20 Top Shelf Whiskey Brands You Must Try

You are currently viewing 20 Top Shelf Whiskey Brands You Must Try

Initially intended for medical purposes, made exclusively by monks who distilled the grains, whiskey has come a really long way since its beginnings. It is now a synonym for enjoyment, refinement, elegance, as well as ruggedness at the same time. 

Whiskey is an entire science and it is one of the most exploratory drinks. Just like wine, you can spend hours discussing the flavors and aromas infused in a single sip of whiskey.

There are many different methods of giving whisky the flavor it has, but in the end, it all boils down to grains, water, filtering, and aging. 

The aging is when the whiskey acquires its flavor. From the barrels to the environment to the type of wood, everything plays an equally important role in the flavor-giving process of the whiskey-making period. 

Therefore, depending on the time, effort, and diligence devoted to these processes, there are many different whiskey qualities. From the bottom to medium to top shelf, the whiskey spirit has traits and attributes typical for its category. 

An inexperienced whiskey drinker might not feel much of a difference between medium and top-shelf whiskey or may not know what makes bottom-shelf whiskey bottom and what makes top-shelf whiskey top. 

Therefore, there is an old saying that whiskey is a spirit for those who know how to appreciate it. Still, none of us has been born knowing whiskey, and even the most knowledgeable whiskey aficionados were absolute beginners once. So, there is a learning curve and you need a starting point to build further upon. 

Also check: 20 Best Affordable Whiskeys To Drink

So what is a top-shelf whiskey?

To know which are top-shelf whiskey brands, you need to know the traits of a top-shelf whiskey. First of all, it doesn’t have to be insanely expensive, but it is pricy. You will never find a $10 top-shelf whiskey. 

Until some time ago, top-shelf whiskey was considered rare, as not many bottles were available for sale of the premium whiskeys. However, that is not the case today.

There are, indeed, rare bottles of top-shelf whiskey, but that is no longer a trait, as you can buy a top-shelf whiskey online if your local liquor store doesn’t carry what you are looking for. 

It looks appealing. The color is never blurry, and it is often deep and velvety. The bottles are very elegant, and the labels are clear with perfect writing. Actually, this is also a nice tip for when you buy a top-shelf whiskey to make sure you are getting the real deal and not a copy. 

In terms of flavor and aroma, a top-shelf whiskey is sharp but very flavorful and aromatic. They often have a slightly smoky note, as the barrels are often made of charred oak. 

The signature flavor whiskey notes are vanilla and dried fruits, so you should be expecting those, as well as some toast, honey, nuts, chocolate, caramel, and toffee. 

Also check: 27 Best Whiskeys In the World

20 Top Shelf Whiskey Brands

In this article, I will give you a list of 20 top-shelf whiskey brands and describe their characteristics. The best thing about these brands is that they offer multiple kinds of whiskey, suitable for beginners, as well as collectors and experienced whiskey enthusiasts. 

1. George T. Stagg 


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Aged for approximately 15 years, this is a full-bodied and full-flavored spirit with a highly explorative essence. It is smooth and rich, as well as very flavorful and aromatic. 

In a single sip, you can discover multiple flavor notes, layering and coming to the spotlight in good time. It has strong notes of vanilla, nougat, dark chocolate, and toffee. On the nose, you can feel a rich herbal spice aroma as well as intense vanilla notes. 

It begins fresh and crisp. Mid-palate, it shows strong toffee sweetness notes mixed with nougat and dark chocolate. The vanilla dimension accompanies each portion of the experience. The finish is smooth, sweet, and lingering. 

2. Widow Jane 


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Aged for no less than ten years, the Widow Jane whiskey is rich, full-flavored, assertive, and excellently balanced. It isn’t dominated by any of the included flavor notes, but it displays all its features at the same time in a perfect unity of flavor notes and aromas. 

In a single sip of this whiskey, you will feel vanilla, oak, toffee, and citrus, playing together at the same time. The finish is exceptionally smooth, slightly smoky, and spicy, lingering for a while longer after the sip. 

3. Maker’s Mark 


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Best enjoyed on the rocks or neat, the Maker’s Mark whiskey is a well-rounded, full-bodied bourbon whiskey. This top-shelf spirit ages for six to seven years, during which it acquires elegance and refinement, creating an incredible balance between the involved flavor notes. 

It is pretty sharp but creamy at the same time. You can feel notes of vanilla and citrus mixed with toffee and caramel. The finish is long, lingering, smoky, and velvety smooth. 

4. Elijah Craig


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Elijah Craig whiskeys age between eight and 12 years. However, there are small and limited batches that age for 18 years and even up. Generally, these batches are collector’s editions and are reserved for the ultra-experienced whiskey enthusiasts and the most faithful customers of the Elijah Craig brand. 

Elijah Craig whiskey has rightfully made a name as one of the best on the market. It ages in oak barrels acquiring the recognizable vanilla notes but also a smoky and peppery aroma, caramel, coffee, dried berry fruits, and dark chocolate. 

The versatility of this whiskey is beyond telling, as all of the flavors are consisted of a single sip. It starts with the vanilla flavor, continuing towards its climax with the sweet, smoky, and fruity tones, finishing with a smooth peppery finish. 

5. Blanton’s 


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Aged for six to eight years, this whiskey comes in small and exquisite batches, so you may have a hard time scoring a bottle as it is truly rare. Nevertheless, this whiskey is worth the trouble, as it is an incredibly flavorful and complex spirit, well-rounded and full-bodied. 

You can feel notes of caramel, corn, toffee, dark chocolate, spices, nutmeg, and vanilla. The flavors are expressive but far from overwhelming, perfectly dosed, taking the floor at the perfect moment. 

It is an incredibly rich and deep-flavored whiskey offering a truly unique experience. 

6. Sazerac 


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Very similar to Pappy Van Winkle’s, the Sazerac brand ages the spirits for at least 12 years, creating a velvety and exquisitely delicious result. 

With an expressive vanilla dimension, accompanied by sweet notes finishing with a spicy, smoky, and velvety finish, this is a whiskey worthy of the highest spot on the shelf. 

7. Laphroaig 


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Aged for ten years, the whiskey of this brand, with a whopping 200-year-old tradition, is known as one of the smoothest whiskies on the market and is definitely deserving of its spot on this list. 

In a word, this whiskey is best described as bold. It is full-bodied, assertive, and very rich. It isn’t too complex, but the flavors are perfectly bonded, creating a sweet, spicy, and oaky result. It starts gently but mid-palate; it is strong with expressive smoky and sweet tones. The finish is long, smooth, and peppery, with subtle hints of seaweed. 

8. Pappy Van Winkle’s


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After over 15 years of aging, you would expect to try a whiskey that is as smooth as silk and as rich as cream. Well, that is precisely what you get from the Pappy Van Winkle’s brand.

Their whiskeys age from 15 to 23 years in oak barrels, where they acquire their velvet-like smoothness, as well as their honey-like color and the exquisite taste. 

Combining citrus, vanilla, and smoke, no words can describe these whiskeys, so I guess you will have to try them. The finish is smooth and lingering. 

9. Macallan 


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Aged in ex-bourbon casks for at least 12 years, this whiskey acquires the flavor, rebellious spirit, and charm of bourbon, combining it with the refinement and class of the whiskey spirit. 

Definitely worthy of its place on this list, the Macallan spirit expressions are full of flavor, elegance, and class. Smooth all over, with the signature Macallan smoky dimension, the whiskeys under this brand are definitely superb. 

The finish is always smooth, always flavorful, and always satisfying, rounding up the experience perfectly. 

10. Woodford Reserve 


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The Woodford Reserve whiskey is known for its rich floral and fruity notes. Aged for six to seven years, it acquires vanilla and oak tones, intertwined with its almost creamy consistency and gentle but noticeable spiciness. 

It seduces the nose with the expressive floral notes, and it continues to tell its story through the fruity tones mixed with vanilla and oak. It displays all its colors at the same time, creating a truly unique experience for the drinker. The finish is gloriously smooth and gentle, with a lingering aftertaste and smoky dimension. 

11. Johnnie Walker 


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Another “big boy” in the whiskey department. Johnnie Walker whiskeys come in several labels, as well as limited editions. The quality is what binds them all. They all share the leather flavor, the dark chocolaty notes, as well as the expressive vanilla tones. 

The Johnnie Walker whiskey ages for at least eight years and is smooth and high in viscosity. The finish is always smooth and flavorful, smoky, and peppery.  

12. Blanton 


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Vanilla, nutmeg, and honey are all you need to know about this whiskey. These three incredibly compatible flavors combine in a perfect harmony in every single sip. It starts with vanilla notes, followed by honey and nutmeg, ending with a peppery and nutmeg-flavored smooth and lingering finish. 

13. Wild Turkey


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Aged for at least six years, the Wild Turkey whiskey is a very delicious, smooth, and easily drinkable. Combining flavors of tobacco, orange, and mint, this whiskey has a crisp, fresh and herbal dimension. 

The minty and citrus freshness of the Wild Turkey whiskey is perfectly balanced with the tobacco notes producing a slightly sweet final flavor and a smoky dimension. Needless to say, the finish is long and smooth, giving you the perfect ending to the perfect story. 

14. E.H. Taylor 


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This is a very fruity, crisp, and refreshing bourbon whiskey. Aged for seven to eight years, during this time it acquires its dominant vanilla and citrus tasting notes becoming one of the fruitiest bourbons on the market. 

It also combines notes of caramel, oak, and tobacco spices, giving this bourbon whiskey a complex body. On the nose, you can feel expressive orange peel notes, tickling your curiosity to dive deeper into the spirit. 

It begins with vanilla and citrus flavors, slowly unraveling the caramel tones, finishing smoothly with a spicy and oaky dimension. You need nothing more than a few ice cubes to enjoy the E.H. Taylor bourbon whiskey experience. 

15. Jack Daniel’s 


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A giant among giants, Jack Daniel’s is a world-renowned whiskey brand offering the crème de la crème in the whiskey department. It is smooth, assertive, flavorful, and aromatic. Aged for ten years, the Jack Daniel’s whiskey has a signature smoky dimension, rubbing off during the aging process and mixing perfectly with the rest of the flavors. 

Jack Daniel’s whiskey has expressive notes of vanilla and oak, as well as a white pepper finish. It is a full-bodied and complex whiskey and one of the best available on the market. 

16. Highland Park


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This brand’s whiskeys age for a minimum of 18 years, acquiring sweet, fruity, and floral tasting and aromatic notes. It tastes expressively like honey and peach, combined with a smoky finish and a leathery body. 

The finish is, of course, smooth, almost creamy, making this whiskey very drinkable. It is overall full-bodied and full-flavored. 

17. Michael 

Simply described as sweet and bold, this whiskey ages for at least eight years. It is complex, deep, and very substantial. Explorative and colorful, you will definitely love discovering the layers of flavor in every single sip. 

It starts with vanilla notes, accompanied by caramel, toffee, honey, and dark chocolate. It is expressively sweet, with the typical whiskey sharpness spiking through the layers of sweetness. 

18. 1792


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Aging for 12 years, this high-rye whiskey combines notes of coconut, vanilla, and rye spices. It is a very delicious and gentle spirit with a delightful kick. It is overall creamy and high in viscosity, flavorful, and very aromatic. 

It starts with vanilla notes both on the nose and on the palate. It continues with expressive coconut tones, ending with a smooth and creamy finish tasting like rye spice. 

19. Jim Beam 


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Primarily known as a cocktail whiskey, the Jim Beam bourbon whiskey is an exquisite and playful spirit, crisp and fresh, with herbal and citrus notes. Aged for four years, it is a smooth and elegant drink. 

This whiskey goes against the popular opinion that only low-class whiskeys are recommended for cocktails. On the contrary, Jim Beam is a top-shelf whiskey, and the reason why it is mostly used in cocktails is because it is a bit more on the strong side, and not everyone can drink it neat. 

Still, a seasoned whiskey aficionado would be able to fully appreciate all aspects of the Jim Beam bourbon whiskey. It starts with a fresh citrus note, continuing with vanilla tones, and ending with a spicy and smooth finish. 

20. Yamazaki


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This Japanese whiskey is among the most complex and explorative ones. Tasting like brown sugar and spice, accompanied by oak, toffee, dark fruit, and anise, this whiskey is very colorful, causing curiosity to explore it even further. The finish is long and smooth, and incredibly deep.

The tasting notes play vividly in each sip, hiding and showing themselves multiple times before you swallow. It is also a highly aromatic and crisp spirit. 

What Is the Most Premium Whiskey? 

Although there are many excellent premium whiskeys, Johnny Walker Blue Label has been declared as the most premium whiskey. Aged for 25 years, smoother than silk, and richer than God himself, this whiskey is a true privilege. 

Other premium whiskeys include spirits under Jack Daniel’s, Crown Royal, Pappy Van Winkle, George T. Stagg, Elijah Craig, and Yamazaki, as some of the titans of the premium whisky-making industry. 

What Is the Nicest-Tasting Whiskey? 

Taste is a very private and subjective matter, so what is best-tasting whiskey for some isn’t the same for others. Some love the smoky, leathery taste of the Johnnie Walker labels; some are crazy about the honey dimension of the Jack Daniel’s brand. 

The Gentility of Four Roses has a whole different set of fans, and the depth of Poppy Van Winkle’s has its own audience. 

Is Crown Royal a Top-Shelf Whiskey? 

Crown Royal is definitely a top-shelf whiskey. It is a Canadian whiskey crafted for the British royal family, hence the name. It is velvety smooth and very flavorful and aromatic. It is also easy to drink and a perfect starting point for those who are new to the whiskey world. 

Chad Smith

Meet Chad Smith, a seasoned bartender with a passion for mixology. He's the founder of Tin Roof Drink Community, a blog where he shares expert tips, creative recipes, and fosters a vibrant community of cocktail enthusiasts and aspiring bartenders. Join Chad as he takes you on a flavorful journey through the world of drinks. Cheers!

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