Some whiskey enthusiasts are all about finding the hidden gem. That fourteen dollar bottle really isn’t as bad as you’re worried it is. Other enthusiasts may try to impress you with their complex reviews of the finest whiskies you can buy. This review is neither.
I’m a strong believer in the middle shelf. Whiskies you can drink neat without wincing, yet are not too complex or expensive that you’d feel guilty mixing them with a bit of vermouth and some bitters.
Here are my picks for the best middle shelf whiskies #offalltime.
Old Forester Classic 86
This is likely to be the least expensive whiskey on this list, but probably not for long. While this bourbon was created in 1870, Brown Forman recently updated the branding for this label and seem to be pushing it pretty strongly right now. It reminds me of those “getting to know you” prices that Diageo gave us for Bulliett a few years ago. Old Forrester has a lot of rye in it, and I love rye whiskies. So obviously, I like it.
What you need to know: Cheap, Smooth, Spicy.
Straight up, this is my benchmark for what a rye is supposed to taste like. Also, Sazerac rye manhattans are how God intended manhattans to taste.
What you need to know: Rye should taste “spicier” than bourbon. Drink this one to understand the difference.
This is one of my favorite bourbons. It also happens to be one of the more affordable on this list. Buffalo Trace has this amazing vanilla finish to it that makes it really enjoyable to drink neat, or even better with a big chunk of ice.
What you need to know: Cheap, Smooth, Vanilla…y.
It’s kind of like the Harley Davidson of whiskey. It’s no better than the first three whiskies mentioned, but they have awesome marketing, and people are willing to pay more for it. The good news is that it’s almost as common as Jack Daniel’s and way, way, WAY better. Okay, that’s a low bar, but still. Maker’s is a reliable choice at pretty much any bar in America.
What you need to know: Showing up is half the battle.
MGP Rye Whiskey
One of the “dirty secrets” of the whiskey industry is that many rye whiskies that are marketed as, ” hand crafted” and “small batch” are actually made in a giant, corporate distillery in Indiana. Many whiskey advocates get all bent out of shape over these labels, but you know what? They taste pretty damn good. Most of them pretty much taste the same, so I usually buy whichever one is cheaper. At Costco, it’s the 1.75 of Bulliett Rye. At the local grocery store, it’s George Dickel Rye. Templeton, Willett, and Redemption Rye are also distilled at MGP.
What you need to know: Capitalism is good.
W.L. Weller 10 year
Tastes like a $100 bottle of bourbon. All kinds of crazy good stuff going on when you drink this neat. 90% of the people who try this (including me) can’t tell the difference between this and a bottle of Poppy Van Winkle for two to three times the price.
What you need to know: I can haz cheezburger
This whiskey is smooth. I mean really, really smooth. If you’re at a bar with friends, and want to look all manly, and order your whiskey neat… this is the one to order. Many whiskey enthusiasts think Woodford Reserve is a little bit boring. There’s also people who think a Romeo Y Julieta Vintage is a boring cigar to smoke. I love them both.
What you need to know: It’s the Ray Allen of whiskies.
Leopold Bros. American Small Batch Whiskey
The Leopold Brothers are the mad scientists of craft distilleries. They try a lot of crazy stuff like infusing peaches into one of their labels, or painstakingly recreating a pre-prohibition rye from Maryland. The American Small Batch is super smooth with rye whiskey overtones. It’s just good.
What you need to know: Colorado Whiskey > Colorado Weed.
This one is gonna be hard to find. Well, unless you live in Wisconsin. It’s basically a blend of bourbon and rye. It’s awesome for any whiskey cocktail.
What you need to know: Visit their distillery. Order the cheese curds.
I saved the best for last. This is the best whiskey at any price. Luckily it’s usually only about $40 a bottle here in Chicago. I’m not even going to try to explain why it tastes so good. You just have to try it. Plus, it’s organic if you care about that. Plus it’s kosher, if that’s how you roll. Plus, it’s made in Illinois. Plus, did I tell you how good it tastes?
What you need to know: It doesn’t taste like how a rye should… but that’s a good thing.