College graduation season is upon us, and soon gaggles of 22 year olds will pour forth from halls of higher learning eager to test out their newly minted degrees. They’ve completed their formal schooling—but their whisky education is just getting started.
As a more experienced drinker, perhaps you’d like to impart some extracurricular knowledge on them to ensure they get off on the right foot. You may even think of yourself as a mentor or—dare we say it—spirit guide.
What whisky fundamentals do you focus on? For one, there’s education: Whisky 101 can help there. But you also want to make sure they’re drinking the right stuff. There are probably several whiskies you wish you’d known about early in your drinking days. We’ve thought of a few too.
Remember, this is about starting from level one—great representations of the different styles of whisky a new drinker will encounter, focusing on bottles that are easy for most folks to find. It is by no means a comprehensive list, and you can certainly drill down deeper into a particular category. But you can use these suggestions as a starting point—and let us know what you would recommend!
Compass Box Great King Street Artist’s Blend—$45, 91 points
A mainstay on my home bar thanks to its pleasantly sweet-and-spicy palate. It’s perfect for making cocktails, but goes down just as easily neat.
Johnnie Walker Double Black—$40, 90 points
There’s a reason Johnnie Walker is the best-selling scotch in the world. Double Black’s amped-up smoke and fruity flavors make it a great start for beginners to get into the classic blended style.
Single malt scotch
Balvenie 14 year old Caribbean Cask—$60, 89 points
Finished in rum casks, Balvenie’s Caribbean Cask offers a little more fruit, spice, and sweetness than other whiskies from the acclaimed Speyside distillery. It’s a perfect introduction to single malt for younger drinkers who may be used to sweeter beverages.
Lagavulin 16 year old—$90, 92 points
When introducing peated scotch to newbies, start with one of the best. Lagavulin is an outstanding example of how the island’s terroir is reflected in the whisky, with flavors that call to mind waves crashing on a rocky shore.
Baker’s—$47, 92 points
The sleeper hit of Beam’s Small Batch Bourbon Collection, Baker’s is a high-proof (53.5% ABV) bourbon with a 7-year age statement for a reasonable price. Vanilla, wood, and spice flavors, and a smooth mouthfeel mellow out the alcoholic heat.
Angel’s Envy—$46, 93 points
With lush fruity notes from its finishing period in a port pipe, it has the added bonus of a fancy-looking bottle—no gift wrap required.
Rittenhouse Rye Bottled in Bond—$28, 88 points
Rye for bourbon lovers—it only has the legally required 51% rye content in the mash bill. That results in a sweet, herbal, complex whiskey that can be enjoyed on its own or in a cocktail.
George Dickel Rye—$25, 85 points
Made at the MGP distillery in Indiana—where many brands source their rye whiskey—with its signature 95% rye mash bill, this is an easy-drinking, minty, sweet expression.
Teeling Small Batch—$44, 89 points
A blended Irish whiskey that elevates the category with a high malt content and rich flavor. It’s finished in rum casks and shows off tropical fruit, milk chocolate, and toffee notes.
Redbreast Lustau Edition—$69, 93 points
Redbreast’s signature sherried flavors and single pot still style are boosted with a year of finishing in additional sherry casks. This is Irish whiskey at its most luscious—fruit, nuts, and oak turned up to 11.
Forty Creek Copper Pot Reserve—$29, 88 points
A big, bold Canadian whisky that shows what the category is capable of when it’s focused on blending for flavor, rather than the light style that’s so common today.
Alberta Rye Dark Batch—$30, 88 points
While atypical of traditional, lighter-bodied Canadian whiskies, this one takes advantage of the country’s 9.09% rule to mingle in bourbon and sherry, making for a rich and intriguing whisky.
Nikka Coffey Grain—$65, 92 points
A single grain whisky made in a Coffey still, this is one of Japan’s most intriguing and delightful whiskies these days—sweet, fruity, with a creamy, rich palate.
Hibiki Japanese Harmony—$65, 90 points
Part of the fallout of aged whisky shortages in Japan—which has led distillers to drop most of their age-statement expressions—this blend mingles flavors of fruit and oak with toffee, cookies, and hint of smoke. Do like the Japanese and try this one in a Highball.