For drinkers, a good bottle of whisk(e)y makes a great gift for any occasion. But with so many options across a wide range of styles, flavors, and prices, it can be a bit of a challenge to pair the right expression with the right person. If you’re struggling with choosing the perfect bottle, we've got you covered.
Whether you’re buying for a Scotch lover or one who prefers bourbon, rye, Irish, or Japanese, here are the best whiskeys (and whiskies) to give your friends and loved ones.
Glenmorangie Signet Single Malt Whisky
To put it quite simply, Signet is one of the best whiskies you’re apt to find at any price. While Glenmorangie uses some of its oldest stocks in the recipe, Signet’s anchor is a special chocolate malt barley spirit the brand distills especially for this expression and then ages in custom-made American white oak casks. The feel is unreal and the flavors complex: Layered notes of bitter chocolate, sherried fruits, and a punch of spice make it a scrumptious dram—one anybody lucky enough to receive a bottle will enjoy.
Price at time of publish: $250
ABV: 46% | Age: No age statement | Tasting Notes: Crisp, rich, woodsy
It's usually spelled "whiskey" when it's made in the U.S. or Ireland, and "whisky" when made in Scotland, Canada, Japan, or most anywhere else.
High West Double Rye Whiskey
For this price, it’s hard to find a better whiskey than High West’s Double Rye. The Park City, Utah-based distillery blends two spirits—a feisty two-year-old rye and a milder, more heavily aged whiskey—for this fun and flavorful addition to your home bar. Not only is it lovely neat or on the rocks, but it's also vibrant in a rye-based cocktail, like a Manhattan. The spice-forward whiskey contains notes of apple, honey, mint, and cinnamon, making it a splendid, budget-friendly gift.
Price at time of publish: $35
ABV: 46% | Age: No age statement | Tasting Notes: Spicy, rich, oak, herbal
The Macallan 25 Year Old Sherry Oak Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Beyond a splurge, The Macallan 25 Sherry Oak is an indulgence full of a flavorful grace not easily found on this side of the river Spey. Sure, for the same price, you could pick up 30-plus bottles of The Macallan 12 Sherry Cask instead, but this single malt does more than twice as long sleeping in Jerez sherry casks. The result is sublime; subtle layers of fruit and spice unfold with every sip. If you’re feeling particularly generous, it’s a gift that won’t soon be forgotten.
Price at time of publish: $2,800
ABV: 43% | Age: 25 years | Tasting Notes: Oak, cinnamon, dried fruit, toasty
Jefferson's Ocean Aged At Sea Rye Whiskey
The Ocean bottlings from Jefferson's are aged in barrels aboard ships as they travel the world, which gives each one a unique story (that you can track on the website). The rolling waves, intense equatorial heat, and salt spray in the air all influence the special flavor of the finished spirits. The 26th release, Ocean Rye, is the first non-bourbon bottling in the series, and it voyaged from Savannah, Georgia, through the Panama Canal, around Australia, and throughout East Asia before returning across the Pacific.
Expect a rich caramelization in this whiskey. It has a complex yet smooth palate of toasted marshmallow and toffee, with a delightful sea salt and cinnamon finish. This premium rye makes for a perfect pairing with oysters or your favorite seafood.
Price at time of publish: $80
ABV: 48% | Age: No age statement | Tasting Notes: Toasted marshmallow, toffee, sea salt
"A good whiskey is simply one that you enjoy drinking whether neat, on the rocks, or in a cocktail,” says Caroline Paulus, a whiskey historian at Justins’ House of Bourbon. “I personally look for sweeter crème brûlée notes in bourbons and baking spice notes in ryes, but favorites will always vary from palate to palate."
Wild Turkey Master's Keep One Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
The Wild Turkey Distillery in Kentucky is home to perhaps the most incredible dynasty in distilling: Jimmy and Eddie Russell. Master distiller Jimmy is well into his seventh decade with the company, while his son Eddie has been there for more than 30 years and now shares master distiller duties with his dad. This entry in the extra-special Master's Keep line of limited editions marries both distillers' personal tastes, combining Jimmy's favorite "mid-aged" bourbon with Eddie's preference for super-old whiskey. It's a blend of nine- and 10-year-old barrels with a small batch of 14-year-old ones, combined and then aged again in new oak.
The result is complex and sweet, with candy notes of vanilla, caramel, and butterscotch, along with heavy oak flavors from the secondary aging. You'll find toasted coffee, warm spices, and lots of rich depth in this powerful spirit. It's bottled at a staggering 101 proof, so feel free to add a little water or an ice cube when you sip it neat.
Price at time of publish: $681
ABV: 50.5% | Age: No age statement | Tasting Notes: Caramel, butterscotch, vanilla, oak
The Yamazaki 18 Year Old Single Malt Japanese Whisky
Few gifts are more exciting to open for Japanese whisky lovers than a bottle of The Yamazaki 18-Year-Old Single Malt. It’s a challenge to find and intensely expensive, but the sight of its iconic black and gold label instantly warms the heart. Aged in ex-bourbon, ex-sherry, and Japanese Mizunara oak, it’s full of dark fruit notes and big pops of nuts and spice.
Price at time of publish: $1,300
ABV: 43% | Age: 18 years | Tasting Notes: Zesty, coffee, woodsy, chocolate, fruit
Best Blended Scotch
Johnnie Walker Blue Label Blended Scotch Whisky
There's a reason Blue Label is known worldwide as a symbol of luxury. The folks at Johnnie Walker take a secret mix of grain and malt whiskies from distilleries across Scotland to create an absolutely phenomenal blend. (Many retailers will also engrave the bottle, for a personalized gift.) Vanilla and honey rise to meet cacao and sherried fruits that lead into a signature smoky-sweet finish. It’s a crowd-pleaser that any whisky drinker would be proud to display on the shelf.
Price at time of publish: $230
ABV: 40% | Age: No age statement | Tasting Notes: Smoky, rich, spicy, hazelnut, dried fruit, pepper
Best Peated Single Malt
Caol Ila 12-Year-Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Peated whisky is made from barley dried over burning peat, which gives it a deep smokiness. It's a distinctive style that not everybody loves, but whisky drinkers who love peat tend to really love peat. From the windswept Scottish island of Islay—the homeland of the peated style—Caol Ila has lots of smoky flavor, but with fruity notes behind it. At the extreme, peated malts offer notes of iodine and Band-Aids, but the more balanced Caol Ila 12 combines bacon and barbecue with tree fruits and lovely spice.
Price at time of publish: $80
ABV: 43% | Age: 12 years | Tasting Notes: Smoke, bacon, apple, cinnamon
Knappogue Castle 16 Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey
Despite their geographical proximity, Scotland and Ireland have different signature styles (and spellings) of whisk(e)y. Scotch is a bit more austere, while whiskies from the Emerald Isle are a little gentler. That's partly due to ingredients—single malt Scotch is made from all barley, while Irish whiskey generally comes from a mix of grains—but even this Irish single malt offers lots of sweetness alongside the nutty, toasty flavors of malt. Knappogue Castle's 16-Year-Old Single Malt spends 14 years in mellow former bourbon casks and then a final two in Oloroso sherry wood, which adds lovely fruit notes. The result is a phenomenal and supple whiskey with swirling sherry notes on top of tree fruit, vanilla, chocolate, and baking spice.
Price at time of publish: $90
ABV: 40% | Age: 16 years | Tasting Notes: Nutty, malty, fruity, sweet
Best High Proof
Just a few times a year, Booker’s releases a small batch of its very special bourbon, bottled straight from the barrel, with no water added to bring down the proof. The exact strength varies from batch to batch, but it's typically well over 60 percent ABV. Booker's comes from the Jim Beam distillery, and its flavors are similar to that popular brand, just with everything—age, strength, and intensity—cranked way up. The current batch, called Kentucky Tea and bottled at seven years old, is heavy on vanilla, with rich molasses sweetness.
Price at time of publish: $130
ABV: 60+% | Age: No age statement | Tasting Notes: Robust, vanilla, caramel, nutty, oaky
Best for Cocktails
Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon
Made at the same distillery as the legendary (and near-impossible-to-find) Pappy Van Winkle, Buffalo Trace is an excellent bourbon to keep on hand at all times. It's versatile, complex, and available almost anywhere. If you know a cocktail lover, Buffalo Trace is priced perfectly to put together an all-in-one kit: Add a bottle of sweet vermouth and some fancy cherries for for Manhattans or artisanal bitters and sugar cubes for old-fashioneds.
Price at time of publish: $40
ABV: 45% | Age: No age statement | Tasting Notes: Molasses, black pepper, cinnamon, leather
Best American Single Malt
Westward American Single Malt Whiskey
Made in the beer Mecca of Portland, Oregon, Westward starts as an ale, which is double-distilled like a Scotch, then aged in new American oak, like a bourbon. The resulting spirit is something unique—and delicious. Westward has nutty maltiness alongside caramel oak, with all sorts of complex fruit and spice notes to pick out as you sip it neat or over ice.
Price at time of publish: $70
ABV: 45% | Age: No age statement | Tasting Notes: Baking spices, malt, dark chocolate, red fruits
J.P. Wiser’s 18 Year Old Blended Canadian Whisky
Thanks to unfortunate associations with cheap prices and simple flavors, Canadian spirits often get short shrift among whiskey lovers, but don't sleep on our neighbor to the north—great long-aged Canadian whiskeys can be had at much lower prices than their American or Scottish equivalents. J.P. Wiser's 18 is a case in point, with tons of slow-sipping complexity for well under $100. It has a nice, mellow background, with notes of licorice, fruit, and honey you can pick out as you enjoy.
Price at time of publish: $63
ABV: 40% | Age: 18 years | Tasting Notes: Honey, plum, licorice, cinnamon
Best Under-the-Radar Scotch
Port Askaig 8 Year Old Scotch Whisky
Port Askaig gets its name from a small village on Islay, the Scottish island from which the brand sources all of its whiskies. Port Askaig only launched in 2009 and has slowly made its way to U.S. shores and stores. You can now find a few expressions domestically, including the stellar 8-Year. The whisky is sourced mainly from Caol Ila with a smidge of Laphroaig, all aged in refill American oak. The result is a beautiful introduction to the label. Peaty and rich, the smoke leads to a fruity sweetness and pleasant brine. Whisky fans love to find new bottles, and exposing your peat fan to this one will earn ample endearment.
Price at time of publish: $65
ABV: 48.5% | Age: 8 years | Tasting Notes: Caramel, zesty, floral, smoky, peaty, licorice
Best Under-the-Radar Bourbon
Frey Ranch Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Talk about grain to glass: The corn, barley, rye, and wheat used for this bourbon are all grown on the property of Frey Ranch, a Nevada grain farm that's been in business since the 1800s. (The brand even malts its own barley, an exceedingly rare practice in the 21st century.) The farm's distillery—initially making just vodka—only opened in 2014, and it's needed a few years to build up enough stocks of aged whiskey to make clear how tasty its bourbon is. The spirit is aged for five years and offers lovely oak and citrus flavors, with traditional bourbon notes including caramel and honey alongside unique banana and toasted corn.
Price at time of publish: $43
ABV: 45% | Age: 5 years | Tasting Notes: Caramel, orange, oak, banana
Lyre's Highland Malt Non-Alcoholic Whisky
In the last few years, non-alcoholic drinks have really started to explode. People avoiding alcohol for any reason have far more choices than just water, soda, or juice, and Lyre's is a big part of why. Though founded in just 2019, the brand makes an entire bar's worth of booze-free ingredients, from tequila and triple sec to absinthe and sparkling wine. Its latest release, Highland Malt, aims to recreate a blended Scotch, with notes of toffee and toasted grain. Other Lyre's products are meant for mixing, but this is the first one the brand says can be sipped neat or used in a mocktail.
Price at time of publish: $36
ABV: 0% | Age: No age statement | Tasting Notes: Toffee, nuts, oak
What to Look for in a Whiskey to Gift
The first thing to consider when picking a bottle of whiskey for a gift is what the recipient likes to drink. You wouldn't want to give Scotch to a bourbon lover or bourbon to a Scotch fanatic, but plenty of whiskey drinkers enjoy a little bit of everything. The world of whiskey styles is pretty complex, but Scotch and bourbon are two main categories. Scotch is made from mainly barley (only barley if it's single-malt Scotch) and favors nutty, spicy flavors, while bourbon uses corn as its backbone and is sweeter and more candy-like. Another style is rye whiskey, which offers lots of spice and fruit flavors.
From $20 to $20,000, there's a whiskey for every budget, and it's best to set a rough range for yours before you start gift shopping. Older whiskey is of course more expensive, but rarity comes into play as well: Many top-tier whiskeys are annual or seasonal limited editions with only a few hundred bottles available at a time, and retailers raise their prices accordingly. As a general rule, $100 will get you a solid gift bottle almost every time, but there are plenty of great whiskeys that sell for quite a bit less.
Every state in the U.S. has its own set of rules around selling alcohol, which makes buying whiskey online somewhat complicated. Different sites can ship to different sets of states, while some online retailers connect you to a local store to arrange final shipping. What matters most is what state the recipient lives in; be sure to set that first before you start shopping.
Can I buy whiskey and ship it to someone myself?
Let's say the bottle you want to give isn't available in the giftee's location: Can you just ship it yourself? It's generally not a good idea. The U.S. Postal Service won't ship alcohol at all, and UPS and FedEx have pretty strict rules about it, not to mention that you still have to follow the legal regulations for both yours and the recipient's state. If you find yourself in this situation, the best option is to ask your local store if it can help you ship; licensed retailers might be able to send a bottle even if a regular person isn't allowed. The rules for international shipping are even more complicated; your best bet is to buy a bottle from an online retailer in the recipient's home country or one that explicitly says it can ship to there.
What is the difference between whiskey and bourbon?
All bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon. Whiskey (or whisky spelled without the e) refers to any spirit made from grain. Bourbon is only one of many types of whiskey made in different ways all over the world. As set under American law, in order to qualify as bourbon, a whiskey must be made in the United States, from a mix of grains that's at least 51 percent corn, and aged in new charred-oak containers.
Is Scotch a whisky?
Yes, Scotch is a whisky, but it's only one type of whisky. (It's generally spelled without the e in Scotland and Japan, and with it in Ireland and the U.S.) In order to be called Scotch, a whisky must be made entirely in Scotland and aged in oak barrels for at least three years. If it's called a single-malt Scotch, it's also made from 100 percent malted barley, all at the same distillery. If a Scotch isn't a single malt, it's a blended Scotch, which means it's a mix of different single malt whiskies along with whiskies made from other grains.
What is whiskey made from?
Whiskey is made by fermenting and distilling grain. Barley, corn, wheat, and rye are commonly used to make whiskey, but the spirit can be made from rice, quinoa, oats, or any other type of grain. When used for making beer or whiskey, barley is usually malted, which is a process of allowing the grain to sprout and then drying it to release enzymes that help with fermentation. (If a beer or whiskey person says "malt," they're almost definitely referring to malted barley.) The exact mix of grains used is one of the main determinants of a whiskey's flavor.
Corn makes for a lighter whiskey, sweet with notes of honey, butter, and caramel. Bourbon is a corn-based whiskey. Barley makes for a spicy whiskey with more bite. It's the main ingredient in Scotch. Rye imparts a spicy flavor to whiskey, with hints of nuttiness and dried fruits. As the name suggests, rye is the main ingredient in rye whiskey. Wheat is used to create a smooth, subtly sweet drink, with honey, vanilla, berries, spice, and toffee within its flavor profile. Wheat is generally a secondary grain added to the mix for bourbon or rye, but a few distilleries make wheat whiskey, as well.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
Nicholas McClelland is a passionate whisk(e)y drinker who has written about spirits for Men’s Journal, Fatherly, and Inside Hook. His bar is deep with rare single malts, hard-to-find bourbons, and ryes, but he doesn't believe there's anything too precious to share with friends.
Allison Wignall, who updated this article, is a writer who focuses on food and travel. She’s traveled to vineyards around the world, learning about wine from the experts themselves. Her work has been featured in publications, such as Food & Wine, Travel + Leisure, and Southern Living.
The Spruce Eats commerce writer Jason Horn, who was previously senior editor at Liquor.com and has written about cocktails and spirits for more than 10 years, further updated this article.