Stock the Bar with the Best Sipping Spirits
When it comes to drinking spirits, are you a sipper or a shooter? Whatever your hard drink of choice may be, you will learn greater appreciation and get much more out of the drinking experience when you take the time to sip, not shoot or gulp, that alcohol. Sipping spirits means you can savor and celebrate your favorite drink and enjoy all its intricacies and flavor characteristics. This is much favorable to downing it in seconds and totally missing how it was intended to smell, taste and be enjoyed.
When you’re choosing those spirits to sip on neat, it’s best to opt for higher quality options. And, if you find a spirit too harsh or unpalatable at first, just take your time. The more you sip and savor, the more your tastebuds will develop and recognize all of the subtle nuances and notes beyond that alcohol taste.
The best spirits to sip neat, without mixing with anything else, include whiskey, bourbon, Scotch, tequila, mezcal, gin and rum. If you’re unsure where to start with these, no worries. We’re here to help with our roundup of some of the top premium sipping spirits around. Check them out.
Whiskey is made from fermented grain mash that typically includes corn, barley, wheat, rye, or some combination of these. Made in over 25 countries around the world, the spirit is distilled with various production methods and ingredients and usually aged in charred white oak or old sherry casks.
Whiskeys can vary significantly in flavor based on their barrel, maturation, production process and ingredients. However, oak gives the drink its classic, recognizable and well-known flavor profile. Think some combination of caramel, vanilla, nut, maple, brown sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, toffee and baking spice.
Best sipping whiskey: Rogue Spirits Rolling Thunder Cask Strength Stout American Whiskey
Looking for your next great whiskey to sip? Try the five-time award-winning Rogue Spirits Rolling Thunder Cask Strength Stout American Whiskey. This cask-strength, three-year-aged stout American whiskey is uniquely big and bold. Deep, dark brown in color, it gives aromas of dark cocoa, coffee, spiced baked apple, sea air and some smoke. On the palate, you’ll get dark cocoa, toffee, cola, vanilla and dried fruit, with a lingering finish of cola, grain and coffee. We truly love that the different barrels work together to blend the original whiskey’s flavor with the Oregon oak barrel’s spice and citrus and the deep stout notes.
Bourbon is our top club and best-selling spirit type, for good reason. On a monthly basis, you get to explore rare bourbon selections, expand your palate, and enhance your knowledge. Plus, our relationships with craft distilleries mean we can give you access to exclusive expressions that have a uniquely interesting story to share.
Exclusively produced in the US and aged in new, charred oak barrels for at least two years, bourbon contains a grain mixture of at least 51% corn, with the rest being mainly rye, wheat and barley. The spirit is distilled no stronger than 160 proof and only water can be added to it.
Corn bourbon has subtly sweet and smooth undertones and spice, caramel and vanilla flavors, along with a bit of fruit, tobacco, toffee, tannin or leather notes. Wheated bourbon is similar but the wheat in place of rye gives an even sweeter flavor and softer burn, along with notes of grain, grass and earth. High rye bourbon has a spicier kick to its counterparts, while high malt (aka Tennessee high malt) delivers a smokier, nuttier, maltier flavor.
Best sipping bourbon: Eastside Distilling Burnside Buckman Reserve 10 Year Old Bourbon Whiskey
For a bourbon you just want to put your feet up and take your time with, give the 92 proof Eastside Distilling Burnside Buckman Reserve from Portland a try. This unique and mellow blend is aged for 10 years and finished in Oregon oak casks. It delivers aromas of spiced fruit bread, peppercorn, citrus and a bit of wood and apple. You’ll taste warm oak and dry floral tannins along with burnt sugar and lemon peel, finishing long and dry.
Scotch is a type of whiskey made from grain, malt, or both, but usually malted barley. The spirit must be distilled and aged in Scotland for at least three years in oak barrels and have an ABV of 40% or more to be called Scotch. That said, most Scotch matures for 12-25 years and some for up to 50 years.
Scotch is governed by Scotland’s 1988 Scotch Whisky Act and updated 2009 Scotch Whisky Regulations, which cover all things Scotch — from production location, processing, bottling and packaging to marketing, advertising and sales.
While Scotch is a complex and highly varied spirit that comes in many flavor profiles, it generally tastes malty since malted barley is often the main ingredient. The drink can also come with a smoky flavor if peat is used in the kilning stage of production. As well, cask maturation can give vanilla and fruit notes.
Best sipping Scotch: Murray McDavid 2001 Bowmore 15 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky
A limited release Islay peated malt, Murray McDavid 2001 Bowmore 15 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky was originally slowly and gently aged in a 500-liter sherry cask before spending four years in a fresh port pipe. When you savor this spirit, you’ll get soft, oaky spice and dried fruit notes from the European oak. As well, its flavor depth and smoky character comes through from the sweet, rich port it soaks up during aging.
Tequila is a type of mezcal spirit distilled from the blue agave plant, which thrives in Mexico’s climate and is the reason the country has claimed the drink as theirs. In 1974, the Mexican government issued a Declaration of the Protection of the Appellation of Origin Tequila that stated “tequila” may only be produced and sold in and from Mexico because of this.
There are six types of tequila:
- Extra/Ultra Añejo
Keep in mind that aged tequilas are better for sipping. So, we'll explore the flavors of añejo, extra añejo and cristalino.
Añejo is aged anywhere from 1 to just under 3 years in oak barrels that hold up to 600 liters. This type of tequila has rich, smooth and complex flavors. Extra or Ultra Añejo is aged in oak for at least three years and has a caramel flavor and a peatiness much like Scotch. Cristalino is a smooth and easy-sipping tequila. It can taste like Añejo and comes with subtle and lightly sweet almond, coconut or honey notes and a long finish.
Best sipping tequila: Tequila Avión Reserva 44 Extra Añejo Tequila
This small batch, ultra-premium tequila has been awarded “World’s Best Tasting Tequila” and “World’s Best White Spirit” at the 2012 San Francisco World Spirits Competition, the spirit industry’s most prestigious competition. It’s been matured for 43 months in oak barrels and again for another month in petite barrels, rotated daily. This process brings deep aromas of vanilla, spice and finely roasted agave. On the palate, you’ll get complex notes of ripe fruits and American oak.
Mezcal includes any spirit distilled from the agave plant (usually the Espadin varietal), such as tequila, raicilla, bacanora and sotol. Production methods have a huge impact on this spirit’s flavor and character profile, which ranges from semisweet flavored or infused to twice-distilled mezcals with added flavors. The spirit ranges in taste depending on the maker and the type of agave used and from where it came. This means mezcal can taste salty, herbal, smoky, fruity, floral or spicy.
The three types of mezcal include:
- Mezcal: mainly made with modern production techniques.
- Mezcal Artesanal: primarily uses traditional production techniques but can use some modern techniques, too, like copper or stainless steel stills.
- Mezcal Ancestral: strictly uses traditional production techniques such as distilling with clay pots.
Best sipping mezcal: Del Maguey Arroqueño Mezcal
This special edition mezcal is made from giant semi-wild, maguey Arroqueño roasted over hot rocks, buried with earth for three days and fermented for 30 days. Then, it’s slowly twice-distilled in an ancient clay still with bamboo tubing using the original, hand-crafted, centuries-old Oaxacan method.
When you sip this mezcal, you'll notice its feature melon notes on the palate with a bit of baking chocolate. It’s vegetal, something like green beans, and finishes with a medium to long savory profile.
For a spirit to be gin, it must contain juniper berries, which are an evergreen conifer’s berry that grows in much of the world’s temperate zones. Otherwise, gin comes in many forms — it is truly diverse. For example, the spirit can:
- Be unsweetened or sweetened,
- Be aged in barrels or not, and
- Contain dozens of botanicals or just 1-2 ingredients.
There are several styles of gin, including London Dry and its new Contemporary sub-style, Genever, Old Tom and Sloe. If you’re interested in trying gin, check out our Facebook page all January long for #ginuary!
Best sipping gin: Rogue Spirits Farmhouse Pinot Barrel Finished Gin
Rogue Spirits Farmhouse Pinot Barrel Finished Gin is made with the distillery’s award-winning Farmhouse Gin. Each batch contains over 100 pounds of fresh cucumber and a variety of spices and botanicals, including juniper berries, ginger root, orange peel, lemon peel, tangerine peel and coriander. The spirit is then aged for 6 months in ex-pinot noir barrels to give this Oregon spruce gin a smooth fruitiness among subtle vanilla, tannin and oak flavors.
Distilled in about 50 countries worldwide, rum is made from sugarcane products with a variety of technologies and traditions, making the styles and selection very broad. You can get white, dark, spiced and aged rums — there’s something for every taste and palate.
When it comes to sipping rum, the best types are dark and aged. This is because, compared to their counterpart styles like white rum, these types of rum carry a delicious, deep flavor ideal for savoring slowly. That flavor comes from strong, recognizable aromas and a high number of esters (which are created by a reaction between alcohols and phenolic acids). The more esters, the more expressive and nuanced the rum.
Generally, you will be reminded of sugar when you drink rum although that sweetness is cut during the distillation process, making a drier but nectarous profile. A rum’s production method plays a large role in its resulting taste. For example, rum made with molasses will typically come out with a bolder, rounder character than those made with sugar cane juice (which are more herbaceous). Rum can also taste of spice, caramel, leather or tobacco.
Best sipping rum: Plantation Rum XO 20th Anniversary Barbados Rum
Aged in Barbados inside bourbon casks for several years, Plantation Rum XO 20th Anniversary Barbados Rum is then sent all the way to France for even more maturation in small French oak casks. This process of “double aging” gives the rum a distinctly complex and smooth quality. You’ll taste notes of vanilla, chocolate, banana, roasted coconut and some mango, followed by a very long finish.
Now that you know how key it is to sip your spirits rather than down them as a shot, you can truly enjoy the full sensory experience and all the characteristics of each bottle. We're here to help and make your selections easy, too, with our stock the bar club and bottle shop. Cheers!