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Our Lead Drinks Writer Names His Favorite Sips Of Whiskey From 2019

Each year I drink a lot of whiskey. So much that I should get my liver insured. It comes with the job, of course, and beyond that, I like it. But with bottles of whiskey coming my way on the daily, things can get a bit repetitive. Hey, this is oaky! Vanilla this! Spicy that! Was this one finished in a rum cask? Ooh la-la.

You get it. So when something truly unique or exceptionally delicious comes along, it feels like a revelation. Because no matter how many expressions you try, the best bottles of whiskey always stand out. And no matter how many drams you drink, they stick with you. Sometimes for life.

The 10 bottles below are the whiskey expressions that truly stood out to me in 2019. And, trust me, I’ve had a lot of drams. Are these the best whiskeys in the world? Probably not. I don’t exclusively taste whiskey all day nor do I always make a point to try the most expensive bottles on the market. That’s better for you, the average whiskey drinker. Because these exceptional bottles are accessible to novices and — for the most part — affordable.

Meaning that my favorite drams have a fair chance of becoming your favorite drams.

NELSON GREEN BRIER TENNESSEE WHISKEY

The Story:

The Nelson Brothers’ long road to whiskey greatness came to fruition this year when they released their first-ever Tennessee whiskey that was completely hand-crafted in-house. The whiskey has a wheated mash-bill, is filtered through sugar maple, and then aged in freshly charred new American oak.

Tasting Notes:

Warm cinnamon apples, caramel, and vanilla greet you. Wisps of dark chocolate, caramel apples, and freshly iced cinnamon rolls dominate the palate with a nice hint of black cherry. That bright fruit note carries the finish to an end that highlights the spice, apples, and sweetness of the sip.

BALCONES FR.OAK TEXAS SINGLE MALT WHISKY

The Story:

Waco, Texas’ Balcones has been racking up the awards (and getting a ton of mentions from me) for their amazingly well-crafted whiskeys. Their French oak — or Fr.Oak — finished Texas single malt was no exception. The unique barley-focused single malt is matured in French oak to impart a unique sense of old-world vineyards with Texan ideas.

It’s a masterpiece.

Tasting Notes:

Clove and rosemary sit alongside leather and browned butter with a whisper of umami-bomb mushrooms and ripe oranges. Creamy vanilla ice cream smothered in dark chocolate with hints of green peppercorn, black tea, and green mango pop throughout the palate. Finally, that bitter chocolate drives the dram to the finish line with hints of white pepper and allspice and a distant echo of eucalyptus.

MICHTER’S US1 TOASTED BARREL FINISH BOURBON

The Story:

Michter’s Toasted Barrel program is producing some of the most interesting bourbons and ryes in America. Their standard Michter’s bourbon goes through a secondary aging program with new American oak barrels that are sun toasted for 18 months in Kentucky. There’s no char, so the juice is able to take on the subtly of the sugars that the lightly toasted wood imparts over time.

Tasting Notes:

Notes of pecan pie, candied fruits, Christmas spice, and billows from a campfire on a rainy day open this one up. Pears baked in spices, vanilla, butter, and brown sugar pop with a small note of fire-roasted marshmallow. Finally, the spice, smoke, and almost lumber feel of the oak tie together on a subtle finish.

JACK DANIEL’S SINGLE BARREL SELECT

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The Story:

Jack Daniel’s is a classic Tennessee whiskey. Their Single Barrel Select is a great way to understand how much more refined Tennessee whiskey is, thanks to the Lincoln County Process of sugar maple filtration before barreling. This bottle is filled from hand-selected barrels from the upper floors Jack Daniel’s rickhouses to highlight the beautiful depth of the whiskey.

This is also probably the most accessible and affordable bottle on this list at around $50 per bottle.

Tasting Notes:

Clear toasted oak comes through along with roasted corn dripping with fresh honey and a dusting of cinnamon. The wood carries on as hint of ripe banana come to play on the palate rich vanilla. The toasted nature of the sip brings about a warming spice with hints of apple orchards in the background.

OBAN BAY RESERVE THE NIGHT’S WATCH

The Story:

Oban Bay Reserve was chosen to represent the Night’s Watch in the Diageo collection of single malt scotches that repped all the Game of Thrones families. It’s a subtle whisky from a small seaside town in Scotland that’s sure to warm you this winter.

Tasting Notes:

Notes of black tea, candied orange, and flaky cherry pie lead the way. Tart raspberries marry dry sherry as whiffs of peat, moss, and malts dance throughout the sip. Ripe blackberries, oak, and hints of spice lead towards a dry finish.

THE BALVENIE MADEIRA CASK AGED 21 YEARS

The Story:

The Balvenie’s 21-year expression takes the aging process and pushes it to new heights. The whisky is matured in oak for 21 solid years before being transferred to Portuguese Madeira casks (a fortified wine) for a finishing flourish. The refined juice is then bottled and made available at Duty-Free shops around the world.

Tasting Notes:

Wildflowers and apple orchards dominate, with notes of fresh pineapple, sharp ginger, and a bit of vanilla. Cinnamon sticks dipped in honey sit side-by-side with tropical fruit juice and oaky vanilla. That vanilla and spice linger on as the barley malts bring about a subtle-yet-lush finish.

TALISKER AGED 25 YEARS

The Story:

Talisker’s seaside distillery and rickhouse make for a unique and typically delicious whisky. Their 25-year-old expression is the same juice as the standard Talisker with its expertly malted barley, fermentation, distillation, and aging at the sea (across the street from the distillery). Then the juice goes into the barrels for 25 long years until it’s just right.

Tasting Notes:

You feel the spray of the sea with the first sip. There’s a mossiness with a teak sense that leans towards the deck of a ship. Whispers of smoke dance through as hot pepper and bitter chocolate mingle with salty brine. Finally, the bitter, brine, smoke, and oak come together for a truly luxurious finish.

THE SINGLETON OF GLENDULLAN 38 YEAR OLD 2014 SPECIAL RELEASE

The Story:

This 2014 release was aged for 38 years (that means it went in the barrel 1976) in European oak at The Singleton’s Glendullan facility. There were only 3,756 bottles of this masterpiece released. If you can find one and have an extra grand lying around, invest in this bottle.

This is a shining whisky that really opens up with a few drops of water (I used water directly from Loch Ness to cut my dram).

Tasting Notes:

This is an amazingly subtle sip — nothing overpowers. There are notes of ripe melon and mango with hints of malty and buttery shortbread biscuits. Woody and sweet apples mingle with notes of orange and cinnamon with brown butter toffee and oak char. Pitchy pine resin, toasted oak, sandalwood and eucalyptus, caramel apples, tart cranberries, and sharp peppery spice bring about a crescendo of a finish.

THE MACALLAN REMIX REMIXED

The Story:

This expression is a special edition from The Macallan’s Masters of Photography series. This particular bottle was to celebrate the friendship between master distiller Bob Dalgarno and Japanese photographer Daido Moriyama. The whisky was a 500 bottle release from an ex-sherry cask aging program.

It’s also the darkest expression The Macallan has ever released, with an almost blood-like hue.

Tasting Notes:

Sherry-infused notes of ripe dates, figs, and sun-dried raisins with hints of cloves, green apples, black cherries, fresh ginger, and pine resin open this one up. Citrus oils, orange peels dotted with cloves, bitter chocolate cut with maple syrup, over-ripe black cherries, oak, and spice bounce through the palate. Finally, the fruit, orange, and spice combine with the sherry-focused dried fruits to create a long and winding road of a finish with a warm end.

REDBREAST DREAM CASK AGED 32 YEARS

The Story:

Redbreast usually bottles their juice after 21 years max. However, master blender Billy Leighton decided to play to the long game. After 26 years in ex-bourbon barrels, Leighton let the good stuff stay in a Spanish Oloroso sherry butt until it was 32 years old. The resulting single butt of Irish whiskey was finally opened in 2017 and select bottles have hit the wider market in 2018 and 2019.

Tasting Notes:

Fresh herbs, stone fruit, and Christmas spices mingle with orange peel, bitter chocolate with roasted almonds, and plenty of oak. Wildflowers, fresh sprigs of mint, and fruit orchards dance through the taste as rich spices, oily herbs, and an almost smoky oak char come through. Finally, that fruit and oak mix with the spices to bring about a long-lasting finish that builds warmth before fading into a lush end.

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