Starting a whiskey collection is no simple task. There are a lot of variables at play and plenty of different definitions as to what a “great collection” actually means. Do you start with a single distillery? Or maybe you start by collecting all the whiskeys distilled in a certain year, or even bottled in a certain year? Maybe your collection should be more about a particular style — like rum-finished bourbons or port-finished scotches.
There’s a lot of space for interpretation, is what we’re saying. The world of whiskey is literally based on its endless variables and permutations. If you want simplicity, turn someplace else.
One way to start your collection is by hunting down each bottle from what’s called a “collection release.” Every year, distilleries and distributors will release a complete collection from their own stable of brands and labels. This is not something that’s universal, but it’s a good fit for those looking to collect (and drink) bottles that are thematically aligned. It’s a chance to take the step from an interested whiskey drinker to the higher echelons of aficionado.
The four whisk(e)y collection releases below, all from 2019, include 23 bottles of whisk(e)y in total. That’s a lot of hooch. There are a few big caveats with these releases. One, you will still have to track down most of these bottles individually to “complete” a set — think of it like collecting all the original Star Wars figures. Two, most of these bottles are not going to be cheap. While suggested retail on a bottle of something like Pappy 15 is in the hundreds, there’s a rare bottle of scotch near then end of the list that’ll set you back at least two grand. That’s a far cry from most of the bottles we recommend (and seriously, find bargain and high-value bottles here and here, please!) but we thought since the holidays were coming we’d pitch a few splurges.
Maybe you have a rich aunt. Or maybe you are the rich aunt. Whatever the case, any of the bottles mentioned below will offer up one hell of a dram as the holidays approach.
BUFFALO TRACE 2019 ANTIQUE COLLECTION
Buffalo Trace’s yearly Antique Collection release is one of the most anticipated releases in the entire whiskey universe (really a multiverse because of all the different styles). The masterful Kentucky distillery hand-selects their whiskey expressions barrel-by-barrel to find the best whiskey in their rickhouses for bottling.
These picks represent the height of American whiskeys, with a broad range of classic straight bourbons and straight ryes that have come to define their respective styles.
- George T. Stagg 15-Year-Old Straight Bourbon: Distilled in spring 2004, uncut and unfiltered from a single barrel.
- William Larue Weller 12-Year-Old Straight Bourbon: Distilled in the winter of 2009, wheated bourbon from a single barrel.
- Eagle Rare 17-Year-Old Straight Bourbon: Distilled in the spring of 2002, single barrel.
- Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Straight Rye: Distilled in the spring of 2013, small batch.
- Sazerac 18-Year-Old Straight Rye: Distilled in the spring of 2001, small batch of 24 barrels.
THE 2019 VAN WINKLES
The Old Van Winkle Distillery just dropped their line of much sought after whiskeys. Since Old Van Winkle ran out of their last barrels of the old Stitzel-Weller distillate, they’ve been exclusively sourcing their juice from Buffalo Trace. That’s a great distillery to source hot whiskey from for any aging program and the perfect juice for the Kentucky rickhouses of Old Van Winkle, which produces some of the most beloved American whiskey on the market… for a price.
A quick word on pricing: Old Van Winkle recommends these bottles retail for anywhere from $69.99 to $299.99 per bottle. Expect to pay more, much more. Collectors and wholesalers horde bottles and release them sparingly over the years, jacking up prices into the thousands of dollars.
Also, beware of scams and counterfeiters.
- Old Rip Van Winkle 10 Year Old Bourbon: High-wheat bourbon, “near” barrel-proof, cut with Kentucky limestone well-water.
- Van Winkle Special Reserve 12-Year-Old Bourbon: High-wheat bourbon.
- Old Rip Van Winkle Family Reserve 13-Year-Old Rye: One of the oldest rye whiskeys on the market, barrel-proof.
- Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 15-Year-Old Bourbon: High-wheat bourbon, small batch.
- Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 20-Year-Old Bourbon: High-wheat bourbon, small batch.
- Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 23-Year-Old Bourbon: High-wheat bourbon, small batch of barrels from the heart of the rickhouse.
BOOKER’S 2019 BATCH COLLECTION
Booker’s is the gold standard of great rye-infused bourbons. Fred Noe, a seventh-generation distiller of the Beam family, has toiled to make Booker’s renowned, and part of that is quarterly releases of special small batches from the best barrels. This year’s four releases continued to push the envelope and refine the beauty of the juice aging in Booker’s rickhouses.
The best part of these releases is the price. They retail for anywhere from $50 to $80 per bottle (a great price for a rare, single-release bottle) and are generally available, though in small quantities.
- Teresa’s Batch: Blended from three distillation dates and barrels from nine locations throughout the rickhouses.
- Shiny Barrel Batch: Blended from two distillation dates and barrels from the three centermost floors of the rickhouse.
- Booker’s Country Ham: Blended from a single distillation aged in 364 barrels.
- Beaten Biscuits: Blended from a single distillation and barrels from two locations in the rickhouse.
DIAGEO RARE BY NATURE 2019 SPECIAL RELEASE
This year’s release from Diageo’s scotch rickhouses is all about the unexpected. Rare By Nature celebrates the surprises master blender Dr. Craig Wilson found in special barrels with specialty aging processes and finishings. This is one aspect of the “rare” nature of the bottles.
The second aspect of that moniker is the fact that some of these bottles received a painfully small release, meaning tracking them down is going to hard, and it’ll cost you. The rarest bottle available in the U.S. is retailing at nearly $2,000 and will likely double in price before the holiday season… if there are any left, that is.
Still, these are the bottles that define a collection and offer once-in-a-lifetime sips of the very, very good stuff.
- Cardhu 14 Year Old, Cragganmore 12 Year Old, Dalwhinnie 30 Year Old, Lagavulin 12 Year Old, and Talisker 15-Year-Old are not available in the U.S.
- Mortlach 26 Year Old: Aged in toasted, first-fill Pedro Ximénez and oloroso sherry-seasoned casks. Only 276 bottles were released in the U.S.
- Pittyvaich 29 Year Old: Aged in Pedro Ximénez and then in oloroso sherry-seasoned casks. Only 600 bottles were released in the U.S.
- The Singleton of Glen Ord 18-Year-Old: Aged in freshly charred American oak hogsheads. Only 600 bottles were released in the U.S.