Whiskey is big business. So is whisky.
For whatever reasons, different countries spell it differently: It’s whiskey in Ireland and the U.S. (with occasional exceptions) and whisky in Scotland, Canada, and (usually) Japan — a country whose versions of the spirit are now some of the most lauded, and expensive, examples in the world. (Whiskey — or whisky — is now made in at least 25 nations in all, including Finland, Germany, Taiwan, India, and Australia.)
However you spell the name of this heady and often complex grain-based liquor, the international market for it was valued at $57.96 billion in 2018. According to projections by the U.S.- and India-based firm Grand View Research, that number is expected to have increased by a compound annual growth rate of 6.4% by 2025. (It remains to be seen whether the pandemic will affect sales in one direction or another. Here are some ways the coronavirus is impacting what and how we drink.)
There are more than 500 major distilleries and countless smaller ones around the globe, and most of them produce numerous distinct bottlings. There are thus literally thousands of choices for the whisk(e)y-lover, and while preferences in style and origin are obviously a matter of taste, numerous spirits authorities and both consumer and professional organizations sample and rate examples of the spirit every year. (It’s not surprising that the owners of several top scotch, bourbon, and Irish brands are among the world’s 15 most valuable alcohol companies.)
One of the most respected competitions, for liquor of all kinds, is the annual Ultimate Spirits Challenge. This is a weeks-long multi-part event judged by panels including spirits writers, bartenders, consultants, and other experts in the field.
Fine whisk(e)y, especially the older examples, can be frighteningly expensive (a 64-year-old Macallan single malt scotch in a Lalique glass bottle sold for $460,000 last year). But very good ones can be found for much less. 24/7 Tempo recently analyzed the results of the 2020 Challenge to determine the 50 best examples of this well-loved alcoholic beverage priced under $50 for a standard 750 ml bottle. The list is ranked from lowest to highest score.