Whisky Advocate

Whisky recommendations for the new enthusiast?

April 13th, 2011

I’ll be spending the rest of the week hosting WhiskyFest in Chicago (and attending a couple of the other events going on around it). While I’m gone, I thought maybe we could help the newer whisky (and whiskey) drinkers here with some recommendations. The combined knowledge of everyone here is enormous, so I am sure you can offer some suggestions.

Pick any whisky country or category. Just make sure that it’s a whisky that is a regular stock item and not a one-off or limited edition. Oh, and reasonably priced would be nice too.

So, what would you recommend? And why?

113 Responses to “Whisky recommendations for the new enthusiast?”

  1. Lagavulin 16 was the first Islay whisky to turn me onto peat. Shall we say, it eased me in. I think this is a must have for the new whisky drinker – an easy-to-find, not-hard-on-the-pocket whisky. And, it has great on-premise distribution as well, so someone can try it at a bar first before buying. After many years of whisky exploration, I still enjoy a dram of Lagavulin 16 from time to time. I’d also recommend GlenDronach Revival 15. Another well distributed, lower-cost whisky that brings some impressive complexity and sweeter toffee/dried fruit flavors for well under $100. It’s an easy drinker for a new whisky fan, and it is a great after-dinner drink. Finally – the line of GlenFarclas offers a new whisky drinker the opportunity to get into some older whiskies for some of the most modest prices on the market. Not only is their whisky solid, but you’ll be supporting one of the few remaining independent distillers in Scotland.

  2. What a can of worms! Where do you begin and where does one end!

    This is an incredibly difficult question to answer. However if I were to recommend a selection to ease someone that is relatively new and keen to explore/understand what single malts have to offer then look no further than Glenfiddich.

    Their range (I recommend the Rich Oak, 18 and 21) just makes sense, no bull, no nonsense. Each whisky within the range is exquisitely crafted and therefore incredibly well balanced. As a beginners “trio”, they are accessible and delicious. That alone enables those newcomers to easily understand the magic behind single malt whisky!

    • Ryan says:

      The 3-pack of Glenfiddich 12, 15, and 18 miniatures are everywhere. Miniatures are the beginner’s best friend.

    • magnus says:

      Would never give a friend a glenfiddich, atleast not anything from standard range, they are so booring. i should go for some of this instead:

      Highland park 18
      Yamazaki 12 (or 18)
      Lagavulin 16
      Clynelish 14
      Glenlivet nadurra (the cask strenght version)
      Glendronach 18

      • Ryan says:

        I’d happily recommend Glenfiddich to anyone newly interested in trying Speyside single malts. What one might pour for friends is another topic. One that needn’t necessarily exclude Glenfiddich either.

  3. TimS says:

    Suntory Yamazaki 12 yr is an excellent single malt and very reasonable @ $35-40.

  4. nicolas vaughn says:

    Oh definitely the Glendronach 18 year DB. A perfect example of how a sherried whisky should taste. They never disappoint with their distillery bottlings and their single cask bottlings.

  5. Perry says:

    Willett is one of my favorite’s! It has a smooth finish and a great oak taste. It retails for around 40

  6. Ron McGregor says:

    Outstanding choice!

  7. TQM says:

    Singleton of Glendullan 12 Years Old. Despite what many “experienced” drinkers might think, I have been able to convert more people into the hobby with this dram than any other. Probably because, it’s a gentle single malt with easy to define flavors that sits an accessible price point.

  8. Mmmm… Oban 14, if one can afford the $55 or so. Perhaps Old Forester for those looking for a not so sweet Bourbon.

  9. Jason R says:

    The various regions of Scotland and their unique flavor profiles offer many endless combination of brands that one can suggest. After much thought, I would recommend only one for a newbie. Highland Park 12. The balanced light peat and sherried finish, to me, represents a little best of everything single malt has to offer

    • timd says:

      I agree – HP 12 was the first bottle of Scotch I bought, and still holds a sweet spot. As the label says, “it’s the great all arounder” Lots of flavors, not too much of anything, and usually low $40’s. Great choice.

  10. sku says:

    For new drinkers interested in American whiskey but not wanting to break the bank, I always recommend the following:

    Woodford Reserve
    Buffalo Trace
    George Dickel #12 (maybe the most underrated of all American whiskeys)
    Sazerac Rye
    Wild Turkey 101 Rye
    Rittenhouse Rye BIB
    Very Old Barton BIB (if you live in an area where you can get it)

    • Ryan says:

      On the nose with George Dickel #12 flying well below radar, Sku.

    • Bill Boswell says:

      I really like Elijah Craig for a standard Bourbon. For the price I think it’s tough to beat, and it works well to sip, on the rocks, and for cocktails. I think the Buffalo Trace is a very nice bourbon neat. Makers Mark, and the new Maker’s Mark 46 are both good sippers in my opinion too. As far as Ryes go, I especially enjoy the Van Winkel Family Reserve, it’s a little pricier, but is really good.

  11. Regular Chumpington says:

    In no particular order, I’ve dropped the following on whiskey-curious and seen generally great results:

    Macallan 12
    Balvenie Doublewood; Balvenie 15
    Glenfarclas 17 (fair: a bit costly)
    Yamazaki 12 (worth calling out again)
    Auchentoshan 3 Wood

    I’ve also seen a fair amount of people take to Oban.

    While I love the Islays it’s such a big thing and it can be utterly repellent to the uninitiated. Truthfully, I’d be curious to see the reaction to Balblair ’97 – it’s so light and agreeable. Maybe not universally loved but it’s nothing if not approachable.

    • Royal says:

      I very much agree with your assessment here. Speaking from my experience, The Balvenie Double Wood was the first whisky that I could really pick apart and appreciate. As a result, I now have friends who are new to whisky try that and the Caribbean Cask 14 year.

      Then I let them know that its only a matter of time before they will evolve into peat reek fans like myself!

    • jason m says:

      Excellent choices. This is not about the best tasting or most classic, its about whiskies that u can throw at a newbie without turning them off. I hold periodic tastings at my house in Wash DC for primarily newbies and these are generally good picks. For an Islay, I get more success from Laphroaig 10 with lots of ice. Other Islays just dont work on newbies too often. Thats prob why we are seeing Laphroaig 10 in so many bars nowadays in the US. And new chicks always dig a young Macallan.

  12. Allen says:

    I think these are good “beginner” bottles to ease someone in to whiskey.

    Bourbon: Jim Beam Black.
    Scotch: Balvenie Double Wood
    Irish: Bushmills 10 year

    All can be had for $35 or under in my neck of the woods.

  13. Jeremy says:

    As a new enthusiast, I want to thank everyone for their recommendations. I will be attending my first whiskey tasting tomorrow at the Whisky Guild Classic in Philadelphia and can hardly wait. I also want to formally thank John for making this entrance into such a sophisticated hobby not only enjoyable, but welcoming and less daunting.

    Also after learning more about Scotch I found it funny that my first experience with single malt came when I blindly purchased a bottle of Talisker 12 and didn’t run away! Thanks again.

  14. Greg says:

    I’ve been digging whiskey for a long time but for a new drinker I would suggest:

    Bourbon: Evan Williams Bottled in Bond or Very Old Barton Bottled in Bond
    Scotch: Balvenie Doublewood
    Irish: Paddy Old Irish

    These are low cost and widely available (Paddy is getting there) and very good base whiskies.

  15. I recommend Old Pulteney 17 year old.
    A Stupendous Whisky distilled in one of the industries most Amazing Stills
    by a Canny Distiller in a Historic Distillery owned by a Great Wee Company.
    I am definitely biased towards the Northern Highland Malts but on every level this Whisky works. Aroma, Taste & Finish combine to give the drinker everything he could possibly ask for. Cheap too, under £50 a bottle & regularly reduced to £40. Forget the showcase bottles and
    get yourself something you will actually open.
    I’ll be bringing a bottle of it with me to next year’s to Whiskyfest Chicago!

  16. Jason Pyle says:

    Great question/topic.

    My focus being more on American Whiskey, so this is the angle I’m coming from. Many times I read recommendations for newcomers to start at the bottom/entry level of certain brands. I don’t think that is bad advice, but I’ve not run into too many newcomers looking to start at the bottom of anything. In my experience they’ve preferred looking a few notches higher than that. I think these give a newcomer a little something to grow into as well, a move or two ahead.

    Wild Turkey 101: This is a high rye mashbill and that presents that style well in flavor. While maybe not extremely accessible, if a newcomer enjoys this one, that tells me they will likely enjoy other bourbons with a rye forward style. Then I’d probably turn them loose on others in the Wild Turkey line, maybe some old Grand Dad, Bulleit, Four Roses, etc. Great value!

    W.L. Weller Special Reserve: A little less expensive than Maker’s Mark, this one is a nice intro into the soft, sweet, caramel and baking spice flavors that many wheated bourbon’s possess. Really easy drinking and the flavors present themselves in a fairly straightforward manner. If a newcomer enjoyed this and was interested in stepping up from there they could look at Old Rip Van Winkle, Pappy, the other W.L. Weller’s, Maker’s etc.

    Elijah Craig 12 year: This is a great price point to give a newcomer (but maybe not a rookie) an understanding of what age does for whiskey. The wood and sweetness play off one another well and I think this is still quite accessible to most newcomers. From here I’d point them to Buffalo Trace, Woodford Reserve, Evan Williams Single Barrel, etc. etc.

    Rye: I’d look at Russell’s Reserve and Sazerac first and foremost.

    Tennessee Whiskey: See Sku’s comment as I echo those sentiments. Dickel No. 12 is just a damn fine whiskey. Factor in price, and man I’m thirsty.

    • Lew Bryson says:

      Nice list, Jason. I hate seeing standards like these getting overlooked simply because they’ve been on the shelf forever!

    • Matthew Soutar says:

      Jason, I’ve tried a number of these, your progression logic seems sound, thanks for sharing. WT Rare Breed would be a tsep forward, also obviously the EC 18 is great, although the last bottling I tried had a metallic afternote on the tongue? Unfortunately havent got access to the majority of those you mentioned.

  17. Patrick says:

    Laphroaig Quarter Cask (for the not overwhelming sweet peat)
    Glendronach 15 Revival (prolly the best sherried whisky for price)
    HIghland Park 12 (for the ambrosia experience)

  18. Bob McIntosh says:

    There is an excellent list of similar tasting whiskey at
    and as this is all so very subjective I would suggest starting with something that you know you like and then confirm it by sampling others in the group. I am big fan Dalmore (Gran Reserva to be specific) but find that Macallan works just fine when I can’t get my number 1. Happy Hunting!!

  19. Ed in PA says:

    If you’re talking about a newbie – I think you first have to get them to the point where whiskey isn’t something you shoot or mix with coke and try to keep a straight face when you swallow it. So to get someone started to really taste whiskey – I think you need to start with Irish. I cut my teeth on Jameson 12 and Black Bush. Both have a real easy way with themselves, yet taste good too. When you start drinking whiskey, you don’t know how to drink it. How to channel it over your tongue, so finding something easy to drink gets you to the point where you can find more challanging, complex whiskeys. I don’t like scotch, and if I hadn’t been determined to discover why people go to the trouble making whiskey in the first place, I would have stopped at Jonnie Walker Red. But finding the good Irish whiskeys, with their middle of the road profiles helped me understand that there was more to it.

    After they know that Whiskey can be good to sip/drink – then you can introduce them to a Scotch, Bourbon, Rye, etc.

    That’s the opinion of one who went it alone without any assistance. I’ve since then introduced many to whiskey – starting usually with Black Bush.

  20. I’d go around to show the basic diversity in whisk(e)y without beeing too geeky. The specific choices isn’t that important but I give some examples. I want to include the follwing catagories

    “Normal” Whisky
    Peated whisky
    Sherried whisky
    Old whisky

    Later in a whisky education I could introduce the likes of finishes, ryes, cask strengths, japanese whiskies, amrut, irish whisky, blends, grains, lowlands etc, but for a start I would get the 5part agenda mentioned above going

    My personal set would be

    1. Balvenie Signature (as Balvenie has convinced a lot of people who thouight they didnt like whisky they were wrong)

    2. Laphroaig 10. One of the archtypical peated Islays

    3. Aberlour 12yo, or A’Bunadh

    4. Some old indy bottling of Glen Elgin or similar, depends really what’s available

    5. Evan Williams, Elijah Craig or some other typical Bourbon


  21. Louis says:

    The Glenmorangie 10 year old Original is one dram that I can still come back to after all these years. For a newcomer to American whisky, Jack Daniels SIngle Barrel is somewhat of a sleeper.

  22. Scott says:

    For a new enthusiast, I’d definitely be recommending blends/Irish/Canadian on at least a 1:1 ratio with single malts. (Side by side, not in the same glass!) For single malts, the Glenfiddich recommendation is a very good one, as the range offers consistent quality that represents key characteristics at each level. Balvenie as well, though that range shows variety across a different “axis” than Glenfiddich. Quality, approachable whiskies at relatively safe price points.

    Also, it seems to me that a lot of Americans come to whisky via Bourbon, and often the first big step toward connoisseurship is the leap from on the rocks to neat. For that, I recommend Makers Mark and Buffalo Trace. (And/or Eagle Rare 10, Blanton’s, or anything else from BT.) Once your average Bourbon-on-the-rocks drinker is able to enjoy a familiar America whiskey not chilled, it’s very easy steps to appreciating the full range of the world’s whiskies. Still, best to match quality blends/Canadian/Irish with single malts along the way. Provides baselines for tasting notes and flavor profiles, and quality blends/Canadian/Irish whiskies tend to be a little more approachable or “easier” for the new enthusiast than just having single malts thrown at him.

  23. Sam S. says:

    As already mentioned,
    Balvenie Doublewood and Glenmorangie 10/Original.

  24. maltakias says:

    Can it be anything BUT the Lagavulin 16?

    The most typical whisky that makes a newcomer to understand that whisky can be a whole lot more than the blends he is used to drink.

  25. gadeweerd says:

    Blend: Nikka from the Barrel 51,4 % (Stunner Price/quality)
    Peated whisky: Laphroaig QC/CS
    Sherried whisky: Glenfarclas 105/Glendronach Revival/Aberlour A”bunadh
    Bourbon cask: Glenlivet nadurra
    Bourbon: Fighting Cock 103 proof (great nose, nice bourbon, Almost for free)

  26. Jake Parrott says:

    I’ll toss in my stock recommendations for Bourbon newbies. My view is that Bourbon is traditionally a higher-proof spirit, and that newbies should at least have the opportunity to taste it as such.

    Rye-recipe, inexpensive–Old Grand-Dad 100pf
    Wheat-recipe, inexpensive–Old Weller “Antique” 107pf

    Rye-recipe, mid-range–Wild Turkey “Rare Breed”
    Wheat-recipe, mid-range–Van Winkle 10/107

    Rye-recipe, high-end–A Willett Single Barrel, cask strength (full disclosure: I am one of the selectors for the DC Willetts)
    Wheat-recipe, high-end–Pappy 15 or William Larue Weller

  27. bj reed says:

    The ones I tend to recommend

    Glenmorangie 10
    Highland Park 12
    Laphroig 10 Cask Strength (if the want full impact of a peated whisky)
    Glenfiddich 15
    Glenfarclas 12
    Classic Malts are also good variety for newbies

  28. David says:

    It’s hard to find an Irish whiskey that isn’t approachable, and there are some good suggestions above. For quality at a great price you won’t do better than Writers Tears. It’s a non-chill filtered blend of malt and pot still whiskeys (no grain) so it has plenty of heft, without any rough edges. It should be available in the US.

  29. Jamie Wika says:

    For Scotch I would recommend a Famous Grouse mini pack. It will give them a sample of what this dram is about. For Bourbon I would say Evan Williams Single Barrel, and Four Roses Single Barrel or Buffalo Trace are a good place to start. Maybe the best in a low price point. For a Rye it would be Sazerac. A good well made whiskey that can be sipped or made into a excellent Mahattan.

  30. John Hansell says:

    Nice recommendations so far, guys. You pretty much covered the whiskies I would be recommending.

    • Mike Dereszynski says:

      And if Chicago Whiskyfest were not sold out , I would recomend a visit. Where else would you have such a selection of whiskies and experts !

  31. Sam says:

    I’ve recommended Cragganmore 12 to every new whisky drinker who has asked for my opinion and it’s opened their eyes every time. In my opinion it’s a pretty fair starting point to take them wherever they end up wanting to go taste-wise.

    Many may disagree but I don’t see the point in recommending Lagavulin to anyone who doesn’t already have some experience or know they want that kind of flavor. I agree it’s excellent but it’s hardly a “starter” whisky, either in price or taste. It’s nearly $30 a bottle more around here than most of the baseline 10 or 12 yr olds people might start out with. Just my opinion but I’d rather lead someone through a couple of the speysides or highlands, then let them seek out different flavors eventually ending up on Islay unless they’re sure that’s what they want to begin with. Highland Park, Springbank or Talisker is a good bridge to Islay if you’re chomping at the bit to let someone see what that’s all about. When I first got into Scotch someone told me “Whatever you think you love or hate today, your tastes will be totally different three months from now”. Couldn’t have been more true.

    Cragganmore and then Balvenie Doublewood are good introductions in my opinion and offer a glimpse into the diversity of flavor available without going too far out in any one direction.

  32. Keith Sexton says:

    Talisker 10. It’s not the least expensive but it is fairly priced. I find that, understandably, most beginners just don’t “get it” when they taste along side of you. They can’t really single anything out on the palate or nose, whereas someone who’s been at it awhile can more easily identify the dram’s characteristics. In my opinion, Talisker 10 works every time. All the characteristics of this dram are so apparent, and they come along in distinct, separate stages: sweet when it’s in your mouth, smoky as you swallow, and big, long pepper on the finish. Very easy to deconstruct. Almost always, they have a look of amazement on their face when they find out it tastes as advertised.

  33. JC Skinner says:

    My beginner’s tasting collection would include:

    Scotch –
    Macallan 10 yo
    Glenfarclas 105
    Laphroaig Quarter Cask
    Springbank 10 yo.

    Irish –
    Redbreast 12 yo
    Black Bush
    Locke’s 8 yo
    Powers 12 yo

    I’m too ill-informed to comment on bourbon, Canadian or Japanese whisky. But these bottles would give anyone a decent launching pad into Scotch and Irish whiskey, I reckon. They’re not my favourite Scotches or Irish by any means, but they are in my experience the most typical and accessible for beginners.

  34. David says:

    I would go with a Glenrothes Select Reserve. You can get it for anywhere between $35-$45 and it’s a solid started. Most people will have seen Glenfiddich, Macallan or The Glenlivets in bars etc. so this is a way to show what is in the price range of the 12 year olds but a lot better, in my opinion. Also a question is what whiskies would you give to someone who drinks say, Crown and Cokes or Jack and Cokes but wants to broaden their horizons? I was in Scotland with my Father-In-Law and basically ordered for him, knowing he liked Crown, I he really enjoyed the Scapas, Hazelburns, and Glengoynes.

  35. Ryan says:

    My recommendation to beginning whisky drinkers: do not get hung-up on scores, ratings, or medal winners. That said, unusually low scores and ratings can be quite helpful at steering beginners away from whisky(e)y that needs work. But during your quest for magnificent aromas and flavors, tasting notes are just as helpful as top scores… if not more helpful. So learn the terrain, try new things, and discover what flavors appeal to you. Do you prefer ex-sherry cask matured whisky? Ex-fortified wine cask finished whisky? Heavily peated whisky? 100% ex-bourbon cask matured whisky? Spicy rye whiskey? Extra-aged wheated bourbon? Then incorporate scores and tasting notes into your purchasing decisions as an aid to discerning the relevance of a given whisky’s flavor profile against your own tastes and preferences. One man’s 93 point whisky is another man’s 82. No sense in purchasing an obscenely high-scored heavily peated single malt if you dislike peated whisky; just as it’s no good purchasing a highly scored sherry matured single malt if you dislike heavily sherried whisky. So try various miniatures, look for a pub/bar & grill/restaurant with a nice whisk(e)y selection, and allow your own palate to inform you before deferring to the palates of others. There will be plenty of time to obsess over scores and tasting notes after you’ve learned what you like! It’s about the journey, not the destination:)

  36. Neil Fusillo says:

    For the new whisky enthusiast, I’d mostly steer toward Scotch, since there is, in my opinion, a greater gamut of variety in that category. Bourbon, Irish, etc., have variety, but it’s not QUITE as wide.

    In this realm, the beginner Scotches I generally recommend are:

    Balvenie Doublewood (a complex and delightfully inexpensive scotch)
    Highland Park 12 or 18 (depending on their price range — both excellent, though I prefer the 18)
    The Dalmore Gran Riserva (or 12 if it’s not available)
    Jura Superstition (an excellent scotch to explore)
    Caol Ila 12 (an oft-overlooked delight with a different style peat than most of the other Islay whiskies)
    Lagavulin 16 (the pinnacle of Islay peated elegance without suffering from the brashness of Laphroaig)

    I would take them along a journey in roughly that order, too. Possibly swapping places between the Dalmore and the HP.

    If I got to choose a category of my own, I’d actually go for ‘Single Malt’ as a category, as there are some incredible Irish and Japanese single malts that would make an excellent contrast. But for now, let’s just stick with Scotch.

  37. Andre Girard says:

    My beginner’s kit should looks like:

    HIGHLAND PARK 12YO (Islands)
    LAGAVULIN 16YO (Islay)
    GLENMORANGIE SIGNET (Highlands+ Cask Finishes)
    AUCHENTOSHAN 21YO (Lowlands)
    ABERLOUR ABUNAD’H (Cask strength bottling) or GLENFARCLAS 40yo or GLENDRONACH 15yo


    WOODSTONE CREEK (American, but kind hard to find)


    AMRUT PEATED CASK STRENGTH (World whiskies) or MACKMYRA bottling

  38. Texas says:

    Staying on the lower end for each category

    Bourbon: WT 101, Weller Antique, Dickel No. 12, Benchmark Bourbon Old No. 8 ($10 per 750ml and VERY good), Jim Beam Black
    Rye: WT 101 Rye, Russell’s Reserve Rye
    Scotch Blends: Teacher’s, JWB
    Single Malt: Laphroaig 10, 10 yr CS, or QC, Highland Park 12, Aberlour 10, Talisker 10. Springbank 10

    Something to seek out that won’t break the bank too badly..High West Rendezvous Rye maybe the best whisk(e)y I have ever had.

  39. Peter Charizopoulos says:

    Scotland (speyside-highlands)
    Glenfarclas 12-Glendronach 12-Aberlour 10-Clynelish 14-Oban 14-Glen Garioch 15
    Scotland (islands-campbeltown)
    Highland Park 12-Springbank 10-Tobermory 10-Isle of Jura 10
    Scotland (Islay-peat and smoke)
    Laphroaig 10-Ardbeg 10-Benriach 10(i know)-Bowmore 12-Bunnahabhain 12
    Scotland (lowlands)
    Auchentoshan and Bladnoch
    Connemara NAS-Tyrconnell NAS
    Bourbon USA
    Blanton’s original-Elijah Craig 12-Maker’sMark-Virginia Gentleman VG 90

    I don’t want to have any Japanese or Whisky of the wold if they don’t first start understanding about whisky.I also will not recommend any cask strength to the new enthusiast.It’s a hard start and i think that they will not appreciate it.These are my recommendations to my new clients when they start the most exciting trip to the land of Whisk(e)y.

  40. If someone is a complete stranger to Scotch Whisky, I like thought of trying the McClelland’s Single Malt Scotch Range just so they can get the general essance of what each region has to offer. These whiskys offer a solid range of distilleries also (Auchentoshan (Lowland), Bowmore (Islay), Glen Garioch (Highland), etc.)

  41. Sean says:

    Well my first choice would be Old Pulteney 12.

    Salted mango, melon and and a hint of vanilla. Easy to drink and at a reasonable price of $35 or so.

  42. two-bit cowboy says:

    Ed in PA (@19) touched on this: as important as what to drink is “how to” for an ab initio whisky drinker. Neat to begin (in an appropriate glass), spend some time sipping and letting the air (and drops of water if you must) change the whisky. Tell the whisky’s story — folks love a good story.

    Now, what to drink. Strathisla 12 is a terrific Speysider for beginners. Even milder but more money is the all-bourbon-cask matured Glenrothes Alba Reserve (wonderful for a first-time whisky taster).

    Highlander: Glengoyne 17 (about the same price as Alba Reserve) and Edradour 10 (this one is controversial, but I’ve had great success with new whisky drinkers liking it)

    Islands: Arran 10

    Campbeltown: Kilkerran (not available everywhere, but priced perfectly where you do find it)

    Islay: Ardbeg 10 (I can just hear the hue and cry), but if you approach new drinkers with the story (and NOT the typical Horror Story) the results can be amazing, especially if you’ve brought them through a series of wee tastes and have saved this one for last. If you simply can’t bring yourself to suggest this peaty pleasure, the Kilchomans available in the USA are a nice, albeit slightly pricier option.

  43. Steph C. says:

    The first post I read here was about benchmark whiskies from the last 20 years. It was the perfect post to kick off my whiskey adventure. Since then, I’ve been able to enjoy many of the drams listed here. WhiskyFest San Francisco was the perfect place for me to explore! If you’re new to whiskey, go! And explore any distilleries near you.

    I still consider myself a newbie and found these a great introduction:

    -Oban Distiller’s Edition (the first dram I purchased over $8), when you’re new, it’s hard to lay down more than a happy hour beer price at a bar 🙂 But you quickly find out why you should.
    -I enjoyed George Dickel No. 12 very much, but found GD Barrel Select more approachable for a beginner.
    -Maker’s Mark and Bulleit Bourbon are both great starters.
    -Any Black Maple Hill offerings. Easy to find drams of these in whiskey bars in SF, if your’e in the bay area.
    -Redbreast 12 was so smooth to me, easy to sip and enjoy neat.
    -Mini’s of Glenrothes and Macallan are easy to find.
    -I used John’s suggestion of Master of Malt website. Great dram collections to try!
    -I’ve convinced some coworkers to chip in for an office bottle every so often, a great way to explore a new whiskey without breaking the bank. Our first bottle was Elijah Craig 18YO. I’m currently trying to track down Angel’s Envy bourbon that I tried at WhiskyFest.

    Keep the recommendations coming. This newbie is taking notes…

  44. Troy says:

    Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban. I don’t think I’ve had a Glenmorangie I didn’t like and this Quinta Ruban has become my favorite $45 scotch. Smooth front with some complexity. If I were to blind taste test this I would have guessed it to be a $70 to $80 scotch.

    If these are true beginners then on the Canadian front, check out Forty Creek Single Barrel. It is a good whiskey to help you graduate from Tangle Ridge.

  45. Red_Arremer says:

    Some accessible, but worthwile, drams to taste an aspiring enthusiast on:
    40 Creek Barrel Select
    Connemara 12
    Glen Grant 21 G&M
    Yamazaki 18
    Wathen’s Single Barrel

  46. James_G1 says:

    Island – Talisker 10 year old.
    Islay – Lagavulin 16 year old.
    Speyside – Glenfarclas 105
    Highland – Dalwhinnie 15 Year old or Clynelish 14.
    Lowland – Rosebank (if you can find one)
    Cambletown – Longrow CV

  47. William Taylor says:

    I put together a beginner’s kit for my brother not too long ago. I tried to stay away from anything north of $70, which ruled out a number of great malts (notably Lagavulin and Scapa 16 ). Number one was the much mentioned Balvenie 12 Doublewood. If someone had given me a bottle of that when I was first drinking whisky, they would be included in my will.

    Islay – Caol Isla 12 / Bruichladdich Peat
    Speyside – Balvenie 12 doublewood / Glenlivet 18 (if the price is right) / The Macallan 10
    Highlands – Old Pulteney 12 / Oban 14 / Glen Grant 10
    Lowlands – Glenkinchie 12
    Islands – Highland Park 12 (the 18 is boss, but often expensive) / Talisker 10
    Campbeltown – Springbank 15

  48. Dave K says:

    Some great recommendations here, and I’d agree with many as good intro malts
    Old Pulteney for a good maritime
    Macallan 10 for a nicely sherried selection
    Springbank 10 another coastal but bringing some smoke to the picture
    I’m shocked that nobody else called out the Ardmore Traditional Cask, great whisky at an amazing price and a good bridge to peat
    Talisker 10 takes the spice to the next level
    Ardbeg 10 for a full on Islay

    All of these can be had for under $50, some under $40 and on a good day a couple under $30

  49. NC Nelz says:

    I’ve been into whisky / whiskey now just 3 years. The ones that started me on my way were:
    Crown Royal Reserve — This was the first one , that got me going
    Eagle Rare 10 then eventually (17)— loved the ryeness
    Evan Williams Single barrel — I loved the balance and easyness
    Woodford Reserve — a great well rouded bourbon
    Glenmorangie 10 — started on the scotch side of things
    it took me awhile to get to the peated scotch, once I got there’s no turning back
    Laphroaig 10 , Ardbeg 10

    Now I love the Antique Collection !! Stagg & Larue Weller !!

    • JWC says:

      NC Nelz, I’m with you on the WLW and GTS. I was originally a Scotch drinker, then focused on Bourbon and Rye and now I drink/collect a bit of everything but I really enjoy the Pappy’s, WLW, other quality wheated bourbons and the GTS.

  50. JWC says:


    Glenmorangie 10
    Highland Park 12
    Balvenie 10 (discontinued but still readily available at original price)
    Macallan 12
    [Talisker 10] (the most potentially “challenging” whiskey on this list for a newbie)


    Wild Turkey 101
    Weller 12 (readily available in Texas for about $20 but I am aware that Weller 12 may be more difficult to get in other parts of the country)

    For the bourbons on my list, I’d advise a newbie to let them “air” for a bit and to add a few drops of water.

    Other Whiskey:

    Redbreast 12

    Based on my recommendations, it’s very obvious that bourbon has the best price/quality ratio.

  51. NC Nelz says:

    JWC … I like your scotch selections , right on the money … they were the ones i first tried

  52. The Bitter Fig says:

    Don’t discount blends and other spirits.

    My recommendation: Buy any of the malts widely recommended here, or bourbons, or such. Standard 750 ml bottle for North Americans, etc. At the same time, buy a half-bottle (375 ml) of something else. really minis (50ml) often seem too small. Two glasses if you really nurse them – hardly enough to form an impression as a beginner, but the 200ml-375ml range is perfect. Dewars White Label and Johnnie Walker Red Label are great scotches for this purpose – both are clean blends, not much depth, but a few clear flavors and enough to compare against. Makers Mark and Wild Turkey 101 both come in this size, and show two different sides of Bourbon pretty well. Get a Canadian Club or Crown Royal in this size to understand the most basic style of Canadian whisky. Get a cognac like Remy Martin VSOP or a dark rum like Appleton. Tequila is an odd beast, but get a half bottle of something meant for sipping like a reposado or anejo.

    Get anything which isn’t like the spirit you’re trying. If you like it, wonderful. If you don’t, bake with it, mix it, or soak fruit in it (keep both the spirit and the fruit once separating them!). Worst case – you only bought a half bottle anyhow. Either way, it’ll help you figure out more about what you like and most importantly WHY you like it. For me, cognac lacks a grainy richness and solidity that whisky has, rum has more of the acetone, nail-polishy flavor than I prefer. However, from those, I understand the Scotch and Irish whiskies I prefer better than I would if I hadn’t crossed over.

  53. Bill H. says:

    For variety and value

    Glenfarclas 12
    Dalwhinnie 15 (or D.E. if you can find it)
    Clynelish 14
    Pultney 12
    Highland Park 12
    Tobermory 10
    Ardbeg 10
    Laphroaig 10
    Lagavulin 16
    Springbank 10 (or 100 Proof)
    Yamazaki 12
    Redbreast 12
    Elijah Craig

  54. B Franklin says:

    Beginners need SMS that is easy to drink and toward the sweeter side. They can work up to the Islays later… I recommend these, which are all reasonably priced and readily available:
    Cragganmore 12 yr
    Clynelish 14 yr
    Glenkinchie 12 yr
    Dahlwinnie 15 yr

  55. James K says:

    I guess I don’t agree with those of you who recommended Lagavulin or Laphroaig. While they are great, I think most newer whisky drinkers would be completely turned off by the peat. That said, I echo the Balvenie 12 Doublewood and Highland Park 12 for their balanced flavors and lower price points.

    • Neil Fusillo says:

      I’ve found, doing Scotch whisky tastings, that it’s really hard to predict what a new whisky drinker is going to like. MOST of them go for the wholly unpeated to begin with until they get their feet wet, as it were. But I’ve seen some who really don’t like that end of whisky but DO like the peated side of things right off. I generally like to show them a sampling of unpeated to slightly peated to heavily peated to give them an idea of the range and variation Scotch can achieve. It’s appreciated, even if they find the peated stuff to be way too much.

      • two-bit cowboy says:

        Heartily agree, Neil.

        Give folks a chance to make up their own minds without planting some preconceived notion in their minds about what “they” are going to like.

        Great shot(s) of the full moon, btw.

        • James K says:

          To reiterate, my opinion is that the majority of newer whisky drinkers would not enjoy a peated whisky. I’m not saying they can’t like it or even that a small percentage won’t enjoy it, I’m just saying the odds are that they probably won’t (and might even get turned off by it) and therefore I wouldn’t recommend them. If you are doing a tasting, then that’s a different matter altogether, but even then I wouldn’t have them start with the peated ones–most likely, I’d have them finish with them.

          • Neil Fusillo says:

            I would agree completely, James. While I can never really predict if someone will like the peated whiskies or not, I like to let them sample. But i’d never START someone at that end. It’s an excellent direction to go, though, just to show people how radically different whiskies can get. A good counter to the “oh, I’ve tried whisky before and I didn’t like it” spiel. Really? Was it a whisky like this?? “My god! What IS that?!?” That’s whisky. Just from a different place. They’re ALL different. If you tried one you didn’t like, it’s like trying potato chips or salads or sodas. Just because you didn’t like one of them doesn’t mean you should give up looking for one you might enjoy. And with this much variety, there’s a good chance you might like one of them in there.

  56. […] has been a great discussion taking place over the past couple days on John Hansell’s blog, WhatDoesJohnKnow. In light of his upcoming trip to Chicago to host WhiskyFest, publisher and editor of Malt Advocate […]

  57. twsc says:

    Being in that new whiskey stage, I was introduced through Bernheim’s Wheat Whiskey. Inexpensive, readily available and smooth. In fact, i tell others it is a great beginners whiskey.

    • Texas says:

      Left out Bernheim..definitely recommended, especially after the price dropped to $25. Best whiskey on the rocks I have ever had. It is fine neat, but really shines on the rocks.

  58. Ryan says:

    anCnoc 16
    Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban 12
    Macallan Fine Oak 15
    Highland Park 15
    Yamazaki 12
    Slieve Foy 8
    Redbreast 12
    Elmer T. Lee
    W.L. Weller 12
    Knob Creek
    George Dickel #12 or Barrel Select

  59. Rus says:

    I recommend a few for newbies. Most often, Balvenie Doublewood and Highland Park 12. Both are excellent and affordable and I’ve served them to a lot of newcomers with good feedback. They both have all of the elements of a great Scotch but not overwhelming quantities of peat or smoke. Many others, such as Oban 14, are on my list as well–but I don’t usually recommend it or serve it to first-timers because of the price tag. Why scare them off? As for blends–Johnnie Walker Green is usually what I recommend and share because it’s got the same qualities as the singles listed above.–Rus

  60. JC Skinner says:

    Just wanted to say – some great recommendations from everyone, but I am concerned at the lack of Irish whiskeys being recommended.
    We might only have four distilleries, but the output from each of them is absolutely world-class.
    Whiskey began in Ireland and it’s still made here, and in many ways (we could go on about triple distillation and so on) it’s often more accessible to a new whiskey fan than most scotches.
    I know more Irish whiskey is being sold year on year around the world, but I’m sometimes concerned that it’s just Jameson NAS and the two basic Bush blends getting to people.
    Even very low on the Irish food chain, whiskeys like Locke’s and Powers are absolutely superlative and really accessible for new whiskey drinkers.
    I’ve met a lot of bourbon and scotch experts who never gave Irish whiskey much thought only to find it was much more interesting, complex and challenging than they’d been led to believe.
    Just as I’m a beginner with bourbons (and I’m reading those recommendations here very closely indeed) so some of you might be new to Irish.
    I say – jump in. You won’t be disappointed at all.

    • Ryan says:

      JC, I think you can find cause to ease your concerns in the recommendations of others whom preceded you here:) Locke’s has been mentioned, as has Slieve Foy (which I hear is 8-year-old Locke’s bottled for Preiss Imports), and Powers 12. And I don’t see that consumer space for smaller, more production intensive, brands is being overwhelmed by multinational corporate produced NAS blends. I know very few whisky geeks whom give a flip about the NAS blends you’ve mentioned, but really appreciate Locke’s/Slieve Foy and other Cooley products (as well as some age statement Midleton and Bushmills products); and are nearly universally unenthusiastic about heavily branded, mass-produced, price-point focused brands of any kind. So some lack of mass identification is a good thing if you’re pitching whisk(e)y products to enthusiasts as a market flooded with your product is counter-productive signal from an enthusiast marketing perspective. Oh, and welcome to Bourbon… tasty stuff!

    • Dave K says:

      I have just recently discovered the Irish. Several mentioned Redbreast 12, a great start. It’s so unfortunate that Green Spot doesn’t make it to America, a delicious, well balanced whisky. I’m looking forward to trying Slieve Foy based on the reviews I’ve seen.

    • Dave K says:

      BTW, I would recommend that you seek out some of the lesser know, very inexpensive and really delicious bourbons available online from the US. Johnny Drum Private Stock, Henry McKenna Single Barrel, Buffalo Trace, Black Maple Hill, and a couple of others can be had for under $30, and somethings under $20. They are consistently superb bourbons, and some of the best values anywhere in Whisk(e)y world.

    • Scott says:

      JC, I’d even say that Jameson is a terrific whiskey for beginners. (I think it’s a darn fine whiskey, period, but newbies are the point here.) It’s a whiskey that non-enthusiasts often know of and enjoy on the rocks, and it’s got the kind of flavor profile that makes it good for people who are just beginning to make the leap from drinking on the rocks to tasting neat. And thereafter, it remains a good “benchmark” whiskey as one expands one’s palette and appreciation of more complex whiskies.

      • JC Skinner says:

        I agree that Jemmy’s not a bad whiskey to give a beginner. I suspect it’s most Irish people’s first whiskey.
        I was suggesting that perhaps once you go beyond Jameson NAS and the Bushmills malt blends, maybe not a lot of other Irish whiskey brands are very prominent in the US, which might explain why so few people were recommending Irish whiskeys for beginners.

  61. Q says:


    my own first impression of malt whisky was probably Glengoyne 10 yo, witch I enjoyed the most at those times. Not so sure if it’s that good today, but it could be very simple and easy malt for a start.

    After those times, I’ve been introducing few whiskies for “so-called” beginners and I found that Glenlivet 18 yo and also Aberlour 18 yo has both been a big hits.

  62. Eric says:

    Let me preface by saying I haven’t read every post, so there are almost certainly some re-treads here. For newbies, I would stray toward bottles <$50. This might go without saying, but all these recommendations are for neat/rocks drinking.

    Scotch – Balvenie Doublewood seems the most approachable for beginners. It was one of the first I tried and the scotch that I always have on hand. A lot of people stray toward Glenlivet 12 and while that was the first scotch I tried, I can't stomach it anymore.

    Irish – Redbreast 12 year

    Canadian – Crown Royal Reserve is still as good as Canadian whiskey gets, especially for the price.

    Bourbon – Evan Williams Single Barrel, Eagle Rare, Old Forester Birthday

  63. Ben says:

    First, let me thank all of you. This has been tremendously interesting and useful. I’m not a regular commenter here, and I’ve been taking notes furiously, especially about the American whiskies.

    As a more recent Scotch enthusiast, I think it really helps to start out with things that go down easily and are fairly gentle and middle of the road. Dalwhinnie is a good starter. The Old Pulteney 12, too, grossly underrated. The MacCallan 12 is good for beginners, and I also like the anCnoc 12 and the Benromach Traditional, a great value. Frankly, I use the Glenfiddich 12 as a dram to orient my palate and give a basis for comparison. (So what if Murray calls it “a real 40 watt bulb”?)

    I agree with others here that no beginner should be introduced to Scotch with an Islay — and I say that as someone who adores his Laphroiag 10 and especially Laphroiag Quarter Cask, the best ever in my book. Just too unusual and overwhelming, something to be saved for later years.

    Back to note taking. Thanks!

    • Ryan says:

      Glenfiddich 12 is what I call a ‘situational whisky’. May not be genius, but it’s a great party whisky. It’s like serving a well-made side dish at a BBQ – it won’t be the highlight, but it will disappear. Sometimes a 40 watt bulb works best.

      • Ben says:

        I agree. The Glenfiddich 12 isn’t exciting or complex, but so what? If, after a tough week of work, I want a decent Scotch that tastes good but doesn’t require much thought, the Glenfiddich 12 is what I turn to. Sometimes it’s just what the situation calls for. For this purpose, I prefer it to its Glenlivet counterpart as well as to Johnie Walker Black.

  64. Eugene says:

    My list for an introduction to Scotch might include.
    AnCnoc 12
    Compass Box Spice Tree
    Oban 14
    Cragganmore Distillers Edition
    Caol Ila Distillers Edition
    Amrut Intermediate Sherry
    Dalmore Gran Reserva

    It took me 10 years to develop a taste for Laphroaig, so I personally wouldn’t force it upon anyone blindly.

  65. Steve S. says:

    Wow. This is a great list!
    I want to add the 3 whiskies that opened my mind and tongue….the ones that took me to a new place that made me want to “discover” what whiskey was/is.
    Bourbon: Blanton’s. This was brought into our kitchen and everything about it – the bottle, the cork, the taste – was just so RIGHT. It makes me very happy.
    Scotch: The Macallan 12yr old. Bought because it was on special, this is the scotch that really brought me to scotch. And I never looked back.
    Rye: I recently found rye and I love it. Love. It. I like that the sweetness is cut with such complex flavors. The first one I tried was a Van Winkle and I thought this very tasty. I am in the process now of trying more brands and have not yet settled on a favorite or a “go to”. I am excited to discover the subtleties at work here.
    One other thing: I just want to give mention to the Johnnie Walker Black Label. I always have this in my bar. It is a very tasty, satisfying, and inexpensive blended scotch.

    Thank you everyone for your ideas and recommendations!

  66. A. Marina Fournier says:

    My experience:
    Glenfiddich in my freshman year of college, on a misty night. I followed the sound of bagpipes–this in Claremont California!–to the little area of wilderness in the midst of campus and found one of the physics profs playing. I went upstairs to a roof on which he was playing, and waited for him to finish. We had a chat, and he took me down to the kitchen of this stone cottage, and poured me a dram of Glenfiddich. It was okay by me. Have never bought any for myself–don’t tend to care for Highland/Speyside malts.

    The second was Laphroaig 10. It was an overnight SCA tourney, possibly in the Bay Area, and there was a tentfull of folks making merry. I may have been asked if I liked Lapsang Souchong, a very smoky tea, and was then given a bit of Laphroaig. I was in love at first sip. For years, I never had the chance to try another Islay, but I tend to like them all. I think the best Laphroaig was a 12, by an independent bottler. I was able to get that for a few years in the 80’s.

    I still find that if you like Lapsang Souchong, you will like Laphroaig, and vice versa, unless you don’t drink black teas.

    The third was Glenmorangie, at a time when they were not experimenting with different expression. It was in the afternoon at a casual gathering of academic friends, and this nice Scot had brought that to share. It is the closest thing to a brandy, IMO, that is found in singlemalts.

    My husband’s first malt was Bowmore (10?), at a tasting party at some friends’ house. He had been teasing me for as long as I’d known him for liking “alcoholic bog water”. The look on his face when he tasted it was “uh-oh, I can’t tease her anymore. I rather like this”. He continues to prefer Bowmores.

    The Welsh singlemalt, Penderyn, was tasted at the first San Francisco WhiskeyFest, and it was smooth enough to have been aged at least 20 yrs. It’s five only!

    For Bourbons, early inexpensive suggestions are Knob Creek and Woodford Reserve. Just fine neat. I may have tried Buffalo Trace, but don’t recall my impression, one way or another. My father favored Jack Daniels, but the Pappy Van Winkle, when you can afford it, is amazing, especially the older ones.

    For Irish, science fiction singers, “filkers”, have sung of Tullamore Dew, which was apparently not available in the States for some time. I don’t know that I’ve tried it.

    I haven’t tried Canadian whiskies, but my husband used to drink Canadian Club on planes. He doesn’t like flying, it’s a control issue (not that he’s going for a pilot’s license). His hindbrain insists that he shouldn’t be up that high,we’re going to fall and crash any moment. In order to shut that up, he’d drink heavily enough to quell it, but by the time the plane landed, his adrenalin system had burnt out any alcohol in his blood. Since becoming diabetic, it’s Halcion for him. On long flights, he may need two.

    Much as I love Japanese food and tea, I am not interested in Japanese whiskies.

    Take a newcomer to a well-stocked bar, to a tasting party, or to a well-stocked liqour store or whisky shop, and go for the sampler minis. It’s a less expensive way to try several different distilleries.

    I loved WhiskyFest, but the last few years have been tight enough that we could not attend, and stay overnight or two nights–and no way was I going to drive to the South Bay on that much whisky, even with the short pours I had (most of which I didn’t finish), as I could barely walk in my alcoholic haze, the three blocks to the hotel we chose!

  67. Bob Goodyear says:

    97 posts so far and only 6 or 7 Rye mentions. Thank goodness, there isn’t enough to go around now! Rittenhouse BIB is the best deal out there right now. High West is right behind.

  68. John Hansell says:

    Excellent suggestions everyone. And some good counterpoints too!

  69. […] let me thank all of you who offered whisky recommendations for the new enthusiast in my last post. More than 100 comments later, I can say that the post is a very valuable […]

  70. Hi John,

    Can I suggest you take a look at The Whisky Recommender? It’s based on distillery style rather than individual bottlings, but it is a great way to help people find new single malts that will suit their tastes.


  71. H.Diaz says:

    Hibiki 12 y/o

  72. ray says:

    My first whisk(e)y ever was Jack Daniels in my early 20’s. I hated it.

    My second was Crown Royal. It was ok.

    Several years later I tried Jamesons cause of a commercial on tv. Liked it.
    That got me thinking. I re-tried Jack and Crown and found an appreciation for them. Since them I’ve really gotten into top shelf bourbons, Stagg, Weller, and the rest on the antique collection. A lot of this is an aquired taste process. I cherished the thought of sipping whiskey long before I ever loved it. Cheers

  73. Gary says:

    I note the comment about few ryes being recommended. Try Alberta Premium rye 40% abv as a starter rye. It is the only 100% rye bottled in Canada even though rye whisky abounds here. Even in overtaxed British Columbia it’s only $24 for 750 ml. Big rye taste but easy sipping. Ugly fake cut glass bottle but get past that. FWIW Murray rates it 95.5.

  74. Richard says:

    Bulleit bourbon, Black Maple Hill Bourbon, are both amazing american whiskeys. For a great Rye try Hudson Manhattan Rye from tutilltown spirits. Powers Irish Whiskey, Red Breast 12 year are two fine Irish whiskeys that really capture what Irish spirits are all about. scotch is some what difficult. Auchentoshan classic is good to start with, but its not peated and to really tast the diversity of scotch you got to have some peat. Lagavulin 16 is a great scotch and will supply some serious peat with a lovely roundness. Still when I recommend a scotch whisky to a novice I like to get some sherry casks in there. Balvenie Sherry Cask is a great scotch especially for beginners.

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