For better or worse, we at The Takeout do, in fact, read the comments—mostly for better, as y’all are a good bunch. In addition to the charming discourse, sometimes one of you will throw out a question we decide to go right on ahead and answer. And so, in deference to our supreme leader President Zod, we present an answer to a question first floated in the comments section for this piece on sticking popsicles in booze:
For context: when I’m not writing about food and booze (and film and television and musicals and Harry Potter, etc.), I moonlight as a shopgirl in a fancy booze-n-cheese-n-wine-n-beer store here in Chicago. If you want a recommendation for fancy goat cheese or local soap, I can do that too, but whiskey is my niche in the store, because it is delicious.
Now, I can’t guarantee that all these fine bottles are available throughout Pennsylvania, but none are local to Chicago exclusively. This isn’t a list of my favorites—though I’ve got a few of these at home right now—but a list of bottles I think provide a real bang-for-your-buck. And I’ve thrown in two pricier bottles of which I am greatly enamored, if you feel like treating yourselves, ya fancy bastards.
$50 or under
Rowan’s Creek Bourbon (Willett Distillery, KY), around $45
As with most things, prices vary from place to place—at the shop I call home, this will set you back about $45; I’ve seen it at prices from $40–$50—but even if your local fancy-ass whiskey store is charging more than $50, this Kentucky bourbon is worth the money. There are some gorgeous floral notes and a spicy finish; good without water, but add a few drops and it blooms. It’s 100 proof, so don’t go giving yourself a headache. (This won’t be the last Willett entry on this list. Those folks know what they’re doing.)
Bourbon Cask Blended Irish Whiskey (West Cork Distillery, Ireland), around $25
This is a bargain. If you want a sipping whiskey at under $30, you’d be hard-pressed to find better. West Cork ages this guy for an undisclosed period of time (my guess is ~2 years, I’ve seen reviews that guess ~3) in first-fill bourbon casks, which adds a little caramel sweetness to what is otherwise unmistakably an Irish whiskey. Smooth; makes a hell of a hot toddy.
Johnny Smoking Gun Badlands Whiskey (Two James Spirits, MI), around $50
Two James, an exciting distillery based in Detroit, made this gem for a local ramen restaurant, specifically to compliment the umami in Japanese cuisine. The mash bill is 70 percent 7-year corn, 30 percent young rye. It’s macerated with a proprietary tea blend; several representatives from Two James have mentioned different components to that blend, some contradictory, but they all reference lapsang souchong, which gives this whiskey an unusual smoky character. I’m obsessed. This bottle has been my go-to “Allison, you deserve a present, but not a $100 present, who do you think you are?” bottle for a couple years now. Bonus: gorgeous bottle, gorgeous color in the glass. Their Catcher’s Rye is also terrific, though slightly higher-priced.
Right around $50
Pot Still Reserve (Willett Distillery, KY), around $55
There’s a chance you can find this bourbon for under $50, but I mostly see it in the $55-$60 range. Worth it at almost any price. The bottle is insanely pretty, built for a permanent place on your bar cart, but that’s nothing compared to the juice in the bottle. Willett’s tasting notes mention “vanilla lemon cake” on the nose, and that’s pretty much spot-on; the citrus elements cut the sweetness nicely, and there’s a spiciness that’s absolute catnip for me. If you can find it, buy it. It’s a mainstay of the distillery but since it’s a reserve, it comes and goes.
Well over $50, but totally worth it
Patton Road Reserve Cask Strength Bourbon (J. Henry & Sons, WI), around $80
Yum. Made from a heirloom red corn with a cool backstory; a few drops of water opens an already great bourbon right up. This company is tiny (Mom designs the labels; Joe Jr. is the brand rep in Chicago; they all help barrel the bourbon; you get the idea) and not yet on shelves in Pennsylvania, but you can order it online.
Brenne French Single Malt Whisky (Brenne, France), around $70
This one ranges in price pretty wildly (the shop where I work sold it for around $90, Binny’s has it for $60) and isn’t for everyone—it’s sweet. But it’s also complex, smooth, and one of my favorite spirits out there. Aged in cognac barrels. Female distiller. Gorgeous, with lots of fruit, vanilla, and caramel notes.
Sláinte. Next time I’ll include more ryes, I promise.