A few weeks ago I was asked a question by a twitter follower (@GQuiz) and Sour Mash Manifesto visitor. He wanted to know “if I had $100 to spend, what whiskey(s) would I buy?” Bill over at Modern Thirst thought it would be a good idea to pose the same question to a number of other whiskey enthusiasts, bloggers, and writers in order to get their take as well. The responses are on his website, but below you can find mine.
Over the years I’ve been asked a thousand times to provide a “best” list of whiskey. I’d love to, but that’s just hard. If a whiskey lover can tell you exactly what her favorite whiskey is then I’d say she hasn’t sipped enough whiskey. I sure as hell couldn’t give you a top 10 or 20, much less a top 5. Every whiskey has a personality to fit a certain mood. It’s not much different than having a diverse mix of friends – you enjoy spending time with all of them for different reasons. Even a seemingly innocent question such as the one above becomes very hard when you consider all of the options.
First let me provide some context. There were few rules applied to this question – it could be approached from any possible angle (and I did!). The first constraint I placed on my response was to make certain I only considered American Whiskey. If you’ve visited this website enough I’m sure you know that Made in the U.S.A products are my area of focus. After that, anything goes!
I’ve attacked this question in too may ways. For example, right now I’m sipping a delicious barrel strength Booker’s Bourbon. It’s a delicious whiskey – never fails! If I allow recency bias to go crazy this Booker’s ($55) and Elijah Craig Single Barrel ($35) (for good measure) would wrap this thing up quick (I just cheated but you might want to write those down). Find me on a Tuesday with a hankering for a fabulous American Craft Single Malt, and the St. George Spirits Single Malt 14th release ($80 and a truly incredible pour) along with a handle of Evan Williams Black Label might get the nod (cheated again, but check these out). Get the point? This is a complex scenario. I needed order. I needed a compass to guide me.
The classics are classics for a reason. Can you find better? Perhaps, but you’ll be splitting hairs. The versatility that the classics bring to the table are simply too good to ignore. So, with that, the way I answered this question is I marched into my dining room, which holds hundreds and hundreds of bottles of whiskey, and I looked for the ones I purchased most. What do I buy? Regardless of what I think on a random day, I buy certain whiskeys consistently. And that I suppose is the best endorsement I can give.
If I had $100.00 to spend on whiskey, this is what I’d purchase?
Four Roses Single Barrel ($35): If you love whiskey, please do yourself a favor and type “Jim Rutledge” in the search box on the top right of this website. Feel free to read the background on Four Roses and watch the videos I did with Jim, the Master Distiller, a number of years ago. Four Roses is easily a top 3 distillery in the U.S, maybe the best, but that’s subjective. The way the distillery works with recipes, yeast strains, and aging philosophy is completely different from everyone else. The distillery’s single barrel is the flagship of the lineup – fruity, well structured, bold and vibrant, but extremely well balanced. I have a bottle or two of the Single Barrel on hand at all times. It’s a requirement. Typically I’ll drink it neat or with a cube of ice, but don’t hesitate to make a bourbon-forward cocktail. It’s not against the law with such a good whiskey, and rest assured it will certainly stand up and be accounted for.
Rittenhouse Rye Whiskey ($25): Personally, no home bar is complete without a quality bottle of rye whiskey. Rittenhouse happens to be a bit more versatile than most others. It’s not quite as green and herbal as other popular rye whiskeys, and the value proposition is on point. If you are new to rye whiskey – start here. If you are well acquainted with rye whiskey – stay here. Rittenhouse Rye always delivers.
W.L. Weller 12 year ($30): Forget all of the “it’s the same stuff as Pappy” bull crap. That’s no reason to by it. Buy Weller 12 because it’s an excellent pour of whiskey on its own merit. It’s rich, sweet, but with a healthy oak backbone. Wheated bourbon north of the 10 year mark just becomes special, and Weller 12 exemplifies that. I drink it neat, in an old fashioned, a mint julep, and on ice in the heat of the summer – versatile and delicious. Availability is tighter than the others, but unlike a lot of the limited releases, Weller 12 shows up couple times a year. Talk to your local shop, request a bottle and let me know what you think. I typically by 3-4 bottles a year at my local retailer to make sure I have enough on hand.
Edited Note: While I’ve got a little money left over with the above list, I also took into account price variances depending on area. The above prices are an average for what I see, but Four Roses Single Barrel can push that $40 range at times, and Rittenhouse can move $2-3 north. So the above are ballparks.
There you have it. It may not be sexy, it may not be unique, but it’s what I buy. That is as good a recommendation as I can give. Share with us what you would buy if you had $100 to spend. Just as importantly – tell us why.
Cheers and drink your whiskey!