There’s a lot of booze out there to choose from. It’s pretty easy to go into a shop and find a bottle of whiskey or rum that’s reasonably priced and walk away a happy camper. But we’ve all had the experience of standing in the aisle of our liquor store, staring at those higher shelves, too. We’ve dreamt about those bottles that get into triple digits — they’re expensive, so some of them must be better, right? But it’s hard pulling that trigger when the cost of one bottle of alcohol equals three or four bottles of the standard stuff. Especially if we have no way of knowing if it’s really worth writing home about.
That’s why you have Uproxx Life in your life. We’ve gone through some of the more expensive bottles on those higher shelves to parse which ones are actually worth the money. We wanted to find the bottles where craftsmanship, quality, and love went into every bottle — not just clever Madison Avenue marketing.
A few caveats here, the prices are averages. You may be able to find some of these bottles for a better price in your state. It really just depends on how alcohol is taxed where you live. We’re also focusing are the dark spirits here. The amount of time and effort it takes to age a great alcohol is often the biggest expense. Some of these spirits have waited in warehouses for decades. So, no clear spirits. Sorry gin and vodka.
Okay, let’s jump into some expensive bottles of booze that are actually worth the price.
REMY MARTIN XO COGNAC
If you’re sippin’ on yak, it better be the best around. Remy Martin makes some of the best cognacs on the market. Their XO — literally eXtra Old — is twice distilled white wine from specific regions in France and blended with cognacs no younger than six years old. Although, that will change next year when XO will, by law, have to be no younger than ten years old when blended. That’s ten years spent aging in a barrel like a fine whiskey.
Expect a complex and subtle delight for the palate. This eau de vie, or water of life carries hints of cinnamon, prune, orange zest, hazelnut, dried apricot, and honeysuckle. It’s a delight.
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REDBREAST 21 YEAR OLD IRISH WHISKEY
Redbreast 21 from the New Midleton Distillery near Cork, Ireland is far and away one of the best Irish whiskeys on the market today. The whiskey is aged for decades in first fill sherry casks and pre-used bourbon casks before being blended to perfection.
There’s a distinct tropical fruit pop on the nose of this one, followed by good hits of spice, caramel, apple, and prunes with the lingering presence of an old library full of musty books and well-worn leather (delicious!). Every sip will add to your love for whiskey.
BUNDABERG MDC BLACK BARREL RUM
Bundaberg is an Australian rum distillery that turns out quality rum for those of us seeking something new and different in our rum selection. The rum is aged for 10 years in American white oak and then finished in deeply charred barrels, imparting a ruddy hue.
Expect sweet raisins, caramel, spice, and hints of vanilla. This one may be a little more difficult to find in the USA, so you’ll have to ask around at high-end specialty shops. It’ll be worth the hunt for a rum this exotic.
TALISKER 18 YEAR SINGLE MALT SCOTCH
Talisker makes great whisky on the Isle of Skye. Their 18-year-old single malt was named the best whisky in the world back in 2007 and continues to live up to that title.
This whisky has a deeply intoxicating balance of flavors. Expect brine, sea salt, toffee, prunes, and orange zest with thin wisps of smoke throughout. With every sip, you’ll be transported to a windy, rain-soaked island off the coast of Scotland.
PATRON 7 ANOS EXTRA ANEJO
Patron has never shied away from being a luxury brand. And they make products that live up to their prices. Patron’s 7 Anos was aged for seven years in toasted French oak. This may not seem like a long time for the price. But, keep in mind, that oak accelerates in hot and humid climates. So the aging goes much faster in a place like Jalisco, Mexico than in, say, the hills of Kentucky.
The aging beautifully mellows this tequila into a well-balanced wonder. You’ll get good hits of oak and roasted blue Weber agave right away. That’s followed by subtle spicy black pepper, clove, ginger, and dried fruits. The price is big and so is the lusciousness of this tequila.
THE BALVENIE PORTWOOD 21 YEAR OLD SPEYSIDE SCOTCH WHISKY
The Balvenie’s Single Malts are legendary. Their 21-year-old spends years in oak barrels before being transferred to a port wine barrels. Every month, the Malt Masters check in on the whiskey until the perfect balance of flavors is achieved.
The port barrels add a complexity to the fine whisky. There’s a mellowing effect that adds a smooth, velvety texture along with subtle spice, sweet honey, and dried fruits. The attention paid to this whisky while aging makes it special. Add in the amazing execution of flavors and you have a truly great whisky on your hands.
DIPLOMATICO SINGLE VINTAGE LIMITED RUM
Diplomatico’s Single Vintage eschews the usual sugar cane molasses for a sugar cane honey, then distills it in copper pots and kettle stills. The rum is aged in single malt whisky and bourbon barrels for 12 years before resting in Oloroso sherry casks from Spain. The end result is one of the most uniquely delicious rums you’ll taste.
The sugar cane honey imparts a distinctly subtle sweetness that underpins good hits of vanilla, doughnuts, roasted bananas, roasted almonds, toffee, and spicy notes of cinnamon. Each sip will take you straight under the Christmas tree in the best way possible.
THE YAMAZAKI 12 YEAR SINGLE MALT WHISKY
Suntory’s ability to produce great whisky after great whisky is legendary — their The Yamazaki 12 YO is no different. It’s a great whisky that’s been aged in a trilogy of oak from America, Spain, and Japan. Each oak imparts something truly special to the final bottle.
There’s a big and bold whisky in these bottles. Expect clove, orange, peach, and vanilla to shine through brightest. There’s plenty of woody oak with a slight honey sweetness and creamy lusciousness boarding on butter. It’s a complex and satisfying whisky that’s unique in almost every way.
RHETORIC 23 YEAR ORPHAN BARREL STRAIGHT BOURBON
Rhetoric’s Orphan Barrel series is nearing its epic completion. This whiskey comes from barrels found in the Bernheim Distillery. The series serves as a sort of education on how bourbon whiskey changes as it sits in oak for longer and longer periods. Case in point, the vast majority of bourbon is aged for four to six years.
This deeply aged bourbon starts off with a heavy hit of citrus and vanilla with some subtle spice and old leather on the nose. That’s backed up with a palate full of interesting notes of peanut shells, oak, bails of dry hay, and a nice dusting of nutmeg. For the price, you may never taste another bourbon quite like this one — ever.
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COURVOISIER COGNAC XO
We started by sippin’ on yak, and we’re ending there, too. Courvoisier’s XO is a blend of 40 cognacs aged to perfection in France. The grapes are Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne berries which are carefully distilled into one of the best cognacs out there.
The aging brings a toasted sugar and cocoa nose that’s followed by a bursting bouquet of irises and violets with hints of strawberry. Finally, shadows of well-worn leather, candied orange, and burnt cream round out this amazing spirit. Like we said, if you’re drinking cognac, you better drink the best.