The Best Whiskies to Celebrate Summer

Whisky doesn’t mix well with many things, specifically driving or operating heavy machinery. However, when it comes to more leisurely summer pursuits like mowing the lawn, surfing, or camping, whisky makes a surprisingly suitable stand-in for the more typical cold beer. So as you head out for summer adventure, always remember to pack your sunscreen—and your whisky.

Here are the best whiskies for summer’s outdoor activities.

For backyard grilling: 

Balcones Brimstone—$74, 84 points
Much as Scotland’s whiskies often include peat, American craft distillers have embraced smoke as a native ingredient, with whiskeys boasting mesquite (Whiskey Del Bac) and applewood smoke (Wasmund’s Single Malt). Brimstone is made of blue corn, and the whiskey itself—not the grain—is smoked with Texas scrub oak. Like a side of slightly-charred jalapeño cornbread, this offering is perfect for sippin’ while flippin’ burgers or brats. (And when it’s finally dinnertime, check out our recommendations for the best whiskies to go with your grilled foods.)

With cigars on the porch: 

Belle Meade Cognac Cask—$75, 86 points
The bold flavors of cognac and whisky are both so delightful with a cigar it’s hard to choose. Thanks to Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery in Tennessee, you don’t have to. Just select this blend of 6 to 8 year old bourbons finished in 12 year old XO cognac casks. Dessert-like notes of vanilla and caramel pair with just a zip of cinnamon spice.

Wild Turkey Masters Keep Decades—$150, 92 points
Made in honor of Eddie Russell’s 35th year at the distillery, Decades is a blend of bourbons aged 10 to 20 years. An earthy, herbal nose leads into an explosion of caramel and vanilla with just a hint of cinnamon. The slow burn of the whisky makes a perfect pairing for smoking a stick slowly while watching the sunset.

For mowing the lawn:

Dad’s Hat Pennsylvania Straight Rye—$60, 85 points
This is the first straight rye produced in Pennsylvania in a quarter-century. It has all the flavors and aromas of a perfectly kept lawn with none of the work. A “farm-to-bottle” product using locally harvested grains, the unexpected grassy, flowery (violet, lilac) nose leads into a more potent rye punch, with oak and crème brûlée on the finish. Forget lawnmower beer, this is lawnmower whisky.

For sneaking into the ol’ ballgame:

Booker’s 2017-01 “Tommy’s Batch”—$70, 92 points
Some baseball stadiums have a great whisky selection (check out the Summer 2017 issue for our top picks), but for those that don’t—we’re looking at you, minor leagues—why not bring your own? Booker’s is potent stuff, so a little bit will at least get you to the seventh inning stretch, and the flavor has got more peanuts than a ballpark. (If you can’t find this bottling, another batch will work well too.) This particular batch layers other roasted nuts like walnuts and pecans, alongside an oily, caramel mouthfeel, perfect for the leisurely pace of the great American pastime.

Four Roses 2017 Small Batch Limited Edition Al Young’s 50th Anniversary—$150, 96 points
Of course, you don’t just want a sack of peanuts, you’ll need your Cracker Jacks too. Or, even better, this limited-edition, well-worth-the-price pour that tastes like liquefied caramel corn. But there’s more, as Al’s special batch pours on layers of tobacco, marshmallows, brown butter, and apple pie. All that’s lacking is a prize at the bottom of the box…er, bottle.

For surfing, bro:

Old Pulteney Navigator—$65, 88 points
Surfing isn’t restricted to California and Hawaii. The Highlands region of Northern Scotland boasts some gnarly waves, and some righteous distilleries, like Old Pulteney, known as “the maritime malt.” Slightly briney, citrusy, and refreshing, this bottle is perfect for slinging in the sand while you paddle out through the breakers. Matured in bourbon and sherry casks, it’s great on the rocks or in a simple Highball.

For camping:

Highland Park 12 Year Old—$46, 90 points
Made in the remote Orkney Islands, this whisky—which Highland Park recently dubbed “Viking Honour”—is meant to evoke the spirit of those rugged Norsemen of yore. Marketing patter aside, the Orcadian peat makes for a floral, perfumey nose with just a hint of smoke—perfect for toting along on a camping trip and sipping by a fire you built with your own two hands.

Wyoming Barrel Strength Bourbon—$199, 92 points
Whisky has always been made in idyllic places; think of the countrysides of Kentucky and Tennessee, or the jagged coasts of Scotland. But nothing quite says rugged outdoors like this craft distillery in the mostly unpopulated Big Horn Basin. Their boldest offering is deep and oaky with a buttery fudge finish. There’s some heat on the high-proof offering, but sometimes a little punch to the palate is just what you need to sleep soundly while animals stir outside the tent.

For celebrating the end of a long road trip:

Craigellachie 23 year old—$536, 91 points
Is there anything better than nearing the end of a long summer car trip, imagining that first drink you’ll have once you’ve parked for the night and dumped your bags? If it’s a particularly grueling drive, on one of those bumper-to-bumper holiday weekends, you’ll need something extra special to ease the pain. Why not try a dram that’s already old enough to drive itself? This extraordinarily complex sipper is thick and oily, with notes of pineapple, dried apricots, and white chocolate. Sure, a bottle might cost more than a couple nights at your hotel, but it’ll probably be more memorable too.

More From Whisky List

5 Great Irish Whiskeys to Try Now

Sample single pot still or some of Ireland’s inventive finishing techniques with one of these selections from the Fall 2022 Buying Guide.