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We all want a top liquor shelf that wows. But without a strong middle shelf of $40-and-under bottles that you can pour without a second thought, you just have a trophy case instead of something you actually live with. Recently, in an effort to get price-conscious younger drinkers away from their White Claw, distillers of middle-shelf whiskeys have brought about a renaissance worthy of more adoration. Here's how to build a middle shelf that matters.

Compass Box Glasgow Blend - $38 (43% ABV)
Snobs may scoff at blends, but this one will convince them otherwise. About 62 percent is single malt, sure, but it's the artful sherry and smoky playfulness that make it a standout.

Dewar's Japanese Smooth - $25 (40% ABV)
Take a honeylike Scotch like Dewar's and age it in Japanese mizunara casks and you get what the label advertises: smooth. Try it as as a highball or a just-complex-enough sipper.

Old Tub - $23 (50% ABV)
Once the original flagship whiskey from Jim Beam, this unfiltered, big-flavored yet highly drinkable goodness is now available across the country for the price of a fancy cocktail.

Maker's Mark 101 - $39 (50.5% ABV)
Wheated bourbons like Maker's are known for their gentleness, but when you bump the proof up to 101, it becomes a more robust player with bigger vanilla and spice.

Ezra Brooks 99 - $25 (49.5% ABV)
A prototypical bourbon with vanilla, caramel, brown sugar, and a hint of peanuts. It's not unlike a candy bar, in a good way.

Great Jones Bourbon - $40 (43% ABV)
From Manhattan's first (legal) distillery since Prohibition is a whiskey on the lighter, sweeter side, with just a hint of spice and oak.

- Kevin Sintumuang


"So, What's a $60,000 Whisky like?"

Whisky that costs as much as a BMW 5 series? Sounds intimidating. Will a sip of such an extravagant elixir mean you can never appreciate the cheap stuff again? Perhaps, but that's a chance you should be willing to take. So when I found myself sampling the $60,000 Yamazaki 55, I did my best to consider it as I would any dram, because old and expensive doesn't necessarily translate to good. Turns out this extra-mature Japanese single malt was quite special, with notes of mango, caramel, and cotton candy, and a touch of spice. Just 100 bottles were released globally, so most of us will have to experience Yamazaki 55 vicariously. But drinking this rarity was a reminder to slow down and appreciate my favorite bottles. And that's a skill worth cultivating, even with whisky that's a fraction of the price. - Jonah Flicker
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