The best whisky 2021 (or best whiskey if you're after an Irish)

Enjoy a wee dram with our guide to the best whiskies

Best whisky

The best whisky is a thing to truly savour. It may be Scotland's greatest gift to the world, but Scotch whisky is not the only  game in town when it comes to 'distilled alcoholic beverages made from fermented grain mash' (thank you, Wikipedia).

Japan makes fantastic whiskies. Ireland is home to many a fine whiskey (the different spelling is due to its Gaelic derivation). American and Canadian bourbons have their fans. A recent Whisky World Champion hailed from Taiwan. Even the Welsh make it, these days.

Now, drinking all of the world's best whiskies and then choosing the best ones is a big ask. But that's what we've done. Rejoin us after our liver transplant, and we'll talk you through our favourites.

How to buy the best whisky for you

Before we get started with the best whisky options this season, let's cover off the main types and what they mean to help you with your search:

First up, we have single malt whisky. The Queen of Scotch, this is made from malted barley and distilled in pot stills (twice is the norm), then aged in oak barrels for at least three years. 

Single malts are the highest quality form of malt whisky, the word 'single' denoting that the bottled product is from one distillery only (blended malts can come from multiple distilleries). You can also get 'single barrel' examples of the drink, where what you're drinking has only ever been in one barrel, taking on more of the qualities of the type of wood used.

Grain Whisky can be made from any grain, although it is usually wheat, and is often distilled in column stills, which connoisseurs will tell you means the flavour of a grain whisky is less complex. They're also matured for less time that malt whisky which tends to make for a lighter flavour, ideal for 'beginners'. Anyone with a gluten allergy should steer clear, mind.

Rye Whisky is the Marmite of the whisky world. Made from rye, obvs, this strong-tasting beverage is matured for at least 2 years, and usually hails from North America. 

Another American classic is Bourbon. Mainly produced in Kentucky, this must contain at least 51% corn with the remainder being made up of rye, barley, malt etc.  Typically matured for up to 4 years in fresh, toasted casks, the rock 'n' roll mouthwash has a peaty kind of flavour.

For real whisky aficionados, earthy and rich blends tend to be popular; in which case you can’t go wrong with a traditional Malt Whisky. The level of literally earthy, 'peat' flavours is another key differentiator.

Blended grain whiskies tend to be sweeter, more citrusy and gentler on the palate and hence better for beginners or what the Scots fondly call 'soft Sassenach bastards'. 

How should you enjoy your whisky? Purists will tell you that adding water to it never mind a dash of lemonade, is tantamount to heresy. 

Of course, the 'correct' way to drink whisky is whatever way you happen to like it, but our recommendation would be to try adding a small amount of water to a full glass and then more if you feel you need it. 

You might think that diluting whisky would spoil it, but it can actually unlock new flavours. And it makes each glass last longer. Bonus.

There are also numerous cocktails involving whiskies, especially bourbon. These can be fantastic, but if you use our best single malt to make an old fashioned or Manhattan, we will find you, and we will kill you.

The best whisky to buy for Christmas and beyond 

Best whisky

1. Highland Park 18-Year-Old Whisky

Best 'mainstream' single malt

Best for: Special occasions
Origin: Scotland
Type: : Single Malt
Serving suggestion: on the rocks
Reasons to buy
+Award winning+Sweet flavours
Reasons to avoid

Sure, there are more obscure delights in the world o' Scotch, but this awards-laden, special occasion whisky is hard to beat. 

One for drinks cabinet savouring, rather than guzzling over dinner, this relatively pricey bottle is aged for 18 years, and offers a full-bodied yet sweet flavour, with the trademark notes of Highland smokiness. Honey and toffee add richness and with subtle floral and spiced elements, this matured scotch is as smooooooth as it is luxurious.

Best whisky

2. Johnnie Walker Green Label

Best blended Scotch (and hardy airport duty free perennial)

Origin: Scotland
Type: Blended Malt
Serving suggestion: Straight up
Reasons to buy
+Warm, smoky flavour+A guaranteed pleaser
Reasons to avoid
-Not one to delight connoisseurs perhaps

Ever popular with business class travellers, Johnnie Walker's Green Label has a subtly smoky nose and a palette that leads to stewed fruit, nuts and soft spice. 

There's no surprise mister Walker is so popular. In spite of its smoky undertones, the oak taste is not overwhelming, so it pairs with just about anything (or nothing). The medium bodied nature of this blended malt is gentle on the palette without seeming unsophisticated. That's why it awards time and time again. Its mid-range price tag and wide availability is also pretty attractive, including for gift shoppers.

Best whisky

3. Hibiki Japanese Harmony Whisky

Best Japanese whisky

Origin: Japan
Type: Blended Malt and Grain
Serving suggestion: With water
Reasons to buy
+Sweeter tasting+Light on the palate
Reasons to avoid
-Not a heavyweight

Some rate Japanese whiskies over Scottish ones, although don't tell any Scots that if you want to remain friends. 

Some Japanese drams trade in smoky, intense, small-batch perfection, but this more quaffable effort goes for a honey-sweet and orange-inflected flavour, with notes of white chocolate creating light warming vibes. 

With its 24-faceted bottle – a nod to the Japanese seasons, apparently – this is a more-ish whisky that can even team up well with puddings. 

Best whisky

4. Talisker Storm Islands Single Malt Whisky

Best mid-priced single malt Scotch, packs a punch

Origin: Scotland
Type: : Malt
Serving suggestion: With a little water
Reasons to buy
+Full flavoured +Salty, sweet and smokey
Reasons to avoid
-Added colouring, tut tut

Talisker has upped the flavour of this Scotch, creating little short of a multi-layered flavour sensation. 

This is the one to go for if you like the idea of the Highland Park 18-Year-Old Whisky for its quality, but want something a bit more budget friendly. With notes of wood brine, oak, orange and spice, this relative newcomer to the supermarket shelves packs a punch.

Best whisky

5. Woodford Reserve

The best Bourbon whisky

Origin: USA
Type: Blended Bourbon
Serving suggestion: In a cocktail
Reasons to buy
+A crowd-pleaser+Great quality for the price

This Kentucky Bourbon packs a punch. Triple distilled in copper pot stills and aged in new charred American oak barrels for intense flavour, this American classic is perfect for after dinner drinks, perhaps with a fat Cuban cigar, or other stereotypically American thing. 

Experts love the hint of tobacco which appears alongside toffee, caramel and spice, making it the perfect follow up act to any dinner party. This is the best whisky for mixing on our list and is the ideal base for an old fashioned.

Best whisky

6. Ben Nevis 10 Year old Single Malt Whisky

Best single malt for those on a budget

Origin: : Scotland
Type: Single Malt
Serving suggestion: With a drop of water
Reasons to buy
+Cheap for a single malt+More complex flavour than price would suggest
Reasons to avoid
-Well, it is the cheapo option

What makes it a great budget buy? It’s not just the price. This whisky also shares many qualities of a more expensive whisky and is, as they say, ‘beyond its years’ in body. 

With whiffs of tropical fruit, dark chocolate, coffee and light peaty tones, this Ben Nevis 10 Year old Single Malt Whisky boasts a rich, rounded flavour. It doesn't quite have the complexity or depth of flavour of its Scotch peers on this list, but, for half the price of most bottles, you can't really go wrong. 

The best thing about this whisky is the gentle dryness it promotes on the palette, so if you are a whisky novice, this one won't be overwhelming. Remember to let the whisky mingle with the air before drinking to release the flavours in this one.

Best whisky

7. Millstone Rye 100

Best, er, Dutch whisky. No, come back… it's good, really!

Origin: Netherlands
Type: Rye
Serving suggestion: Straight up
Reasons to buy
+Full, rich and sweet+Novelty value
Reasons to avoid
-Can seem sickly

This Dutch Rye is a great one for whisky novices with a sweet tooth as its very palatable and easy to drink. Be warned though, seasoned whisky drinkers who enjoy a smokey tasting tipple may find this one a bit too sickly. Underneath the sweetness, there’s also hints of vanilla and spice, making it a great winter warmer or an after dinner chaser. A smooth, spicy, quality dram from the Netherlands.