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.
And if you are looking for more rankings of the top snacks, conspiracy theories, and dishes or you like debunking the mystery of food and drink, then you can find more rankings like this one at tailrank.com.
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!