15 Best Whiskeys For Beginner Enthusiasts

If you're just starting on your journey through whiskey, you have an exciting road ahead of you. But even though it may be exciting, it can also be intimidating. With an incredible number of options to choose from, it can be daunting trying to figure out where to start. Thankfully, we're here to help. We'll guide you through the rich and nuanced world of whiskey. To do this, we'll showcase 15 whiskeys that are the perfect place to start for those looking beyond the bottom self and to drinks that offer more depth and taste.

From smooth bourbons to peaty single malts, our selection aims to cater to diverse palates, offering an insightful introduction to the complexities of this revered spirit. One key aspect we've kept in mind for this list is that we've focused on whiskeys that you can easily buy right now. You can also be rest assured that we've had the personal pleasure of tasting all of these fine spirits. With that in mind, let's look at the bottles that are a must-try for any burgeoning whiskey lover.

1. Maker's Mark

We start with one of the most popular bourbons — and for many, this will be their everyday spirit. Curiously spelled whisky instead of the American standard of whiskey, the Kentucky Straight Bourbon from Maker's Mark is a must-drink if you haven't sampled it already. There are many reasons to try this drink, but one is that it's a wheated bourbon. Almost all bourbons have a large majority of corn in the mash bill and a smaller percentage of barley. The third ingredient is usually rye, but some producers, such as Maker's Mark, use wheat instead. The result is that you get a sweeter and more mellow bourbon than many of its rivals.

Therefore, if all you've drunk so far are whiskeys with rye in the mash bill, this is a great opportunity to taste the difference. At 90-proof, it's not overpowering, and it's fantastic for beginners due to its approachable profile. The palate has a touch of spice, but the classic bourbon notes of caramel and vanilla mostly dominate. You'll also get some fruits with a pleasant mouthfeel that differs slightly from many other bourbons in this price bracket. If you've never had Maker's Mark before, putting that right as soon as possible is a great idea.

2. Buffalo Trace

If you've not tried any of the whiskeys in this list, and we had to recommend just one, it'd be the Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon. With that praise, it's no surprise it took the top spot on our ranking of popular Kentucky bourbons. It took that title because it offers incredible value for money. Only a little bit more expensive than budget offerings, Buffalo Trace is a widely loved bourbon not just for its price tag but also for its taste and versatility.

Buffalo Trace has a smooth and mellow character but still offers plenty of complexity. It has a harmonious blend of the expected bourbon tasting notes, with orchard fruits and toffee being the most distinctive. The drink also has the rich and deep flavors of a much more expensive bourbon, supported by its long finish. The combination of smoothness, a balanced flavor profile, and affordability make it an ideal choice for any novice whiskey enthusiast.

3. Basil Hayden

For those new to whiskey, it's easy to be overwhelmed by high-proof expressions that burn your throat. It takes time to appreciate high-proof spirits if you're not used to them, which can make the likes of Basil Hayden even more appealing. At 80-proof, it's one of the best low-proof bourbons for those wanting a taste of a higher-quality whiskey but with a mild and approachable character. Crafted by the James B. Beam Distilling Co., it has received plenty of praise for its smoothness and light body. Those features mean that even those who don't usually care for bourbon often enjoy Basil Hayden.

But its inoffensive character shouldn't be mistaken for lack of quality. There is still plenty of depth and nuance here. That's due in no small part to its high rye percentage, which sits at 27%. It helps to give it a great balance of sweetness and spice, as you'll be impressed by its peppery warmth. For new enthusiasts, Basil Hayden is a perfect training ground for picking out individual tastes and aromas with each sip.

4. Johnnie Walker Black Label

We've started the list with three Kentucky bourbons, and now we move on to a Scotch whisky. For any budding whisky enthusiast, it's a great idea to experiment with different types of whisky to find your favorite. Jonnie Walker Black Label is a blended Scotch whisky, which means it's made from a mix of single malt and grain whiskies in Scotland. There is a good chance that you've already tried its cheaper Red Label expression, and the Black Label is the next step up. For many people, this is the best blended whisky for those wanting a versatile spirit that offers much more depth and flavor than budget offerings.

The blending of whiskies helps to give it a well-rounded character, and it has a lively profile of smokiness, rich malt, and subtle sweetness. That smokiness makes it an ideal expression for those looking to sample a moderate level of peat without it being overwhelming. Many people see the Black Label as a great whisky for making high-quality cocktails, but it's more than good enough to be sipped neat. It provides beginners with a range of options to enjoy this scotch and lets you start your journey with a well-established and globally recognized brand.

5. Glenfiddich 12-Year

Another well-established and globally recognized brand is that of Glenfiddich. Whereas the Black Label is a blended scotch, the Glenfiddich 12-year is a single malt. That means it has been made exclusively from malted barley. It's one of the most affordable aged single malts out there and is a great starting point for anyone interested in higher quality scotch. The first thing you'll notice here is the beautiful aroma. It has notes of pear and apple and a hint of floral sweetness. Its delicate smell invites you into the enjoyable tasting experience.

The palate is both smooth and mellow, with those fruity notes from the aroma carrying through to your tastebuds. There is plenty of vanilla there, which gives it a gentle complexity without overwhelming the palate. Once you become a whisky expert, you'll most likely move on from the likes of Glenfiddich 12-year for more nuanced whiskies, but this is a great place to start. If all you've ever tried thus far are American whiskeys, Glenfiddich will give you a good insight into what Scotland offers.

6. Tullamore D.E.W.

We've just talked about what Scotland has to offer, but what about its Celtic neighbor Ireland? There are a few impressive Irish whiskeys that are easily available, such as Jameson and Bushmills, but we think Tullamore D.E.W. is the most impressive from this price range. A triple-distilled whiskey, it's great for those looking to explore the world of whiskey further. Made from three types of grain, it's much-loved due to its smooth and approachable taste, which is almost impossible to dislike.

If you're on the hunt for something deep and complex, you won't find it here. Instead, it's ideal for those hoping to find something incredibly easy to drink. Tullamore D.E.W. is very sweet on the palate, with notes of vanilla and honey and a subtle touch of fruitiness. Another versatile whiskey, this can be enjoyed neat, with ice, or as part of a cocktail. If you want to know what Irish whiskey is all about, start with a bottle of Tullamore D.E.W.

7. The Glenlivet 12-Year

We've included the Glenlivet 12-year here for many of the same reasons we talked up the Glenfiddich. This is a classic and widely acclaimed choice for novice whisky enthusiasts. Hailing from one of Scotland's most iconic distilleries, The Glenlivet, this expression is another that will give you an excellent introduction to the world of single malt scotch. For those who see whiskey as one of their favorite smells, the Glenlivet 12-year serves as a great example of that delightful sensory experience. It opens up with a delightful interplay of fruits and floral notes, setting the stage for a smooth and refined tasting experience.

On the palate, the aromas on the nose carry through, where they're met by a delicious honey sweetness along with some malt. The influence of both American and European casks is evident as it gives it a layer of complexity without one tasting note being overly dominant. If you've only ever had cheaper whiskeys, you'll find the finish to be immaculately clean and satisfying. The traditional use of copper pot stills creates a whisky that is a perfect gateway to more nuanced Scottish whiskies. It's a timeless scotch, and if you buy your first bottle of the Glenlivet 12-year, it won't be your last.

8. Monkey Shoulder

Most blended Scotch whiskies (such as the Jonnie Walker Black Label) use a mixture of grain and malt whiskies in the blend. Monkey Shoulder, however, only uses a mixture of single malt whiskies, making it a premium blended malt scotch. It's an important difference as many see single malts as superior to grain whisky. It isn't as straightforward as that, but there's a reason Monkey Shoulder likes to boast its expression is "100% Malt Whisky" — and that's why it's on our list. Monkey Shoulder is not only a great whisky but a way to introduce yourself to a rarer type of scotch, as there aren't many great blended malts out there.

Using three malts from Speyside that were all matured in ex-bourbon casks, there are an impressive number of flavors to pick out. The most dominant are vanilla and honey, but there is a mellow fruitiness. This may suit you if you don't like smoky whisky or are not yet ready to try it. With its playful name and iconic bottle, there is also no doubt that this underrated scotch is a great addition to any home bar.

9. Woodford Reserve Double Oaked

Let's take a break from the British Isles for now and head back over the Atlantic. There are countless ways a whiskey can be matured, and each method will significantly impact the taste. Here, the "Double Oaked" name comes from this bourbon's distinctive aging process. This American whiskey is first matured in new charred oak barrels. It is then transferred to a deeply toasted yet lightly charred barrel to finish the aging process.

The result is a rich and nuanced flavor that includes notes of dark chocolate and subtle sweetness while having a notable oak influence. The finish is satisfyingly long, and the influence of honey and apple continues right through to the end. Its mature aging also helps to give it an impressive level of velvety smoothness that won't overwhelm any newcomers to bourbon. The price tag is a little above most of the other whiskeys we've looked at here, but it's still affordable and definitely worth it.

10. Four Roses Single Barrel

Most standard bottles of bourbon are made from multiple barrels from the same distillery, which are mixed to create a consistent flavor profile. Single-barrel bourbons are a little different. As the name suggests, these bourbons are bottled from just one barrel, which means they can lack consistency. However, many see that as a good thing. It helps to give the whiskey a more distinctive taste, and each yearly release will be slightly different from the last, allowing you to compare years and savor your favorite. While there are many great single-barrel bourbons available, this Four Roses expression is an ideal entry point with its affordability, availability, and lower proof.

With bourbon aged between somewhere between seven and nine years, this expression is known for its depth of flavor. There is a distinctive warmth of cinnamon and nutmeg throughout the tasting experience, and sweet fruits join them on the nose. Moving onto the palate, all those notes we mentioned are joined by delicious vanilla. It has a level of complexity that is characteristic of single-barrel bourbons. However, you should look elsewhere if you want a smooth and mellow bourbon. What we would say is that, for beginners, this variety offers a fantastic opportunity to explore a different type of bourbon from what you may be used to.

11. Suntory Toki

Japanese whisky has quickly developed an incredible reputation, and Suntory Toki is the perfect place to start exploring it. While a commercially produced whisky from the famous Suntory Distillery, Toki captures the elegance and precision that Japanese whiskies are celebrated for. Meaning "time" in Japanese, Toki is a mix of three different Suntory whiskies. The first is Chita grain whisky, joined by both Hakushu and Yamazaki malts. This fusion creates a light and versatile expression.

The absence of a smoky influence will allow novices to appreciate its delicately balanced flavors. Those flavors include an array of orchard fruits, honey, and a hint of pepper. The smooth and clean finish is a hallmark of Japanese whisky and ends a very pleasant tasting experience. Those Japanese qualities extend to its bottle with its simple and sophisticated design. Overall, the Suntory Toki provides a graceful and accessible entry into the realm of Japanese whisky, making it an excellent choice for anyone who wants to expand their whisky horizon.

12. Gentleman Jack

If you've only ever tasted a few whiskeys, there is a good chance one of them is the infamous Jack Daniel's Old No. 7. It's for that reason we didn't include its most renowned expression on this list and instead decided to showcase the Gentleman Jack. Jack Daniel's unique charcoal-mellowing process makes the spirit incredibly smooth, especially as the process is completed twice with this expression. The Gentleman Jack builds on that smoothness by adding more depth and character. It remains gentle with a velvety smoothness that will be welcomed by anyone who gets put off by harsher whiskeys.

The Gentleman Jack amplifies everything great about American whiskey. There is nothing unique about its flavor, but the notes of vanilla and caramel are deeply satisfying. Along with that, you get a quite significant oak influence without dominating the palate. You can easily enjoy this neat, but it is also the ideal base for a wide range of cocktails. Whether you're a beginner or a seasoned pro, there's always a good reason to have a bottle of Gentleman Jack in your collection.

13. Eagle Rare

Eagle Rare is one of the many great whiskeys made by the Buffalo Trace Distillery and allows you to enjoy a more refined and flavorful bourbon experience. The standout feature of this whiskey is the matured aging of 10 years. Usually, bourbons at that age come at a premium price tag, but Eagle Rare is an exception. That long maturation process imparts rich and deep flavors that are a part of its smooth character.

There are plenty of distinctive notes on the nose, including herbs, orchard fruits, and oak. Along with the typical bourbon tasting notes, there are beautiful hints of nuts and chocolate on the palate. Its availability and consistency add to its appeal, and along with the smoothness of the spirit, it makes for a perfect beginner bourbon. The distinctive bottle design, featuring an image of an eagle on the label, adds a touch of classic elegance to the overall presentation. That elegance extends to the contents inside, and the overall package gives you a tantalizing glimpse into the world of premium American whiskey.

14. Jim Beam Apple

Among the many different types of whiskey is a range of flavored options. Jim Beam and Jack Daniel's especially have many different types for you to try, but we think the best place to start is with the Jim Beam Apple. This sweet and refreshing drink infuses a crisp apple flavor into Jim Beam bourbon for a playful twist on traditional whiskey. It offers a great combination of the classical bourbon warmth you'd expect from Jim Beam with an added flavorful sweetness.

Many seasoned whiskey enthusiasts will look down on flavored whiskey, but it's worth trying to see if it's suited to your palate. While this may not be a bourbon to pull out on special occasions, it's a versatile everyday drink that is also great for adding to cocktails. And, of course, if you like Jim Beam Apple, you'll enjoy sampling all the other flavored whiskey it offers.

15. Laphroaig 10-Year

We weren't sure whether to include the Laphroaig 10-year as we generally wouldn't recommend a heavily peated whisky for beginners. However, if you're a budding enthusiast, learning about peat's influence is an important step. We've used the word "approachable" a few times to describe whiskeys that almost anyone will love, but Laphroaig is a little different. This scotch is known for its robust smoky flavor and maritime influences. While a few people can hate the taste, many others adore it, which is why it's one of the most popular scotches ever made.

While it may be dominated by its peaty taste, there is plenty of sweetness here, along with hints of sea salt. It adds up to a complex and intriguing profile, but one that remains smooth and well-balanced. It captures the essence of its remote island location of Islay and will give you a great insight into the world of more nuanced malt whiskies.


All whiskey lovers were a beginner once, and I wish I had a list like this to get me started. I've personally tasted all of these whiskeys over the years and felt each of them gives you a glimpse into different aspects of the whiskey world. Importantly, I wanted to focus on whiskeys that are both affordable and easily found, so beautiful 18-year-old scotches didn't make the cut. With my whiskey experience, I aimed to create an achievable checklist that can lead you on the path to becoming a whiskey expert.