Limited edition whiskeys aren’t a single thing. That’s what makes them fun to get into. Some “limited edition” whiskeys are simply regular expressions in a special bottle with the exact same juice that’s inside a standard release. Other limited editions are one-off single barrel or single cask drops that come directly from the head distiller’s stash. Then you have ultra-rare or very old releases, plus single malts, blends, or bourbons that were made for an event or anniversary that’ll never be seen again.
It’s a “limited” category full of endless opportunities for interesting expressions. Ironic, sure, but also tons of fun to explore.
The thing with limited edition whiskeys is that they’re amazingly varied in style, age, and, of course, price. You can find expressions in the $20-range and the $2,000-range, but it’s safe to say that a limited edition whiskey is generally going to cost more than your everyday bourbons or blended scotches. That doesn’t mean there aren’t affordable bottles out there, it just means that this particular list isn’t specifically aimed at saving you money (we have plenty of those if you’re looking).
The 10 bottles below represent singular experiences in whiskey drinking. A few are released every year in limited quantities and a few are new releases just for 2020. Some are legit investment bottles and others are just an investment in a nice whiskey-sipping evening. Enjoy!
Jim Beam Distiller’s Cut
Distillery: Jim Beam, Clermont, KY (Beam Suntory)
Average Price: $22
This limited edition from Jim Beam is hand-selected by the legend Fred Noe. He chooses five and six-year-old barrels from the Beam warehouse and bottles them with no chill filtration. The result is a more robust version of the Jim Beam you know and have probably enjoyed shooting with a beer back at the bar.
The classic Jim Beam touches of vanilla and sweet caramel are evident on the nose but accompanied by a clear rush of oak and hints of fruit. The palate delivers on those bourbon aromas with a nice Christmas spice matrix accompanied by an almost tropical fruit sweetness. The end has a nice balance of spice, sweet, and oak as it swiftly fades away.
You can snag a bottle of this for around $20. It tastes like it costs $40, easily. Yes, it’s an easy-drinker but that just means you can drink it on the rocks, in a highball, or in your favorite cocktail.
Woodford Reserve 2020 Kentucky Derby 146
Distillery: Woodford Reserve Distillery, Woodford County, KY & Brown Forman Distillery, Shively, KY (Brown-Forman)
Average Price: $50
This is standard Woodford Reserve in a collector’s edition bottle. Each year for over 20 years, Woodford Reserve has released a unique bottle with a hand-painted tribute to the Kentucky Derby on the label. While the juice inside isn’t exactly something to clamor over (it’s a solid bourbon all around), the unique art on the bottle is what aficionados are after. Previous year’s editions are already selling for a lot more than $50.
The fairly high-rye mash bill leans into spice, oak, and a little bit of orange oil on the nose. The vanilla takes a back seat to a Christmas cake with plenty of dark spice, dried and candied fruit, and caramel sweetness. The end is lingering, spicy, and has a very distant hint of oaky smoke.
Look, you can get a bottle of Woodford Reserve for $30. This really is all about a cool bottle with a bespoke piece of art on the glass that’ll look good on your shelf and maybe make you some cash in a decade or two.
The Balvenie Single Barrel First Fill Aged 12 Years
Distillery: The Balvenie Distillery, Dufftown, Speyside (William Grant & Sons)
Average Price: $82
This is a very limited release from an iconic distillery. Each release of this single cask expression only yields 300 bottles. That’s it. The barrels are first-fill ex-bourbon casks that are chosen specifically for their depth of flavors.
There’s a definite bourbon edge to this sweet single malt with hints of spice, and toasted oak with plenty of vanilla and toffee. The palate leans into the toffee while bringing a real sense of spicy baked apples next to creamy vanilla pudding. All of that spice, fruit, and sweetness slowly dissipates as the dram warms your senses.
This is a solid sipper that needs a little water to really let it bloom. You can also make a killer old fashioned with this expression.
Method and Madness Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey
Distillery: Irish Distillers, Midleton, County Cork (Pernod Ricard)
Average Price: $84
This new limited release from Midleton Distillers down in County Cork, Ireland, is also one of the more unique drams on this list. The juice is a single pot still whiskey, meaning it’s made from both malted and unmalted barley in a, you guessed it, pot still. The whiskey then rests in both ex-sherry and ex-bourbon casks before it’s blended. Finally, the whiskey is finished in chestnut casks, which is quickly becoming an interesting alternative to more traditional oak.
There’s a clear maltiness on the nose next to grated fresh ginger and a savory herbal note beside a flutter of candy-sweetness. The juice holds onto that sweetness and marries it to the spice, adding a bit of ripe banana next to a crusty and buttery breadiness. A trace of slight bitterness comes in late with the spice and oak as the sip fades out.
This is a solid sipper, especially with a rock or two. It’s also very interesting in a cocktail where the whiskey can shine (think Manhattan).
Compass Box Peat Monster Arcana
Distillery: Compass Box Whisky, London (Sourced)
Average Price: $104
London-based blender Compass Box is making some seriously fine blended scotches right now. One of their pinnacles is their Peat Monster Arcana. The lion’s share of the blend comes from Talisker with help from Ardbeg and Miltonduff whiskies alongside a special French oak casked whisky to round out the blend.
This is a “peat monster” in name only. The smokiness is drawn way back but clearly present with a note of dark chocolate next to cinnamon spice and a hint of — and bear with us — outboard motor smoke on the briny sea. It’s really enticing, especially if you grew up near the ocean. The palate edges away from the smoke with a bold fruity sweetness that mixes nicely with the spice and helps the sip keep the campfire intensity at bay.
This is a really good highball whisky with minerally fizzy water. It’s an even better pairing dram if you’re getting into funky cheeses.
Cardhu Aged 11 Years
Distillery: Cardhu Distillery, Archiestown, Speyside (Diageo)
Average Price: $106
Every year, Diageo releases their Rare By Nature series of single malts from around Scotland. This year’s limited releases open with a classic yet young single malt from Cardhu. The eleven-year-old expression was aged in a combination of refill, new, and ex-bourbon American oak barrels with an aim to draw out the whiskey’s sweeter and spicier edges.
This is amazingly light with a bit of shaved wood next to big notes of tart and sweet apples and pineapple next to a rush of bright lemon zest and an underbelly of wet earth. The sweet fruits stay strong as the taste edges towards a flourish of warm, peppery spice next to a buttery biscuit. The end is long and full of that spice and sweetness. A little water really brings the fruitiness back into the foreground with a brightness that’s enrapturing.
This is a fantastic sipper and one of my top single malt drams of the year so far.
Distillery: Aberfeldy Distillery, Aberfeldy, Highlands (Bacardi)
Average Price: $130
This year’s Aberfeldy 18 is a special release from Malt Master Stephanie MacLeod. This expression takes Aberfeldy aged in refill bourbon casks and transfers that juice to red wine casks from Pauillac, Bordeaux. The finishing in funky red wine adds a wonderful depth to the already well-craft juice that helps this brand-new release really shine.
The sip opens with a bushel of bright red berries leaning towards sweet/tart blackberries with a sense of oak and a hint of tobacco. The palate delivers on that nose and adds a cedar bark dimension with a nice hint of cinnamon and allspice next to dry tobacco and a slight earthiness. The plummy fruits, cedar, and spice round out the sip as it slowly fades into a nice, warm hug.
This is another of my favorite single malt drams of the year (so far). It’s just a wonderful sipping whisky that only gets bolder and tastier with a little water or a single rock.
Midleton Very Rare Vintage Release 2020
Distillery: Irish Distillers, Midleton, County Cork (Pernod Ricard)
Average Price: $210
Midleton Vert Rare Vintage releases are to Irish whiskey what a Pappy drop is to bourbon.
This year’s release is the final one from Irish Distiller’s Master Distiller Brian Nation and it’s a doozy. The whiskey is a blend of 13 to 35-year-old whiskeys aged in lightly charred ex-bourbon casks. The selection and blending of this renowned dram is a bit of a handoff between Nation and Irish Distiller’s new Master Distiller Kevin O’Gorman who worked with Nation to create this farewell expression.
There’s a real sense of the oak with notes of sugar cane, bourbon vanilla, Christmas spices with a peppery edge, creamy chocolate, and a whiff of late-summer orchard fruit. That fruit carries you into the taste with an over-ripe pear essence next to orange zest, mild spice, and oak. There’s a slight bitterness on the backend that leads the fruit, oak, and spice slowly off into the distance.
This is just a great whiskey all around, Irish or not, and a top-five of the year for me. Sip it slowly with a little water so it can properly bloom.
Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch
Distillery: Four Roses Distillery, Lawrenceburg, KY (Kirin Brewing Co.)
Average Price: $320
Every year Four Roses releases a Limited Edition Small Batch that often becomes the toast of the bourbon world. The bottle retails (from the distillery) for $150 but will cost you twice that on the secondary market. What’s in the bottle is a refined blend of high-rye and low-rye mash bills with fruity and spicy yeasts in the mix. The four bourbons in the blend are 12, 16, and 19-years-old.
There’s classic bourbon vanilla, sweet caramel apple, honey, and oaky presence up top. The sip then edges more into stonefruit territory with a clear apricot taste next to red berries and rye spiciness that’s dialed-in. The end is long, full of fruit, rye spices, and a warming embrace that draws you back for more.
This is a really nice sipping whiskey. The addition of a rock or water really helps it open up. Is it worth the aftermarket price? That’s up for you to decide. But it does live up to its hype in our estimation.
William Larue Weller
Distillery: Buffalo Trace Distillery, Frankfort, KY (Sazerac Company)
Average Price: $700
This wheated bourbon from the world-renowned Buffalo Trace shingle is a hell of a dram. For the 2020 edition, the barrels were stored in two specific places in two specific warehouses for 12 years, where 73 percent of the juice was lost to the angels. The whiskey was then married and bottled exactly as it came out of the cask.
This one is incredibly welcoming on the nose, with a creamy vanilla foundation mingling with notes of fatty pecans, caramel, and charred oak. Coffee bean bitterness sits next to ripe cherry fruity sweetness and that creamy vanilla. The oak keeps the sip going as a hint of dark chocolate arrives on the long finish.
This was my favorite expression from this year’s Buffalo Trace Antique Collection. It’s perfect with a single rock in a tumbler.