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Whiskey/Bourbon for a beginner?

Hey everyone,
I'm a major foodie. I like nearly every cusine I've ever tried and I like some strong drinks like grappa. Here's the thing, I don't like whiskey right now but I can tell I will in a few years and I guess it goes very well with some foods. I cook all the time and would like to make a meal that pairs with whiskey perfectly and I would also like some recs for a good, afforadable whiskey for a beginner. I hope this is clear. I'm excited to learn and try some new things!

Jeremy

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  1. The 15 yr old Rip Van Winkle is a great bourbon. It's listed at around $50, but I've seen it as low as $35 in one store.

    1 Reply
    1. re: jkt

      If you find the ORVW 15yo/107 proof at either $35 or $50, buy it because it is no longer made. It was replaced by the oakier, more austere Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 15yo more than two years ago. The original ORVW 15/107 is highly regarded by bourbon aficianados.

    2. start milder, with rye - - jim beam (yellow label) or old overholt.

      for bourbon, knob creek - bout $20. pour a little in a glass, swirl it, transfer it to another - and inhale the first (empty) glass - oak, vanilla, caramel - heaven.

      4 Replies
      1. re: sk3

        Whoa! Those are some monster bourbons for a beginner. Rye boubon is sharp and therefore not for the weak of heart. And Knob Creek is 100 proof. My suggestion would be an Irish Whisky. They don't often have the alcoholic bite of bourbon and are a bit sweeter (not sweet) than scotch. Try any of the Bushmills.

        1. re: Chinon00

          Sorry, what's "rye bourbon"?

          Definitely agree with other posters that blends are a better starter option, especially the fairly sweet, light, and mild Canadian or Scotch whiskys.

          Maker's Mark is a fine starting point for someone who wants to get directly into bourbon.

          Straight rye whiskeys can be a bit challenging for neophytes. I might suggest the Sazerac 6 year old or the inexpensive Rittenhouse (not the Single Barrel).

        2. re: sk3

          Almost ALL bourbons are 'rye bourbons' (Maker's Mark, W.L. Weller, Rebel Yell and Old Fitzgerald substitute wheat for rye), but Old Overholt and Jim Beam Yellow are 'straight' ryes, not bourbons at all. Straight rye has at least 51% rye grains as opposed to bourbon's 51%+ corn. The rye makes them spicier and 'hotter' to the taste related to the sweetness of corn, but are no more difficult to drink -- it's just a different flavor profile, often quite enjoyable.

        3. I'd go with Woodford Reserve - not too harsh, and I have yet to meet someone who doesn't like it.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Beerhound

            Woodford Reserve reminds me of PAINT THINNER! For a beginner, I'd go with Maker's Mark. It's not the best available, but it's very good for the dollar.

          2. Start with Irish or Canadian . . . *before* you go to Bourbon. And remember -- you don't have to like everything.

            1. Maker's Mark is a good beginner's premium bourbon. I would pair it with pan seared pecan crusted salmon in a brown sugar / bourbon glaze (with Maker's Mark of course). It also goes great with frozen water.

              6 Replies
              1. re: Sacto_Damkier

                Hey Sacto Damkier, I read this response the other day and haven't been able to stop thinking about the salmon you describe, would you happen to have a recipe that you wouldn't mind sharing?

                Oh and on topic, I agree Makers Mark is good beginner's bourbon, Knob Creek = foul.

                1. re: Lyndalh

                  1/2 stick butter
                  1/2 cup dark brown sugar
                  4 salmon steaks (wild Alaskan if possible)
                  1/3 cup Maker's Mark
                  Finely chopped pecans

                  Dredge the salmon fillets in the chopped pecans and set aside. Melt butter in a large pan over medium heat. Stir in brown sugar. Place salmon fillets on top of brown sugar mixture. Cook for 5 minutes on medium heat. Turn salmon, and pour bourbon around the fillets. Continue cooking for 5 minutes, or until fish flakes easily with a fork. Spoon glaze over the salmon, and serve.

                  The salmon goes great with wild rice or sweet potatoes.

                  1. re: Sacto_Damkier

                    Thanks for that delicious sounding recipe. I know what I'll be eating when I start tasting bourbon!

                    1. re: JeremyEG

                      It is a winner. This may also work for a dessert:

                      IRISH WHISKEY CAKE

                      2 1/2 cups flour
                      1 tablespoon baking powder
                      1 tablespoon baking cocoa
                      1 teaspoon salt
                      1/2 teaspoon baking soda
                      3/4 cup butter, softened
                      1 cup sugar
                      1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
                      3 eggs
                      1/2 cup strong black coffee
                      1/2 cup Irish whiskey
                      Whipped Cream with Cinnamon (1 cup cream, 1 tsp cinnamon, sugar to taste)

                      Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Stir together flour, baking powder, cocoa, salt and baking soda. Cream butter and sugars; beat until light and fluffy. Add eggs and beat at high speed 3 minutes. Combine coffee and whiskey. Blend the flour mixture alternately with the coffee and whiskey mixture into the creamed mixture, beginning and ending with flour. Beat well after each addition. Pour into a well-greased Bundt pan. Bake 35 to 45 minutes or until cake springs back. Cool.

                      Poke holes in the cooled cake and drizzle about 1/4 cup irish whiskey over the entire cake. Wrap the cake with foil. Allow cake to set overnight. The next day repeat the whiskey drizzle. Allow cake to set wrapped in the foil for another 24 hours before serving. For the final drizzle, combine about 1/4 cup melted butter with the whiskey.

                      Serve warm or cold with the Cinnamon Whipped Cream.

                      1. re: Sacto_Damkier

                        Those both sound great, thanks so much! I can't wait to try them!

                        1. re: Sacto_Damkier

                          I know this post is quite old, but that cake sounds awesome. Must try it.

                2. Whiskys: Why not start at the source? An excellent smooth subtle "introductory" single malt from Scotland, widely available, is MacCallan 12-year-old. Young co-worker said he liked it and what did I think of it; I said, from experience, you could do worse and spend more.

                  Explanation: I enjoy fine whiskys (US spelling: whiskeys) and keep many of them, but only open them occasionally. They last for years, IF you hide the rare ones from those guests who drink up anything even if it's the only bottle of its kind in the county. You Have Been Warned.

                  Sources: Mac 12 was about $30 at a warehouse chain retailer for years but has increased. In my region the Beverages and More (BevMo) chain would have it. Some local wine and spirits shops specialize in this area, with buyers who are into this stuff.

                  Single Malts have basically three key variables: Who distilled it; who finished it (aged and bottled, and sometimes how long); and in what kind of wood. Used wine or spirits casks give particular subtle flavors to malts. Dealers that carry many types lay them out on shelves so you can get (for instance) multiple finishings of Springbank or Highland Park or other distillers that have multiple finishers. (Those I just mentioned are other distilleries known for smooth subtle products.) Also, many finer spirits are bottled at "cask strength" which is stronger than commodity liquors. They're meant to be diluted with a little fresh water, to taste, even when drunk "neat." As they should be.

                  Some of this applies to premium Bourbons and other whiskies. I second Woodford Reserve; for whiskey connoisseurs it seems popular. Knob Creek is the widely available "poor person's artisanal Bourbon" (if that makes sense), complex but heavy with toasted wood, giving a burnt or almost coconut edge when I've tried it. Was $20 a few years ago. A single malt made in the San Francisco area (different style but very fine) is from St. George Spirits in Alameda.

                  18 Replies
                  1. re: eatzalot

                    First, the source for whiskey is not Scotland. The Irish learned distilling from monks that had been to the continent, where the distilled brandies, i.e. eau de vie (meaning water of life). But, the Irish switched and began distilling beers, and that created uisce beatha (water of life, and the words from which the term "whiskey" originates). And it is thought that the irish taught the Scots, but it may have been brought by some who migrated from Ireland to Scotland.

                    Second, I like the recommendation above of starting with a rye. Rye tends to produce a sweet whiskey without a heavy smoke flavor. A smoke flavor whether from peat or a charred barrell is found in a lot of bourbons and scotches. And I would also not begin by just throwing a shot in a glass, but I would dilute. As far as a first rye, I would not want to drain your wallet, so try a Rittenhouse, for less than $20 a bottle, whose only fault here is that it is a bit high in alcohol for a beginner at 100 proof. A Canadian whiskey such as Crown Royal is also not a bad idea for a start.

                    When you want to move from rye and Canadian, I would go to Irish. And Irish begins to change things, because there are differences in them. I would begin with Powers, which is about the most popular Irish in Ireland. It's like drinking Bud Light for beer in the U.S. It's everywhere. Bushmills and Jameson also should be tried, early on, and look for differences in how you think they taste. I'd also try a few blended scotches, just because they will not cost you and are everywhere.

                    During this time, you should be weaning yourself down to drinking them less diluted, until all you have is rocks or a bit of water, and not both. A glass full of rocks is OK for Jameson (I love Irish whsikey, but Jameson is not that good), but once you begin to enjoy drinking whiskey, you should get down to a few. When I buy a good whiskey in a bar, I drink it with 3-4 rocks. If you get to 3-4 cubes or just a splash of water, you are ready.

                    Now, find a good bar, or a number of bars, and visit the bar and begin trying whiskeys. Learn if you like THE PEAT of a Islay, a Campbelltown, the sweet Highlands, smokey Talisker, the rich potstill flavor of Red Breast, the charred oak of a bourbon, the light feel and smoke of a Connemara, cask strengths, etc., etc. Try lots of single males, different bourbons, Irish whiskey, the new Welsh whiskey, Japanese whiskey, and learn what you like.

                    The best warning above, guard your collection. If you enjoy a whiskey neat or barely dilkuted, watching someone drown it with a mixer is painful. I would probably harm you if you mixed my Hirsch or Green Spot with anything. If you mixed Old Comber or Linlithgow with anything, you should be tortured, to death, slowly.

                    1. re: Captain

                      Well Captain, you've pretty much sucked all of the oxygen out of the room, once again :-). The only addition I would make, as a starter, is White Horse Scotch. Which is blended with a high percentage of the great Lagavulin single malt and is very, very smooth.

                      1. re: Harp00n

                        Thank you. I wish I could have sucked all the water out of my basement so easily this weekend.

                        Never knew that about White Horse and Lagavulin. Maybe I'll try some White Horse soon. I've always been a Johnny Black drinker, when it comes to blendeds. When I was 16 a friend and myself thought that if we walked into a bar, walked right up to the bartender and asked for two Johnny Blacks on the rocks, that we were likely to get served. A few days later, we were on a first name basis with the bartender. Johnny Black was about all I drank until I discovered single malts in my early 20s.

                        I do have a full bottle of Lagavulin that I got as a gift from a friend who lives in Melrose. It almost got emptied some time after the discovery of my new wading pool in my basement. After it was pumped out, I settled for some wine with a take out dinner and free drinks of Sambuca Red and an Ouzo. Grappa might have gone well with it too. It is tough to drink, but for some reason, I still like it.

                        1. re: Captain

                          Grappa....."You're a better man than I am Gunga Din!"

                          1. re: Harp00n

                            Get a few years of seatime, and you may find that grappa stuff tastes pretty good at times.

                      2. re: Captain

                        As for this "Rye" business maybe it's just me. Admittedly, I've only had Jim Beam Rye and while I've enjoyed it I just wouldn't consider it a "beginner" anything. Are there any Rye whiskeys that are less harsh than Beam that I'm not aware of?

                        1. re: Chinon00

                          Hi chinon00,
                          Hey I just noticed, you stole my 00's! Captain gave a rec of Rittenhouse which is very good and reasonably priced. sk3 mentioned Old Overholt in his post above and that's probably the best bang-for-the buck Rye to be had.
                          I haven't had the Beam, so no comment there. Btw, OP says; "I like some strong drinks like grappa". Are you kidding me? I've drunk everything from Everclear to "real" Irish poitin and grappa tastes & goes down like turpentine to me. If he can drink that, he's ready for anything!

                        2. re: Captain

                          Well, Captain: I'd been following good wines for about 15 years and didn't care for any spirits at all. (This was some time ago.) I was interested in the flavor, and if you knew me you would understand. I'd tried some spirits, including Overholt which was not bad mixed with soda, and various blends which I didn't care for, nor my guests. (Posted about Overholt on the Internet at the time. I could re-post if you like.) And the brandy family (Cognacs, Armagnacs -- from those ancient distillery towns such as, in the Ténarèze region, Aignan, Nérac, and Condom). But the brandy family were basically too sweet. Then friends -- a couple whom all here would call cosmopolitan if they knew -- introduced me to a good single malt, and it was amazing. It was the spirit I'd been looking for. From there I looked around and tried others.

                          Forgot to mention Dalwhinnie before. Delicate, honeysuckle malt. Soft and subtle, not insipid at all. Popular among people new to malts. (Dalwhinnie markets in a group with Glenkinchie -- another good one, spicy, character -- Talisker, Highland Park, Oban, and Lagavullin I think but please correct me. Sampler packs available.)

                          There seems to be a lot of advice here from people who know a few of this or that. I used to try single malts regularly on business travel at Heathrow when the international terminal had a great malt specialty store with a big barrel top (a "pipe" maybe) with scores of reps' sample bottles and a very kind Australian hostess. At least she had an Australian accent. (All gone now -- merged.) I've tasted hundreds of malts since, and bought many. If there is some reason why malts are unsuitable to newcomers then I haven't encountered it and I have introduced many newcomers. Also (just in recent several years which is much newer than most of this story) US bourbon houses (notably of the Jim Beam group, with all the B's -- I have all of those too and others, did I say?) have introduced artisanal Bourbons to compete in that market. Some good ones, though not all of them, are in this thread. (After all this, I still have little use for blends.)

                          By the way I am ethnically Irish. ("Captain," you may call me the Colonel. Depending on service this may put us on equal pay grade.)

                          1. re: eatzalot

                            Well Colonel,

                            As far as pay grade, that is service within the government, of which I would not claim to have done really any, although I might have been credited with a bit. My pay grade was whatever I could get paid by what ever owner, operator or charterer was willing to pay me.

                            I'd agree that single malts are fine for anyone, provided they can handle somethig neat or rather not diluted. Drinking anything that is not blended is all about, imo, that character of the whiskey. Having an Islay must be in large part about enjoying the peat, as one much enjoy the smokey flavor of Talisker to enjoy it. But if I were to give either of them or any number of single malts or any other whiskey to a drinker of only mixed drinks, they would probably taste little but the strength of the spirit. I think most people need to break themselves into drinking whiskey or whisky as we drink it. And for such people, dropping a fine dram in front of them is often a mistake. I've broken in a few myself, and once I get them drinking things close to undiluted, then the good stuff comes out.

                            As far as picking where to start, I've found less smoke and less peat seems to make for an easier start.

                            I've been drinking single malts for about 18 years. And I will tell you that like yourself, Ilong preferred them to other types of whiskey. However, a few years ago, I learned about casks strengths and potstills. I still drink single malts and like you have a number in my collection. But as far as everyday, I prefer potstills, which means I prefer Red Breast, as much if not more than single malts. It also means I really like Green Spot, and SOMEONE REALLY LOVES ME BECAUSE I WAS GIVEN A BOTTLE OF IT LAST NIGHT!!!!

                          2. re: Captain

                            "Try lots of single males, different bourbons, Irish whiskey, the new Welsh whiskey, Japanese whiskey, and learn what you like."

                            Hmmmm...I like that advice!

                            1. re: sashimi73

                              Heh heh, so what do you like o' promiscuous one?
                              Wait, on second thought, don't answer that!
                              This is,after all, a family board :-)

                              1. re: Harp00n

                                What do I like? Sometimes, it's more what I don't like, but as far as some thing I like in a few categories: Irish, Red Breast and Green Spot; Irish but not really, Connemara; Bourbon, Woodford Reserve, Pappy Van Winkle; Rye, Van Winkle Family Reserve; Single Malts, Spring Bank, Talisker, Knockandhu, Auchentosen, Balvenie Double Wood; Cask Strength, Linlithgow by Scott's Selection.

                                1. re: Captain

                                  Hey, I wasn't askin' you! Besides, A litte bird told me you have a brand new shiny bottle of Green Spot and weren't sharin'.

                                  1. re: Harp00n

                                    Ooops, sorry.

                                    But I might share, a little.

                                    1. re: Harp00n

                                      Well, my favorite single male and I both love Maker's! (Never been promiscuous with my males or my spirits...and I am only willing to share the latter)

                                      1. re: sashimi73

                                        LOL,Very well spoken. I'm not unfamiliar with the Maker's either :-)

                              2. re: Captain

                                My boss is a "big" whiskey connoisseur (does tastings throughout Canada and the US) and when I asked him how to "learn how to like scotch" he told me to start with lots of water and ice .....Lots. And slowly reduce the amount of both over time. Eventually you will be down to just the whiskey and a little water. (It opens the bouquet???)
                                Gotta tell ya-I'm still at the TALL glass and lots of h2o and ice stage. But I'm trying.

                                1. re: troutpoint

                                  Drink it without the water and ice. You either like the taste of whiskey or not. Sure if it's chilled, it will have less bite, which may work for starters. I started drinking bourbon straight out of the bottle, and enjoy the taste. Now, I almostly solely drink sourmash. I can't drink it with water, ice, coke, or anything else. It just doesn't taste right unless it's left alone. I got turned off scotch when the whole snobby single malt scotch fad blew up in the mid-90s. Drink what you like and do it your way. Never let peer pressure influence the type of alcohol you drink. Another option is to go to a bar with a good selection of the type of whiskey you like, ask the bartender for a few shots of some $100 bottle stuff, and taste away. You will be surprised at how smooth some of that stuff actually is.

                              1. This raises the question, what should a beginner try? Something mild or smooth, something with lots of flavor, something typical of a class, something tasty?

                                My tendency is usually to try everything I can afford and get my hands on. I read whatever I can find. I worked my way up the price range with American brandies and cognac. By the time I was exploring other liquors like armagnac, scotch, and bourbons, I was searching for the best and the best value from the start.

                                I wouldn't waste too much money buying the basics. Do some research and pick up something good. You might find that liking bourbon is about finding one you like, not just acquiring the taste.

                                1. I agree with jkt - go to a bar a few times and try a few things. I am a whiskey lover, but for scotch, kentucky or tennessee - not canadian, irish or some variations of those I listed that I do like.

                                  I think a good first round is Dewars for Scotch, Bushmills for Irish, Jack D for Tennessee, Maker's Mark for Bourbon. Next is that you need to know that within each of these broad categories you could go to one extreme or another, based on sweetness, smokiness, aging, etc. If you figure out what you do and don't like generally based on those four, you'll have a good starting point to dig deeper in what you do like. The thing is - if you like one of those and not the second you try, don't give up, and if you don't like the one of those four, try the others first and after you know more, try that kind again.

                                  for the record, I do like Canadian, but only mixed with coke or 7-up and while shivering around a campfire in the winter.

                                  1. More single-malt discussion in adjacent thread:

                                    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/368903

                                    1. From my studies of whiskies, I have learned to apply the same process I have used for wine and Cognac - understand the character and profile of the liquor and you will be able to develop a sense for the optimum food pairing. Blended whiskies are made with a consistent character in mind. Single malts, like AVA wines are meant to reflect the character of the distiller and the region in which they are aged. I like the Scotch Whiskey Society's descriptions of their bottlings - many single barrel, cask strength. By reading the descriptions and then nosing the whiskies, I began to appreciate the nuances of each, and found my preferences. Alas, I love sticky toffee pudding and treacle both in food and in whiskey.

                                      Enjoy the journey! It is a fun one. I've been at it for 10 years and still feel as though I have only taken a few steps.

                                      1. Maybe I'm an outlier, but I wouldn't start somebody with single malts. I agree with the above to start with Irish blended whiskies and Canadian and Scotch blends first and then move on to the more complex stuff. Dennis S suggests a great first round (although I'm more partial to Johnny Walker than Dewars).

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: tdo ca

                                          I never liked whiskies (found them to be too over the top sensory-wise) until I started studying wine. I then acquired an appreciation for the character of the spirits. At that time I was living in the UK, and single malts is all my friends drank. Hence, I was indoctrinated into the Scotch Whiskey Society. Glad to have taken that path, as I find blends, while pleasant enough, not as interesting as the variety and history of the singles.

                                        2. I started getting into whiskys several years ago, as my then boyfriend (now husband) has a large collection of single malt and blended scotches. My "starter" whiskys are still two of my favorites: Balvenie Doublewood (a single malt) and Johnnie Walker Black Label (a blend). Both are available in my area at BevMo and Trader Joes for around $30/bottle. Feel free to drink over ice and add dashes of water; it certainly acceptable in Scotland to do so, so you might as well enjoy it that way. I'd recommend starting your exploration in a bar that is knowledgable about whisky or at a whiskey tasting event, as the range of styles and flavours is quite wide and it can be expensive to invest in full bottles. I also frequently see miniature bottles in good liquor stores, some of which are worth trying (for example, Glenfiddich and Macallan).

                                          If the Scotch Malt Whisky Society has an event in your area, it would be a good opportunity to sample: http://www.smwsa.com/calendar.html

                                          Enjoy!

                                          1. A good one to start on is Crown Royal -- not too expensive, not challenging, but smooth and pleasing.

                                            There used to be a very nice 6-pack single malt scotch sampler, with 10th-size splits of malts ranging from easy (Oban) to somewhat challenging (Lagavulin).

                                            Whatever you do, don't let anyone talk you into getting Laphroaig, which is like drinking smoky tar.

                                            1. I think for the price you can't go wrong with Maker's Mark....................around 20$

                                              1. lots of great comments here-not that that i have time to read all sumissions. just want to drop a few lines about my own experience as a beginner to whisky/ey. started with irish whiskey and enjoyed the soft vanilla and caramel that comes out as it warms in the palm. had the fortunate opportunity to try GlenMorangie 10 year at a time when i was convinced i didn't like Scotch. No peat -jammy and sweet- very light--no harsh or eggy notes--and again, vanilla later. than i got into their various finishes -12 year whiskys finished at the end in casks formerly holding other spirits--port, madeira, burgundy etc. all with tremendous flavors and long smooth finishes. on the other end is Ardbeg 10 year, peatiest single malt of all --awesome stuff if you enjoy the smoky fireplace. good luck

                                                1. For a "bourbon beginner", try starting with one of the following:

                                                  Buffalo Trace
                                                  Eagle Rare 10-year old
                                                  Maker's Mark

                                                  They're all under 100 proof, very interesting & complex flavor styles.... if you don't like one or more of these, you're probably not going to like anything else.

                                                  1. I'm a whisky beginner myself not too long ago, I found my first single malt whisky, Balvenie (the 10 year reserve or the 12 year doublewood) is fabulous - but that's becasue of my personal preference of little or no peat (which reminds me of drinking a fireplace - sorry guys). I remember finishing off a meal with a creme brulee, then the whiskey :) It was heaven.

                                                    I also find that the Isle of Jira, with three drops of water, just has that somthing that really enjoy. Again, low on the peat, but high on those lovely caramel and floral notes. It's the perfect nightcap. :-D Good Luck!

                                                      1. I don't know how widely distributed it is, but if you can find it I'd recommend Bulleit. While not a rye per se it does contain a higher than normal proportion of rye than other bourbons which a sweet (though not overly so) almost honey like overtone that does a great job of offsetting any of the burn first timers my get.

                                                        Also, thanks to this thread I think I have to go home after work and hold my empty bottle of Green Spot, and tell it that I miss it and wish it would come back home.

                                                        1. Best tasting bargain bourbon for the money is "hands down" Old Crow. It tastes good and goes down good. Ask any "old school" bartender about this brand. It's cheaper than your supermarket Jack and Jim bottles, but a lot smoother.

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: velozo155

                                                            Well, an 'old school' bartender might well have a soft spot for Old Crow, but it was the version made 20+ years ago by National Distillers, which was folded into Jim Beam Brands in 1987. Beam, which had competed against Old Crow for top-dog status for decades, destroyed the brand deliberately by putting its cheapest whiskey into it. Today, Old Crow is, essentially, 3-year-old Jim Beam white label.
                                                            I have some 'real' Old Crow and it can be exceptional. But it's long gone from all but the dustiest store shelves.

                                                          2. When I first started drinking whisky - it was Glenfiddich. Not too harsh and definitely cheaper than high end ones I now (unfortunately!) crave.

                                                            1. Jeremy: it would help to know what you consider affordable. Also kinda depends how you plan on drinking it, but I think I can recommend some decent options. For mixed drinks I like Jim Beam Choice (aged 5 years) with the green label. Also for mixing, but palatable straight, I enjoy Ezra Brooks Black Label (90 proof). Better for drinking straight, a.k.a., "sippin'", (but leaving the realm of what I consider "affordable"), Jim Beam Black Label (aged 8 years), or Maker's Mark. My choices were made specifically because they aren't as understated as some Canadians, but aren't so harsh that you'd be dismayed as a "beginner".

                                                              I agree with the multitude of other responses that there are great quality products out there, but you can start quite well in the under $20 per fifth arena, which many of the recommendations exceed. Evan Williams Black Label is another such examppl that wouldn't disappoint, and is about $15/750mL. Williams also releases a more sought after select reserve every year and the latest bottling for 2010 is from a 2000 barreling. Elijah Craig is another line that is sure to please, but tends to start in the mid-price range and go up from there. If you can find it I hear Ancient Ancient Age 10-Year Old is a great value (I've never had it as it's hard to find outside Kentucky).

                                                              Again, depands on what you want to spend. Good luck and enjoy. I'm an bourbon alcoholic now myself.

                                                              7 Replies
                                                              1. re: thinkemm

                                                                Call me crazy, but most of those (at least the ones I recognize) are bourbons, not whiskies.... there is a difference....

                                                                1. re: troutpoint

                                                                  Crazy. You clearly didn't read most of this thread. Bourbon is a type of whiskey. Even the label says "Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey."

                                                                  1. re: ravchaz

                                                                    Glenfiddich is a soft scotch blend to start with it will grow on you. I 'm Canadian and like Crown Royal Rye if it was made in waterloo, apparently distillery burned down and the best stuff was lost. I heard some Crown sold in the US is made under licence and is not as good. We all hate Canadian Club up here but its all over the world due to prohibition. Tangle Ridge is a lovely soft Rye to start off with. Sazerac 6 yr old is good American Rye, Woodford Reserve is a soft Bourbon to get you started. Redbreast is a lovely smoky Irish whiskey, Blackbush is softer and a better starter. Avoid Ardbeg, Lagavulin, and Supernova Ardbeg's evil brother they are liquid campfires with cigarettes thrown in for fun. If you decide you like scotch with some smoke but balanced with candied fruit flavors/vanilla etc and can afford it Highland Park 25 yr old is the best I've ever had in my opinion and I've tried 60 plus scotch whiskeys even all the Macallans. Glenmorangie is lovely and so is Oban which doubled in price over the last 10 years. Why? I don't know won an award probably. That's my two cents. Oh and if anyone gives you grief about water or ice they aren't paying for it! My advice water on the side add little splashes until you like it, ice deadens everything which is good if its Bell's or Gordons or other poor stuff. You will find your tastes will change as you get older, but the fact you want to learn and are adventurous enough to try our recommendations will lead you to good experiences. Carpe Diem but skip the sky diving!

                                                                    1. re: TheDewster

                                                                      :) Work at a US liquor store not too far from our countries' border. Took me 6 months to realize that in Canada Rye IS whiskey. We only have one bottle that is labeled rye...

                                                                      Anywho, I'm not into Scotch but I feel I should learn at least a LITTLE something. I enjoy jameson and johnny walker black, crown and many of the mid-range Canadian blends, and bourbons.

                                                                      I have a bottle of the Glenlivet 12 and have tried it rocks only once and am warming up to. Next: Glenmorangie 10? Dalwhinnie 15? Those are both on the softer side, right?

                                                                      We have a larger range of Scotches than a store our size should, and I'm just looking for something I can try and recommend from the heart.

                                                                      1. re: WhatThePho

                                                                        It is probably the peat that is bothering you Scotch labelled Highland tend to have the least peat. Irish whisky like Powers, BlackBush are nice and not peaty. Do they give you a discount? Any liquor store you know of that carries Sazerac 18 year old Rye? Are you near Buffalo?

                                                                        1. re: TheDewster

                                                                          Only near Buffalo, North Dakota :) haha

                                                                          Highland. Good to know. I have considered picking up a bottle of Blackbush, as a few of my coworkers drink that. I will do that now. And my 10 percent discount covers the tax!

                                                                          We don't carry Sazerac, so it doesn't help me with my salesmanship.

                                                                          1. re: WhatThePho

                                                                            No problem stay away from scotches labelled Islay (eye la) Lagavulin, Ardbeg etc massive peat monsters like a liquid campfire with cigarettes tossed in for fun. Duty free tends to have super deals on Blackbush even if you pay the duty it can be a deal at times.

                                                              2. Hi Jeremy,

                                                                I started drinking whiskey with a Seven & Seven. 7-up mixed with Seagram's Seven (a Canadian Whisky, which usually has a more mild taste than other brands) to taste. It is a very smooth drink and since you can control the alcohol content, you can slowly build up a taste for whisky.

                                                                Then, once I was used to the 7&7s, I moved on to Whiskey Sours and Boston Sours (my favorite). For this I usually use Jim Beam or Maker's Mark. They're not the fanciest or the best, but they are relatively smooth without too strong of a flavor to make them acceptable for mixing. But if you're not ready to drink it straight, I would recommend a good cheap alcohol anyway. After all, you don't want to mix a $80 bottle of scotch into a cocktail.

                                                                Good luck!

                                                                1. This is a very long thread(so my apologies if this was already a recommendation ) but if I may suggest to those who have not yet tried the Bourbon that got me hooked ... Basil Hayden... It is the smoothest bourbon I have ever tried and I have tried most of the Bourbons in this thread. If you are partial to Woodford Reserve you will love Basil Hayden!

                                                                  1. You can ease yourself into bourbon by starting with some of the smoother, sweeter bourbons with caramel, maple, or vanilla notes.

                                                                    I started by drinking Maker's and ginger and then moved on to manhattans, which temper the heat and bite of the bourbon or rye with some sweetness and warm spice. Now I actually enjoy some on the rocks or neat.

                                                                    Brands to look for for palate-training: Old Weller Antique (a wheated bourbon, which tends to be sweeter and smoother), Elmer T. Lee, Jefferson's Special Reserve, Basil Hayden, Evan Williams Single Barrel, Elijah Craig 12-yr. Buffalo Trace was another good recommendation. You might even check out Jim Beam's new Devil's Cut---it's a little gimmicky, but it's pretty smooth, easy drinking. They've come up with some process to extract bourbon from the wood of the barrels, and it takes on some of the vanilla characteristics of the wood.

                                                                    2 Replies
                                                                    1. re: ChristinaMason

                                                                      I would definitely recommend Old Weller with some ice, even though I nearly always drink my whisk(e)y neat - at 107 proof it has some burn, and is a lot spicier than most other wheated Bourbons such as Makers. If this didn't say wheated on the label I would have guessed it was heavy on the rye. With one ice cube to tame the edge it is one of my favorite Bourbons.

                                                                      1. re: ncyankee101

                                                                        Blanton's Single Barrel my go to bourbon.

                                                                    2. Probably not a whisky in this thread I wouldn't like. It's cool to see thoughts on bourbon, rye, Scotch, Iridh, and Csnadian coexist in relative peace and harmony. I'd offer if you access a new taste more easily if it is light and not overwhelming, I'd try Dalwhinnie for Scotch and an Evan Williams single barrel for bourbon. More in the middle I'd try Highland Park or Virginia Gentleman 90. If you are ok jumping into the deep end to learn how to swim, I'd go with Lagavulin and, my wife's favorite and my number two, Bookers. Also, two of the more unusual single barrels I have tried lately were Corner Creek and (!!!) Four Roses.

                                                                      4 Replies
                                                                      1. re: tim irvine

                                                                        I don't think Corner Creek is a single barrel. It's a fairly rare bourbon but almost certainly not single barrel since it is a four grain bourbon. The producers won't say whether it is made as a four grain bourbon or a combination of distinct wheated and rye bourbons, but the latter is more likely.

                                                                        Four Roses has ten different formulas so two of their single barrels can differ tremendously. To really know what you are likely to like you have to go to their website and learn the key to the different formulas.

                                                                        1. re: ravchaz

                                                                          I've sampled all ten recipes but even if it's the same recipe where the barrel was sitting in the rickhouse and for how long will make a difference.

                                                                          1. re: scubadoo97

                                                                            Absolutely. Doesn't detract from my point that one bottle of Four Roses Single Barrel could be vastly different than another. This is true of any single barrel but Blanton's or Eagle Rare or Elijah Craig have a profile they are trying to hit and the variations should not be huge. At least you are starting with the same mashbill and yeast strain. With Four Roses that's not the case.

                                                                        2. re: tim irvine

                                                                          Sadly, Virginia Gentleman 90 is no longer in production, though the same distillery is now making Bowman Brothers small batch bourbon which is also 90 proof.