If I had one hundred dollars to spend on whiskey….

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 BarrelFour 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 Bottled In BondRittenhouse 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 YearW.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!

-Jason

55 Comments

  1. Matt says:

    Thought you were going to make a better effort to keep this site active. Last post in April??? This used to be the best place for Bourbon lovers to come and see great reviews from a knowledgeable and charismatic voice. Now, sorry to say, it is only a bit of a disappointment. I guess some of us viewers will have to get on the other side of the camera. Too bad! Sourmashmanifesto used to be great.

  2. Matt, I certainly have intended to make a much better effort this year and have disappointed both of us. Life is good, but it’s hectic right now. Sour Mash Manifesto is not my full time job, but something I work on in my personal time. With three daughters full into sports and a growing company to run, I’ve been doing a poor job balancing to make a better showing on this website. Whiskey is a passion of mine that remains as hot as ever, and rest assured I will find the time or find the balance to rekindle things, but it’s not happening as quickly as I’d like. We take the good with the bad I suppose. I do feel however that the content on this website remains very relevant for someone wishing to grow their knowledge of whiskey, but perhaps one day the new content will keep people interested. In the meantime, I think anyone that has a wish to get involved on this side of the keyboard or the camera most certainly should. Any knowledge shared is a good thing.

    Cheers.

  3. Jerry says:

    Being a Tequila and Vodka guy that just started getting into Bourbon after visiting the Buffalo Trace Distillery this past June, I’ve tasted and/or bought a number of bourbons in a very short time frame. Again, my love has always been primarily Tequila (Cabo Wabo, Herradura, and Casa Noble to name a few), but apparantly whatever it was that I drank over 20 years ago that steered me away from Whisky and Bourbon (probably Jack Daniels….(shiver), apparently it was the wrong stuff. Although I do like the occasional Scotch, Glenmorangie and Johnny Walker Black being my ‘go to’ bottles, I’ve started to appreciate Bourbon after that Buffalo Trace tour. Ironically, I don’t much care for Buffalo Trace itself, but I do like Eagle Rare, Blantons, and the W.L.Weller Special Reserve that I was able to find. (would love to find W.L. Weller 12 year, but that’s virtually impossible today).

    But on to my $100 selections.

    Larceny by Heaven Hill. I just think this has a great nose to it and to me tastes super smooth. Unfortunately it’s not available in Michigan, so I have to rely on online liquor stores and pay almost double due to shipping. But even then we’re talking about $40-$45 and it more then stacks up to other bourbons at that price. (I’m basing this on the shelf price of about $24-$29 if you didn’t need to have it shipped)

    Bernheim Wheat Whisky by Heaven Hill. This one IS readily available in Michigan even though it also is from Heaven Hill. At first I thought it was rather bland and uneventful. But after drinking other bourbons and then going back to it again, it quickly became one of my favorites, although not strictly a Bourbon due to the high Wheat count. But neat or with a dollop of water, and I’m a happy camper.

    4 Roses Blend. Not the Yellow Label or the Single Barrel, although both are tasty also. This is just a good all around bourbon in my opinion. Readily available, very good price, and in my opinion tastes just as good, if not better, then some higher priced offerings. Concerning the Single Barrel, I have to be fair, the only one I tried was a barrel Strength version that was picked directly by my local liquor store. That barrel strength was just too much for me, since I don’t particularly like the burn of Whisky. (remember..I’m a tequila guy) So I will need to purchase a regular bottle of the single barrel to make an accurate comparison. But the Blended bourbon is so good, I almost don’t want to stray.

    Although I seem to lean more towards wheated bourbons as opposed to the ones with a higher rye count, I don’t particularly care for Makers Mark of Makers 46. I actually poured a glass of 46 and then dumped out half of it and replaced it with Rittenhouse Rye. (ironic since I don’t prefer the rye over wheat except maybe on the rocks)

    Others that I like but would make me go over the $100 mark, is Angels Envy, Blantons, Eagle Rare, Elmer T Lee, 1792, Knob Creek and Gentleman Jack. Most of these I don’t drink neat, but add various levels of water so that my tongue doesn’t go numb.

    But there’s my list. Tried the W.L Weller Special Reserve, which isn’t bad either. Waiting for someone around me or one of the online stores I visit to have some W.L. Weller 12 yr for me to try.

    Until then….Drink your Tequila….( I mean Bourbon)

  4. I must put in a word for WhistlePig 10 Year Rye. At 100 proof and 100% rye, it is well-balanced and complex. The explosion of flavors on the palate reminds me of Booker’s, but with the spice often associated with rye. Alas, it is becoming more and more expensive, around $80 these days.

  5. Adam says:

    I’m very new to bourbon. Early experience with JD kept me in other quarters for decades. I like a blended scotch, and I’ve found The Dimple Pinch to be about the best scotch for your buck at $35-40 for a bottle, the 15-year old being better than some older and more expensive blends. Brandy/Congac is another area of mine, and opinions on what is and isn’t good in that arena are widely varied and conflicting, but I’m happy with E&J XO.

    JD has made me leery of bourbon, but I’ve stepped up and discovered that Makers isn’t bad at all, and Angel’s Envy Kentucky Straight seems very nice indeed. I was wondering how you would compare Angel’s Envy to the 3 bourbons you listed above. (I did look over your AE review.) I like a drink that is smooth and flavorful, with minimal bitterness. How would your 3 bourbons fit into that?

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