Basic Whiskey Knowledge

We’ve all been there. You’re standing in your local liquor shop, staring at their shelves while minutes upon minutes keep passing by. Maybe you’re trying to decide which whisky to buy next or maybe you’re trying to decide which whisky is going to be your first. The problem is, you’re not really sure what it is you are looking at. If you’re in a specialty shop or a store that has a fairly large selection, there could be hundreds of brands staring you in the face. Perhaps that’s why you’re here now, reading this article, hoping that someone can give you a little brand guidance.


Before moving forward, however, please let me say that this article is meant for the person looking to start their whisky journey but doesn’t have much to stand on. Completely new to the whisky world, you may be confused at what lies in front of you. I got the idea for this article from a close friend who shed some light on this very topic. Hopefully this will help those looking for some aid with their first whisky purchase.

The first thing people tend to question is the basic, “how do I know which one is the best?” There is no “best” really, but there are plenty of differences between the plethora of whiskies sitting on the shelves, such as knowing the difference between a ‘Blended Scotch’ and a ‘Single Malt Scotch.’ Although there are plenty of great blends out there, which I often enjoy myself, single malts tend to be thought of as “more pure” or of better quality, and there are many great reasons for that. Although I enjoy blended whisky, I myself will always think of single malts as being a better product. That’s just my taste and preference. So, that is the first filter you can use when it’s you vs. the shelves – keep an eye out for “Single Malt Whisky.”

Who Makes This Stuff

Next, let’s talk about the real reason you’re here and get to know some brands. We won’t get into any great ranges because this article is intended for newcomers to the whisky world and those who might be in a store with few options. Even if you’re staring down several hundred bottles, though, let’s stick to the big guys – the basic entry-level top selling brands. These types of brands are typically the most approachable single malts, yet they offer the drinker a nice, pleasant experience. Rest assured you can grab a bottle of either one of what is listed below and feel confident you’ve made a good, solid purchase.

Some Bottles to Look For

First on the list is The Glenlivet; one of the largest distilleries in Scotland and makers of one of the most common single malts – The Glenlivet 12-year-old. Made in the Speyside region of Scotland, it is full of honey sweetness, fresh fruits and is a very approachable single malt. As noted in other articles on the site, The Glenlivet 12-year-old was my first single malt and I always recommend it to be the first for others. There are of course many other options to choose from…

Next we’re going to point out yet another Speyside distillery, Glenfiddich. Like The Glenlivet, Glenfiddich is one of the largest distilleries in Scotland and are makers of the number one selling single malt in the world – the Glenfiddich 12-year-old. There’s no missing this iconic whisky, with its green triangular designed bottle with matching cardboard tubing and stag head on the label. Another that’s very approachable yet pleasing to the palate. If you’re in the liquor store or out at the bar, the chance of them not having either of these first two whiskies is slim to frigging none.

Now we’re going to take a look at the Glenmorangie distillery, a Highland distillery and makers of the Glenmorangie ‘Original’ (10-year-old), the whisky to keep your eyes peeled for, and you guessed it, another very approachable but rather enjoyable single malt. Made using some of the tallest stills in Scotland, Glenmorangie Original, too, is full of crisp, fresh fruit, honey and caramel sweetness and a freshness that will grow on you.

Three down, two to go. The next two distilleries and malts I’m going to point out are two more from the Speyside region of Scotland – The Balvenie and The Macallan; two very popular brands and major sellers, especially here in the US. Both whiskies you should look out for are the 12-year-old expressions from each distillery – The Macallan 12-year-old and The Balvenie 12-year-old Double Wood. The reason I saved these two for last is what sets them apart from the previous three whiskies – they both are aged or partly aged in ex-Sherry wine casks, compared to traditional ex-Bourbon casks that the first three whiskies listed are solely aged in. Although these two are still very approachable, the Sherry casks add a little more depth, dark sweetness and spice to the whisky, giving you an overall different experience.

That’s it, folks. These five brands/whiskies are what I recommend you keep an eye out for the next time you’re at your local store. Chances are one of them will be sitting around waiting for you to snag a bottle. If not at the store, your local watering hole is sure to have a bottle sitting on the shelf. Again, they all make for a great experience and are quite approachable – just remember, take your time with it. Slowly get to know your dram and you’ll appreciate all it has to offer. After that, you can then begin experimenting with the other, more complex whiskies that each of these distilleries has to offer. Cheers!

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