This month, Chris spoke with the founder of Black Bourbon Society, Samara Davis, and cocktail enthusiast and influencer, Snehal D’cunha, to find out all about different whiskey/whisky styles and brands– plus their favorite whiskey cocktails!

(Note: You can also find all the bar equipment you need to make your delicious whiskey cocktails in our shop.)

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STYLES OF WHISKEY

First of all, why are there different spellings of whiskey and whisky? What’s the difference? We break down ALL things whisk(e)y– from style by region to ingredients used– in this article, but basically it comes down to this:

  • American and Irish whiskey: whiskey with an e (plural = whiskeys)
  • Whisky from any other country: whisky without an e (plural = whiskies)

The main difference between whiskeys is location– but each location boasts its own unique flavor profiles and qualities. Here are the main styles of whisk(e)y that we’ve focused on this past month:

  • Bourbon: Perhaps the most well known American-made whiskey, made with a minimum of 51% corn, that is slightly sweet.
  • Rye: Another American whiskey, rye is made of 51% rye and therefore spicier than its cousin, bourbon.
  • Irish whiskey: From Ireland, this whiskey is made from malted barley and (usually) other cereal grains, giving it a lighter, creamier taste and mouthfeel.
  • Scotch: Made in Scotland, Scotch whisky (no e) comes in a variety of styles based on the region in which it’s produced. Ranging from bright to quite smoky, there is an option for everyone, depending on personal preference.
  • Japanese whisky: Produced in Japan, Japanese whisky is made from malted grains, must be barrelled for at least 3 years, and is considered an elevated and crisp spirit, perfect for sipping.
  • Canadian whisky: Typically made with corn and/or rye (for Canadian rye whisky), this whisky from Canada is similar to American whiskey but can contain added flavor like caramel.
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BRANDS OF WHISKEY TO GET YOU STARTED

Chris asked our guests to share their favorite brands of whiskey/whisky with us, ranging in styles and price points. If you’re looking for new bottles of whiskey to try, this is a great place to start!

(Note: Because Samara Davis runs a site devoted to bourbon drinkers, a lot of the recommendations on our list are for bourbon. We’ve also added some of our personal favorites here at A Bar Above.)

BEST WHISKEY (AND WHISKY) UNDER $10-40

BOURBON:

  • Evan Williams Bottled-in-Bond: This Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey may be the best bang for your buck– winning lots of accolades but with a low price tag, this bourbon boasts caramel, oak, barley, and vanilla flavors.
  • Elijah craig Small Batch: This bourbon is a little different with its warm spice and smoky flavors. It is a well-known and very popular “well” bourbon amongst some of the top U.S. bars.
  • Four Roses: Their lower-end bourbon has won numerous awards and is considered an excellent value at around $25 in the States, but they also offer small batch and single barrel expressions (plus non-bourbons like rye as well).

“If you want to start your bourbon journey, start in the $30-40 range. Don’t pay anything more, or you can go lower if you want. But that $30 range is probably the sweet spot.” –Samara Davis

Photo-saby-Fabio-Alves-via-Unsplash

Photo by Fabio Alves via Unsplash

IRISH WHISKEY:

  • Jameson: Perhaps the most famous Irish whiskey, Jameson offers a variety of bottles; their traditional whiskey is a blended grain mash with notes of vanilla, spice, and oak.
  • Slane: An Irish whiskey with quite the cult following here in the States, it’s known for its robust flavors of vanilla, butterscotch, dried stone fruit, and baking spices, which come from its unique triple-cask aging method.

RYE WHISKEY:

  • Rittenhouse Rye: This is a classic, spicy rye that runs in the $20-25 range. 
  • Old Overholt Rye: With notes of leather and orange, this light rye is a bar staple. 

SCOTCH WHISKY:

  • Monkey Shoulder: With dry fruit notes mixed with a slight nutty quality, Snehal recommends this Scotch for sour cocktails.
  • Glenmorangie – The Original: This 10-year-old scotch is a classic from one of the best proprietors in Scotland. It’s light yet complex and the perfect complement for cocktails while still being a proper sipper on its own. 

JAPANESE WHISKY:

  • Mars Iwai 45: Considered one of the top 20 under $40 in 2020 by Whisky Advocate, this whisky boasts a robust blend of oak, stone fruit, and spices, which offers deep complexity. 
  • Suntory Toki Whisky: A subtle and unique whisky made by Japan’s first distillery, it has a soft, floral flavor but finishes with sharp spice notes. 
Stirred Set in Copper, Copyright A Bar Above

BEST WHISKEY IN THE $40-100 RANGE

BOURBON:

  • Heaven Hill Henry McKenna: A bottled-in-bond, single barrel bourbon aged for 10 years, the Henry McKenna expression offers notes of honey mixed with spice and will run you about $70-80 in the States.
  • E.H. Taylor Small Batch from Buffalo Trace: You’ll probably want to sip this bourbon, which mixes butterscotch, caramel, and licorice flavors. It runs about $100 in the U.S., although Buffalo Trace offers other E.H. Taylor expressions that run a fair bit more.
  • Blanton’s: The original bourbon has notes of vanilla, butterscotch, caramel, and baking spices… But Samara warns that the price has been greatly inflated lately; it’s supposed to be priced around $75, so don’t buy it at $150!
  • Shenk’s by Michter’s: A complex, buttery bourbon offers a slightly fruity flavor mixed with spices and caramel. 

JAPANESE WHISKY:

  • Hibiki: Hibiki offers a whole line of light, blended whiskies, which are great for stirred drinks or for a highball where you can appreciate all the rich, delicate flavors.
  • Nikka Coffey Grain and Coffey Malt: Made in Coffey stills, Nikka has two expressions of light, silky whiskies.

SCOTCH:

  • Dalmore 12: Perfect for sipping, this darker Scotch whisky contains chocolate notes that you’ll want to savor; it costs about $60 in America.
  • Balvenie 14 Caribbean Cask: Balvenie is a well-known distillery that has become quite the household name, partially because of this gem, which offers a well-rounded yet complex flavor profile of vanilla and fruit with a sweet oaky finish.  

SUPER EXPENSIVE BOURBON THAT YOU SHOULD TRY IF GIVEN THE CHANCE

Just for fun, Chris asked Samara about crazy expensive bourbons– If you’re ever given the opportunity to taste any of these, savor them. After all, a bottle of Pappy’s can cost the same as a California mortgage! Holy moly.

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HONORABLE MENTIONS: FUN FLAVORED WHISKEY

Although these don’t specifically come up in either interview, flavored whiskeys are indeed a growing trend for consumers– and Snehal does reference a banana whiskey cocktail or two– so I’d be remiss not to mention these:

  • Skrewball peanut butter whiskey: Immensely popular and greatly debated, this peanut butter whiskey is quite sweet with a peanut butter finish on the palate. I recommend cutting it as a half-base with another whiskey to soften the sweetness (see our recipe below for an example).
  • Knob Hill Smoked Maple bourbon: Garnering a lot of praise for its rich maple and vanilla flavors, this bourbon brings a lot of sweet richness to a classic cocktail like an old fashioned. 
  • Ambros banana whiskey: Distilled with real bananas, this spirit can give a regular cocktail some tropical vibes!
  • Crown Royal vanilla whisky: If you just want a little sweetness and flavor for your cocktail, this vanilla whisky is a great substitute for a traditional whiskey.

WHISKEY COCKTAIL RECIPES

Between Samara, Snehal, Chris, and our resident bartender, Rob Harrah, we have you covered on alcoholic drinks with whiskey— from classic whiskey cocktails to some really unique options that are sure to wow.

While we love a Manhattan, old fashioned, Irish coffee, and mint julep, here are a few more “out of the box,” creative cocktails that are sure to please your palate.

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WHISKEY SOUR

One of the more popular whiskey cocktails, this is a traditional sour cocktail using an egg white. If you’d like to try a whiskey sour without egg white, you can substitute it for .75 oz of aquafaba (chickpea juice).

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 oz Whiskey
  • 1 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
  • 1 oz Simple Syrup
  • 1 Egg White

INSTRUCTIONS:

  • Build in a shaker tin without ice.
  • Dry shake for 10-15 seconds (shake with no ice).
  • Add ice cubes.
  • Shake all ingredients with ice for another 10-15 seconds.
  • Strain into a chilled coupe glass (no ice) or rocks glass (on the rocks).
  • Garnish: Lemon twist and/or bitters line.

PENICILLIN

Snehal recommends trying this popular cocktail with a smoky Scotch (like an Islay-style Scotch).

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 oz Blended Scotch
  • ¾ oz Lemon Juice
  • ¾ oz Ginger-Honey Syrup
  • ¼ oz Islay Scotch

INSTRUCTIONS:

  • Build all in a cocktail shaker, except the Islay scotch.
  • Shake.
  • Strain into a rocks glass with a large format cube.
  • Top with the Islay scotch.
  • Garnish: Candied Ginger or Lemon Peel

PAPER PLANE

A modern whiskey twist on a classic gin cocktail, The Last Word, the Paper Plane brings together bitter and sour in this balanced drink.

INGREDIENTS:

  • ¾ oz Bourbon
  • ¾ oz Aperol
  • ¾ oz Amaro Nonino
  • ¾ oz Fresh Lemon Juice

INSTRUCTIONS:

  • Build in a shaker with ice.
  • Shake.
  • Strain into a Nick & Nora or coupe cocktail glass.
  • This cocktail traditionally doesn’t have a garnish, but a lemon twist never hurts.
Photo-by-Cody-Chan-via-Unsplash

Photo by Cody Chan via Unsplash

BOULEVARDIER

A classic whiskey cocktail, this drink greets you with a bittersweet balance of flavors from the classic combination of Campari and vermouth.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1.25 oz Whiskey (often rye, but you can pick your favorite)
  • 1 oz Campari
  • .75 oz Sweet Vermouth

INSTRUCTIONS:

  • Build in a mixing glass with ice.
  • Stir with a bar spoon until mixed and chilled.
  • Strain into a chilled Nick & Nora cocktail glass or rocks glass with a large cube.
  • Garnish: Expressed Orange Twist

You can also turn it into a banana whiskey cocktail by making a banana Boulevardier

“Banana with whiskey, I think it really pairs well, especially in stirred cocktails.” –Snehal D’cunha

THE RICH NOG

The perfect winter whiskey cocktail, Snehal’s take on a traditional flip includes cream and a whole egg. While it’s not your typical classic drink, it’s really fun because the added saffron brings out the flavors of the Benedictine– yum!

INGREDIENTS:

  • .75 oz Cognac
  • .75 oz Rum
  • .25 oz Benedictine liqueur
  • .75 oz Simple Syrup
  • 1 oz Heavy Cream
  • 1 Whole Egg
  • Garnish: Nutmeg and Saffron 

INSTRUCTIONS:

PEANUT BUTTER WHISKEY COCKTAIL – PB n’J

Because of it’s overwhelming popularity, I asked our in-house bartender and mixology course master, Rob Harrah, to dazzle us with a peanut butter whiskey cocktail. The combination of bourbon and flavored whiskey cuts down some of the sweetness.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 oz Peanut Butter Whiskey
  • 1 oz Bourbon
  • ½ oz Raspberry Liqueur
  • ¾ oz Fresh Lemon Juice
  • ½ oz Raspberry Syrup

INSTRUCTIONS:

  • Build in a shaker tin with ice.
  • Shake.
  • Strain into a coupe glass.
  • Garnish: 2 Raspberries
Photo by Jakob

Photo by ​​Jakob Ziubak via Unsplash

OTHER WHISKEY COCKTAILS TO CHECK OUT

Snehal also recommends these cocktails from various establishments, which he has done his own riffs on– You can check out his creations and reimaginings on his Instagram account.

EASY WHISKEY COCKTAILS

If you just want to have an easy, light alcoholic drink at the end of a long day or to serve at a cocktail party, here are a couple basic ideas that require only two ingredients… Or if you want to skip the cocktail, consider sipping your whisk(e)y!

  • Highball: Use with a light Scotch or Japanese whisky, coupled with club soda/soda water. You can garnish this refreshing cocktail with a lemon or lime wedge– or even with mint.
  • Whiskey with ginger ale: Jack Daniels Tennessee whiskey is very common for this easy whiskey cocktail, but Chris actually recommends Jameson Irish whiskey. He also notes that ginger ale works better than ginger beer.
  • Skip the cocktail… Sip whisky on the rocks (or neat): Try a dark Highland Scotch whisky or a nice Japanese whisky so you can really appreciate those rich flavors.

“I’ll chew it, you know, Kentucky chew. So you wanna sip, but you also want to make sure that you’re getting it on all parts of your tongue and on the back of your palate. I like to chew it and get it in between my teeth, too. And then just drink it and really enjoy it.” –Samara Davis

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WHICH TYPE OF WHISKEY FOR COCKTAILS?

If you want to branch out from the cocktails on our list, here’s a general guide from Snehal D’cunha on which type of whiskey to use in which cocktail.

SOUR COCKTAILS

Try bourbon or rye for sour cocktails like a whiskey sour. The sweetness of bourbon lends itself to a lot of different flavors, so it also pairs well with a variety of cocktails.

“Bourbon tends to be a little more sweet; rye has a little more character. It’s a little more spicy.” –Snehal D’cunha

SPIRIT-FORWARD, STIRRED COCKTAILS

Snehal recommends letting Scotch– or sometimes even Irish whiskey– be the star of a stirred cocktail:

“For me, Scotch tends to be a little more crisp. You tend to get those fruit flavors, like apple flavor; and then as you go toward darker whiskies, you get dark fruit and chocolate flavors. So definitely for stirred drinks, I try to stick with, like, Scotch or even Irish because Irish tends to be  a little more light and very close to Scotch whiskies.” 

The spiciness of rye also lends itself to delicious, stirred fall and winter cocktails like a Manhattan.

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SIPPING AND TWO-PART COCKTAILS

Japanese whisky or Scotch is perfect for when you’d like to enjoy the unique, crisp flavors on their own or in a highball with soda water.

“Then you have Japanese whisky, which tends to be a little more exquisite, so I try to use it for sipping on the rocks or for making a very simple and perfect highball, like perfect, crystal-clear ice, pouring some Japanese whisky with soda and a lemon twist.” –Snehal D’cunha

WHISKEY DRINKERS, WHAT’S YOUR CALL?

No matter the type of whisk(e)y you love, there’s obviously something for everyone. So what’s your favorite whiskey cocktail or brand of whiskey? Do you prefer bourbon or Scotch? 

We’re curious to hear all about your favorite cocktails in our Craft Cocktail Club on Facebook. Come share your questions, favorite brands, and recipes with our passionate community! And, of course, if you need any bar equipment to make your amazing drinks, we have you covered in our shop!

Photo-by-Adam-Jaime-via-Unsplash

Photo by Adam Jaime via Unsplash

“Cocktails should be fun. We should experiment with them. Rules are there for ease, like to guide people and get them to learn. But I think once you understand the basics, there’s a lot of room for experimentation and pushing boundaries.” –Chris Tunstall

Melanie Tornroth

MELANIE TORNROTH

A former English teacher, Melanie optimistically embraces the struggle that is work-from-home parenthood as the in-house writer for A Bar Above. When not responding to “Mom” and writing articles for ABA, she also runs Goodnickels Photography, loves to cuddle her cats, and is perfecting the art of keeping her pandemic “fermentation babies” alive.