Last updated: August 7, 2021

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Water, grain and yeast - whiskey is on the one hand simple and on the other hand complex in taste. Are you a whiskey fan or connoisseur looking for new and special taste experiences? Then you've come to the right place!

In our whiskey test 2021 we present the best whiskeys on the market and explain what is important when buying. You'll learn all about the different characteristics and types of whiskey. In addition, our buying criteria can help you find the right whiskey for you.




Summary

  • Whisky is called the water of life and originally comes from Ireland and Scotland. Whisky can basically be divided into five Scottish regions.
  • The words whisky and whiskey are not only different spellings, but also provide information about the origin of the respective distillery.
  • Important distinguishing features when choosing a whisky are not only the country of origin, but also the cask maturity, the taste, the alcohol content, the aroma and the smoke content.

The Best Whiskey: Our Choices

Guide: Questions you should ask yourself before buying a whiskey

Before you actually buy a whiskey, we want to answer a few basic questions about whiskey. Among other things, we will clarify whether there is a difference between single malt whiskey and blended whiskey.

What is whiskey?

Whiskey is a spirit that has its origin in a mixture of grains. The distillation of this mixture is then kept in a wooden barrel where it matures.

The word whisky comes from the Scottish Gaelic and means something like "water of life". (Image source: unsplash.com / Dylan de Jonge)

The minimum alcohol content of whisky in the EU is 40 per cent by volume, although the usual content can go up to 46 per cent by volume.

What do the terms single malt whisky and blended whisky mean?

To get a feel for whisky, you first need to understand the terms single malt whisky and blended whisky.

Firstly, single malt whiskies come from a single distillery, so they are not a blend of several types of whisky. Secondly, only malted barley is used as grain.

These are whisky varieties that have developed through their different production methods.

  • Single malt whisky is whisky that comes from different cask bottlings of a distillery. It is made exclusively from malted barley, distilled in copper stills and then kept in oak casks for maturation.
  • Blended whisky is a mixture of malt whisky and industrial whisky from different distilleries. Hence the word "blended". Here, the industrial whisky is produced in large quantities from wheat and corn and then only minimally barrel-aged.
  • Bourbon whiskey is made primarily from corn, although rye and barley may also be included. Most of the factories producing bourbon whiskey are in the USA in Kentucky and Tennessee.
  • Ryewhiskey is mainly based on rye. This whisky is mainly produced in North America.

The addition Single Malt is also understood as a predicate and a sign of a premium whisky. Among whisky connoisseurs, it is certainly the most popular form. This distinction means that these whiskies are of particularly high quality and have a long period of storage and maturation.

What distinguishes a good whisky?

Well-known brands and whisky logos that you know from advertising and television are usually more expensive, but not necessarily better. High-quality whiskies are sold much less frequently and hardly ever find a place in the less well-stocked supermarkets. You can consider the following criteria when choosing a whisky:

  • Country of production: First of all, you should look at the country of production. If no country is indicated, the ingredients have been inexpensively assembled from all parts of the world.
  • Varietal: Next, you should also look at the variety. Single malt Scotch whisky, for example, is one of the highest quality whiskies.
  • Names of distilleries: One feature is the names of the renowned distilleries that stand for consistently good quality. Here you can also pay special attention to awards if such information is very important to you.
  • Age: Age is also an important distinguishing feature. As a rule of thumb, it is said that a single malt becomes really good after 10 years. However, it does not always mean "the older the better". In the meantime, there are already many bottlings without an age statement that nevertheless convince with good taste.
  • Price: Of course, the price also gives an indication of the content. Here you can distinguish between the 3 most important price ranges. A discount whisky, for example, usually stays below a price of 10 euros. Blended whisky usually costs between 9 and 25 euros. Single malt whisky is priced at more than 25 euros.

NAS Whisky - Non Age Statement Whisky

Whisky without an age statement is often referred to as NAS whisky in connoisseur circles. NAS stands for "No Age Statement". These bottlings have appeared more and more frequently on the market in recent years. One reason for this is certainly that the demand for whisky has been increasing for years and many distilleries can no longer bring their standard bottlings, such as a 12-year-old single malt Scotch, to the market in sufficient quantities. With NAS whisky, younger casks are added to the older casks. However, a whisky must always be designated according to the youngest cask. In concrete terms, this means that a 12-year-old single malt must not contain a cask that has been stored for less than 12 years. With NAS whisky, these admixtures are not a problem.

Did you know that 112-year-old women drink a glass of whisky every evening to stay fit? The Daily Mail newspaper reports on the 112th birthday of Britain's oldest woman. Grace Jones was born in 1906, she is 20 years older than Queen Elizabeth II. She also survived two world wars, lived through 26 prime ministers, 5 kings and 10 popes so far. She calls whisky her elixir of life. She has never forgotten to drink a glass of whisky before going to bed.

NAS whiskies are still not very popular with many traditional whisky connoisseurs. Nevertheless, you shouldn't let these bottlings out of your sight. Especially entry-level whiskies can often be obtained very cheaply as NAS.

What are the most important facts you need to know about whisky?

The most important facts, and probably the questions you ask yourself the most, relate to the colour of the whisky, the alcohol content and the cost, although we look at the cost separately below.

Colour

Whisky has everything from crystal clear to black.

When you think of whisky, you probably have a golden brown colour in mind. What most people don't know, however, is that the colour of whisky can range from crystal clear to black. The colour can be a very interesting and important criterion for describing a whisky, as it is, among other things, a sign of a long maturing period. However, the use of artificial colouring agents is becoming more and more common. But the use of colourants is not always negative from the consumer's point of view. Often, distilleries use the dye to equalise the variations of different casks. Whether a whisky is coloured or not depends very much on the distillery.

Alcohol content

Scotch whisky is usually bottled with an alcohol content of 40% or 43%. By law, the minimum alcohol content of whisky is 40%. Of course, as with any other high-proof alcohol, there are age restrictions on whisky, which also vary from country to country.

How much does whisky cost?

The cost of whisky varies greatly. You can get the cheapest bottle for as little as ten euros. On the other hand, there are also bottles that can cost three to 30 times as much and even more. The cheaper bottles come from surplus production and are sold immediately after a legal minimum storage period of 3 years. Especially with whisky, however, cheap does not necessarily mean "poor quality".
Did you know that the most valuable whisky in the world costs 1 million euros (900,000 pounds)? The whisky "Macallan Valerio 1926" was matured for 60 years before it was bottled in 1986. Only twelve bottles of its kind existed. How many of them still exist is uncertain. One of these bottles has already been auctioned in Hong Kong this year for a record value of around 910,000 euros (about 815,000 pounds).

In most cases, entry-level whiskies are already of a very high quality. As already described, all whiskies must be stored in a cask for at least 3 years. When it comes to whisky, it all depends on personal taste. As a general rule, younger types of whisky taste more like alcohol than those that have been matured for longer.

Whisky is very expensive in bars and restaurants. If you buy your own bottle for home, you can save a little money. (Picture source: 123rf.com / Ersler Dmitry)

How can I extend the shelf life of whisky?

The shelf life of whisky depends, of course, on whether the bottle is still originally sealed or has already been opened. The deterioration of the whisky's flavour begins as soon as it is opened. Thanks to the high alcohol content, however, the whisky cannot go mouldy or really spoil, it is mainly the taste that changes. Here are some tips and tricks to prevent or significantly delay this.

It is important to store the whisky bottle standing up. On the one hand you prevent the constant danger of leakage, on the other hand you prevent contact with the cork, which is important because it could dissolve or release unwanted aromas into the spirit.

We also recommend storing in the dark, cool and dry. Whisky can change flavour with prolonged exposure to sunlight, as well as evaporate. In addition to the sun, whisky does not tolerate heat and you should also avoid temperature fluctuations. Experts recommend a temperature of 15° Celsius to avoid evaporation and to extend the shelf life. Dry storage helps to prevent the cork from rotting. Air has a high impact on the shelf life of the whisky. The influence of air on the whisky can be reduced by using a whisky pump or decanting into smaller bottles. With the right storage, the shelf life of opened whisky bottles is between half a year and a year. With closed bottles, it is almost "unlimited". Here is a summary of the most important tips and tricks:

  • Store whisky upright
  • Store in the dark
  • Store in a cool place
  • Store in a dry place
  • Protect from the sun
  • Reduce the influence of air on the whisky

What is the right way to drink whisky?

There is actually no right or wrong way to drink whisky. It all depends on your taste. It is possible to enjoy the whisky neat, to use ice cubes, i.e. "on the rocks", or even to add still water. Many whiskies are even bottled at cask strength, i.e. with approx. 50-60 percent alcohol by volume.

Whisky connoisseurs recommend always drinking whisky without ice. Not only does ice water it down, but the colder temperature also ensures that fewer aromas are perceived.

It is best to drink good whisky at room temperature. The so-called nosing glass is particularly recommended. These glasses are tulip-shaped and narrow towards the top. This prevents the scent of the whisky from escaping as quickly and the aromas are perceived more intensively. Besides the nosing glass, there are also other glasses that are suitable for whiskey. If, on the other hand, you would like to set up your own minibar at home, or if you simply like to drink a glass of whisky more often, you can also store the whisky in a whisky carafe and serve it directly from there.

When ice cubes are used, the cold binds the flavours in the whisky and prevents them from rising. The cold also numbs the palate and the taste of the whisky is not as intense. This form of drinking is therefore often criticised by whisky connoisseurs.

Scotland and Ireland are the places of origin, but in the meantime whiskey has become widespread and popular almost all over the world (Image source: unsplash.com / oldskool photography)

If the whiskey is too strong or too spicy for you, we recommend adding a few drops of still water. It is important to use only still water, because any carbon dioxide will sour the taste. Mixing whisky with cola belongs more in the party area. With a high-quality malt or straight bourbon, you should therefore not add cola and sacrifice the noble drop. Cheap blended whiskies are more suitable for this.

Decision: What types of whiskey are there and which is right for me?

Whisky is called the water of life all over the world. Originally from Scotland and Ireland, whisky has spread all over the planet over the years. Especially in the USA, India and Japan, it has now found many friends. Basically, whisky can be divided into the following Scottish regions and thus distinguished:

  • Lowlands
  • Highlands
  • Speyside
  • Islands
  • Islay

Between these regions you can clearly recognise the different flavours and productions. If you can distinguish between the regions, it will be much easier for you to get to grips with the subject of whisky.

The majority of Scotch whiskies are distilled in the Highlands region.

In the following section, we would like to help you find out which type of whisky is right for you. We will also explain some important terms and present the above-mentioned regions in detail.

Lowlands

The whiskies from the Lowlands belong to the light and gentle whisky varieties. Here, particular attention is paid to the absence of peat, which distinguishes this subtle taste. We can highly recommend the Auchentoshan whisky.

Highlands

Compared to the products from the Lowlands, the taste is stronger. A small to large amount of peat is used. The products Edradour, Dalmore and Glenmorangie are among the best and most famous distilleries from this region.

Speyside

Very fine and round single malts are produced in the Speysides. Some products are highly recommended and the whiskies Glenlivet, The Macallan, Glenfiddich and Glenfarclas are particularly convincing.

Islands

These whiskies usually have a stronger taste. The Scala, Walker, Isle of Jura and Springbank score particularly well here with their intense aroma.

Islay

The whiskies from Islay are usually very different from the rest of the world. Peat in particular dominates these regions. If you are interested in this type, we advise you to choose the whiskies Bowmore, Port Ellen, Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardberg. But beware: the bottlings usually taste intensely of smoke, so they are not suitable for everyone.

Buying criteria: You can use these factors to compare and evaluate whiskey

In the following section, we will present the different criteria for buying a whisky. This will make it easier for you to compare and evaluate the various whiskies. We are sure that you will find a whisky that meets your criteria quickly and easily. In summary, the criteria are:

  • Price
  • Country of origin
  • Variety
  • Aroma & Flavour
  • Cask Maturity

In the following paragraphs you can read about the individual purchase criteria and how you can classify them.

Price

First of all, the purchase price of the product is important. Of course, it also depends on the person how much money he or she wants to spend on a good drop. There are three main groups that you can use as a guide to help you decide which whisky is appropriate for a particular occasion.

Whiskey Euro
Discount Whiskey 8-10
Blended Whiskey 9-25
Single Malt Whiskey from 25

The price here naturally also gives an indication of the content. The following price ranges refer to typical prices of 0.7 litre bottles:

Variety

The different varieties also give an important indication of the quality of the whisky and should not be omitted as a purchase criterion. Here it is important to pay attention to the different terms in the whisky section. Single malt whisky is an indication of a whisky that has only been produced in one distillery. This also means that it is not a blend of several whisky varieties. In addition, a single malt whisky stands for its outstanding quality and is often referred to as a premium whisky. In blended whiskies, whiskies from different distilleries are used and mixed together. These so-called blended whiskies are also often considered industrial whiskies. There are also bourbon whiskies, as well as rye whiskies.

Country of origin

Since it is no secret that the origin of whisky production is in Scotland or Ireland, it is certain that the best whiskies are also produced in these countries.

Depending on the country, but also depending on the region, you can recognise the respective aromas and tastes and thus easily distinguish them.

In the meantime, whisky production has become very established and has spread to many countries all over the world. For example, many whiskies are produced in the USA, India and also in Japan, and they also score points for their quality.

Aroma & Taste

The aroma and taste of whisky can be very different. On the one hand, whisky can be fruity and sweet, but on the other hand, it can also be very dry and smoky in taste and finish. These big differences usually depend on the country or region of production.

Region Characteristic of the whiskey Products
Lowlands light and gentle without peat Auchentoshan
Highlands strong taste, little to much peat Edradour, Dalmore, Glenmorangie
Speyside fine and round single malts Glenlivet, The Macallan, Glenfiddich, Glenfarclas
Islands usually stronger in taste Scala, Talker, Isle of Jura, Springbank
Islay usually clearly different from the rest of the world, peat reigns Bowmore, Port Ellen, Laphroaig, Lagavulin, Ardberg

As Scotland is one of the most important producing countries in the world and many good whiskies come from there, we have summarised the most important regions from Scotland to give you a simple and quick overview.

Cask maturity

Cask maturity is also a criterion that is not considered the most important, but cannot be excluded for comparison and evaluation. In any case, the length of the maturation period can also be an indication of the content and quality. The widespread assumption that whisky is better the older it is is not necessarily correct and only applies to a limited extent in terms of taste. For the majority of spirits, this time is between 12 and 15 years. Very old whiskies are often particularly round, soft and full, but often at the expense of individuality, as the cask note becomes increasingly dominant. You can also tell how long the spirit has been matured by its colour. After its production, the whisky is actually colourless. Only with time in the oak barrels does the whisky acquire its colour and become darker and darker as it matures. The colour of the whisky can range from clear to black. It is important that you do not rely on the colour, as artificial colouring is often used.

Facts worth knowing about whiskey

Finally, we would like to give you a few facts worth knowing about whisky. In this section we tell you which whisky and which food go well together, how whisky is made and how expensive whisky can be.

What food goes best with whisky?

Whisky, as you probably know, is a drink for connoisseurs. There is hardly any other spirit that is such an extraordinary highlight for the palate due to its strong aroma and special taste. That is why whisky is usually drunk alone. Over the years, however, whisky has increasingly developed into a stylish accompaniment to food. Here are our tips, starting with the aperitif, continuing with the main course and ending with dessert:

Aperitif

A slightly floral whisky is particularly suitable here and we recommend the Glenkinchie 12 Year Old. A slightly salty malt, such as whiskies from the Scapa or Highland Park distilleries, can also whet the appetite.

Main course

For the main course, the appropriate whisky will of course depend on the meal being served. However, you can't go wrong with a Highland malt. For fish dishes, we recommend a maritime whisky with a slightly salty taste. Here, Skye whiskies with their sea flavours would be just right.

Dessert

The Glenkinchie Distillers Edition is particularly suitable for a very sweet dessert, as it has a very strong vanilla and grape note. This underlines the fruity and sweet taste of the dessert. A sweet bourbon or single malt with a pronounced peat and smoke note is recommended as the crowning touch. Here we can strongly recommend a whisky from the island of Islay, as they are very well known for their smoky and peaty taste. Since whisky and chocolate have a special harmony, tastings and chocolates with whisky are often offered as a set. A strong whisky and a chocolate with a high cocoa content are pure pleasure.

Which is the best, most expensive and oldest whisky in the world?

An incredible number of different top whiskies have been produced all over the world. Here we have summarised for you the world's best, the most expensive and one of the oldest whiskies in the world at a glance.

The world's best whisky

The World's Best Whisky category was won by Japan for the first time in 2014 and earned a place in the famous Jim Murray's Whisky Bible. The whisky Yamasaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013 achieved a record score of 97.5 out of a possible 100 points and is thus considered the best single malt in the world. The Whisky Bible describes the award winner as "very dense, dry and rounded like a billiard ball".

The most expensive whisky

The most expensive whisky was auctioned off for almost a million.

The most expensive whisky is worth about 910,000 euros. Also incredibly expensive is the Macallan M in a 6-litre decanter by Lalique. This whisky, of which there are only four bottles, is a blend of seven selected whiskies from Spanish sherry casks distilled between the 1940s and 1990s. In January 2014, one of the four Macallan M was auctioned for a record sum of 628,000 US dollars, which is equivalent to about 490,000 euros.

The oldest whisky

The oldest whisky in the world was not disturbed by the World War, the Cold War or the banking crisis. For 70 years, Moralach matured in its Spanish oak cask. In 2010, the cask was finally opened by the proud owners of the Gordon & MacPhail distillery.

What is the difference between the spelling whisky and whiskey?

Many people think that whiskey and whisky are just spellings that differ in different countries. It is important to be able to distinguish between the terms because they differ in taste, in production but also in origin.

Whisky is derived from the Gaelic "Usighe Beatha" or the Irish "Usice Beatha". This means "water of life"

. The Gaelic or Irish term was often shortened to "uisge" or "uisce", from which whisky developed over time. The "e" in Irish whiskey is a very recent invention. For a long time, only the word whisky was used. However, in order to distinguish themselves from Scotch whisky over time, some Irish distilleries began to add the "e" to their products at the beginning of the 20th century. The differences between whiskey and whisky today are considerable.

  • Irish whiskey uses both malted and unmalted barley, without kilning, so the natural barley flavour comes to the fore.
  • Scottish spirits, on the other hand, have a strong, peaty aroma because the barley malt is dried over an open peat fire.

Furthermore, Irish whiskey is distilled more often, which means that the alcohol content is higher than that of Scottish whiskey.

Who invented whisky?

Whiskey and whisky have been brewed in the areas of Scotland and Ireland for centuries. The country of origin of whisky remains an eternal mystery. There is documentary evidence of whisky production as far back as the early 15th century, when whisky was initially only allowed to be used as a medicine. The first documented mention of the water of life is in a Scottish document, with the order of a monk to buy malt and distil whisky from it. Nowadays, there is still a little competition between the Scots and the Irish.

How is whisky made?

For more than 500 years, barley and water have been the basic ingredients for single malt Scotch whisky. As Scotland has unforgettable water through its multitude of springs, these provide the water for the single malt whiskies. Even the rivers are needed for whisky production, as they provide the necessary cooling water for the stills.

The production of whisky is relatively simple compared to other spirits. The barley is left to germinate until the starch of the grain has become malt sugar. The malt is then kilned and coarsely ground. The sugar is leached out with hot water and the liquid is allowed to ferment. This produces a beer without the addition of hops. This beer is then distilled twice on copper stills, the pot stills. After production, the spirit is colourless. Only after the legal 3 years of maturation in oak barrels is the whisky ready. The production only accounts for about 30 % of the later taste, the rest, as well as the colour, are mainly created by this maturing time in the wooden barrel.

Image source: unsplash.com / @emersonvieira

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