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What Are Top-Shelf Whiskey Brands? Explained (2022 Updated)

Last Updated on November 8, 2022 by Lydia Martin

While there are several great-tasting mass-produced whiskeys, there’s nothing wrong with splurging on smooth top-shelf brands from time to time.

But what are top-shelf whiskey brands?

In this blog post, let’s find out what top-shelf really means, including some brands you should seek out.  

What Is A Top-Shelf Whiskey Brand? 

Top-Shelf Whiskey Brands on desk

Generally, a top-shelf whiskey brand is a brand that produces whiskey from high-quality ingredients and is usually rare and expensive. 

The terminology top-shelf is often used because bar owners display the bottles on the top-shelf behind the bartender. It shows off the prestigious brand in stock, which is expensive and rare. 

Fun Fact: Bar owners place whiskey on top of the shelves for three reasons: 

  1. As an advertisement for high-quality and rare whiskey;
  2. To prevent theft of expensive goods; and 
  3. To promote bottles that are less frequently ordered. 

Common Qualities Of Top-Shelf Whiskeys 

Common Qualities Of Top Shelf Whiskeys 

Rare

A top-shelf whiskey is commonly rare because great stuff is not easy to find. Rare whiskeys are expensive because they are either old expression or limited in production. 

Sometimes, rare whiskeys are not found on the bar’s shelf because it is sold at the auction for a higher price. 

High-Quality

Top-shelf whiskeys are high-quality distilled spirits that taste way greater than mass-produced and baseline whiskey products. It is sold at a higher price because of its premium quality and taste. 

Expensive

In a bar, expensive spirits sit on the hard-to-reach shelves because they are ordered less frequently. 

Top-shelf whiskeys are expensive because they are made from high-quality grains, and their aging differs from ordinary whiskey bottles

Top 15 Top-Shelf Whiskey Brands (Must-Try!) 

15. George T. Stagg

George T. Stagg with cocktail on desk

Average Price: $16.95- $4599.99 

Distillery: Buffalo Trace Distillery

Alcohol Content: 58.45% –  67.2%

Why We Liked It: George T. Stagg has a rich toffee sweetness and hints of nougat, dark chocolate, and vanilla. It is a powerful, well-rounded, intense, and flavorful whiskey you should try. 

George T. Stag bourbon showcases the rich spices of the spirit and does not overshadow the medium intensity of leather and vanilla notes.

It makes an exceptional finish, especially with a single cube of ice. It is uncut, unfiltered, and boasts the bold character of the bourbon. 

14. E. H. Taylor 

E. H. Taylor with box and cocktail on table

Average Price: $18.99- $12,999.99 

Distillery: Buffalo Trace Distillery

Alcohol Content: 50% – 65.15%

Why We Liked It: E.H Taylor’s collection has a rich aroma of oak spices, maple syrup, and figs. They are incredibly smooth bourbons that are best to enjoy with one or two ice cubes. 

From start to finish, E.H Taylor’s bourbon collection has simple yet complex notes of caramel, vanilla, oak, and tobacco spices.

The notes of orange peel, dates, and maple complement the whiskey’s intense oak flavor profile. 

13. Woodford Reserve

Woodford Reserve on desk with glass and ham on bread

Average Price: $18.99 – $3699.99

Distillery: Woodford Reserve Distillery

Alcohol Content: 45% – 61.6%

Why We Liked It: Woodford Reserve is a known whiskey brand that offers top-shelf whiskeys.

It produces a perfectly balanced taste and comprises more than 200 flavor notes from the oak and bold grains.

It has rich spices, sweet aromatics, fruit, and floral notes that are best to enjoy neat.

Read: Woodford Reserve vs Elijah Craig Bourbon

12. Elijah Craig

Elijah Craig with glass and cranberries on table

Average Price: $19.99 – $1599.99

Distillery: Heaven Hill Distillery

Alcohol Content: 47%-63.6%

Why We Liked It: Elijah Craig is credited as the Father of Bourbon [1] as he was the first distiller to age whiskey in charred oak barrels.

With the brand’s great reputation in making high-quality distilled spirits, there’s no doubt that they produce top-shelf whiskey. 

Read: Popular Top-Shelf Bourbon Brands

11. Laphroaig

Laphroaig with box and cocktail on desk

Average Price: $9.99 – $3999.99 

Distillery: Laphroaig Distillery 

Alcohol Content: 52% – 60.1%  

Why We Liked It: Laphroaig is a well-known Scotch whisky brand that produces the top-shelf whisky we enjoy today.

The smoke from the unique Islay peat gives the whiskey its particular rich flavor. It is bold, smoky, and tasty, with a surprisingly sweet taste and hints of seaweeds. 

10. Jim Beam 

Jim Beam with cocktail on table

Average Price: $9.99- $1599.99

Distillery: James B. Beam Distilling Co. 

Alcohol Content: 35% – 45%

Why We Liked It: Jim Beam is one of the whiskey brands with the largest selections of top-shelf bourbon whiskeys on the market today. It is a versatile and complex spirit, so it is widely used in different cocktail recipes. 

Moreso, Jim Beam is an elegant vintage bourbon that bagged different bourbon trophies because it is a well-rounded and drinkable spirit. 

9. Widow Jane

Widow Jane with glass and sushi on desk

Average Price: $27.48- $1000 in Drizly online

Distillery: Widow Jane Distillery

Alcohol Content: 45.5% – 49.5%

Why We Liked It: Widow Jane is a whiskey brand offering top-shelf bourbon whiskeys that you can find in liquor stores and online retailers.

It smells incredibly balanced, mature, and rich, and its flavor profile does not change or overpower other spices. 

8. Maker’s Mark 

Maker’s Mark with glass and brownies on table

Average Price: $14.99- $999.99

Distillery: Maker’s Mark Distillery

Alcohol Content: 45%- 55%

Why We Liked It: If you are a fan of wheated bourbon whiskeys, Maker’s Mark produces a full-flavored bourbon that is pleasing to the palate.

Aside from its trademark-hand dipped wax- Maker’s Mark expressions are top-shelf whiskeys best enjoyed neat and on the rocks. 

Instead of rye, the brand uses red winter wheat on its mash bill for a smooth, full-flavored, sweet whiskey that will not blow your ears.

7. Blanton’s 

Blanton’s with glass and oranges on desk

Average Price: $29.99 – $1724.99 

Distillery: Buffalo Distillery

Alcohol Content: 40%- 51.5%

Why We Liked It: Blanton’s is a whiskey brand that is hard to find because of its steady supply and increasing demand.

Since the brand is all about quality over quantity, it may be challenging for you to score a bottle. 

Blanton’s has a satisfying flavor profile full of spices, nutmeg, dry vanilla, strong caramel, and corn. It has a medium finish with hints of corn and nutmeg flavors. 

6. Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey with highball cocktail on table

Average Price: $14.99 – $2999

Distillery: Wild Turkey Distilling Co. 

Alcohol Content: 35.5% – 50.5%

Why We Liked It:

Wild Turkey offers a wide selection of top-shelf whiskeys, and despite its high proof, it is pleasing and smooth to drink. It has a bold flavor that does not overpower the notes of sweet tobacco, orange, and mint. 

Every expression of Wild Turkey- from baseline to premium whiskeys has a remarkably smooth taste, and you can drink it neat or on the rocks. 

5. 1792

1792 with cocktail on desk

Average Price: $22.74- $615.99 

Distillery: Barton 1792 Distillery

Alcohol Content: 45.6% – 62.5%

Why We Liked It: 1792 is one of the brands that produce top-shelf whiskeys with high rye content. The high-quality bourbon has the rich flavor of cocoa, vanilla, and rye spices, so if you want a bourbon with a little kick, you should try 1792 bourbon. 

Sazerac Company owns 1792 bourbon and it was previously named 1792 Ridgemont Reserve [2]. It is a smoky, bold, intense, and full-bodied bourbon that you must try. 

4. Jack Daniel’s 

Jack Daniel’s with cocktail on table

Average Price: $14.99 – $49,999

Distillery: Jack Daniels Distillery

Alcohol Content: 40% – 64.5%

Why We Liked It: Jack Daniels is one of the well-known Tennessee whiskeys on the market, and the brand produces high-quality, top-shelf whiskeys.

It is a friend to many [3] and a very versatile spirit, so you can enjoy it neat, on the rocks, or as a cocktail. 

Jack Daniel’s is the top choice if you are a fan of whiskey + cola because it complements the mixer’s sweet and tangy taste.

It is a decent sipping whiskey, flavorful and enjoyable to drink. 

3. Johnnie Walker 

Johnnie Walker on table with glass

Average Price: $9.99 – $6,900 

Distillery: Johnie Walker Distillery

Alcohol Content: 40%- 46%

Why We Liked It: Johnnie Walker is a highly versatile and one of the best-selling Scotch whisky in the world. It offers top-shelf whisky expressions that are bold and full of flavor even when mixed.

Johnie Walker Scotch whisky is available in different labels and will make your luxurious drinking experience more enjoyable. 

Read: Johnnie Walker High Rye Whisky Guide

2. Michter’s

Michter’s on desk with glass of whiskey

Average Price: $24.99 – $14949 

Distillery: Mitcher’s Distillery

Alcohol Content: 41.7% – 457%

Why We Liked It: Michters is a whiskey brand that produces high-quality and top-shelf whiskey in the market.

The 10-Year Single Barrel Kentucky straight bourbon is a classic favorite because of its pleasant sweetness and bold taste. 

Read: Was Mountain Dew Really Made For Whiskey?

1. Pappy Van Winkle’s 

Pappy Van Winkle’s on table with pouch

Average Price: $129 – $53165

Distillery: Buffalo Trace Distillery

Alcohol Content: 47.8% – 53.5%

Why We Liked It: Pappy Van Winkle’s is the brand of whiskey known for its top-shelf expressions. It has a rich aroma and taste of caramel and cream with soft nuts, leather, and oak notes.

Moreso, its sweetness complements the whiskey’s citrus and spice flavor profile. But who makes Pappy bourbons?

Disclaimer: All prices stated above are all from Drizly online. Prices may vary in local liquor stores.

FAQs 

What is the smoothest top-shelf whiskey? 

Laphroaig is the smoothest top-shelf whiskey. The Scotch whisky has a smooth-smoky taste that is not overpowering and complements other flavor notes of the spirit well.

Moreso, blended scotch is more approachable and easy to drink than other types of whiskey. 

Can you use top-shelf whiskeys as a cocktail base?

Yes, you can use top-shelf whiskeys as a cocktail base. However, top-shelf whiskeys are great spirits with rich flavors; you may miss out on them if you consume them as a cocktail.

We recommend you to try it neat or with a few drops of water instead. 

Final Thoughts 

There are many different brands and types of whiskey to choose from, but top-shelf whiskeys from Pappy Van Winkle’s are a must-try!

Different award-giving bodies widely acclaim Pappy Van for its smooth, versatile, and complex flavor profile.

Pappy Van Winkle is best to enjoy neat or with few drops of water because water opens up the complex flavor of the whiskey.

If you want a full-luxurious drinking experience, Pappy Van Winkle is a must-try top-shelf whiskey.  

References:

  1. https://www.moneycontrol.com/news/world/tippling-point-the-story-of-elijah-craig-the-father-of-bourbon-5859371.html
  2. https://www.gearpatrol.com/food/drinks/a37667350/1792-bourbon/ 
  3. https://www.thespruceeats.com/best-bottles-of-tennessee-whiskey-761640

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