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Asking for "the Best Whisky" - What You Might Get

Updated: Nov 10, 2023


Image by World Whisky Day


After working in the drinks industry for 16 years across various venues, I have noticed a common question customers ask - "What is your best whisky?". However, this question is not as simple as it appears. How do you measure what is the best? Is it based on price, taste, popularity, rarity, value for money, or someone else's opinion? The answer may vary depending on the type of place you visit. Is it a local bar, a nightclub, a cocktail bar, a hotel lobby, a fancy restaurant, a supermarket, a specialised retail store, or an online search?


The whisky you might get can also differ significantly depending on the knowledge and training of the staff. It is also not wise to make assumptions about the server's level of knowledge based on their appearance or gender. By asking the question, you are rendering yourself to the opinions of others. The best way to test if the whisky suits your palate is by trying it yourself. But remember, it is important to be polite and respectful to the staff.


For clarity, we have limited the selection size to the size of the venue in this article. Let's explore the different types of places and the kind of whisky you can expect to find there.


 
  1. Local Bar - Very Limited Selection

Image By Small Bar


By Popularity

They might only have a couple of options so a good bet is Glenfiddich 12yo or Jameson.


By Taste

Glenfiddich 12yo


By Price

Small businesses typically carry whiskies within a specific price range, ensuring that customers have affordable options. However, if you ask for the best whisky available, it is likely to be the most expensive product they offer. Some good choices would be Laphroaig 10yo or Talisker 10yo.


By Value for Money

Jameson or Bells.


By Rarity

Laphroaig 10yo. Although Laphroaig 10yo is not a rare whisky, it is known for its very smoky taste, which may account for its relatively lower sales compared to other varieties.

Our Best Guess


Glenfiddich 12yo

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2. Cocktail Bar - Limited Selection

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By Popularity

The name Cocktail Bar suggests that they might have a wide range of cocktails on offer. However, since most of their revenue comes from selling cocktails, they may not invest heavily in other drinks, such as whisky. The type of cocktail bar can affect this greatly, but in this article, we are focusing on the fast-paced ones. It is possible to get a "pour whisky" that they use for cocktails because it is a quick sell. If you're lucky, they might reach the back bar for Balvenie 12yo Doublewood or Macallan 12yo.


By Taste

Lagavulin 16yo is a good all-rounder.


By Price

There can be a significant difference in price because some bars invest in better whisky, but customers assume the most expensive, like Glenfiddich 18yo or Glenlivet 18yo.


By Value For Money

Springbank 10yo or Clynelish 14yo.


By Rarity

Macallan 12yo.

Our Best Guess


Macallan 12yo

Image by Master Of Malt

 

3. Night Club - Limited Selection

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By Popularity

This type of establishment falls into the same category as a fast-paced cocktail bar, where the focus is on sales and the efficiency of service. Consequently, they may not have a wide range of options available. It's not the best place to order a "fancy" whisky, but you can still get a nice single malt or a blend. If you want to try something different, you could opt for a Chivas Regal 12-year-old or a Glenfiddich 12-year-old from the back shelf.


By Taste

Laphroaig 10yo.


By Price

Johnnie Walker Blue Label might be the highest-priced option, but it may require a significant investment.


By Value For Money

Monkey Shoulder is a quick sell.


By Rarity

Johnnie Walker Blue Label.

Our Best Guess


Johnnie Walker Blue Label

Image by The Whisky Shop

 

4. Hotel Lobby/High-End Cocktail Bar/ Whisky Bar - Great Selection

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By Popularity

When it comes to ordering whisky at a new bar, it's important to be cautious. They may stock a wider variety of rare and expensive whiskies than your usual bar. A good bartender will ask you some questions to help you make the right choice. While Macallan 18yo is always a safe option, with a better selection available, you should hopefully be able to try something more unique and special.


By Taste

The range of whiskies you could be offered is incredibly broad, so it's hard to predict what you might get. You could be presented with a top-tier whisky like the 18-year-old Macallan or Highland Park, or, if you're lucky enough to visit a bar that specializes in whiskies, you might be able to taste a rare and discontinued whisky from a closed distillery, such as Brora or Imperial.


By Price

It's important to be cautious when considering purchasing a dram of whisky. You should first determine your budget, as some drams can cost hundreds or even thousands of pounds. In fancy hotels, the price for a single dram can be close to the retail price of the entire bottle. These high prices are often associated with rare and sought-after whiskies, such as the Macallan 1946 or a dram from a closed Japanese distillery like Karuizawa.


By Value For Money

Talisker 18yo.


By Rarity

It's important to be cautious when selecting an expensive drink, as it could end up being a costly mistake. Just because a venue claims to have rare or limited stock doesn't mean it's necessarily the best option for you. Sometimes, our minds can trick us into thinking we should pay top dollar for something that doesn't suit our taste buds. To avoid this, a skilled bartender can provide you with a list of recommended whiskies or suggest a dram from a closed distillery like Brora, Port Ellen, or Karuizawa, or even a great single-barrel bottling.

Our Best Guess


Macallan 18yo

Image by The Whisky Barrel

 

5. Specialized Spirits Retailer - Amazing/ Mind-Blowing Selection

Image By The Whisky Exchange


By Popularity

When choosing from a large collection, a knowledgeable member of staff may ask questions. Opt for Clynelish 14yo, Lagavulin 16yo, or Glenfarclas 15yo for a safe, affordable choice.


By Taste

The whiskies mentioned earlier are good, but a lot of people prefer Springbank 15-year-old.


By Price

May I know your budget for the whisky? If the price range is not a constraint, they could suggest a variety of options ranging from a few hundred pounds to tens of thousands. For instance, if you prefer smoky whisky, they might propose a 1974 Ardbeg or a Bowmore from a vintage year. Alternatively, if you prefer sherried options, they might suggest a 1966 Sherry cask Springbank.


By Value For Money

Sometimes you might be offered a bottling from a closed distillery such as Imperial. Other great options include Springbank 15yo, Clynelish 14yo, Kilkerran 12yo or Glenfarclas 15yo.


By Rarity

Some distilleries like Port Ellen, Brora, and Karuizawa have closed down and bottlings can be extremely rare. However, when it comes to rarity and collectivity, 50-year-old and older whiskies fall into this category. Sometimes there are only around 50 bottles ever bottled from each release. But, if you're looking to drink whisky instead of investing, maybe your money is better spent on something else. We would prefer to drink a 25-year-old whisky over a 50-year-old any day.

Our Best Guess


Any vintage Karuizawa

Image by The Drinks Business

 

6. Searching the Internet - Endless Selection

Image By Wall Street Journal


By Popularity

By conducting an internet search, you may come across numerous lists that recommend the best whiskies. However, it can be difficult to determine which ones are reliable. The truth is, they are all partially correct and partially incorrect. Most of these lists tend to include Glenfiddich 12-year-old, Lagavulin 16-year-old, Balvenie 12-year-old Doublewood, and Laphroaig 10-year-old as the most popular whiskies.


By Taste

There are numerous online recommendations for whiskies, such as Laphroaig 10yo, Jameson, Johnnie Walker Blue Label, Old Pulteney 12yo, and many more. As there are countless opinions on the best whisky, it's challenging to determine which one is truly the best, since everyone's preference is different.


By Price

According to a report by thedrinksbusiness.com, the 1926 60-year-old Macallans are the most expensive whiskies in the world. These whiskies are priced between £750k to £1.5m per bottle. So, if you are willing to spend that much money on the "best whisky in the world", then you are in luck.


By Value For Money

The best value for money recommendations on the net include Johnnie Walker Black Label, Glenlivet 12yo, Aberfeldy 12yo, Glenfiddich 12yo, and Glenmorangie Original 10yo.

Our Best Guess


Glenfiddich 12yo or Johnnie Walker Black Label

Image by The Whisky Exchange

 

Conclusion


"The Best Whisky" is a term that is used rhetorically and has no definitive meaning. Several methods have been developed to try and measure it, but they are all subjective, and based on personal opinions (or a collective opinion of blind taste judges). This is especially true when it comes to certain whisky writers who try to tell you what to buy. Even in a bar setting, the bartender's opinion is based on factors such as the popularity, price, rarity, taste, and knowledge of the whisky. However, it is still just an opinion and not a fact. The same is true when purchasing whisky in a retail setting. Ultimately, you are seeking the opinion of the seller, who may in some instances be motivated by commission sales.

When it comes to choosing the best whisky, our advice would be to rely on your own taste buds. The whisky that pleases your palate the most is the one that should be considered the best for you. There is a vast range of whiskies available, ranging from heavily smoked to extremely light and from well-made to poorly crafted. So, no one else can tell you which one is the best. Everyone has their own preferred taste, and it's important to respect that.


"The best whisky is the one that you enjoy the most."

The Best Whisky Is The Next One

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What has been your favourite whisky so far? Let us know in the comments below.





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