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Non-Bourbon Spirits for Bourbon Fans

Why am I writing about ‘non-bourbon spirits for bourbon fans’ you ask? Bourbon fans, I’m totally on your side. Why would you drink anything else when you’ve got all of this delicious bourbon to sample?  

However, variety is the spice of life, and as tasty as bourbon is other products in the whisky and spirits world will probably get your pulse racing as fast as a bottle of George T. Stagg. 

After many years of conversing with bourbon fans, I have found that an absolute no-go is peated whisky. I can understand that: peat is a powerful and acquired taste despite the resounding passion of peat fans. 

Rest easy though, as none of these recommendations will even bring you close to something like Ardbeg or Lagavulin, only extremely subtle hints. 

So, here are my recommendations for non-bourbon spirits for bourbon fans. 

Hibiki Japanese Harmony Blended Japanese Whisky, 43% ABV 

Hibiki is the best-selling Japanese whisky blend.

BUY NOW: $93.34

Hibiki is more famous than most people know. I first saw it in the film, Lost In Translation (2003). Since I have now worked in the whisky industry for well over a decade, I can confidently say that it is the main product that sells out across most retailers that stock it in the UK. 

Launched in 1989, it has become and still is the fastest-growing individual brand of whisky in the world. That takes some effort. But it is down to a lot more than some clever marketing and the nicest-looking bottle on the planet (in my opinion). 

Hibiki is a blended whisky, containing of number of Japanese whiskies from under the Suntory umbrella. However, the largest proportion consists of Yamazaki, Hakushu and Chita. Suntory does have a more affordable blend called Toki, which focuses more on the Hakushu single malt. But, I think, Hibiki is where you want to be. It is one of the most deliciously soft, sweet, and rather complex liquids on the earth. The variety of whiskies and casks that are within every bottle is quite compelling. 

I’m not saying chase down the highest-rated, rarest bottle. Just get the regular one with all of its tastes and smells of apricot, vanilla, cedar wood, toffee, and even some lighter sherry notes. 

Roe & Co Blended Irish Whiskey, 45% ABV 

Affordable and delicious, this Roe & Co Whiskey has tropical notes and is the perfect non-bourbon spirit for bourbon fans.

BUY NOW: $39.77 

George Roe was one of the most important men in the Irish whiskey trade when the category was seeing improved growth in Dublin. Sadly, he wasn’t able to stick around as long as some of his other competitors. 

Luckily for us, Diageo has relaunched the Roe name with Roe & Co. This is another blended whisky, but it’s bottled at 45% ABV and is also non-chill filtered. In my humble opinion, this is one of the best bang-for-buck whiskies in the world.  

Never before have I come across a nose so tropical. You are given fresh apple, pineapple, peach, and mango – and this is before the liquid has even hit your tongue. This is a simple whisky with a great ABV and is friendly to your wallet. If you’re after those big tropical fruit notes that bourbon can provide, Roe & Co is an absolute no-brainer. 

This whiskey was also included in my article The 5 Best Whiskies Under $100. I think this speaks volumes about my love for this bottle.

Sovereign Strathclyde 35 Year Old, 53% ABV

This high-age statement grain is truly something to behold.

BUY NOW: $275.06

Grain whisky as a whole is one of the best alternative stomping grounds for bourbon fans. It was where I really developed a love for something different from single malt. 

Grain whisky can be made from any grain, including barley. It is mostly distilled in a column still – much like bourbon or rye. Grain is also a key element of the aforementioned Hibiki and Roe & Co. They are loaded with classic caramel, toffee, and butterscotch notes. However, some grain whiskies can really surprise you. 

I’ve had Strathclyde whiskies that tasted just like old rye, some closed distillery stocks from Port Dundas that were the very essence of caramel, and then some from long-closed distilleries like Caledonian…which just tasted and smelled like nail varnish remover. You win some, you lose some. 

There are less than ten grain distilleries in Scotland right now, but Strathclyde, Invergordon, Girvan, and Cameron Bridge can all provide you with some stunning liquids in single-cask form. These whiskies, mostly bottled at cask strength, are an absolute bargain compared to single malts of the same age and strength, as well as hard-to-find bourbon and rye releases. I said to customers ten years ago that grain whisky was underrated. And it still is. 

Save your money and try some absolute stars, get into grain whisky. This is a great non-bourbon spirit that still features some of the experimentation that we associate with bourbon. 

Daftmill Releases, 46% ABV+

Daftmill is a small distillery in Lowlands making a big impact on whisky drinkers.

BUY NOW: Starting from $186 

Daftmill in ex-bourbon casks is some of the most delicious, delicate, layered whisky I’ve ever tasted. And it’s a lowland whisky that isn’t really boring! Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot that aren’t now. But for years there were only two lowland single malts that were 

available, and they’re a little dull in the grand scheme. 

Anyway, back to Daftmill. As they only fill about 100 casks a year, in general, it is quite hard to get. Daftmill is so complex and interesting from a grand perspective of whisky. The few that I’ve been lucky to buy and drink have been full of these apple blossom notes, toffee, and popcorn. Some have even had that orange juice note that Woodford Reserve on occasion can have.

The place is a literal farm that distills whisky when the owners have the time, which is about two times a year. This might be a hard non-bourbon spirit to come by. But if you find one as a bourbon fan, pick it up. You won’t regret it. 

Midleton Very Rare Dair Ghaleach Releases, Always Cask Strength

This is an expensive but extremely impressive non-bourbon pick.

BUY NOW: Starting from $700 

Here’s where we get a little pricey! It’s nice to treat yourself every now and then. 

Midleton is the King of Irish whiskey. With an incredible rare of spirits including the annual Very Rare releases, the distillery has a lot to offer. This particular release is Midleton Very Rare, finished in an Irish virgin oak cask and bottled at cask strength. 

I bought one of these in 2020 as a treat to myself for when life finally started getting back to normal post-COVID.l I ended up opening it for the 10,000 subscriber celebration for my YouTube channel. Whisky Wednesday. It was totally worth the wait. 

Imagine the rich, complex, and sweet taste of Midleton Very Rare, and imagine it has been butter-washed. Then you get that unbridled flavor assault of natural cask strength. 

It is an absolute dream of a bottle, with some rather fetching presentation as well. If you like bourbon and are into Irish whiskey already then this is the one for you! 

Four Square Rum, 43% ABV+ 

Foursquare Distillery has a fantastic range of rums perfect for bourbon lovers.


Leaving the lands of Japan, Ireland, and Scotland, let me take you to the sun-drenched shores of Barbados where Four Square rum hails from. Arguably the greatest rum distillery in the world. 

Bourbon is naturally sweeter, so this non-bourbon rum makes sense as an adjacent style of distillate. When dealing with the Four Square range, you have two choices. Choice number 1 is you buy a range called Doorly’s. This is an entry-level brand for the distillery in essence. The 12 Year Old and XO releases are amazing value for money and have all of those delectable molasses, brown sugar, and strawberry notes that I’ve always seen associated with the distillery. They have an even bigger range than just those two, so feel free to explore. 

Choice 2 is going all in on the distillery’s Exceptional Cask Selection Series. I have the 2010 vintage single blended rum XXI release and it is the rum equivalent of something like the W. L. Weller BTAC release. High alcohol strength, incredible cask selections, and an unforgettable taste to back it up. Get yourself to Barbados, or to make it a little easier, your local retailer and check out the range that this distillery has on offer.

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Phil Dwyer

Having worked in whisky retail for a decade, and running Whisky Wednesday on YouTube for nearly as long, Phil has always wanted to learn, talk and tell everyone as much about whisky as he can.

Whisky can be overly complicated at times. Phil wants to end that. Brands have pushed far too much jargon into the drinking atmosphere; it's difficult to breathe when whisky is mentioned at times.

Phil also manages The Whisky Shop Manchester stocking some of the best drams on the market.

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