How To Quickly Choose The Right Whiskey To Buy

I’ve seen it time and again, and experienced it myself: you head into the liquor store, determined to grab a “good” bottle of whiskey, but then as soon as the massive wall of brown spirits comes into view… you freeze. There’s just so much choice in the market that picking the “right one” seems impossible. Where do you even start? The good news is that we’re here to help with a quick, simple guide to help you find exactly what you need.


The goal here is to find a whiskey that suits your preferred flavor profile and style. Brown spirits have a wide variety of flavors, which means there’s probably something out there for everyone. The trick is knowing how to narrow down your search. So we’ve put together a quick guide to (hopefully!) help you spend less time aimlessly wandering the aisles of the liquor store.

How to Use This Guide

  1. Pick the flavor profile that appeals to you.
  2. Click the associated link to jump to that section.
  3. See if there’s a more specific variety that sounds good.
  4. Find the section for that variety in your liquor store and look for a bottle in that “sweet spot” price range.

So, let’s start with the first question.

Start Here: What Are You In The Mood For?

Find the category that suits your mood and click the link to skip down to that next section to learn more.


Irish Whiskey

OverviewIrish Whiskey is typically a lighter, sweeter tasting version of whiskey that is distilled from a combination of malted and unmalted barley. You can typically expect flavors like honey, oatmeal, sourdough bread, and butter. Perfect for sipping, but won’t add a lot of flavor when mixed in cocktails.
VarietiesIrish Pot Still Whiskey: More flavorful, sweeter, more complex.
Irish Malt Whiskey: More flavorful, more bread-like components. Like single malt scotch.
Irish Blended Whiskey: Less complex, less characterful.
“Sweet Spot” Price Range$30 – $60
RecommendationsBest Irish Whiskey

Scotch Whisky

OverviewScotch whisky can be a bit of a broad category but, generally speaking, the typical flavor profile focuses on producing something that can be sipped neat or on the rocks, with a rare cocktail-focused spirit. You’ll get some delicate floral or herbal notes, often dried fruit, and some sourdough bread and honey from the malted barley.
VarietiesSingle Malt: Made from a single distillery, often more expensive and more flavorful.
Blended Whisky: A combination of spirits from different distilleries, can smell great but often less flavorful.
Peated: Scotch with a smoky, earthy characteristic. Typical in Islay Scotch Whisky further down the page.
“Sweet Spot” Price Range$30 – $90
RecommendationsBest Scotch Whiskey

American Whiskey

OverviewAmerican Whiskey tends to focus on the bold flavors imparted from the barrel aging process, typically raw corn sweetness, caramel, brown sugar, vanilla, and baking spices. Good for cocktails, mixing, or taking neat.
VarietiesFlavored Whiskey: American whiskey (typically corn based) that has been artificially flavored, usually with added sugar. Think Fireball.
Bourbon Whiskey: American whiskey that has been aged in a charred oak barrel. This is probably the quintessential American whiskey.
Straight Bourbon Whiskey: A bourbon that has been aged longer, resulting in deeper and richer flavors.
“Sweet Spot” Price Range$30 – $60
RecommendationsBest American Whiskey

Rye Whiskey

OverviewA good rye whiskey will be delicious on its own, but with enough power and character in the flavors to make for some amazing cocktails. Takes the standard American whiskey flavors of caramel, vanilla, brown sugar, and baking spices, and adds some dried fruit, apple, and black pepper spice. Probably best tried in an old fashioned or a mule.
VarietiesCanadian Whiskey: Most Canadian whiskey is rye based, but that is not guaranteed. Typically less flavorful, less complex.
Straight Rye Whiskey: A rye whiskey that has been aged for longer periods of time and in charred oak barrels. Deeper, richer flavors
“Sweet Spot” Price Range$30 – $50
RecommendationsBest Rye Whiskey

Islay Scotch Whisky

OverviewA variety of scotch whisky that focuses on deep, rich flavors while trying to preserve the delicate aspects typical of the other styles. The most prominent flavor is typically a smoky and often oily aspect, with some salt or slate minerality, combined with the usual floral, herbal, sweet notes from the malted barley.
VarietiesSingle Malt: Made from a single distillery, often more expensive and more flavorful.
Blended Whisky: A combination of spirits from different distilleries, can smell great but often less flavorful.
“Sweet Spot” Price Range$50 – $90
RecommendationsBest Islay Scotch Whiskey

The sheer volume in most liquor stores can sometimes get overwhelming, even if you’re well-versed in whiskey. But when you break it down like this, the choices become a little clearer. (Hopefully, at least.) If you are still stuck in the brown liquor aisle after reading this guide let us know, and give us a hint at what you’re looking for! Unless, of course, being lost in a sea of whiskey was your goal in the first place… doesn’t sound too terrible, if I’m honest.


One comment

  1. Thank you for explaining the different flavor profiles for the whiskey like a caramel, vanilla, and brown sugar vibe for American Whiskey. I’ve been trying to get more into whiskey since it’s my husband’s favorite. I haven’t found one yet that I like, but I’ll have to try some of these to see if they’re more my style.

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