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Many seasoned whiskey drinkers turn their noses to the sky at the mere mention of "flavored whiskey"—and with good reason. Most expressions on shelves at your local liquor store are less than good despite being immensely popular.
Here’s the rub: Not all flavored whiskeys are lousy. Some are even quite delicious. If you want to experience new and exciting flavors, keeping an open mind is a smart idea. After all, there was a time not long ago when people thought the only good single malts came from Scotland.
To be clear, all whiskey is flavored. Makers use different grains, water sources, yeast variants, wood, and time to give their bottles different tastes, but when makers and labels use less traditional methods of seasoning their spirits, we enter the realm of “flavored whiskey.” That said, a large number of the expressions that form the genre don’t meet the technical minimum requirement of being bottled at 80 proof to actually be considered whiskey in the U.S. But does it really matter? If it pleases your palate, we say drink it.
Here are the best flavored whiskeys.
Best Overall: Knob Creek Smoked Maple Bourbon Whiskey
Most flavored bourbons aren't exactly what we would consider sippable. They're mostly for whipping up mixed drinks. Knob Creek Smoked Maple, on the other hand, is the exception. It offers the palate your typical vanilla, caramel, and spice, but with a potent maple punch. While it's certainly for drinkers who prefer sweeter notes, this whiskey can still be called such as it clocks in at 90 proof. The extra ABV means it can handle a little ice and still stand out in a maple old-fashioned.
Best Spicy: George Dickel Tabasco Barrel Finish Whisky
For those who like things a bit spicy, George Dickel Tabasco features a mouth-walloping kick. The Tennessee-based maker takes some of its whiskey and pops it into former Tabasco barrels for approximately one month. The resulting tipple comes bottled at 70 proof. It’s interesting, not quite like you’ve laced a glass of whiskey with a hefty dollop of hot sauce, but it's peppery and sweet, and makes a good addition to your bar’s cocktail components. Not to mention, it's especially ideal for folks who prefer bloody marys made with whiskey instead of vodka.
Best Peanut Butter: Skrewball Peanut Butter Whiskey
This is one you truly have to taste to believe. Skrewball really does taste like peanut butter. It’s just wild. Reminiscent of amaretto, this is definitely for those who like to drink their dessert. It’s 70 proof, so you can try it in a milkshake and maybe add some Chambord for a peanut butter and jelly experience. We aren’t too proud to admit we love it in spiked eggnog for a tasty holiday treat.
Best Cinnamon: Jim Beam Bourbon Kentucky Fire Whiskey
So, you want a cinnamon-flavored whiskey? Of the few out there, Jim Beam Kentucky Fire does it best. Sure, it has candy sweetness and a decent helping of cinnamon spice, but it still tastes like whiskey. Bottled at 70 proof, there’s no chemical or disconcerting aftertaste. While we know many fans of this genre prefer to shoot cinnamon whiskey, consider it a base for hot spiked apple cider.
Best Vanilla: Crown Royal Canadian Vanilla Whisky
Vanilla is a hallmark note in many whiskeys, so enhancing that flavor feels like an obvious choice. Infused with Madagascar vanilla, this bottle of Crown Royal will certainly please a sweet tooth. While you can taste some fruity notes, the vanilla is quite intense and there’s not much spice or oak to provide balance for drinking on its own. Try it in a Canadian coffee (an Irish coffee with maple syrup) or mixed with ice-cold cola.
Best Peach: Old Camp Peach Pecan Whiskey
The pop-country duo Florida Georgia Line has had its hand in creating whiskey labels for Wolf Moon Bourbon, a collaboration with Jason Aldean, and Old Camp Peach Pecan Whiskey. The former is a highly approachable bourbon that’s quite versatile. The latter is, as the name implies, imbued with extra notes of peaches and pecans. Is it sweet? You bet, but it’s flavors make it a solid 70-proof way to gas up an iced tea or cola. We love to add a few good glugs when it comes time to wrap smoked pork ribs or make homemade barbecue sauce.
Best Cherry: Traverse City Cherry Whisky
Traverse City, Michigan, is known as the cherry capital of the world, so it’s fitting that Traverse City Whiskey Co. offers an American Cherry Edition whiskey. This spirit is made with corn, rye, and malted barley, and then aged and steeped in Montmorency cherries grown on the family’s farm. Bottled at 70 proof, there’s not much beyond the resounding cherry flavor—but it isn't cloying. We’d add it to a whiskey sour, Arnold Palmer, or, of course, cola.
Best Apple: Clyde May's 11-Year Alabama Style Cask Strength Whiskey
The apple essence-infused Clyde May’s 11-Year Alabama Style Cask Strength is definitely a sipper, though you certainly could use it in a number of cocktails. What’s truly cool about this bottle is the subtlety of the apple flavor. It won't smack your taste buds around, like so many others in the genre, rather it intricately plays off notes of vanilla, brown sugar, wood, and spice for a harmonious imbibing experience that even the snootiest whiskey drinker can appreciate.
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Nicholas McLelland is a beverage writer and fanatic for whiskeys from all over the world. He has written for Dotdash since April 2019 and has a degree in journalism from the University of Missouri.