear aromas reappear as flavours in the mouth. Perfectly balanced, clean, crisp and given a lift from a grind of white pepper on the long, harmonious finish.

GlenfiddichGlenfiddich Project XX Experimental Series (47% alc./vol, $125) is but one in a group of expressions released under the Experimental Series banner. Project Twenty blends select Glenfiddich barrels chosen by twenty whisky experts. Expect aromas of toasted oats, green apple, pear, caramel, and macadamia nut that segue into flavours of baking spice, dark chocolate, white pepper, and dark fruit. Complex and multifaceted.

Glenmorangie“I want to get into single malts, but I don’t know where to start.” I hear this a bit. My answer? Right here, with the Glenmorangie “The Original” Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky Aged 10 Years ($77). Not that this is at all a “beginner” malt, it’s just that it’s so easy to like. Orange peel, lemon, marzipan/nougat, a touch of honey and some floral nuances on the nose; balanced and gentle on the palate, yet with enough complexity to satisfy true aficionados.

GlenmorangieAs the bottle’s back label proclaims: “If you could bottle a sunset, it would taste like The Lasanta: an endless horizon of rich spice and sun-drenched sweetness, radiating with notes of raisins, honeycomb, and cinnamon.” This describes the sherry-finished Glenmorangie “The Lasanta” Highland Single Malt Whisky Aged 12 Years ($109) aptly. You might also detect some black cherry, date, leather, caramel and (not surprisingly), sherry nuances. Full and slightly viscous in the mouth, with layers of nutty, fruitcake and caramel/toffee undertones. Finishes long and round, with a bare hint of cinnamon.

Grants WhiskyWhen it comes to scotch, single malts rule, but blends shouldn’t be overlooked, especially when they are like the Grant’s Triple Wood 12 Year Old ($60). With a nose of dried apricot, marshmallow, caramel popcorn, mocha/vanilla, and a dash of coffee that leads into a smooth, mellow palate, showing notes of citrus, cocoa and a dash of vanilla, this is a very well-put-together blend, with depth and moderate complexity. Considering the price, it’s probably one of the better deals in the scotch whisky category (one that has seen significant price increases – due to raw material issues, due to supply chain issues, due to energy costs, due to inflation…due to COVID).



– Tod Stewart is a contributing editor with VineRoutes, and is a judge for the Canadian Artisanal Spirits Competition


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