Whiskey: The Ultimate Guide

by Michael Satterfield - 10/14/2021

It's the end of a long day and you're looking for something to take the edge off. You want to find that perfect drink that will help you relax and unwind. What do you reach for? Chances are, it's whiskey - one of the world's most popular drinks, but if you haven't taken a deep dive into the world of whiskey it can be pretty overwhelming and expensive to try to navigate. 

Whiskey has a long and illustrious history. One of the earliest references to whiskey can be found in Irish texts from 1400 BC, where the drink was referred to as uisce beathadh, which was derived from the Sottish Gaelic uisge beatha, this was translated at the time into Latin as "aqua vitae" which means water of life. Over the years the Irish uisce beathagh, became usquebaugh eventually became whiskeybae, which was in turn shortened to whisky. The name stuck and by 1690 we have records of the Ferintosh distillery referenced in the Acts of Scottish Parliament. 

The difference between whisky and whiskey is regional since most distillers in Ireland and the United States use whiskey, while in Scotland and most other countries it is spelled whisky. In Scotland, whisky distilled at home is known simply as whisky, but once exported it commonly referred to as Scotch whisky or simply Scotch. 

What are the popular terms whiskey drinkers must know?

  • Single Malt: A whiskey made in one distillery with malted barley as the only grain used.
  • Bourbon Whiskey: Straight bourbon is required to be aged for at least two years in new, uncharred oak barrels and must be at least 51% corn-based. 
  • Blended Whisky: This whiskey includes a blend of single malt and multiple grain whiskies (usually corn whisky). They must contain more than 40% of straight whisky before it can be called blended!
  • Neat: Drinking your whiskey without any ice or water added.
  • On the rocks, production process, and aging techniques. The world's most popular whiskey is bourbon - made from a minimum of 51% corn (maize) - with rye as the second common grain used. Others include wheat, malt barley, malted barley as the only grain used. Straight bourbon has strict requirements according

Popular Whiskey Cocktails:

You should learn how to make whiskey-based cocktails like the Old Fashioned, Highball, or Whiskey Sour. They are simple, but being able to make your own signature cocktail is a great party trick. I even had my signature Old Fashioned served at Jennifer and I's wedding reception. 

How to drink whiskey

Storing Whiskey:

  • Unlike wine, whiskey should be stored upright as the higher alcohol content will degrade the cork and eventually cause it to allow air inside.  You should keep the cork moist, which can be achieved by flipping the bottle for about 10 seconds. 
  • Keep your whiskey out of direct sunlight and in a climate-controlled room. Whiskey should never be stored in a freezer, while it won't' harm the whiskey it can dull the flavor. 
  • Use high-quality airtight decanters if you are planning on storing less than half a bottle, smaller decanters are a great way to save your more expensive whiskeys and reduce the effect of oxidation. 
  • Whiskeys all have different shelf lives, a single malt scotch can be kept in an airtight container for up to 18 years while bourbon only lasts about four years. No matter what kind you drink it's important that once opened you seal it tight.

Traveling Field Bar

Whiskey Accessories:

Once you start getting into whiskey, you will find that you'll start collecting bar equipment. From ice cube molds to a field bar for when you are on the road, there are a lot of accessories to go along with your favorite drink. Since starting my journey into the world of whiskey just three years ago, I have managed to acquire several sets of glasses, a decanter set, a field bar, mixers, towels, and even tasting glasses. It can be a fun hobby, but just know once you go down the road of becoming a whiskey collector, the sky is the limit. 

What whiskey should you buy?

How much should you spend on a bottle of Whiskey? 

Most Whiskeys range from $40-$80 but some can cost upwards of $1,000 per bottle. While you should always buy whiskey based on your budget we'd recommend looking at bottles in the $45-$75 range, this will get you a good bottle at a price that won't break the bank. Don't overlook less expensive bottles and be sure to check reviews, as a $24 bottle of Four Roses is a very good bourbon for a great price.

Here are some of our favorite bottles we have sampled in 2021: Alphabetical order and all prices are based on 750ml bottles.

Bib & Tucker

Bib & Tucker: $60

One of the latest bottles we have had come through the office is the Bib and Tucker 6 year small batch bourbon whiskey. This award-winning Bourbon isn't widely known but should be on any whiskey lovers list. Expect a distinct sweet pecan note that ends in a warm spice. Great for cocktails thanks to its sweet flavor profile. 

Chicken Cock Whiskey

Chicken Cock: $74-$299 

Since 1856 this Kentucky distiller has been known as the Famous Old Brand and recently has seen a resurgence in popularity. The office favorite is their Kentucky Straight Bourbon with its light caramel flavor, best served neat. At $74 it isn't the best Bourbon at this price point, but it will find fans who like a smooth bourbon with a warm finish.  

Coopers Craft Whiskey

Coopers' Craft: $24 

At just $24 Coopers’ Craft Barrel Reserve is a great entry-level bottle for those looking to learn about whiskey, tone of the things that sets Coopers apart from other distillers is they are the only major distiller to own their own cooperage, where they produce their own barrels. This Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey punches well above its price point and shouldn't be missed. 

Clyde Mays Whiskey

Clyde May's: $45

We love Clyde May's for the whiskey, but also for the story of the namesake, a moonshiner who did things his own way (read more about Clyde here). The brand's first attempt in at rye, expect brown sugar and green apples with spice note that lingers. Good if you want rye, but we prefer the Alabama Style Whiskey if we had to choose.

Duke & Dame Whiskey

Duke & Dame: $29

Most flavored whiskeys are balked at by whiskey snobs, but Duke & Dame does a good job at pushing the caramel flavor to the background, it is there, but not overwhelming. Expect some citrus notes and a sweetness that carries through the entire drink. Perfect as a dessert whiskey and excellent for cocktails, for $29 it is an inexpensive bottle to have on hand and worth trying if you like butterscotch. 

Fillibuster Whiskey

Fillibuster: $40

In today's political times who doesn't like a good Fillibuster, and this dual cask straight bourbon whiskey is a great way to explore the world of rye whiskeys. With sweet apple and vanilla notes with a spicy finish. Not the top of our list for a neat drink, but it does lend itself well to cocktails.

Four Roses Whiskey

Four Roses: $24-$56

A staple at our bar for years, Four Roses is one of the most awarded Kentiky bourbons you can buy that starts at less than $25 for the yellow label. It is a go-to for whiskey cocktails but is also fine neat or on the rocks. Four Roses feature apple and pear flavors with a hint of oak. Great bourbon for a great price and one that you should keep on hand.

Hatozaki whiskey

Hatozaki: $60

From the Kaikyo distillery, Hatozaki whiskey is 100% malt whiskey and is a blend of 5-6-year-old single malt whiskeys. The blend is then aged for several years in bourbon and sherry casks. Aged up to 12 years it has a unique pale yellow color. A lighter whiskey that has a mix of melon fruity notes with very slight spice at the finish. 

Jeffersons Reserve Whiskey

Jefferson's: $35

Another classic from Kentucky, Jefferson's likes to think outside the box and offers an aged at sea bourbon that has a flavor all its own, which is said to be due to the constant mixing from the rocking of the ship. While we liked the Ocean, our favorite Jefferson's is their Reserve "Very Old, Very Small Batch" it has brown sugar and vanilla flavors with a slightly charred oak wood flavor in the finish. A good bourbon for those just starting to explore 

Knappogue Castle Whiskey

Knappogue Castle: $45-$275

Maker of a single malt Irish whiskey offered in 12, 14, and 16-year varieties. Knappogue Castle gained a reputation for their 1951 sherry cask aged whiskey which today sells for over $2,900 a bottle. While we have yet to sample a bottle of 1951, the 12 and 14-year bottles were impressive and offer a mild peppery flavor with a clean finish.  

McConnell Irish Whiskey

McConnell's Irish Whisky: $35

In 1776 the McConnell family began selling whisky out of their Belfast distillery, but like many distillers, US prohibition put them out of business. The brand was recently revived and is producing its famous whisky once again in Belfast. A blended whisky, aged 5 years, expect an oaky flavor with a subtle sweetness. 

Niagara Falls Distillers

Niagara Falls Distillers: $33-$35

The first Canadian whisky I have tried, Niagara Falls Distillers produces an excellent Rye whisky that has pleasant flavors of caramel and vanilla. But by far the favorite around the office from this distiller is their Maple whisky which is blended with natural Canadian maple syrup which has a smooth and perfectly balanced flavor.

Old Rip Van Winkle

Old Rip Van Winkle: $70-$1,300

One of the first whiskeys that I tried at the Turtle Bar in Louisiana, needless to say, it sparked my interest in whiskey and started me on building out my collection. The 10 year is one of the most sought-after bottles in the whiskey world and the pricing range shown above depends on current demand, but expect to pay around $1,000 for a bottle, despite it having a list price of around $70. Expect notes of honey, apple, and citrus, followed by cinnamon, nutmeg, and roasted oak. One of the smoothest whiskeys you will ever try, but best of luck finding it. 

Still Austin Whiskey

Still Austin: $46

Winner of the 2021 World Spirits Competition Still Austin's "The Musician" straight bourbon whiskey also was at the top of our list. All the grains are grown in Texas and it's distilled in a Scottish-made still in Austin, Texas. It has a unique flavor of popcorn and vanilla with a nutty finish.  

Obviously, there are a lot more whiskeys to choose from out there, so don't be afraid to try something new. For those who want to truly experience Whiskey drinking, adding water or ice can really help bring out its unique flavor profile so don't be shy about experimenting with these elements when pouring yourself a glass!