It’s the end of the year but that doesn’t mean that whiskey has stopped arriving. In fact, it’s quite the opposite these days. New whiskeys are always hitting shelves. Moreover, so many whiskeys have been released over the course of 2022 that a ton slipped through the cracks. That’s the perfect combination for a list of whiskeys — bourbons and ryes — that we’re excited to talk more about in 2023.
For this list, I’m calling out 10 bourbons and ryes that dropped at the tail end of 2022 that’ll pop as we barrel into 2023. I’m also peppering in a few bottles from brands that I think will really pop off in 2023. They’re all good, so they’re not ranked, and they’re all worth hunting down and giving a shot. In short, the below whiskeys are exciting entries that you should be on the lookout for when the new year dawns.
Okay, that’s enough preamble. Let’s dive into a list of some really good whiskeys to try in early 2023!
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Castle & Key Small Batch Bourbon
Average Price: $50
Castle & Key Distillery is the renovated Old Taylor Distillery outside of Frankfort, Kentucky. This distillery has spent years contract distilling for other brands, until this year when they released their first batch of this expression in April. The juice is a mash of 73% white corn, 17% malted barley, and a scant 10% rye. After four years, 80 barrels are chosen for this small-batch expression and proofed down with local water.
Nose: This opens with a sense of unbaked sourdough cinnamon rolls next to Graham Crackers dipped in vanilla-creamed honey served with a warm can of peach soda.
Palate: The palate leans into the fruitiness with a pink taffy vibe that’s countered by slight pepperiness, a touch of “woody,” and more of that creamy honey laced with vanilla.
Finish: The fruity take on a savory essence — think cantaloupe — on the mid-palate before circling back to the pepperiness with a bit of woody spice on the short end.
Castle & Key has been creating great whiskeys as a contract distiller for a while now. Now it’s their time to shine and these few batches from 2022 — of their own juice — has me very excited for what’s to come from the distillery in 2023.
Not for nothing, they also have a great rye that’ll surely dominate in 2023 too. It’s a good time to get into what Castle & Key is cooking is what I’m getting at.
E.J. Curley Single Barrel
Average Price: $69
E.J. Curley & Co. is another rebirth brand from Kentucky. The sourced juice is from four-year-old barrels from and undisclosed Kentucky distiller and mash bill. Regardless of the source, this single-barrel whiskey is a shining example of what the brand’s blenders are capable of.
Nose: The nose has a nice balance of red berries with a tart sweetness that’s tied to rich cream full of vanilla vibe and rush of apple pie and mild woody spice.
Palate: The taste is rich and creamy with a buttercream softness and vanilla smoothness that leads to a berry cobbler feel with plenty of butter, brown sugar, and mild winter spices.
Finish: The end leans into the tart red berries with a touch of huckleberry and blackberry pie next to cherry tobacco dipped in vanilla pudding and wrapped in cedar bark.
You might find a little variation in these single barrels from ultra creamy to very bright berry-forward. Either way, you’re going to be in for a really special treat.
Frank August Case Study: 01 Mizunara Japanese Oak Bourbon Whiskey
Average Price: $165
For this first “case study,” the team at Frank August picked five bourbon barrels to finish in Japanese Mizunara casks. While those barrels were finishing the elixir within, the team checked the whiskey every 30 days to assure they batched and bottled the whiskey at just the right moment.
Nose: There’s a rich sense of butterscotch candy on the nose with freshly fried sourdough doughnuts dusted in brown sugar, cinnamon, and maybe some spearmint next dusting of white pepper.
Palate: The taste starts off creamy and full of toffee as apple pie filling with plenty of cloves and cinnamon leads to peppery mint chocolate and salted caramel drizzle with a twinge of pine resin.
Finish: The end is lush and spicy with a hint of caraway-encrusted rye next to cinnamon bark and clove buds next to warm menthol tobacco dipped in dark chocolate and wrapped with cedar bark and wild sage.
If this is any indication of what’s to come from Frank August in 2023, we’re in for some seriously good treats throughout the year.
Blackwood Toasted Rye Whiskey Batch #1 Barrel Strength
Average Price: $150
This rye is sourced from expertly picked barrels for a very small batch offering. The mash is a classic 95/5 rye/malted barley bill. The barrels are close to seven years old before a handful come together to create this barrel-strength bottling of only 620 bottles.
Nose: The nose is a straight-up classic with a sense of cherry and cinnamon tied to fresh and chewy tobacco with a sense of old cedar bark braided with dry sweetgrass and smudging sage with a light sense of pear candy and cream soda.
Palate: The taste leans into spiced cherry tobacco and stewed pear with a hint of marmalade and peach cobbler next to a hint of black-tea-soaked dates, salted whiskey-laced toffee, and clotted cream before a red chili pepper spiciness kicks in with a sense of cinnamon and cherry bark.
Finish: The woodies of the orchard fruit and spice drive the warm finish — but never hot — toward a luxurious and creamy end full of sharp yet sweet tobacco, a whisper of dank resin, and echoes of old fruit orchards.
This is a stellar whiskey, rye or not. From the jump, you can tell that this is a true whiskey lover’s whiskey.
Average Price: $85
This whiskey — a revival of a centuries-old dead brand — is from the new company founded by Heaven Hill’s Andrew Shapira with partners Pablo Moix and Peter Nevenglosky, based around the Rare Character Whiskey shingle. The whiskey in the bottle is rendered from six barrels of six-year-old whiskey that’s expertly batched and bottled with just a touch of local Kentucky water.
Nose: There’s a beautiful sense of fresh orange blossom and nasturtiums on the nose with a lush honeycomb vibe next to stewed plums with hints of clove and allspice.
Palate: The palate is luxurious with a sense of salted caramel, cherry Dr. Pepper, and sticky toffee pudding with plenty of winter spice, salted toffee, orange zest, brandy butter, and black-tea-soaked dates.
Finish: The end has a sense of plum pudding with burnt sugars and orange tobacco kissed with anise and clove and rolled up with wild sage and cedar bark and wrapped in old leather pouches.
You’re going to hear me talking about Fortuna a lot in 2023. It’s a fantastic — truly — bourbon whiskey that’s just quintessential in every way while still taking you somewhere new and exciting with every repeated visit to the nose and palate.
Very Olde St. Nick The O.G. Aged 17 Years
Average Price: $785
This is a rare find but a monumental one. The whiskey was distilled back in 1981 at the famed and now shuttered Stitzel-Weller distillery in Shively, Kentucky (West Louisville). The bourbon was taken out of the barrel in 1998 and stored in stainless steel vats to stop the aging process. And then it was left alone until 2022 when it was bottled completely as-is.
Nose: Blackberries — think black cherry, berry, and currant — dominate the nose with a fantastical freshness that leads to marmalade with orange blossoms mixed in next to sweet yams with singed marshmallows dusted with shaved dark chocolate and kosher salt flakes.
Palate: The black cherry amps up 1000% — kind of like swigging from a Luxardo cherry jar — before more of that dark chocolate kicks in with a sharp peppery spice that’s mildly chili-esque next to Almond Joy, woody maple syrup, and pear compote.
Finish: There’s a light Honeynut Cheerios note on the back end that leads to more nuttiness before the cherry attaches to a winter-spiced tobacco leaf with a sense of old pine tar and leather boots leading to dry cellar dirt and broken-up old oak staves with a sweet plum jam vibe.
Preservation is releasing some of the greatest barrels left in Kentucky that you truly will never see again. This is one of those once-in-a-lifetime bottles that’s worth every cent of hype it gets.
Bardstown Bourbon Company Origin Series Rye
Average Price: $69
This whiskey — from Bardstown Bourbon Company’s own Origin Series — is their classic 95/5 rye that’s aged for almost five years. Then the whiskey is finished with alternating toasted American oak and toasted cherry wood staves in the barrel. Once the whiskey is just right, it’s batched, proofed, and bottled.
Nose: The nose is classic with fresh cherry layered with nasturtiums, cinnamon sticks, and soft cedar planks just kissed with clove, nutmeg, and anise before light red peppercorns and brandy-soaked cherries dipped in salted dark chocolate kick in.
Palate: The palate follows the nose’s lead with a lush mouthfeel that’s full of spicy stewed fruits and ciders mixing with creamy vanilla and nutty bases over subtle chili pepper spiciness far in the rear of the taste.
Finish: The end pushed the woody spices toward an apple cider/choco-cherry tobacco mix with a cedar box and old leather vibe tying the whole taste together.
Bardstown Bourbon Company has been contract distilling a lot of your favorite whiskeys over the years. Now, it’s their time to shine with their own juice, and ho-boy did they knock it out of the park with this stellar rye release. Basically, this is going to be the rye to beat in many blind taste tests going in 2023.
Filmland Midnight Mayhem Bourbon
Average Price: $63
This new brand blends the worlds of Hollywood B-movies and Ohio Valley whiskey-making in one brand. The Indiana juice is made from a mash bill of 75% corn, 21% rye, and 4% malted barley. Those whiskeys aged four to five years before they’re sent to Kentucky for batching and bottling with a touch of that limestone water.
Nose: Orange oils and cherry pie dominate the nose with mild hints of Saigon cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove next to a rush of caramel and maple syrup sweetness next to a hint of oak.
Palate: The taste opens sweet with more of that caramel leading to a lush vanilla base accented by cherry tobacco and cinnamon bark — in short, a classic bourbon palate.
Finish: The end gets creamy and soft with a sense of salted toffee and chocolate-covered espresso beans next to toasted tobacco and old oak.
This is a nice start and makes me pretty excited to see where Filmland takes us next with these releases.
Penelope Toasted Barrel Cask Strength Bourbon S1B12
Average Price: $78
Penelope has cornered both the four-grain bourbon and toasted barrel market in 2022. Single barrels of four-year-old four-grain bourbon — 74% corn, 6% rye, 17% wheat, and 3% malted barley — is finished in freshly toasted barrels (with a heavy toast) before they’re bottled as-is at cask strength.
Nose: The nose pops with a sense of ripe peaches and dried apricot that leads to a darker sense of plum pudding full of spice and dried fruits next to a flutter of pine resin and wild sage.
Palate: That peach really concentrates on the palate with burnt sugars and holiday spices next to cinnamon-spiced streusel and a scoop of malted vanilla ice cream.
Finish: The end is lush and lingering with more dried fruits next to candied orange rinds and cherries, vanilla cream, salted caramel, and peach jam on scones with a hint of brandy butter, apricot tobacco, and freshly cut cedar kindling.
This single barrel pick — from Reserve Bar — is an excellent example of the greatness going on over at Penelope. The best part is that you can try it right now by clicking the price link up above!
Kentucky Owl Batch #12
Average Price: $375
Kentucky Owl’s batch releases are always adored when they drop. The latest batch — just dropped in late December 2022 — is a blend of seven to 14-year-old bourbons blended with four-year-old bourbon to create a deep and engaging flavor profile at cask strength.
Nose: The nose feels quintessential from the jump with sweet and creamy toffee, woody winter spices, and orchards full of dry and ripe winter fruits (think pears, tangerines, and maybe even some pomegranate) with a hint of nasturtium.
Palate: The taste is soft and lush with a sharp winter spiciness — think cinnamon bark, star anise, and clove buds — next to burnt orange and salted caramel candies over a hint of figs and plums next to creamy vanilla just kissed with mint.
Finish: That creaminess drives the finish toward an orange marmalade tobacco end that’s full of subtle notes of spice, vanilla, and apple/pear/cherry cream soda and cedar bark.
This is another winner from Kentucky Owl, and worth drinking as 2022 sets and 2023 dawns.