There’s ongoing and seemingly endless debate about the perfect amount of aging for whisky. Part of the reason for that is the fact that whiskies vary, and what’s “perfect” for, say, a particular bourbon isn’t necessarily right for a single malt Highland scotch or a blended Canadian whisky. Different aging conditions and barreling techniques mean bourbon and rye naturally mature more quickly than scotch or Irish whiskey, while whiskies from other parts of the world—Japan, Canada, India—enjoy their own unique maturation environments.
And yet there’s something special about decade-old whisky from almost everywhere. Ten year old bourbon presents as a well-aged spirit that hasn’t crept into over-oaked flavors or an elevated price. When it comes to scotch and Irish whiskey, you get what is often the youngest age-stated product in a brand’s portfolio—excellent, refined, yet still reasonably priced.
If you’re interested in putting numbers on the board at a fair cost, keep these bottles in mind.
Ardbeg 10 year old—92 points, $56
This quintessential Islay single malt is a must-drink for peat lovers. Smokey and medicinal on the nose, with distinct Band-Aid notes, the palate yields more fruit, with cocoa, espresso, and even salty notes. Not for the faint of heart, the finish offers intense peat and campfire flavors.
Bushmills 10 year old—90 points, $44
This Irish single malt is a tad lighter in heft than its Scottish brethren, but flavor-wise it is completely on par. Aged almost exclusively in ex-bourbon barrels, the nose is quite fruity, both fresh and dried, with just a hint of vanilla ice cream on top. The palate continues the theme with delicate notes of strawberries, apricot, honeydew, and citrus peel, coated in sweet honey. The finish isn’t long, but balances things out with more wood and slightly spicy notes. A terrific daily drinker.
Henry McKenna Single Barrel Bottled in Bond 10 year old—90 points, $33
Despite being one of the oldest bottled-in-bond bourbons on the market, the price is a total steal. The nose is floral and slightly perfumey, leading into a sweet body of brown sugar, caramel corn, and chocolate-covered strawberries. The palate remains balanced by a spicy rye finish that hangs on for a while.
Pike Creek Rum Finish 10 year old—90 points, $30
An intriguing Canadian whisky , this “reformulated” Pike Creek went from being finished in port barrels to rum casks—a marked improvement. Rum raisin cake appears on the nose, with just a bit of nuttiness, pecans, and walnuts. The palate brings to mind rum and Coke, rounded out by wood and a little earthy funk. The finish is sweet and coating, adding a touch of spiciness and leather.
Talisker 10 year old—90 points, $50
One of the brinier drams of Scotland, owing to Talisker’s location on the Isle of Skye, notes of wet seaweed and smoke appear acutely on the nose. The palate is fruitier, backed by fresh-cracked black pepper and toffee. The finish is long and sweet, adding some balance to the previous intensity.
BenRiach 10 year old—88 points, $50
This 10 year old was only added to the Speyside distillery’s core range in 2015. Matured in ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks, it’s sweet on the nose with notes of bananas, peaches, and lemon zest. The palate leans more toward honey and maltiness, though it is dried out by baking spices and oak.
Russell’s Reserve 10 year old—88 points, $37
Made at Wild Turkey Distillery, this bourbon is made from barrels picked by father and son master distillers Jimmy and Eddie Russell. This small-batch selection is packed with caramel and vanilla with just a hint of classic Turkey earthiness on the nose. The palate is spicier, with strong hints of cinnamon and allspice. While not hot, the long, coating finish makes this feel higher proof than it truly is.