Ranking Best Whiskeys
From Each Side of the World

From the smoky, peat-infused scotches of Speyside to Kentucky’s smooth, honey-sweet bourbons, people have strong takes on what qualities make for an incredible dram. We journey across continents and distilleries, carefully assessing flavor profiles, complexity, drinkability and balance.  While individual preferences vary, a few exceptional whiskeys rise above the rest to earn high praise.

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Scotland – The Birthplace of Whisky

As home to the first whiskey distillations, Scotland was the obvious launch point for our journey.  With over 130 active distilleries scattered across the windswept highlands and islands, we barely scratched the surface of what Scotland has to offer.

 Still, one single malt emerged as the clear favorite:

Winner: Laphroaig 30 Year Old Sherry Oak

Aged for three decades in oloroso sherry casks, this Islay malt epitomizes the intense yet nuanced style of peated Scotch. An initial blast of smoky, campfire-esque flavor gives way to layers of cracked pepper, brine and light sweetness, drifting finally into a rich, fruity finish.

Our panel agreed it showed complexity, balance and classic Islay spirit.

Ireland – Smooth as Silk

Lacking some of the Scotches’ bracing smoke, Ireland’s triple-distilled whiskeys impress with unmatched smoothness and drinkability.  Distillers here often age spirits in rum or sherry barrels, imparting faint fruity sweetness.

 One Irish whiskey displayed these desired qualities flawlessly:

Winner: Redbreast 27 Year Old Cask Strength

Matured first in bourbon barrels and then sherry casks before being bottled at barrel proof, this whiskey delighted with bold notes of fruitcake, oak and vanilla. “Dangerously drinkable,” said one taster, impressed by its texture and balance.

America – A Trip Down The Bourbon Trail

A tasting tour through bourbon country cleansed our palates after the peaty onslaught from Scotland. By law, bourbons must contain at least 51% corn in their mash bills, lending sweeter notes that complement rye and barley spices.

 Our top pick hailed from one of Kentucky’s most storied distilleries:

Winner: Pappy Van Winkle 23 Year Family Reserve

Described as “bottled velvet” for its ultra-smooth drinkability, this rare bourbon exemplifies the American whiskey ideal.

America – Bourbon’s Birthplace

No global quest for the finest whiskey is complete without a visit to Bourbon Country. In 1964, the U.S. Congress declared Bourbon “America’s Native Spirit” to commemorate its origins in Kentucky over 200 years ago. Today, Bourbon is booming in popularity worldwide thanks to its signature sweet, spicy, and smoky flavor profile.

By law, Bourbon must contain at least 51% corn in the mash bill alongside other grains like rye, wheat or barley. It must also be aged in new, charred American Oak barrels for a minimum of two years, though the very best expressions stay in the barrel for well over a decade, garnering exquisite complexity.

After tasting our way through America’s elite Bourbons, one beloved bottling with remarkable story earned our top spot:

Winner: Pappy Van Winkle 23 Year Old Family Reserve

Described by some lucky tasters as “drinking vanilla velvet,” the exceedingly rare Pappy Van Winkle 23 Year enters rarified air. Aged for nearly a quarter century in the Kentucky sun, it delivers decadent flavors of tobacco, caramel, fig, and leather balanced by delicate notes of candied almonds. With sheer drinkability covering up its boozy 135.4 proof, it’s no wonder Pappy has reached icon status amongst whiskey enthusiasts. Too bad finding a bottle ranks between difficult and near impossible!

Japan – The New Whisky Wunderkinds

The newest kids on the global whiskey scene hail from the Land of the Rising Sun. Over the last decade, Japanese whisky distillers have racked up accolades left and right for their exquisite artisanal expressions, providing stiff competition to traditional powerhouses.

Japan’s esteemed honkakus (single malts) and blends journey well beyond mimicking the Scottish style. They forge their own identity through an obsessive attention to detail, embracing high quality local ingredients and leveraging extreme seasonal climate changes to accelerate the maturation process.

The resulting spirits showcase stunningly pure, refined flavors ranging from fragrant and fruity to smoky and richly sherried. Enthusiasts praise Japanese whiskey’s seamless complexity, textural elegance, and masterful balance.

When it came time to award Japan’s victor, our panel simply couldn’t decide between two legendary labels from same acclaimed Yamazaki distillery:

Winners (Tie): Yamazaki 55 Year Old Sherry Cask 2013 & Hibiki 30 Year Old

Bottled to commemorate the Japanese Whisky Association’s 55th anniversary, the dizzyingly rare Yamazaki 55 Year Old showcases the breathtaking depth achievable in Japanese whiskey. With only 150 crystal decanters released globally, it earns a Guinness World Record for the oldest whiskey of its kind ever bottled.

Tasting notes span dried fruits and sandalwood to toffee, dark chocolate and clove. Meanwhile, Suntory’s exquisite Hibiki 30 Year Old bottles the perfect harmony between single malts and aged grain whiskies from Suntory’s three distilleries. It enchants with notes of honeyed apricot, candied orange peel and cinnamon, finishing with a hint of and smoldering firewood.

Both representations demonstrate the skyrocketing potential of Japanese whisky to rival and even surpass the best Scotland offers. Kanpai!

And The Winner Is…

While individual favorites clearly emerged from each continent during our around-the-world tasting journey, when the glasses clear only one whiskey shines as the undisputed champion, claiming our coveted Best Whisky on Earth award:

Overall Winner: Laphroaig 30 Year Old Sherry Oak

Somewhat fittingly, we conclude where we began – on Scotland’s Islay. There is simply no surpassing this Scotch’s flawless balance between peaty, maritime intensity and multi-dimensional layers of flavor.

Sherry wood maturation adds notes of spice, dried fruits and oak tannins that play beautifully against Islay’s signature smoke. After analyzing regions, judging hundreds of candidates, and deliberating over dozens of favorites, we proudly pronounce Laphroaig 30 Year Old Sherry Oak as The Best Whiskey in the World!

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