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The 100 Best Whiskeys Our Head Drinks Writer Tasted In 2021

I’m going to cut right to the chase. I tasted close to 1,000 bottles of whiskey in 2021. That doesn’t include the many barrels I tasted directly from. And it obviously doesn’t count whiskey cocktails or other spirits I tested. All to say, if my job is to taste and review alcohol [it is — ed], then I definitely understood the assignment.

Today, I’m narrowing down those 1,000+ whiskey drams to roughly the tenth percentile. That’s right, I’m naming my top one hundred favorite whiskeys of 2021.

This was painstaking. My first list had 200 entries, all written out with tasting notes. I eventually whittled that plethora down to these 100 drams. The whiskeys start off with some standards I like and think you might too. By the end, we go to some pretty wild places, with bottles reaching into the tens of thousands of dollars. Hell, there’s a bottle from freakin’ World War II on this list, folks (for my 2021-focused whiskey lists, see bourbon here, rye here, and scotch here).

Sound intriguing? Here they are, the 100 best sips of whiskey (across all categories and with year-of-release not a factor) that I tasted in 2021!

Also Read: The Top 5 UPROXX Bourbon Posts Of 2021

100. Jameson Black Barrel Proof

Jameson Black
Pernod Ricard

ABV: 50%

Average Price: $70

The Whiskey:

Jameson Black Barrel is one of my favorite bottles from the Irish brand. This new take on the double-charred barrel-aged whiskey amps up the ABVs, allowing a lot more character to shine through in the actual juice. The juice in the bottle is a mix of grain and pot still whiskeys that were aged in those signature double charred barrels along with some ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks thrown in too.

Tasting Notes:

That bitter char comes through on the nose with a subtle espresso bean oiliness next to almost burnt buttery toffee and a touch of walnut. The palate builds on that nuttiness to the point of a walnut cake full of Caro syrup, plenty of dark holiday spices, and a touch of vanilla pudding. The end really amps that vanilla up to the point that you’re almost chewing on vanilla tobacco while the wood comes in with a dry cigar box vibe.

Bottom Line:

This just dropped. Given the popularity of Black Barrel, expect this to hit shelves and sell out fast. If you do grab a bottle, make sure to try it in cocktails. It has great depth that really shines with simple, wintry bar concoctions.

99. Balcones Texas Pot Still Bourbon

Balcones Distilling

ABV: 46%

Average Price: $31

The Whiskey:

This is a true Texas grain/corn-to-glass experience. The whiskey is made from Texas grains and corn in old-school stills and then matured under the warm Waco, Texas sun in Balcones’ own warehouse. The results are small-batch blended, slight proofed, and bottled.

Tasting Notes:

You get a real sense of kettle corn covered in caramel next to hints of oak, sweet apples, and worn leather. The taste veers away from these notes slightly, with pecan pie topped with vanilla cream, more of that leather and oak, and a touch of honey. The end is chewy and lingers as almost spicy tobacco arrives late to accentuate the oak.

Bottom Line:

This craft bourbon is so goddamn unique when it comes to bourbon that it should cost twice as much. Yet, here we are with a $30 bottle of truly distinct and boundary-pushing bourbon that you can find almost nationwide.

98. Evan Williams Single Barrel

Heaven Hill

ABV: 43.3%

Average Price: $32

The Whiskey:

There’s a lot of love around this single barrel expression from Heaven Hill. The craftspeople at the company search through their warehouses for the exact right single barrels that meet their high standards. Those barrels are then proofed with that soft Kentucky limestone water and bottled with the year of distillation on the bottle alongside the barrel number.

Tasting Notes:

The nose features almost bitter caramel next to salty popped corn, oak spice, and flutter of vanilla. The sip is like velvet with caramel apples next to chocolate oranges and a bit of spicy tobacco. There’s a buzz and chewiness to the end that leans very easy-drinking, while the flavors slowly roll back through the spice and wood.

Bottom Line:

This is one of the best single barrels out there at this price. It’s a perfectly suitable cocktail mixer that also works well on the rocks.

97. Nelson’s Green Brier Tennessee Whiskey

Green Brier Distilling

ABV: 45.5%

Average Price: $32

The Whiskey:

Nelson’s Green Brier is a heritage brand that has a great comeback story. The family’s shingle was killed by Prohibition until descendants of the former owners stumbled upon the old distillery. Now, they’re making one of the finest, wheated Tennessee whiskeys at one of the most accessible price points of any whiskey.

Tasting Notes:

Cinnamon stewed apple mix with oily vanilla and a sweet edge of caramel. The spice carries through the taste with buttery cinnamon toast feel next to more tart apples, plenty of that caramel, wet brown sugar, and a small dusting of dark cacao and cherries. The end takes its time as it dances back through the cinnamon, cherry, chocolate, spice, and brown sugar towards a final note of wood.

Bottom Line:

Nelson’s Green Brier continues to shine as a great craft whiskey and just all-around solid workhorse whiskey. The fact that you can get a craft whiskey of this caliber at about $30 (the same price as huge corporate whiskeys with a lot less going on in the bottle) is a bit of a miracle.

96. George Dickel Bourbon Whisky

Diageo

ABV: 45%

Average Price: $33

The Whisky:

This whisky was a special release from Nicole Austin and a new direction for the brand. The whisky is the same Dickel simply pulled from barrels that leaned more into classic bourbon flavor notes instead of Dickel’s iconic Tennessee whisky notes. The barrels are a minimum of eight years old before they’re vatted. The juice is then cut down to a manageable 90 proof and bottled.

Tasting Notes:

This opens with classic bourbon notes of vanilla, caramel, dry wood, and a touch of apple crisp with brown sugar, spice, and butter. The taste holds onto the Dickel corn vibe as the sweetness leans into caramel and toffee with a buttery backbone, more eggnog spice, and a pear/apple vibe with a dusting of orange oils. The finish isn’t overly long but has a nice dose of creamy vanilla next to an apple tobacco chewiness.

Bottom Line:

This is just easy drinking all around. It’s very mixable but also works as a nice on the rocks pour in a pinch. For a $30 bourbon, this is a winner.

95. Brough Brothers Bourbon

Brough Brothers Bourbon
Brough Brothers Bourbon

ABV: 41%

Average Price: $30

The Whiskey:

This tiny and new distillery was founded in West Louisville by brothers Victor, Chris, and Bryson Yarbrough. The distillery is the first African-American-owned brand working in the state. For now, this bottle is contract-distilled (distilled at a big distillery based on their own recipe/concept) in Indiana from a mash bill of 75 percent corn, 21 percent rye, and four percent malted barley.

Tasting Notes:

You’re greeted with dried roses, marzipan, and creamy eggnog on the nose with a hint of apple and corn. That apple drives the taste with more orchard fruit (think pears) as the nutmeg really spikes and the marzipan takes on a rosewater note next to a very distant flutter of pepper spice in the background. The finish sweetens with a spoonful of fresh and floral honey as those orchard fruits affix to a mildly spicy and vanilla-forward tobacco leaf.

Bottom Line:

Brough Brothers definitely has me excited for what’s next from the brand. The first Black-owned and operated distillery in Louisville, Kentucky is putting out quality juice at affordable, everyday prices. That’s a win-win.

94. WhistlePig Beyond Bonded FarmStock Rye

WhistlePig

ABV: 50.5%

Average Price: $125

The Whiskey:

The vast majority of WhistlePig is/was Alberta and Indiana rye until the distillery actually began to age its own juice. Now, those sourced juices still make up the main lines of the brand but their own juice is starting to make and appearance in the Farmstock line. This expression is made with 100 percent Remington Rye grown on-site at WhistlePig. It’s then aged for around four-plus years before blending and bottling.

Tasting Notes:

This rye leans into dry wood, lemon zest, and plenty of cinnamon that’s a little sweet and buttery, like a cinnamon toast. The woodiness leans towards dry cedar bark with black tea next to peach, more lemon zest, and a holiday cake spice matrix. The finish starts to dry out with those spices as hints of burnt orange peel and marshmallow lead towards a note of a fresh dollar bill pulled from a new stack.

Bottom Line:

I like this rye. There’s no “wow” factor but it plays well in cocktails. That said, it is a little on the pricier side, which is the point of WhistlePig’s branding.

93. Leopold Bros. Bottled-In-Bond Bourbon

Leopold Bros. Bourbon
Leopold Bros.

ABV: 50%

Average Price: $60

The Whiskey:

This expression dropped last year and has been garnering a lot of attention. The mash is made from 64 percent corn, 21 percent malted barley, and 15 percent Abruzzi Heritage Rye that Todd Leopold grew for his malting house at the distillery in Denver. That mash ran through a classic pot still before it was barreled and left to rest for five years.

Tasting Notes:

The floral and spicy nature of that Abruzzi rye really comes out on the nose with a touch of candied apples, Quick powder, and the faintest hint of sourdough rye with a light smear of salted butter. The taste leans into stewed pears with nutmeg and clove spices leading the way as Almond Roca and green peppercorns jostle for space on your palate. The end mellows out as that spice fades towards an eggnog vibe with a creamy vanilla underbelly and a final touch of that floral rye and hint of pear.

Bottom Line:

This continues to be one of those bourbons that you can’t stop thinking about. While it’s harder to get outside of Colorado, it’s worth the effort to experience something truly unique in the world of whiskey.

92. Bib & Tucker 10-Year-Old Small Batch Bourbon

Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits

ABV: 46%

Average Price: $125

The Whiskey:

Bib & Tucker is another classic example of what great blending can do with sourced juice. The Tennessee whiskey is a marriage of ten-year-old whiskeys aged in the lowest char barrels available, allowing more direct contact with dried wood rather than black char. Those barrels are blended and then proofed down with soft Tennessee water.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a sense of vanilla bean (pod, seeds, essence) up top with hints of spicy chewy tobacco, dry oak (almost pine), and a distant note of fresh corn husks. The palate really holds onto that velvety vanilla as the corn husks dry out and notes of orange-infused dark chocolate mingle with that spicy tobacco, which starts buzzing on your tongue. The end is long-ish, has touches of that dry pine, and holds onto both the vanilla and dried corn husks.

Bottom Line:

This really is the sweet spot for Bib & Tucker. While the six-year is a great cocktail bourbon and the 12-year is a fine sipper, this Tennessee whiskey is comforting neat, blooms nicely with a little water or on a rock, and will make one hell of a Manhattan.

91. Penderyn Rhiannon Single Malt Welsh Whisky

Penderyn Rhiannon
Welsh Whisky Company

ABV: 46%

Average Price: $90

The Whisky:

This Welsh whisky is part of the distillery’s “Icons of Wales” line. The seventh release in that series is a malted barley whisky aged in sherrywood grand cru barrels and proofed with local Welsh spring water. The bottle is named after the Celtic horse goddess which means “Great Queen.”

Tasting Notes:

This hits hard, with a big oak char that immediately fades towards red and blackberries plus a hint of pear that’s then emboldened by creamy walnut sauce from a Chiles en Nogada on the nose … I mean, it’s exactly that sauce. The taste touches on rich marzipan and walnut cake as a creamy caramel leads towards plums, more berries, chocolate-covered espresso beans, and a hint of dry oak.

Bottom Line:

This blew me away. That walnut cream sauce vibe on the nose was both wild and really enticing. The taste didn’t quite live up to the uniqueness of the nose and that’s the only reason this isn’t higher on the list.

90. Cecil + Coleman Pursuit United

Pursuit United
Bourbon Pursuit

ABV: 54%

Average Price: $65

The Whiskey:

This is a vatted from 40 total barrels from three different states. While the team at Pursuit United doesn’t release the Tennessee distillery name, we know the juices from Kentucky and New York are from Bardstown Bourbon Company and Finger Lakes Distilling, respectively. This final release of 2021 from Pursuit United put 9,342 bottles on the market in six states (Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Tennessee, Texas, and Kentucky).

Tasting Notes:

The nose opens with a rush of cedar next to Christmas spices steeped in sweet red wine. That sweetness tends to lean into fresh honey with a touch of caramel and maybe a little dark chocolate on the end. The taste holds onto the honeyed sweetness with burnt sugars, light cedar, chocolate tobacco leaves, and a hint of orange oils. That orange is what builds and powers the finish to its silken end, concluding with an orange-choco vibe and a very soft landing.

Bottom Line:

This is another masterclass in what great blending can do across state lines. The sip is an easy one that brings the depth you want from an almost old-school-tasting bourbon while still being fun to drink and mix.

89. Jefferson’s Ocean Aged At Sea Cask Strength

Castle Brands

ABV: 59.8%

Average Price: $102

The Whiskey:

Jefferson’s Ocean is an experiment in finishing that’s pretty unique. The blenders pull in six to eight-year-old whiskeys sourced from four Kentucky distilleries. They marry those barrels and then re-barrel the whiskey, load them onto a ship, and sail those barrels around the world for almost a year. The best of those barrels are married again and bottled at cask strength with no additional fussing.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a clear crème brûlée vibe on the nose with touches of orange zest, cinnamon toast, and slightly singed marshmallow. The taste dives into salted caramel notes with hints of Almond Joys covered in dark chocolate next to a savory fruit edge. That fruit turns figgy as the end fades slowly, hitting on spicy tobacco warmth and a final touch of fresh mint.

Bottom line:

When it comes to bourbons that have a “gimmick,” you can be forgiven for rolling your eyes or skipping to the next bottle. But this smashes all pre-conceptions about gimmicky aging by delivering a great sipping whiskey for under $100. This punches way above its weight class while maintaining a beautiful and unique drinking experience.

88. Redemption Cognac Cask Finish

Redemption Cognac Cask Finish
Deutsche Family Wine & Spirits

ABV: 49.5%

Average Price: $70

The Whiskey:

Master Blender Dave Carpenter built this small-batch bourbon off the back of barrels of very high-rye bourbon (60 percent corn, 36 percent rye, and four percent malted barley) from MGP of Indiana. Carpenter then moved that juice into Cognac barrels from Ferrand Cognac which held Cognac for 30 years. The bourbon spent 12 months finishing in those old-school barrels before vatting, proofing, and bottling.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a clear pecan pie vibe on the nose with a buttery crust, plenty of holiday spices, a touch of apricot, and a whisper of dried hibiscus petals. The palate takes the apricot and stews it with the spices to create a jammy compote next to an earthy and wet cellar beam dripping with cobwebs as the hibiscus brightens and leads towards a hint of raisin, prune, and white pepper. The mid-palate leans into that sweet dried fruit/peppery edge as the pecans return in a bowl of Caro syrup and dusted with nutmeg-heavy eggnog spices and a final flourish of that wet yet fruity wood.

Bottom Line:

This new release from Redemption feels perfect for the end of the year and all the feasting that comes along with it. It’s deeply flavored with that finishing barrel which ends up really amping up the holiday vibes. I’m looking forward to trying this in a nice eggnog soon.

87. Bardstown Discovery Series #6

Bardstown Discovery
Bardstown Bourbon Company

ABV: 55.55%

Average Price: $129

The Whiskey:

The lion’s share of this bourbon, 68 percent, is derived from an eleven-year-old Kentucky bourbon that’s made with 75 percent corn, 13 percent rye, and 12 percent malted barley. That’s batched with 16 percent from a 17-year-old Tennessee whiskey that’s made with 84 percent corn, eight percent rye, and eight percent malted barley. The final 16 percent is a seven-year Indian bourbon made with 75 percent corn, 21 percent rye, and four perfect malted barley.

Tasting Notes:

The age comes through with a big medley of dark cherries sitting in a big cedar bowl with a dark leather jacket imbued with decades of cigarette smoke and perfume next to a hint of dark chocolate orange balls. That orange and dark chocolate drive the taste as the dark cherry becomes brandy-soaked and the cedar feels more like an old cigar humidor full of cigars laced with vanilla, orange, cherry, and chocolate individually, creating a bigger whole on the palate. The finish takes its time as the tobacco spice and fruit slowly fade out, leaving you with a dry woody note and a touch of sweet and buttery toffee.

Bottom Line:

Bardstown is doing some of the most interesting blending (and contract distilling) in the game. Their Discovery series continues to wow this year with another homerun whiskey that feels as special as it tastes.

86. Balcones Texas Rye 100

Balcones Texas Rye
Balcones Distilling

ABV: 50%

Average Price: $40

The Whiskey:

This rye is Texas in a bottle. The expression is made of 100 percent rye from a mix of Elbon Rye sourced from Northwest Texas as well as crystal, chocolate, and roasted rye. The juice is then aged for just under two years in a hot Texas rickhouse and cut with Hill Country spring water and nothing else.

Tasting Notes:

Cherries dipped in chocolate support black tea bitterness, light oak char, and a rush of cracked black pepper. The pepper leads the way as the bitter chocolate leans into an oolong green tea vibe as the sip gains a creamy and buttery toffee taste. The sip then barrels towards its end with a flourish of roasted peanuts and more of that tea bitterness and a final hint of salted dark chocolate-covered raspberry.

Bottom Line:

This is so damn unique and delicious. Folks are (finally) starting to pick up on the greatness of this Texas Rye and you’re seeing it pop up more and more on “best” lists this year. As early Balcones adopters, we say it’s about time.

85. Maker’s Mark 101

Beam Suntory

ABV: 50.5%

Average Price: $42

The Whisky:

This is Maker’s Mark classic wheated bourbon that’s bottled at “a higher proof” to bring about a “richer flavor.” Well, that’s what the label says anyway. Beyond that, this was a “Traveler’s Exclusive” up until the pandemic. Now, you can find it on most shelves, making this one finally accessible to the masses. This is classic Maker’s that’s treated with a little less of that limestone water to let the barrel techniques shine a bit more while still holding onto the Maker’s vibe.

Tasting Notes:

This is a bowl of stewed apple over vanilla ice cream that’s been drizzled with extra caramel. The taste really focuses on that caramel, with hints of oak next to roasted almonds, cinnamon, nutmeg, dry wicker, and a drop of soft mineral water. The end lingers while it fades through salted caramel apples towards a mellow floral spiciness with a dried reed finish and a touch of vanilla tobacco chew.

Bottom Line:

Speaking of bottles I actually finish over the course of the year, I finished two of these since they hit the open market. This hits very classic “bourbon” notes with a real depth that just doesn’t end.

84. New Riff Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey Bottled-in-Bond

New Riff BiB Rye
New Riff

ABV: 50%

Average Price: $49

The Whiskey:

This whiskey is the famed 95 percent rye but made in Kentucky. The juice is aged for four years before it’s proofed with that soft Kentucky water and bottled without filtration.

Tasting Notes:

The nose draws you in with a balance between dry cedar, woody spices, and spicy root beer and soft dark berries, orange oils, vanilla pods, and a wisp of dried rose. The palate starts with a buttery toffee that’s spiked with cinnamon that then leads to more cedar and orange next to what feels like bubble gum. That mid-palate sweet note leads towards a deep and dark spice that’s warming but not hot. Finally, a dark cacao bitterness arrives and merges with the vanilla, toffee, berries, and orange oils for a slightly sweet finish that ends on a dry wicker note at the very end.

Bottom Line:

While this originally dropped in 2019, each year just seems to get better and better. This is a whiskey to keep coming back to every year, pouring over some rocks, and really seeing what’s buried deep inside.

83. Compass Box Glasgow Blend Scotch Whisky

Compass Box

ABV: 43%

Average Price: $38

The Whisky:

This expression is a marrying of whiskies from all over Scotland. 65 percent of the juice comes from single malts from a “distillery near the town of Aberlour,” Laphroaig, and Clynelish. The rest is part Highland malt blend (from the Glen Moray, Tomatin, and Balmenach distilleries) and a grain whisky from Cameronbridge distillery. Those whiskies were barreled in sherry and bourbon casks with a French oak barrel thrown in too.

Tasting Notes:

The nose draws you in with this subtle peaty malt that feels more kissed by a hint of smoke than drowned in it in a malting room. There’s also a light stewed stone fruit vibe in play — kind of like a prune sitting next to a nutmeg bulb. Going back to the nose, a very faint cherry arrives. The first sip is “malty scotch!” That then leads to dry straw, very mild plum, the memory of opening up a bag of charcoal, and almond shells. The taste really leans into the malts. But again, you don’t feel much smoke. Instead, you’re left with a slightly sweet straw and a buzzing maltiness that is more reminiscent of a cleaned-out fireplace than “smoke.”

Bottom Line:

This is a delightful dram that works neat, on the rocks, or as a cocktail base. It’s also one of those “ah-ha!” drams that’ll dial in your palate for great blends.

82. Johnnie Walker Black Label: The Jane Walker Edition

Jane Walker
Diageo

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $39

The Whisky:

Master Blender Emma Walker created this blend with Cardhu — a Speyside distillery — at its core. Cardhu was famously founded and run by another female pioneer in whisky, Elizabeth Cumming, back in the 1800s. The juice is a blend of malts that aged at least ten years from the Diageo stable of Scotch single malts.

Tasting Notes:

The sip has a nose with a clean maltiness next to raisins and peach juice with a hint of leather coming in late. The palate is light, almost airy, with stewed apples floating in rich cream next to a touch of milk chocolate. The finish has a very faint hint of Johnnie Walker peat next to dry reeds, more malts, and a bitter chocolate powder.

The Bottom Line:

This is another blended scotch that lives up to the hype and supports important women’s issues worldwide with every bottle sold.

81. Dettling Small Batch Six Grain Bourbon

Dettling 1867

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $40

The Whiskey:

This juice is a “field-to-glass” craft whiskey from a state that’d likely be a better spot to age rum than whiskey. The whiskey starts off with locally sourced corn that local chefs use in their cornbread. That’s supported by flaked rye, rolled oats, malted barley, and heavily roasted wheat alongside a sixth, undisclosed grain. That bourbon is then aged for two short years before it’s small batched and bottled at a very approachable 80 proof.

Tasting Notes:

That cornmeal comes through on the nose with a sense of candied orange, salted butter, and pancake syrup with a hint of brewer’s yeast. The taste holds onto the corn while that orange sweetens towards a touch of toffee before the mid-palate shifts towards bitter chocolate with a note of spicy black peppercorns. That dry pepper holds as a light dry herbal note lingers on the senses.

Bottom Line:

This bourbon from Alabama seemed to come out of nowhere this year and shook up the whole scene. It’s going to be very interesting to watch (and taste) where this bourbon goes. Until then, get in on the ground floor right here.

80. Stellum Bourbon

Stellum Bourbon

ABV: 57.49%

Average Price: $55

The Whiskey:

Stellum Bourbon is the new kid on the block. The juice in that bottle is a cask-strength blend of whiskeys from Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee. This whiskey is all about the blending process that Stellum employs to make this special and award-winning bourbon. It’s a delicate balance of mixing great whiskeys to make something better than the individual parts.

Tasting Notes:

The nose is a holiday cake with fatty nuts next to woody spice barks — think anise, clove, and cinnamon — with a nice dose of dried red fruits and honey-dipped over-ripe Granny Smith apples. The palate edges away from the spice towards a powdered sugar sweetness with a hint of dry vanilla. Then a counterpoint bursts onto the scene with a hit of spicy, dried chili pepper flakes next to blackberry pie with a nice dose of cinnamon and nutmeg. The end lingers for just the right amount of time as the spice fades back towards the honeyed sweetness and a final touch of vanilla tobacco buzz lands in the back of the throat.

Bottom Line:

This is another bourbon that seemed to come out of nowhere this year. The minimalist design and the Pappy bottles quietly gave us a classic mixing bourbon that, again, is really hard to find any issue with. It’s just damn good bourbon from a top-tier blender.

79. Yellowstone Limited Edition Bourbon 101

Yellowstone Limtied
Limestone Branch

ABV: 50.5%

Average Price: $115

The Whiskey:

This year’s drop from Stephen Beam’s Yellowstone line is a mix of seven-year-old and 15-year-old bourbons. The 15-year barrels are high-quality bourbons hand-selected by Beam. The seven-year barrels were finished by Beam in Amarone red wine casks before this batch was put together, proofed, and bottled.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a balance of dark stewed fruits — think holiday cake spices with dates, prunes, figs, and raisins — next to this bright burst of bright red berries with a slight tartness and powdered sugar sweetness swimming in vanilla cream with mild hints of old leather, dark cacao powder, and toffee lurking in the background. The palate really embraces that vanilla cream base while the berries go full dark and sweet cherry with more of that buttery toffee, dark cacao, and meaty fig adding a dark depth to the sip. The finish builds on the sweet and dark fruits of the mid-palate towards an end that’s full of bright cherry tobacco and small lines of cedar plank that’s lightly singed on the edges.

Bottom Line:

Stephen Beam is doing some amazing work out of a tiny distillery in rural Kentucky. This limited edition drop is the best example of how heritage, prowess, and crafty vibes combine to make one of the easiest sipping bourbons of the year.

78. Elijah Craig Barrel Proof

Heaven Hill

ABV: Varies

Average Price: $80

The Whiskey:

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof is all about finding the best barrels in the Heaven Hill warehouses and letting that whiskey shine on its own. These are released three times a year (we’re tasting the January 2021 release below) and the various expressions have been winning award after award. The whiskey in the bottle is generally at least 12 years old and bottled with no cutting down to proof or filtration whatsoever.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a real throughline of sunny berry brambles (blueberry, raspberry, and blackberry) next to orange oils and a touch of oakiness on the nose. That fruit and oak will carry through on the palate as hints of buttery toffee, rich vanilla, and peppery spice mingle on the tongue and set your lips abuzz. The end tends to be slow and velvety with the spice, fruit, oak, and vanilla all blending nicely until the very last.

Bottom Line:

This was my favorite of the three releases this year. Part of that may be due to just spending more time with this one. I mixed it into quite a few cocktails and really got to know it.

77. Wilderness Trail High Rye Bourbon

Wilderness Trail

ABV: 56%

Average Price: $86

The Whiskey:

Wilderness Trail is the whiskey nerd’s whiskey. Their High Rye Bourbon is a mash of 64 percent corn, 24 percent rye, and 12 percent barley grains that are fermented with a proprietary Wildness Trail yeast using the sweet mash process. The whiskey then spends four years and nine months aging before it’s bottled without any filtration and barely proofed.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a mild holiday cake vibe with brown spice, nuts, and dried fruit mingling with touches of oak, chocolate-covered berries, and biscuits. The taste becomes a sort of buttered-biscuit-smothered-with-berry-jam that’s been touched with spice as a note of sweetened vanilla lurks in the background. The end is long and leans back into the fruit as the vanilla and spice create a silken mouthfeel.

Bottom Line:

Every bar cart should have at least one Wilderness Trail on it. And I really got into mixing Manhattans and Sazeracs with this one this year. It’s a great, bold whiskey that truly shines when mixed.

76. Hudson Whiskey NY The xSeries: Cider Cask Rye

Hudson Cider Cask Finish
William Grant & Sons

ABV: 46%

Average Price: Distillery Only

The Whiskey:

This new entry in the xSeries from Hudson takes their standard rye and finishes it with some apple. The juice is loaded into apple-cider-cured barrels for a final maturation before batching, proofing, and bottling.

Tasting Notes:

This opens with a lovely and almost warm cinnamon-spiked apple cider next to apple blossoms, apple core, and then a rush of rye grains, rich caramel, fresh apricot, and hints of vanilla. The palate really delivers on the cinnamon sticks soaked in apple cider as the florals drive the taste towards a hint of clove, wet cedar, and chewy apple tobacco. The apricot sweetness pops in on the back end as the apple tobacco marries the hot cinnamon sticks on the almost dry and long finish.

Bottom Line:

It always amazes me how well apple and rye go together and that there’s not more of it. I wish there was more of this rye but it’s already gone for the year. We can only hope that Hudson brings it back next year because it’s delicious.

75. Mortlach Aged 13 Years, The Moonlit Beast

Mortlach 13
Diageo

ABV: 55.9%

Average Price: $160

The Whisky:

This year’s Mortlach leans into the “beast of Dufftown” moniker the brand has earned by being bold and unique. The whisky in the bottle is a spirit that spent 13 years aging in both refill bourbon casks and new oak. Those barrels were vatted to create this beast of a whisky and it was bottled at cask strength.

Tasting Notes:

This starts off very unexpectedly with a nose full of Thanksgiving dinner — the roasted turkey with sage, thyme, and rosemary leads towards a bowl of cranberry sauce cut with holiday spices and a touch of sweetness next to the bold tartness of the berries while candied fruits, floral honey, and varnished cedar round out the nose. The palate builds on that vibe and adds in a vanilla-chili note that attaches to a dry cedar box full of fruity and sticky tobacco. That spice really leans into freshly cracked black pepper as the fruitier notes from the nose return to mellow everything out on the long finish.

Bottom Line:

This Mortlach release is perfect for right now. Though I can’t see ever reaching for this outside of the holiday season as a warming sipper.

74. Woodinville PX Sherry Cask Finish Bourbon

Woodinville

ABV: 47.5%

Average Price: $70

The Whiskey:

This whiskey takes Woodinville’s signature (and much-lauded) five-year-old straight bourbon and gives it a new finishing touch. The juice is finished in Pedro Ximenez sherry casks, making a sort of sibling to our favorite bourbon of 2020, the Port Cask Finish. But while there are similarities between the two, this feels like a step up in many small, tough to define ways.

Tasting Notes:

The nose is a bouquet of dark spices next to dried orange rinds, soft Christmas cake, and a slight floral underpinning that’s damper than dried out. The taste embraces the holiday spice matrix with a creamy veneer of dark chocolate oranges, eggnog spice, and a velvety mouthfeel with a hint of orchard fruit and toffee drizzle. The finish is long but doesn’t overstay its welcome. There’s a sense of the woody spices that’s more akin to cinnamon sticks once stirred in hot apple cider, leaving you with a dry note of spicy tobacco.

Bottom Line:

This was love at the first nose (and sip). Unfortunately, this is only available at the distillery for now. Still, this is a great next step on anyone’s Woodinville bourbon journey while being a wonderful sipper all around.

73. Peerless Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Kentucky Peerless Distilling

ABV: 54.65%

Average Price: $75

The Whiskey:

Kentucky Peerless Distilling takes its time for a true grain-to-glass experience. Their Single Barrel Bourbon is crafted with a fairly low-rye mash bill and fermented with a sweet mash as opposed to a sour mash (that means they use 100 percent new grains, water, and yeast with each new batch instead of holding some of the mash over to start the next one like a sourdough starter, hence the name). The barrels are then hand-selected for their taste and bottled completely un-messed with.

Tasting Notes:

This is bold yet delicate, with a nose full of berry brambles hanging heavy with dark fruits with a touch of tart next to old leather, a spicy plum pudding, and a touch of old cedar. The palate takes that cedar and leans into the wet bark, as a moment of espresso bean bitterness leads into a mid-palate that’s the softest and moistest vanilla cake with poppy seeds. Those berries tumble onto the cake, now dusted with powdered sugar and ground cinnamon, as the finish slowly melts into pure silk.

Bottom Line:

Peerless’ Rye gets a lot of attention from the public while their bourbon tends to be a little overlooked. That’s a real shame, as this whiskey is pretty phenomenal. For a craft bourbon whiskey from Kentucky, this can easily stand next to the biggest names (and probably win a blind test or two against them).

72. Aberlour A’bunadh

Pernod Ricard

ABV: 56.2% (varies)

Average Price: $104

The Whisky:

A’bunadh (ah-boon-arh) means “the original” in Gaelic and the juice in this Highland bottle represents that for Aberlour. The whisky is matured in old Olorosso sherry casks exclusively. The juice then goes into the bottle at cask strength, unfussed with.

Tasting Notes:

That sherry plumminess is evident right up top, with hints of bright orange oils, clumps of dark chocolate, honey, and nuts, and a hint of oak. The taste shines with notes of dark, ripe cherries, prunes, more bright orange zest, dark chocolate, and a good measure of svelte vanilla. The slow finish leaves you with a creamy mouthfeel next to bitter chocolate next to sweet cherries and plums, all of which lead towards a warming spice on the tongue at the end.

Bottom Line:

This juice is just phenomenal. Each year, I fall more and more in love with this whisky, and 2021 was no different. I’d also argue this is the perfect whisky gift bottle.

71. Knob Creek 12

Beam Suntory

ABV: 50%

Average Price: $60

The Whiskey:

This is classic Beam whiskey with a low-ish rye mash bill of 77 percent corn, 13 percent rye, and ten percent malted barley. The juice is then left alone in the Beam warehouses for 12 long years. The barrels are chosen according to a specific taste and married to create this high-proof expression.

Tasting Notes:

You’re greeted with that classic Beam cherry that has dark chocolate and brandy candy depth alongside clear Christmas spices next to a hint of menthol tobacco. The spirit carries on those paths as it layers in buttery and sugary streusel over tart berries with plenty of that spice next to a nice dose of salted caramels covered in a bit of bitter dark chocolate. The finish is spicy and sweet and fades gradually.

Bottom Line:

This is one of those bourbons that seems to get better with each passing year. The new bottle design this year helped add to the aesthetic pleasantness of the bourbon for sure. But the bourbon in that bottle is what really shined as a great day-to-day sipper.

70. Blue Run Golden Rye

Blue Run Spirits, LLC

ABV: 47.5%

Average Price: $130

The Whiskey:

This whiskey is a sourced Kentucky rye from an undisclosed distillery or distilleries. The batch is a small outing of only 91 barrels that have been vatted and then proofed with that soft Kentucky limestone water before bottling.

Tasting Notes:

This is like thick challah French toast with just the right balance of yolky custard, nutmeg, and cinnamon with a touch of vanilla oils and a hint of soft, worn leather on the nose. That vanilla turns into a thick eggnog pudding with a slight wet straw funk and black-tea-soaked dates with a touch more cinnamon. The mid-palate reembraces the leather with a dried tobacco whisper next to a light grainy warmth and a super soft minerality.

Bottom Line:

This wows everyone I pour this for. And it didn’t even make the top ten this year. That’s how hard the rest of this list goes.

69. E.H. Taylor, Jr. Barrel Proof

Sazerac Company

ABV: Varies

Average Price: $200

The Whiskey:

This much-lauded and beloved bottle from Buffalo Trace is classic whiskey making. The spirit is from Buffalo Trace’s low-rye mash bill. The juice is then aged in warehouses built by the Colonel over 100 years ago. Each year, the best barrels are selected yearly for batching and bottling with no fussing whatsoever.

Tasting Notes:

The sip draws you in with a spicy berry jam next to a perfumed note (kind of like wet potpourri) and buttery toffee sweetness. The taste, on the other hand, leans into vanilla oils, dry cedar, and a dusting of white pepper that leads back to the spice without the jam. The end is kind of long and really smoothes out, thanks to the vanilla and toffee as the peppery spice builds towards a tobacco-filled cedar box and a very distant hint of fresh mint.

Bottom Line:

I really can’t find any faults in this bourbon. It’s very distinct yet welcoming. This is one of those whiskeys where you’ll likely say “Ah, I get it now…” when drinking it.

68. The Dalmore 18

Whyte & Mackay

ABV: 43%

Average Price: $246

The Whisky:

This is more than just an 18-year-old whisky. The juice in this case spent 14 years maturing in ex-bourbon casks. Then the whisky was filled into Matusalem sherry casks that held sherry for 30 (!) years for four more years of maturation. The casks, from Bodega González-Byass, are exceedingly rare and impart something truly unique into this whisky.

Tasting Notes:

Dried roses meet your nose as orange-zest bespeckled dark chocolate dances with hints of old book leather, vanilla husks, and sultanas. The taste holds onto the orange and chocolate tightly as a nutty, peppery, syrupy vibe takes over with a light touch of oakiness. The chocolate zeroes in its bitter qualities on the end, with a little bit more vanilla sweetness and a savory counterpoint that’s kind of like saline (or wet salt).

Bottom Line:

This is just one of those old-school whiskies that never ceases to wow. It’s really hard to find a single fault in this bottle.

67. Russell’s Reserve 13

Russell's Reserve 13
Campari Group

ABV: 55%

Average Price: $300

The Whiskey:

This whiskey was made by Master Distiller Eddie Russell to celebrate his 40th year distilling whiskey with his dad, Jimmy Russell. The juice is a collection of a minimum of 13-year-old barrels that Eddie Russell hand-picked. Those barrels were married and then bottles as-is with no proofing or filtration.

Tasting Notes:

Sweet and dried fruits invite you in the nose as a touch of Black Forest cake mingles with mild holiday spices. That dark chocolate and cherry fruit drive the palate as a hint of charred cedar leads towards vanilla tobacco with more of that dark chocolate and a small touch of honey. That honey leads back to the warmth and spice with a whisper of smoke lurking on the very backend with more bitter chocolate, buttery vanilla, and dark cherry.

Bottom Line:

This was a fleeting release this summer. Now, it’s more of a collector’s item. That’s a shame because this is a hell of a sipper and more folks should be able to get their hands on this one.

66. Bruichladdich Port Charlotte 10

Rémy Cointreau

ABV: 50%

Average Price: $70

The Whisky:

Bruichladdich really has fun with peated whisky. This expression keeps the peat phenols in the mid-range, leaning high. The casking is a mix of first and second-fill bourbon barrels and second-fill French wine barrels. That utilization of second-fill oak means there’s a very light touch of wood on this peated whisky.

Tasting Notes:

Imagine a dark chocolate orange drizzled in salted caramel and served on a wet leaf of seaweed and you’ll be on the right track for the nose. The smoke kicks in on the palate with a vibe that feels like those wet seaweed leaves thrown on a smoldering pile of pine to create a massive billow of smoke everywhere, as hints of buttery white wine and strawberry jam-covered scones linger in the background. The finish leans into the bready nature of the scones with a dry straw edge that’s followed by a mouthful of the seaweed heavy grey smoke.

Bottom Line:

While this isn’t exactly for my palate, I respect the hell out of it. It’s complex, engaging, and really embraces the depth of Islay peat. Give it a shot, you might become enamored.

65. Old Forester Single Barrel Rye

Old Forester Single Barrel Rye
Brown-Forman

ABV: 61.5% (varies)

Average Price: $300

The Whisky:

This new release from Old Forester is their signature rye in a single barrel format. It’s bottled without any filtration or cutting with water.

Tasting Note:

The lemon really shines on the nose to the point that it turns into a pudding with hints of burnt sugar and salted caramel backing it up. The palate takes a bunch of cinnamon sticks and soaks them in apple, cherry, and plum juice then dries them out while hazelnut builds to an almost Nutella level, and that dried dill just sneaks in. The mid-palate really leans into the cinnamon and hazelnut until bold cinnamon attaches to a dry cedar box for very dry and peppery tobacco that’s just touched with mint.

Bottom Line:

This one really leans into the beauty of Old Forester’s vibe while still bringing some deeply unique flavors forward.

64. The Balvenie DoubleWood Aged 17 Years

William Grant & Sons

ABV: 43%

Average Price: $155

The Whisky:

The Balvenie continually hits it out of the park with their lineup. This expression spends 17 long years maturing in old American oak before it’s transferred to old sherry casks for about a year more of maturation. The results are then proofed with that soft Speyside water and bottled in the brand’s iconic, stubby bottle.

Tasting Notes:

You’re greeted with a clear sense of Granny Smith apple peels that are still fresh, next to oily vanilla, fresh honey, and a slight touch of cedar. The taste indulges in the vanilla, creating a creaminess, while a deep Christmas cake vibe of dried and candied fruits, almonds, dark spice, and orange arrives. The end is long and luxurious with more of that spicy, nutty, and fruity holiday cake dancing through your senses on the slow fade.

Bottom Line:

This is an unparalleled single malt. It hits every note so clearly while building to a big yet comforting finish. It’s also the perfect post-holiday-dinner dram.

63. Garrison Brothers Balmorhea

Garrison Brothers

ABV: 57.5%

Average Price: $200

The Whiskey:

This much-lauded Texas bourbon is the highwater mark of what great whiskey from Texas can be. The juice is aged in Ozark oak for four years and then finished in oak from Minnesota for another year, all under that blazing West Texas sunshine. The bourbon is then small-batched, proofed with Texas spring water, and bottled at a healthy 115 proof.

Tasting Notes:

You’re greeted with a real sense of a corn-syrup-laced pecan pie next to hazelnut bespeckled cinnamon rolls and creamy milk chocolate. That chocolate drives the taste towards a mint-chocolate ice cream vibe (heavy on the chocolate part) with small dashes of holiday spices, hard toffee candies, worn leather, and a flourish of cedar boxes full of dried tobacco leaves. The end circles back around to all that sweet and chocolatey creaminess with a final slice of pecan pie on a slow fade.

Bottom Line:

I struggled with which Garrison Brothers was going on this list. And while I dig the Cowboy Bourbon and Guadalupe, this is the one that stuck out in my mind for a heavy-duty yet accessible flavor profile that whisked me back to the dry grass plains of Texas. You’re definitely going to want to pour this one over some rocks though.

62. Talisker Aged 8 Years, The Rogue Seafury

Talisker 8
Diageo

ABV: 59.7%

Average Price: $120

The Whisky:

This year’s Talisker sticks with the classic age statement of 8-years while leaning into the smokier side of the Island whisky. The build on this expression is a marrying of the “Smokiest Reserves” from the Talisker warehouse. That juice is vatted and bottled at cask strength.

Tasting Notes:

You get this medley of smoked fruits on the nose — think smoked plum and apricot — that leads towards a rush of sea spray, iodine, and nori that braces your senses for this billow of wet forest and granite on fire like a mountain overlooking the ocean that’s been set ablaze. The palate calms down only slightly with a pink sea salt that’s been accented with dried roses while that smoke puffs through your sense with a green pepper spiciness and an almost sweet, wet fir tree bark with an earthy edge that almost feels like damp black dirt. That earthiness imparts a soft peatiness to the malt on the end with a slight tobacco chewiness followed by a final kick of spicy smoke.

Bottom Line:

This just goes to show you how much difference a year can make in Scotch whisky. Last year, Talisker 8 Special Editon was my favorite overall Scotch dram of 2020. This year, it didn’t hit those highs. And this is still a steller whisky, don’t get me wrong.

61. Highland Park Cask Strength Release No. 2

The Edrington Group

ABV: 63.3%

Average Price: $105

The Whisky:

This yearly drop is part of a new line from the Orkney Island’s distillery. The juice is a blend of single malts that are aged exclusively in old American oak that previously held sherry. The barrels are married and bottled as is, to assure you’re getting all the nuance and flavor of their malts meeting that oak.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a light sense of wildflowers on the nose with a rich vanilla husk that leads towards a touch of peat. The taste is surprisingly silken (for a cask strength) with rich and buttery toffee next to honeysuckle, eggnog spices and creaminess, and a small dose of orange zest as a counterpoint. The end holds onto the creaminess and spices as the peat just edges in with a whisper of resinous pine smoke.

Bottom Line:

This late-summer drop continued Highland Park’s excellent cask strength journey. This Viking-inspired whisky feels like the perfect balance of sweet and peated malts. Make sure to add a little water to let the citrus, spice, and fruit really shine through the smoke and you’ll see what I mean.

60. Widow Jane Oak & Apple Wood Aged Rye Whiskey

Widow Jane Oak & Applewood Finish
Widow Jane

ABV: 45.5%

Average Price: $50

The Whiskey:

This is Widow Jane’s beloved rye that’s finished very uniquely. The rye is loaded into ten-year-old ex-bourbon barrels and then new oak and applewood staves are put right into the whiskey for the final maturation. That’s then vatted, proofed with Widow Jane’s very own mineral water, and bottled.

Tasting Notes:

Apple shines through on the nose with a medley of apple blossoms, unfiltered apple cider, and almost chewy apple tobacco (think shisha tobacco). The palate stews apples in dark holiday spices and saffron as orange oils create a bright counterpoint and the rye sneaks in a very faint smoked grass vibe. Those stewed apples lean into the warmth of the spices a hint of dark chocolate dances with dark licorice root on the slow fade.

Bottom Line:

Apple and rye are meant to be together — this year convinced me of that. This whiskey is just goddamn phenomenal, so easy to drink, and feels like the perfect winter sipper. Those are all wins.

59. Cascade Moon Edition No. 2

George Dickel

ABV: 45%

Average Price: $250

The Whiskey:

Cascade Moon Edition No. 2 was created by Dickel’s master distiller, Nicole Austin, to highlight the depths that Cascade Hollow can reach. The juice in the bottle is a small batch of 20 barrels that were laid down back in 2003. Austin used those barrels to highlight the 150-year history of Dickel in each sip with a unique and classic Tennessee whiskey (remember: all Tennessee whiskey is, by its very nature, bourbon).

Tasting Notes:

Classic is the best way to describe this one. There’s a clear balance of toasted wood next to oily vanilla pods with a counterpoint of red berry brambles and a very bespoke Almond Joy. The palate delivers on those berries and choco-coconut vibes while layering in dry moss and a soft Tennessee mineral water mouthfeel next to cinnamon sticks steeped in maple syrup. The finish sweetens a bit with a touch of coffee bitterness all leading back to a pile of dry firewood and woody spice.

Bottom Line:

This is one of those bottles you’re never going to see again. That makes it a special one to snag just to hold onto. Better yet, crack it open and try what’s in the bottle to get a handle on how deeply Austin is shaking things up over at Dickel these days.

58. Willett Family Estate Bottled Rye 4 Year

Willett 4 year Rye
Kentucky Bourbon Distillers

ABV: 55%

Average Price: $70

The Whiskey:

This fleeting whiskey from Willett is a fascinating rye. The whiskey is a blend of Willet’s high rye mash bill of 74 percent rye, 15 percent malted barley, and eleven percent corn with their low rye mash of 51 percent rye, 34 percent corn, and 15 percent malted barley. That juice is then aged for four years before blending and bottling at cask strength.

Tasting Notes:

This opens with a rush of florals from an apple orchard that leads towards apple and caramel and a hint of buttered popcorn, dry oak, and fresh honey on the nose. The palate luxuriates in stewed and syrupy cherry with plenty of holiday spice and vanilla cream. That spice leads the mid-palate towards a finish full of menthol tobacco, anise, more caramel, and a final hint of Tellicherry black peppercorns in an old cedar box.

Bottom Line:

I snagged a bottle of this this year and it was great as ever. It’s a killer whiskey that works wonders in a Manhattan.

57. Wild Turkey Rare Breed Barrel Proof Rye

Wild Turkey

ABV: 56.1% (varies)

Average Price: $65

The Whiskey:

This rye is a blend of the best of the best barrels in the Wild Turkey rickhouses. The juice is chosen from four, six, and eight-year-old barrels and blended, then bottled. There’s no chill filtration to clean up the look and there’s no water added to cut it down to proof. This is pure rye in a bottle.

Tasting Notes:

This is a masterclass in what rye spice can be with notes of black pepper and Christmas spices counterpointed by pine resin dank and almost sweet root beer. The palate brings about a velvet texture with notes of vanilla and dark chocolate cake when water is added. There’s a balance of all that spice, wood, resin, and subtle fruitiness that lasts on your tongue and senses for a while, drawing you back for more.

Bottom Line:

This is another one where I tried the 2020 edition against this year’s and I’m not sure that it’s better. What I am sure of is that it is still spectacular.

56. Barrell Seagrass Rye

Barrell Seagrass
Barrell Spirits Company

ABV: 59.2%

Average Price: $86

The Whiskey:

The juice in this limited edition bottle is a combination of rye whiskeys from Indiana, Tennessee, and Canada. Those whiskeys were aged in Martinique rhum, rhum agricole, apricot brandy, and Madeira casks before vatting at Barrell in Kentucky. The idea was to harness the flavors of wood that aged juice next to the sea to bring that coastal x-factor into the blending process for this rye whiskey.

Tasting Notes:

The nose presents a balance of sweetness and warmth that leads towards apple and cherry candies, Werther’s Originals, bruised peaches, and a lightly dried rose potpourri in a soft leather pouch. The taste opens with a slight touch of that peach followed by pears and savory melon while a hint of bitter grapefruit arrives on the mid-palate with a note of cinnamon, fennel, and green (almost oily) thyme. There’s a return of the pear sweetness on the backend of the taste but you have to hack through a very warm, dry, and almost chewy woody spice nature. The very end of the slow finish has this almost white grape soda vibe with a hint of cream soda (and maybe a touch of root beer), apple cores with the stem and seeds, and … overused sandpaper.

Bottom Line:

This rye came out of nowhere this year and blew the competition out of the water. It’s one of the most interesting sippers on this list and, again, there’s nothing quite like it (in the best way possible).

55. Cragganmore Distillers Edition

Diageo

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $85

The Whisky:

Cragganmore is an iconic Scottish distillery. The whisky is matured in sherry casks for 12 years. It’s then transferred into American oak casks that held port for a final maturation phase before proofing and bottling.

Tasting Notes:

Fennel leads to some dried fruits and fresh apples on the nose. The taste, on the other hand, leans into sweet oak, figs, pear candies, and a softness that’s almost hard to believe. The end is full of sweet fruits and has just the right touches of oak, vanilla, and savory greens as it fades at a good clip.

Bottom Line:

These Distillers Editions just dropped (and were overshadowed by the Diageo Special Releases drops) so I’m still getting to know them. Still, this is my favorite hidden gem release of the year. It’s so unique and truly delicious.

54. 2021 Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch

Four Roses 2021 LE
Four Roses

ABV: 57.2%

Average Price: $150 (Lottery Only)

The Whiskey:

This year’s LE Small Batch is a blend of four bourbons. Four Roses is renowned for its ten distinct recipes with two mash bills and five yeast strains. This whiskey marries four of those recipes with two from Mash B (very high rye) and two from Mash Bill E (high rye). The yeasts at play are “delicate fruit,” “spice essence,” and “floral essence.” The barrels ranged from 12 to 16 years old, making this a fairly old bourbon, all things considered.

Tasting Notes:

The nose has a mix of honey next to buttery biscuits, rich vanilla, a touch of tart red berries, dry cedar, and a very faint hint of dry mint. The palate dives into a dark plum jam with a spicy edge of allspice and nutmeg. That fruit gives way to a spritz of orange oils next to a light touch of dark chocolate on the mid-palate that leads to a rich finish. That finish leaves you with warming spice, more of that orange/choco vibe, and another mild hint of green, dry mint.

Bottom Line:

This year’s LE release was a great reminder of wonderful bourbons coming out of Four Roses. I fully admit that I don’t always reach for this brand but this bottle made me want to more. It’s delicious and really feels … bespoke. You can tell you’re drinking something special with every sip.

53. Ardbeg Traigh Bhan 19 Year Batch 3

Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy

ABV: 46.2%

Average Price: $360

The Whisky:

This is Ardbeg’s yearly release of special batches of 19-year-old peaty malt. The whisky is Ardbeg’s signature peated whisky that’s bottled during a “haar.” That’s a thick and briny foggy morning on Islay, which imparts that x-factor into the whisky as it goes into the bottle.

Tasting Notes:

You’re drawn in with a super subtle waft of soft smoke with hints of sour cream, fennel, and cold-smoked salmon on a pine cutting board that’s been washed in the sea. The palate holds onto that briny seaside vibe as it veers towards sea salt-laden dark bricks of fudge bespeckled with dried orange zest and lavender. The end circles back around to a sooty smoke that feels like a warm granite rock that’s been dipped in the sea and then rolled around in the dying embers of a fire.

Bottom Line:

This year’s Traigh Bhan was stellar. This was subtle and funky enough that it really entranced me. Please, don’t take the peatiness as a sign that you won’t like it. Give it a shot, you might be surprised.

52. Bomberger’s Declaration 2021

Michters Distillery

ABV: 54%

Average Price: $90

The Whiskey:

This whiskey heralds back to Michter’s historical roots in the 19th century before the brand was even called “Michter’s.” The juice on the bottle is rendered from a very small batch of bourbons that were aged in Chinquapin oak which was air-dried for three years before charring and filling.

Tasting Notes:

The nose opens with this rich and meaty plum presence next to a hint of buttery toffee and creamy vanilla with a touch of wood lurking in the background. The palate goes full crème brûlée with sticky burnt sugar over the top and a slight touch of allspice and nutmeg next to a dark cacao powder dryness with a touch of smoke salt and light, dry cedar. The mid-palate leans back into the dark stone fruit and sweetness as it only slightly dries out.

Bottom Line:

This is always a pleasant surprise whenever I get to drink it. It’s one of those bourbons that I wish more people knew about and had a chance to try.

51. Booker’s Bourbon 2021 Batch 3, “Bardstown Batch”

Booker's Bardstown Batch
Beam Suntory

ABV: 62.75%

Average Price: $90

The Whiskey:

The whiskey in the bottle is the classic Jim Beam mash bill of 77 percent corn, 13 percent rye, and ten percent malted barley. The barrels were aged for exactly six years and five months before the juice went into the bottle untouched at cask strength.

Tasting Notes:

“Classic” would be the best descriptor of the nose. It’s full of old cherry, dry leather, vanilla-laced tobacco leaves, rich caramel that’s almost chewy, and maybe a touch of sassafras that’s just leaning into root beer territory. A cherry sasparilla maybe? The taste veers away from that with deeply stewed apples that are almost a warm apple sauce with cinnamon, clove, and allspice kicking up some heat as minor notes of marzipan, cornmeal, and cacao lurk far in the background. The mid-palate explodes with heat that then mellows pretty quickly as the finish leans into creamy vanilla pudding spiked with cloves, leather, and a wet cedar vibe with mild cherry tobacco.

Bottom Line:

Sipping this bourbon is like coming home after getting stuck in a storm. It’s comforting but really deep and worn — kind of like wrapping up in an old blanket next to a wood stove.

50. Jack Daniel’s 10

Jack Daniel's 10
Brown-Forman

ABV: 48.5%

Average Price: $195

The Whiskey:

This brand new age statement released from Jack Daniel’s feels like a throwback to a bygone era in Tennessee Whiskey. The whiskey is aged for at least ten years. During that time, the barrels spend time in the “Buzzard’s Roost” at the top of the rickhouse. Once they hit the right flavor profile, those barrels are moved to the bottom floors of other warehouses to slow the aging down. Finally, the whiskey is vatted, proofed, and bottled.

Tasting Notes:

This opens with a rich matrix of cherry syrup, apple cores, sticky toffee, vanilla ice cream, and a thin line of wet and sweet wood. The palate opens up towards the dark fruit but dries it out and married it to a sticky and spicy tobacco leaf while toasted cedar soaked in salted caramel vibes with dry corn husks that are just singed. The finish really takes its time as the cherry attaches to an old cinnamon stick and the tobacco takes on a sticky chewiness with a mild savory fruit edge.

Bottom Line:

I’m on the record as being a big Jack Daniel’s fan. This is Jack that has an extra layer of refinement while still feeling familiar and welcoming. It’s almost refreshing while still delivering on some deeply built “Jack” flavors.

49. Old Forester The 117 Series High Angels’ Share

Old Forester 117
Brown-Forman

ABV: 55%

Average Price: Sold Out

The Whiskey:

Old Forester’s Master Taster Jackie Zykan released this new line from the iconic brand last spring. The whiskey is a blend of barrels that all lost a lot of juice to evaporation (or the angel’s). Those barrels were then vatted and just proofed to 110 before bottling in half-bottles.

Tasting Notes:

A dark and deep spice layer draws you in with that classic Old Foresters vibe of tart red berries, coconut cream pie, and plenty of wet brown sugar on the nose. The palate leans into the dessert vibes as the berries turn into a sweet blueberries pie with a touch of cinnamon and nutmeg next to dry cedar and anise. The finish really takes its time as the thick juice coats your mouth, leaving you with hints of spicy absinthe, cherry tobacco, and dark roasted coffee beans.

Bottom Line:

This was a hell of a first drop from Zykan. The whiskey is so deeply hewn that you’ll definitely need a rock to open it up. But once you start digging around in the nose and taste, you won’t want to stop.

48. Belle Meade Bourbon Honey Cask Finish

Belle Meade Bourbon Honey Cask Finish
Nelsons Green Brier

ABV: 53%

Average Price: Distillery Lottery Only

The Whiskey:

This whiskey starts off by seasoning used whiskey barrels (from Nelson’s Green Brier’s warehouse) with honey. The distillery sends their barrels to TruBee Honey Farm in Arrington, Tennessee where the barrels are filled with wildflower honey. After the honey has finished its rest, the barrels are emptied and sent back to Nashville. Once they arrive at Nelson’s, they’re filled with Belle Meade’s award-winning bourbon for a six to eight-month rest where the honey makes its mark on the whiskey.

Tasting Notes:

The floral honey notes from that honey really shine through on the nose. It’s supported by a slight woody yet sharp cinnamon that’s been stored in a cedar box with a hint of green tea lurking underneath that floral honey. The palate pushes the cinnamon to the foreground as a light touch of fresh brioche with butter and orange marmalade mingles with soft toffee and almost sticky honey cream, which creates a velvety mouthfeel. That honey and cinnamon combine on the mid-palate and lead towards a light note of vanilla pods and almond butter on the super-soft finish.

Bottom Line:

Once you get a taste of this, it’s really easy to see why so many folks clamor for it. It’s like what we all wish flavored whiskey actually tasted like. It’s clearly bourbon that’s just touched with real honey that accents and builds instead of takes over with an overly saccharine idea of honey. It’s delicious, subtle, and very drinkable.

47. High West A Midwinter Night’s Dram

High West Distillery

ABV: 49.3%

Average Price: $130

The Whiskey:

Each year, this limited drop varies slightly. This release was a mix of MGP rye (95 percent rye) and High West rye (100 percent rye) finished in French oak barrels that held ruby and tawny port. The barrels picked for this batch were between four and seven years old with the older barrels coming from Indiana and the younger ones from Utah.

Tasting Notes:

This bursts forth with bright red berries covered in rich and bitter dark chocolate with sultanas, burnt orange peels, and nutmeg-heavy French toast custard. The palate really holds onto the berries while savory rhubarb cobbler mingles with dates, old leather tobacco pouches, and vanilla pudding with a salted caramel drizzle. The end leans into eggnog spices with a touch of bitter black tea, more leathery tobacco, and a whisper of fresh mint.

Bottom Line:

This is High West’s highwater mark. This yearly drop is much anticipated and this year’s release was a great all-around whiskey. It’s also really built to be a great winter rye. That aside, this is the good stuff and worth the hunt to find.

46. Waterford Dunmore 1.1

Waterford Dunmore
Waterford

ABV: 50%

Average Price: $104

The Whiskey:

Waterford might be the most interesting whiskey maker in the world right now. The crux of this distillery is in the barley. The short version of the story is that Waterford sources barley from just over 40 farms across Ireland and then makes a single estate whiskey from each to, highlight how massively important terroir is to whiskey.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a subtle balance of bitter yet bright grapefruit pith next to a light smear of vanilla frosting. The palate has this waxy apple saltwater taffy vibe with a touch of dried roses, some honey-candied pecans, and cinnamon and clove stewed pears. The mid-palate leans into the fruit and nuts with an almost zucchini bread body, plenty of spice, more nuts, and a good measure of sweetness.

Bottom Line:

This is a great place to start your journey with the Waterford line. It’ll be wild how different the next whiskey you try from them will be — especially when you remember that it has only one variable: The source of the barley.

45. Laphroaig Càirdeas 2021

Laphroaig Cairnes
Beam Suntory

ABV: 58.9%

Average Price: $120

The Whisky:

Laphroaig is always innovating its line. This year’s Càirdeas is a triple matured cask strength whisky. The whisky first mellowed in ex-bourbon casks before being moved to quarter casks and, finally, finished in Pedro Ximénez sherry casks. That whisky was then bottled as-is.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a lot going on with this nose from a starting point of fresh Band-Aids to rich marzipan with plenty of rose water to apples stewed in holiday spices with hazelnut and caramel to a light touch of bourbon vanilla and maybe a hint of cherry tobacco. The palate takes that Band-Aid and turns it toward a sharp but very fatty smoked bacon vibe while a medley of smoke apples, salted licorice, and eggnog spices mingle beneath that bacon. The mid-palate leans into a very dry cedar as notes of nori, fennel, and sharper brown spices, almost Red Hots, warm the backend of the finish.

Bottom Line:

This is a big and very bold smoke monster. Still, that bacon fat, fruit, and botanical nature help make this bottle shine. Again, this isn’t exactly for me and my palate but I respect the hell out of it.

44. George Dickel x Leopold Bros Collaboration Blend

Dickel Collab
Diageo

ABV: 50%

Average Price: $110

The Whiskey:

The blend is built from four-year-old rye made in Denver at Leopold’s distillery. The rye is their Three Chamber Rye. The mash bill is 80 percent Abruzzi Rye and 20 percent Leopold Floor Malt. That’s blended with George Dickel’s un-released new column still rye, which is a 95 percent rye cut with five percent malted barley.

Tasting Notes:

The nose on this rings like crafty rye with clear notes of bright florals (think lavender and orange blossom) next to an almost woody touch of maple syrup straight from the treetap with a very mild dusting of dark cacao powder and soft leather that really draws you in. The palate delivers on the promise of the nose, with touches of holiday-spiced orange oils and rosewater leading towards light marzipan next to a prickly bramble of berry bushes hanging heavy with dark, sweet, and slightly tart fruit. The florals come in again with lavender leading the way but this time it’s tied to salted caramel-covered dates with little specks of the dried flowers decorating the sweet confection. The mid-palate holds onto the sweet and meaty date while bitter yet floral Earl Grey tea with a healthy dollop of fresh honey leads towards a finish full of more of that powdery dark cacao just touched by dry chili flakes, adding a slight embrace of warmth to the very backend.

Bottom Line:

There’s nothing out there like this whiskey. It has a great story. It’s one-of-a-kind. And it was made by people who care deeply about whiskey. If you can find this, grab as many as you can as this may never be made again.

43. Remus Repeal Reserve Series V Straight Bourbon

Luxco

ABV: 50%

Average Price: $94

The Whiskey:

This year’s Remus Repeal Reserve V is a hell of a whiskey. The MGP of Indiana (now Ross & Squibb) signature bourbon is comprised of nine percent 2005 bourbon with a 21 percent high-rye mash, five percent 2006 bourbon with a very high-rye mash of 36 percent of the sticky grain, 19 percent 2006 bourbon with the same 21 percent high-rye mash, 13 percent 2008 bourbon with that 21 percent rye mash, and 54 percent 2008 bourbon with the 36 percent high-rye mash.

Tasting Notes:

The nose on this is brilliantly fruity with touches of fresh raspberries, strawberries resting in dry straw, candied cherries, freshly peeled mandarins, apple cores and stems, and a touch of caramel malts. That caramel sweetness merges into a fresh honeycomb next to Dr. Brown’s Cream Soda vanilla flavor and pep while the fruit dries out, leaving you with meaty dried figs, dates, and prunes driving the midpalate toward the finish. A touch of candied ginger spices things up as a fruity but dry tobacco leaf rounds out the end with the faintest touch of walnut shells.

Bottom Line:

There was a minute there where this could have reached much higher on this list. It’s really that good. Grab a bottle and try for yourself.

42. Woodinville 100% Rye Whiskey Finished With Toasted Applewood Staves

Woodinville 100% Rye Applewood
Woodinville

ABV: 50%

Average Price: $70

The Whiskey:

Woodinville’s 100% Rye is a multi-award-winning whiskey. A couple of years ago, they created this distillery-only expression of that rye that celebrates Washington state’s biggest crop: Apples. They added toasted applewood staves into the finishing barrels and just let it rest until it was just right. That whiskey was then vatted, proofed, and bottled for the distillery store.

Tasting Notes:

The whiskey opens with a medley of dark berries, tart and sweet apples, kiwi, and the dry staves of a thin wooden gift basket. Hints of cloves spiked into orange peels drive the palate as a dusting of white pepper leads towards a moist apple pipe tobacco that smoothes out with a hint of vanilla cream pie with a lard-infused crust. The mid-palate lets that vanilla cream settles as the apple tobacco spices up towards a warming finish that settles into tart apples dripping in sweet caramel with a buttery base and a small flake of finishing salt.

Bottom Line:

This isn’t being made anymore and that’s a shame. If you do find a bottle on the secondary market, snatch it up. It’ll be the best rye you drink in a long while.

41. Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit Single Barrel

Wild Turkey

ABV: 50.5%

Average Price: $60

The Whiskey:

Jimmy Russell hand selects eight to nine-year-old barrels from his warehouses for their individual taste and quality. Those barrels are then cut down ever-so-slightly to 101 proof and bottled with their barrel number and warehouse location.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a roundness to this sip that’s enticing. The nose is a classic mix of bold vanilla, baking spice, oak, and fruity sweetness. That fruit edges towards dark berries with notes of worn leather, aged oakiness, and a sweet and rose-water-forward marzipan nuttiness shining through. The end lasts a while on your palate and in your senses, leaving you warmed up and wanting more.

Bottom Line:

The last few years, Rare Breed from Wild Turkey has all anyone in bourbon seems to talk about. That’s great. But this expression really is something special. It’s Wild Turkey with no flaws. It’s also a single barrel you can actually still find.

40. Michter’s Single Barrel Bourbon 10 Years Old

Screen-Shot-2021-09-28-at-9.29.39-AM.jpg
Michters Distilling

ABV: 47.2%

Average Price: $200

The Whiskey:

The juice in this bottle is a little under wraps. Michter’s is currently distilling and aging their own whiskey, but this is still sourced. The actual barrels sourced for these single barrel expressions tend to be at least ten years old with some rumored to be closer to 15 years old. Either way, the juice goes through Michter’s bespoke filtration process before a touch of Kentucky’s iconic soft limestone water is added, bringing the bourbon down to a very crushable 94.4 proof.

Tasting Notes:

The nose opens with subtle notes of soft wood and worn leather next to light touches of dark berries, orange oils, egg nog spice, and slight toffee sweetness. The palate starts off equally soft with something more akin to maple syrup sweetness which then leads into a rush of berry brambles. The mid-palate hits on a bit of dark spice, vanilla tobacco, and dark cacao bitterness. The finish leans into a dry-yet-almost-sweet oak with a touch of an almond shell and dry grass coming in at the very end.

Bottom Line:

The real beauty is in the softness of the taste. There are no rough edges whatsoever and the whole sipping experience is like a silken dream. This is the epitome of a slow-sipping bourbon with real depth.

39. Jack Daniels’ Single Barrel Rye

Jack Daniel

ABV: 45%

Average Price: $55

The Whiskey:

This expression is the same process as Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Rye — 70 percent rye mash bill, cave water, starter yeast, sugar maple filtration, new charred oak barrels. The difference is that these bottles are pulled from barrels that were deemed perfect just the way they are. Generally, those barrels are pulled from the very tip-top of the rickhouse — where the air is drier and hotter, allowing a bit more alchemy to happen over the years.

Tasting Notes:

The nose on this one reaches into a basket full of red fruits and berries while leaning into a mild tobacco spice, a touch of cedar humidor, and a cinnamon/cherry vibe. That cinnamon amps up on the taste and feels like you’ve dipped it into a jar of Luxardo cherries and then licked that stick while a velvety vanilla cake slowly gets frosted by thick and buttery eggnog frosting. The dry spices amp up on the mid-palate as the cherry somehow gets even thicker, leading to very sticky tobacco that’s laced with spice and cherry.

Bottom Line:

This is one of the most overlooked great whiskeys on the shelf. It’s incredibly easy to drink, priced amazingly well for a single barrel, and always wows when you pour it. If you’re feeling saucy, mix this into your next Manhattan and let shine.

38. Nikka Whisky Single Malt Yoichi

Nikki Yoichi
Asahi Group Holdings

ABV: 45%

Average Price: $100

The Whisky:

This single malt from Nikka’s famed Yoichi Distillery by the sea blends its single malts into the final product that highlights both the distillery and region in the bottle. The whiskies are very lightly peated malted barley whiskies that are made with peat heated with dry coal fires. The no-age-statement whisky is then proofed with local spring water and bottled.

Tasting Notes:

This is so mild you really have to take a moment to figure out the nose. There’s a sense of an old Weber BBQ that’s been left out in the rain by the sea that accent hints of rich marzipan, orange oils, freshly ground nutmeg, and a hint of ginger candy. The taste starts off with a bright melon candy next to almonds and walnuts with a light maltiness. The mid-palate brings dark plums into the mix, with smoked pears and apples adding a tine twinge of savoriness and smoke before the finish gently lands on earthy menthol tobacco leaves.

Bottom Line:

This was a delightful dram. It’s so subtle and, really, gentle. The fact that this is peated could be completely lost on some whisky drinkers. It’s really an amazing sip of whisky for this price point.

37. Midleton Very Rare 2021

Pernod Ricard Irish Distillers

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $200

The Whiskey:

The 38th Very Rare release from Midleton is a marrying of single pot still and grain whiskeys that spent 15 to 36 years aging in ex-bourbon barrels. The barrels were specifically chosen for their very light char. Those whiskeys were masterfully vatted and then proofed down with that iconic Cork County springwater to a very accessible 80 proof.

Tasting Notes:

This opens with a clear sense of Irish grain whiskey that leads towards apple candy (think fancy Jolly Ranchers). There’s also a touch of lemon pepper on the nose that works really well with that sweet apple candy. You definitely know you’re drinking Irish whiskey with a light grain vibe with a slightly floral note that leads towards … I want to say … pears stewed with saffron, very mild cinnamon, and grape-forward brandy. The fruitiness kicks up a notch as you sip again, surfacing as a sweet/tart/savory kiwi (the green flesh and white pith, not the sandpaper skin).

Going back in for a second and third nose and sip reveals a deep vanilla bourbon nature next to a light maltiness. There’s exactly zero alcohol burn thanks to that low ABV. The end is soft, fruity, and slightly warming but doesn’t overstay its welcome.

Bottom Line:

This is in contention to be amongst my favorite pours of Irish whiskeys this year. It’s rare, sure. But this is a centerpiece whiskey that surprises every single year.

36. Kavalan Solist Sherry Oak Single Malt Whisky

Kavalan Sherry Oak
King Car Group

ABV: 54%

Average Price: $225

The Whisky:

This big, award-winning whisky is made from 100 percent malted barley. The distillate is aged in Olorosso sherry casks for an undisclosed amount of years. That whisky is then bottled as-is without any coloring, filtration, or cutting with water.

Tasting Notes:

This is pure Christmas cake on the nose with sticky prunes, tons of holiday spice, orange oils, and marzipan. The taste has a subtle nutmeg with creamy vanilla that leads towards a soft and almost rummy plum pudding with a hint of sweet oak in the background. Hints of dark chocolate dust lead towards a hot and spicy tobacco leaf buzz on the end that’s very reminiscent of a hard-hitting, high-ABV bourbon.

Bottom Line:

This was a dream to drink. It also really appealed to my bourbon-soaked palate. This is a bottle I definitely need more of, especially as the holiday season sets in.

35. Johnnie Walker Blue Label Year Of The Ox

Diageo

ABV: 46%

Average Price: $225

The Whisky:

This is the mountaintop of Johnnie Walker’s whiskies. The blend is a marriage of ultra-rare stock from extinct Diageo distilleries around Scotland. That’s cooler than Brad Pitt wearing work boots and aviators on his motorcycle. This expression is all about barrel selection and the mastery of a great noser and blender working together to create something special.

Tasting Notes:

Dried fruit with a plummy sweetness mingles with a very soft and almost dry waft of smoke. The palate then veers in a completely different direction — folding in orange oils, marzipan, rose water, honeycombs, and even a dusting of bitter cacao once a drop of water is added. The end is slow, smoky, and full of dry fruits, nuts, with a malty nature.

Bottom Line:

This is Blue Label, sure. But this bottle is truly magnificent. The hand-painted art on the bottle is worth the price of admission alone. This really is a great collector’s item with a stellar whisky inside.

34. Hakushu Aged 12 Years

Beam Suntory

ABV: 43%

Average Price: $170

The Whisky:

Hakushu 12 is a sort of Japanese highland whisky made in the pine forests near the Japanese “Alps.” The juice is a combination of three whiskies produced at Hakushu: A non-peated whisky aged in ex-bourbon, another non-peated whisky aged in ex-sherry, and a peated whisky aged in American oak.

Tasting Notes:

This sip is grassy, nutty, floral, and slightly bitter on the nose. The dram then leans into ripe yet tart fruits, lemon citrus, and a herbal tea note while a wisp of smoke and an undertow of creaminess arrive. A fresh ginger spice arrives with a note of orange zest as the sip quickly fades away with a final floral note.

Bottom Line:

This is just freakin’ good from top to bottom. You’re getting a masterclass on what truly great Japanese malts can do when put together by masters high up in the mountains of Japan. It’s an eye-opening experience.

33. Peerless Double Oak Bourbon

Peerless Distilling Co.

ABV: 53.55%

Average Price: $134

The Whiskey:

The whiskey is around five to six years old and comes from one barrel that lets the grains shine through before it goes into another barrel that lets the oak shine through. That final barrel is bottled at cask strength, as is.

Tasting Notes:

This opens with a nose full of salted butter next to hints of very soft leather, light notes of vanilla bean, a touch of toffee sweetness, and freshly cracked walnuts with a dry edge. The taste leans into that oak barrel with dashes of woody spices (think allspice berries, star anise, and cinnamon sticks), dry cherry tobacco leaves, salted caramel, and more of that super soft leather. That leads towards a mid-palate of dark red fruits stewed in mulled wine spices and cut with a dollop of fresh honey before the (long) finish dries out towards an old wicker chair, a very distinct hint of a cellar funk, and a touch of dried mint.

Bottom Line:

This new release just hit too many high marks to be overshadowed this year. It’s highly sippable and really blooms when you add a little water, so take your time enjoying this one.

32. The Macallan 18 Double Cask

The Edrington Group

ABV: 43%

Average Price: $350

The Whisky:

This single malt from Scotland’s famed and stunning Highlands is matured for 18 long years in two separate cask programs. Part of the juice rests in American oak casks that were sent to Spain to hold sherry for a spell before they’re sent up to Scotland to hold this whisky. The other casks are European oak that also held sherry in Spain before their trip to the Highlands. Each wood brings a unique character to the mix that helps this single malt really shine.

Tasting Notes:

There are very delicate notes of American oak on the nose with hints of dry vanilla, orange oils, and buttery toffee next to the finer European sherry woodiness, with candied fruit and a touch of eggnog spices, especially clove and nutmeg. The palate leans into the soft vanilla with a cut of raw ginger spice, golden sultanas, more orange, and a touch of salted caramel with a pure silk texture. The mid-palate hones those spice notes towards a mildly dry wood with the candied and dried fruit bringing a sweetness and velvet texture. The very end has a candied orange peel bitterness and sweetness that sits with you for a while, reminding you to go back for another sip sooner rather than later.

Bottom Line:

This is the year I became a convert to the very hyped The Macallan. I tried this year’s release and was hooked. This really is the nectar of the whisky gods.

31. Redbreast Single Pot Still PX Edition

Redbreast PX
Pernod Ricard

ABV: 46%

Average Price: $90

The Whiskey:

This new drop from Redbreast continues the brand’s domination of the sherry-finished Irish whiskey game. The juice is finished in Pedro Ximenéz casks after spending years in both ex-bourbon and ex-Olorosso sherry casks. This is the latest installment of The Redbreast Iberian Series, which aims to highlight barrels from Portugal and Spain in the Irish whiskey.

Tasting Notes:

This is pretty much Christmas in a glass, with a nose full of nuts, candied fruits, dark spices, and a rum-soaked holiday cake. The taste builds on that by adding in oily oranges with a slight waxy edge, a light touch of marzipan, and some malty cookies with a flake of salt. The finish circles back around to the moist, spicy, and fruity holiday cake with the sweetness lingering the longest.

Bottom Line:

This is just delicious. There’s really no other way to say it.

30. Ardbeg 25

Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy

ABV: 46%

Average Price: $880

The Whisky:

The newest expression from Ardbeg also happens to be their oldest expression (in the core line). The whisky is the epitome of peat on Islay. What makes this expression so special and extremely rare is that it was distilled and casked when Ardbeg was on its knees as a company, in the early 1990s. They simply weren’t making that much whisky back then and there’s hardly any of it left.

This is a one-and-likely-gone whisky.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a bitter lemon note that draws you towards smoked toffees, creamy vanilla, a dusting of cold ash, and … peppermint candy on the nose. The sip is very earthy (almost potting soil) with a fatty smoked bacon vibe, a touch of sour cream on a dirty baked potato — baked in a campfire — that all turns on the mid-palate towards honey tobacco with a spiced finish and a dash more of that ash.

Bottom Line:

This is the bottle that helped convert me into the world of peaty Islay whiskies. I can’t deny how delicious this whisky is and I love it.

29. Sazerac Rye 18

Sazerac Company

ABV: 45%

Average Price: $1,400

The Whiskey:

This rye was made back in 2003 from Minnesota Rye, Kentucky corn, and North Dakota barley. The juice spent 18-and-a-half years in warehouses K and P on the second and fourth floors. Finally, it was vatted, proofed with that iconic Kentucky limestone water, and bottled.

Tasting Notes:

The nose draws you in with this medley of fresh and earthy honeycombs next to bushels of freshly picked Granny Smith apples sitting in straw baskets with a hint of oily herbs like rosemary and thyme. There’s a heft to the body of this sip that touches on clove and allspice while the sweetness edges towards fresh maple syrup with a touch of butter. The mid-palate veers swiftly away from that sweetness towards an espresso bean bitterness, meaty dates soaked in Earl Grey tea, and milky yet dark chocolate bars sprinkled with smoked salt flakes.

Bottom Line:

This is one of the best American whiskeys there is. There’s no need to say more.

28. Balcones Pilgrimage Texas Single Malt Whisky

Balcones Distilling

ABV: 58.5%

Average Price: $76

The Whisky:

This single malt starts with Golden Promise malted barley in the mash with proprietary ale yeast and local Texas water. The distilled juice is then loaded into used barrels like all of the world’s great single malts. After a few years of aging under the hot Texas sun, the whisky is transferred into French Sauternes casks, bringing a distinct dessert wine vibe to the juice. Finally, the whisky is bottled at cask strength from very small, one-off batches.

Tasting Notes:

The nose is all sweet honey, soft white grapes, stewed peaches in syrup, light leather, ripe pear, and a touch of salted caramel candy. There’s also this fleeting moment of milk chocolate. It really draws you in. The taste starts off a bit slow with an initial moment of sweet grains that translate to very clear pear notes by the mid-palate before ascending towards honeyed malts, Caro syrup roasted pecans, apple blossoms, and a small dusting of egg nog spices. All of that sweetness and fruitiness completely hides the ABVs under a wall of lusciousness.

The end does have a spicy edge but it’s still tied to the sweet honey and orchard fruits and leaves you with this sense of a refined apple soda and more milk chocolate at the very end.

Bottom Line:

This is a winner, especially for lovers of sweet single malts. It’s complex, super easy to drink, accessible, and unique. The overall finish is very warming as well. You’re left with a soft fruit and honey sweetness with zero burn or alcohol astringency. It’s just … nice.

27. Blanton’s Straight From The Barrel (Barrel No. 159)

Sazerac Company

ABV: 65.15%

Average Price: $400

The Whiskey:

Blanton’s is “The Original Single Barrel” bourbon, and this expression is the purest form of that whiskey. The juice in this case is from the barrels that need no cutting with water and are perfect as-is, straight from the barrel. All the barrels will come from Warehouse H (where Elmer T. Lee stored his private stash of barrels back in the day) and arrive with varying proofs.

The through-line is the excellent taste of that single, unadulterated barrel in each sip.

Tasting Notes:

The nose is full of very bespoke dark chocolate-covered salted hard caramel toffees encrusted with almonds and pecans — the kind you get from a chocolate shop that imports their goodies from somewhere like Belgium. The nutty toffee carries through into the taste as oily vanilla pods mingle with cedar boxes of dried tobacco leaves and a touch of floral honey. The end is very long and lingers in your senses, with a hot buzzing that subtly fades through all that sweetness.

Bottom Line:

You’re probably only going to find these at auctions these days. Still, this bourbon is a must-have that hides its ABVs so well that I doubt you’ll even realize that it’s a barrel strength drop.

26. Heaven’s Door Redbreast Master Blender’s Edition

Heavens Door

ABV: 50%

Average Price: $115

The Whiskey:

This whiskey is a collaboration between Heaven’s Door Master Blender Ryan Perry and Redbreast’s legendary Master Blender Billy Leighton. The duo worked long and hard to create multiple whiskey expressions, which Bob Dylan taste-tested and granted final approval on.

The juice in the bottle is Heaven Door’s low-rye ten-year-old Tennessee bourbon. They take that whiskey and fill it into Redbreast whiskey casks that had previously aged Irish whiskey for 12 years. After 15 months of final maturation, those barrels are vatted and slightly proofed down with soft Tennessee spring water.

Tasting Notes:

This opens with this medley of marzipan, soft leather, prunes and dates, Gala apples, a hint of cedar, and a whisper of ripe red cherry. There’s this body of nutmeg that leads towards a light vanilla pound cake full of candied and dried fruits with a soft Niederegger marzipan center. That then draws towards subtle pops of orange oils, floral honey, walnuts in buttery brown sugar syrup, and this mild touch of spiced apple tobacco leaf. The end lasts for just the right amount of time and leaves you with a walnut shell dryness, soft warmth, and slight tobacco chew buzz that all circles back towards a raisin sherry sweetness and a final morsel of that vanilla pound cake.

Bottom Line:

I also thought this would end up my favorite bourbon of the year since it marries Kentucky and Ireland. But what can I say? It was a great year for bourbon releases and this simply ended up among the top tier.

25. Barrell Craft Spirits Bourbon Aged 15 Years

Barrell Craft Spirits

ABV: 52.5%

Average Price: $270

The Whiskey:

Barrell Craft Spirits is another craft blendery that’s sourcing some of the best barrels in the game and expertly marrying those barrels. This expression blends 15-year-old bourbon from Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennesse into a final product that reaches new heights for blended bourbon.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a lot to draw you in with this nose of rich tobacco spiciness next to soft cedar, tart cherry pie filling, saffron stewed pears, salted toffee, and what almost feels like the salted water left after boiling artichokes (seriously). The fruitiness really builds as the cherry leads towards a bowl full of ripe raspberries swimming in cream with a dusting of dark spices and brown sugar that’s countered by a dose of floral tea leaves, culminating with a mildly bitter coffee bean. The end is long and really holds onto the cherry and raspberry fruit while a note of that soft cedar dips back in with a hint of menthol tobacco buzz.

Bottom Line:

This is unique and just … interesting. It’s one of those pours that sticks with you. You think about it. You go back to it. You find new things every time you taste it. This is a gem.

24. Caol Ila Distillers Edition

Diageo

ABV: 43%

Average Price: $88

The Whisky:

This yearly release from the tiny Islay distillery, Caol Ila, is all about the finish. The 12-year-old juice is finished in Moscatel sherry casks to give it a truly deep fruitiness next to that briny Islay peat.

Tasting Notes:

This really draws the peat far into the background as notes of smoked apricots, star anise, and honey-soaked almonds on the nose. The palate has a slight anchovy oil edge that leads towards a very distant whisp of smoke from a campfire far down a rainy beach next to orange oils, smoked salt flakes over buttery toffee, and a touch of more of those honey almonds. The end holds onto that nuttiness and sweetness with a good spray of seawater as the campfire smoke draws nearer and picks up a few more of those stone fruits along the way.

Bottom Line:

This year’s distillers edition is among my favorite whiskies of the year overall. It’s just a beautiful sip of whisky that truly highlights the distillery.

23. Eagle Rare 17

Screen-Shot-2021-10-21-at-10.23.29-AM.jpg
Sazerac Company

ABV: 50.5%

Average Price: $1,390

The Whiskey:

This whiskey was produced in the spring of 2003. Since then, it lost 73 percent of its volume to the angels as it rested in warehouses C, K, M, and Q on various floors. The barrels were then vatted, proofed down, and bottled.

Tasting Notes:

The nose has this matrix of dark holiday spices that layer into a Black Forest cake with the finest stewed cherries, the moistest chocolate sponge cake, and the richest cream with a touch of vanilla and dark chocolate shavings and a whisper of pink finishing salt. The palate really leans into the cherry with a bright but saucy vibe that’s spiked with nutmeg, allspice, and cinnamon (and maybe a hint of ground ginger) while little firecrackers full of salted black licorice, dry cedar bark, and Cherry Coke fill in the background. The finish takes its time as the mid-palate cherry sweetness slowly dissolves into an old wooden garden box full of fresh dark potting soil bursting with fresh mint and spicy nasturtiums.

Bottom Line:

This is just delicious goddamn whiskey. It’s beloved for a reason and this year’s BTAC release was a great reminder of the brand’s prowess among the greats of bourbon.

22. Lagavulin Aged 26 Years, The Lion’s Jewel

Lagavulin 26
Diageo

ABV: 44.2%

Average Price: $2,400

The Whisky:

This is a very rare and unique expression. First, it’s the first 26-year-old Lagavulin released. Next, there are only 7,500 of these bottles in existence. Lastly, the whisky was built from a combination of first-fill Pedro Ximenez and Oloroso sherry casks. Those barrels were married after over two decades of mellowing and bottled at a very accessible cask strength of 44.2 percent.

Tasting Notes:

The nose on this opens as if you’ve taken a freshly emptied red wine barrel, torn the staves from the metal, and thrown those wet staves onto a campfire and then sat down to eat some figs wrapped in nori and drizzled with rich butterscotch while someone else threw an old boat rope onto that fire and then started up an outboard motor on the dock just a few feet away.

From there, the taste mellows out considerably as a vibe of smoked dates flaked with sea salt takes over and this clear sense of the oil from a sardine can arrives with plenty of salt and black pepper to help it go down easy. The finish mellows even further as this wet and earthy note arrives that’s one part forest mushroom, one part wet green moss, and one part smoldering wet cedar branches with a slight peppery tobacco dryness and warmth on the very end.

Bottom Line:

This Lagavulin is mind-blowing. There’s so much going on that all somehow works (try making a pairing of dates and sardines work on its own). What’s amazing is that the peatiness of this whisky is so faint yet earthy and exact that it’ll convert any peat-hesitant whisky drinker out there.

21. Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye 13 Years Old

Van Winkle Rye
Sazerac Company

ABV: 47.8%

Average Price: $1,900

The Whiskey:

This is the only non-wheated whiskey in the Pappy line. While we don’t know the exact mash bill, Buffalo Trace does use a rye mash bill that’s very low-rye (some say only 51 percent). Either way, the juice is then barreled and allowed to mellow for 13 years before vatting, proofing, and bottling.

Tasting Notes:

Imagine sweet tobacco leaves spiked with red peppercorns, rich caramel apples, plenty of holiday spices, and walnuts soaked in warm brandy. Worn leather arrives with hints of those fatty nuts and dried fruits next to the sharply spicy pepperiness. That pepper mellows towards a powdery white pepper, with hints of vanilla cream and buttery toffee lurking underneath a touch of dried berries covered in very dark chocolate. The end is fairly warm at first but fades out evenly and slowly, leaving a cedar-y sense of wood and a final whisper of peppery yet dry pipe tobacco with the most distant wisp of smoke.

Bottom Line:

This whiskey is really, really f*cking good. When I tried the release this year, it all sort of clicked for me. There’s nothing quite like this (I know I’ve said that a lot already) but it felt somehow familiar and comforting too. It’s a great trick to play on your senses and really feels like an “experience” when drinking it.

20. Michter’s Single Barrel 10-Year Kentucky Straight Rye

Michters Distillery

ABV: 46.4%

Average Price: $240

The Whiskey:

The point of this Michter’s release was to bring rye back to mainstream prominence. The single barrels are painstakingly chosen by the team at Michter’s and exhaustively tasted until they know they’re right for this release. Because of that, this bottle holds a very special place in whiskey drinkers’ hearts. That also makes this the bottle of rye that distillers and blenders everywhere aspire to match.

Tasting Notes:

Butter-rich toffee meets marzipan cut with rose water next to black peppery spice, apple-cider-soaked cinnamon sticks, and earthy cedar bark. Bespoke Red Hots mingle with orange oils, more cedar, vanilla pods, and a rush of fresh spicy/sweet chili peppers. The almond edge loses some of its marzipan sweetness and dries out as the cedar marries spicy tobacco. Soft vanilla cream and orange oils linger on your senses until the last.

Bottom Line:

This year’s Michter’s 10 Rye was my bottle of the year. I drank a lot of it. Yet, all things considered, here it is at number 20. Buckle up.

19. William Larue Weller

Sazerac Company

ABV: 62.65%

Average Price: $900

The Whiskey:

Distilled back in the fall of 2009, this barrel-strength bourbon skips the Minnesota rye and instead uses North Dakota wheat with that NoDak barley and Kentucky corn. The juice spent 12-and-a-half years mellowing in warehouses C, D, K, L, and Q on floors one through three. While maturing, 64 percent of the whiskey was lost to the angels before it was small-batched and bottled as is.

Tasting Notes:

The creaminess of the vanilla on the nose is extraordinary. Imagine the softness and richest crème anglaise with a touch of salted caramel syrup, eggnog spice, and a towering croquembouche with all the spun hard sugar holding the whole thing together. That light yet buttery cream puff drives towards a slight shortbread vibe with toasted cinnamon sticks, moist cherry tobacco, more vanilla cream, and a soft echo of dried smoked stone fruits. The finish drives back towards the sweetness of that salted caramel but this time it’s covered in dark chocolate and sitting inside an old cedar box that once held fistfuls of menthol-laced tobacco leaves.

Bottom Line:

This feels like it should be higher. But there are some killers to come. Still, this is a great bourbon and the best Weller there is. You can’t go wrong investing in one of these bottles either for your vault or your bar cart.

18. The GlenDronach Parliament Aged 21 Years

Brown-Forman

ABV: 48%

Average Price: $262

The Whisky:

Don’t let the name fool you. The “parliament” in this case is the collective noun for rooks — a type of European crow that nests above the distillery. That dark essence is rendered in the whisky through 21 long years of maturation in Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez sherry casks exclusively.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a lot going on with this nose, starting with blackberry brambles hanging heavy with ripe fruit leading towards a well-spiced oatmeal cookie vibe and cut with hints of orange zest and vanilla. A sticky toffee pudding sweetness arrives (heavy on the dates) with flourishes of bitter dark chocolate notes and a sharp holiday spice matrix. The end is very long but very velvety with hints of dark fruits and spices warming your body as it fades away.

Bottom Line:

This whisky is perfect. Well, let’s qualify that — “as an unpeated malt, this is perfect.” This is definitely a bottle you want to enjoy and expand your palate with.

17. Talisker 30

Diageo

ABV: 45.8%

Average Price: $845

The Whisky:

Talisker’s seaside vibes are on full display in this beautiful bottle. The last limited release was around 3,000 bottles, making this a very rare expression from the Isle of Skye distillery.

Tasting Notes:

The nose is shockingly subtle and soft with velvety notes of smoldering dried nori next to matchsticks that have been dipped in a buttery and rich dark chocolate with sea salt gently sprinkled all over. The palate leans into the dialed-back peat by bringing about a smoked cream with fire-seared peaches next to a hint of wet cedar, very old tobacco leaves, and a touch of almond or oat milk flecked with salt. That salt drives the mid-palate towards a finish that’s like getting kissed by merfolk on a beach next to a campfire that’s heating a cauldron full of spicy stewed peaches in more of that cream.

Bottom Line:

It’s always an exciting year in whisky when we get a new Talisker 30. The very limited and randomly released whisky is the mountaintop of Talisker that bridges being both highly collectible and very drinkable. We’d argue that you should buy two — one to hide in the vault and one for celebratory pours throughout your life.

16. Oban Aged 12 Years, The Tale of Twin Foxes

Oban 12
Diageo

ABV: 56.2%

Average Price: $130

The Whisky:

Oban’s location on the Scottish coast, next to both the Islands and Highlands, allows it to harness the best of both regions when making its whisky. This year’s 12-year release is built on the backs of both ex-bourbon casks and refill bourbon casks, allowing the stronger notes of those new bourbon casks to get a light mellowing from the refill wood. The results are bottled at cask strength.

Tasting Notes:

Briny — that’s the draw here. The nose has this mellow mix of spicy nori crackers that lead towards an old wooden cutting board that’s slick with olive juice, fish oils, salt, and black pepper that you then take a heel of bread to mop up while a slight note of smoked haddock or cod lingers on the very backend. On the palate, a burst of citrus oils arrives to cut through all that umami, oil, and brine as a light malty fruitiness adds a little tart and sweet to the mix, with a sense of cedar chips soaked in mild chili oil driving a sense of warmth. The finish lets that spice build towards a dry pepperiness thanks to the wood as the fruit ties itself to a very mild tobacco leaf and another note of that smoked fish sneaks in on the very end.

Bottom Line:

This was the shock of my year and sort of came out of nowhere. But, I do love Oban and this special release is everything anyone could want in a subtle, seaside whisky that has a pirate character with the softness of a grandparent’s warm embrace on a cold day.

It’s a whisky that conjures a whole dang story — that’s special.

15. George Dickel Bottled in Bond, Spring 2007

Screen-Shot-2021-08-19-at-4.35.35-PM.jpg
Diageo

ABV: 50%

Average Price: $45

The Whiskey:

Nicole Austin has been killing it with these bottled-in-bond releases from George Dickel. This year’s release is a whiskey that was warehoused in the spring of 2007. 13 years later, this juice was bottled at 100 proof (as per the law) and sent out to the wide world where it received much adoration.

Tasting Note:

The nose on this one is mildly sweet with almost earthy maple syrup next to pecans from a pie with a touch of dried apple and old leather. The taste runs deep with vanilla leading the way next to a touch of apple and pecan crumble. The mid-palate takes a turn away from all of that and dives into a candied cherry that’s dusted with dark chocolate and a ground-up fruit Neco Wafer or Flintstone’s multivitamin (that’s also cherry-flavored) before the finish gets this browned butter vibe with a touch of soft, sweet oak.

Bottom Line:

This remains one of my favorite sips of the year. It stands out. It’s highly drinkable neat or with some water. It also makes a great cocktail. There’s really little more you could ask for. Moreover, it could cost three times more and no one would know the difference.

14. Old Fitzgerald Bottled-in-Bond 8 Years Aged, Spring 2021

Heaven Hill

ABV: 50%

Average Price: $294

The Whiskey:

This year’s spring release is a marriage of eight-year-old whiskeys produced in the spring of 2013. That distilled juice rested in barrels spread throughout three warehouses on several different floors. In spring of this year, those barrels were vatted and whiskey was proofed down to 100 (per bottled-in-bond law). Then the whiskey was filled into Old Fitzgerald’s signature decanters and sent out into the world.

Tasting Notes:

The nose draws you in with warming eggnog spice, creamy vanilla pudding, rich toffee, mild fruit, and a hint of wet cedar and very muted citrus. To say this is “smooth” would be an understatement. The silky taste dances around oven-hot pans of pecan and maple-glazed sticky buns with plenty of cinnamon and nutmeg next to caramelized orange peel vibes and lightness that’s almost hard to believe. The finish is long, effervescent, and leaves you with this soft sense of having just eaten the best oatmeal raisin cookie of your life with just the right amounts of oats, spice, raisins, brown sugar, and crumble.

Bottom Line:

This is pretty much a perfect whiskey. I’m running out of things to say so I’ll just leave it at that.

13. Little Book Chapter 5: “The Invitation”

Beam Suntory

ABV: 58.4%

Average Price: $200

The Whiskey:

The juice is a blend of four whiskeys — three straight bourbons and one straight rye. The rye is a 100 percent malted rye that’s three years old. The bourbons are two, five, and 15 years old.

Tasting Notes:

The nose opens with a Pecan Sandie vibe with a flake of salt, spiciness derived from fresh ginger juice, and dark chocolate laced with raw sugar and apple-soaked cinnamon sticks that have been ground to a fine powder. The palate builds on that cinnamon spice with a touch of nutmeg and clove that ties to a vanilla pudding-esque svelte body next to little pops of dried pecan shells, faux maple syrup, cinnamon toast with plenty of butter, more of that ginger, and a touch of subtle red fruit. The mid-palate leans creamy with light milk chocolate that leads back to the warmth with a dried red peppercorn pepperiness next to a rush of cedar boxes full of vanilla tobacco leaves with the slightest echo of menthol and dried reeds on the very deep back end.

Bottom Line:

Freddie Noe hit this one out of the park. It’s crazy-sippable neat while really going deep when you bloom it with a little water. It’s just excellent in every respect.

12. Teeling Single Malt Vintage Reserve 30-Year-Old

Teeling 30yo
Teeling Distilling

ABV: 46%

Average Price: $2,199 (Available January 2022)

The Whisky:

This whiskey started its life back in 1991. It spent 21 years aging in ex-bourbon casks before it was transferred to a Sauternes cask for an additional nine years of maturation. A select few barrels were chosen and vatted before slight proofing down to 46 percent with no filtration. Only 4,000 bottles were made.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a subtle tart fruit on the nose that’s similar to a cranberry by way of a red currant with mild instances of pear skins, vanilla pods, honeysuckle, and polished leather making appearances. The palate starts off with a rush of orchard fruits that’s almost like apple champagne before the taste veers toward a mild woody spice and then…light peat that brings out a whisper of Band-Aid and singed apple leaves, fake honey, and ground coriander on the finish.

Bottom lIne:

This is wild and doesn’t fit with any descriptor besides “wow!” It’s kind of like if the best sweet, honeyed scotch married the best subtle peaty scotch and this was their baby. It’s kind of magnificent.

11. Michter’s 20-Year Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Michters Distillery

ABV: 57.1%

Average Price: $2,000

The Whiskey:

Master Distiller Dan McKee personally selects these 20-year-old (at least) barrels from their rickhouses based on, well, excellence. The juice is bottled as-is with no cutting with water.

Tasting Notes:

Imagine dark and sweet cherries smothered in rummy molasses with a touch of dried roses, nuts, and cedar all leading towards the soft — almost wet — tobacco leaf. That’s just the nose. The palate doesn’t veer too far from those notes but adds in a touch of burnt ends from vanilla pods with a light spice that leans more towards that tobacco than woody brown spices. The finish really embraces the cherry but more towards the stem and seed as the nuttiness leans marzipan and the tobacco takes on an ever-so-slight chewiness.

Bottom Line:

This year’s 20-year drop helped solidify the excellence of this expression. I’d also argue that this is one of those “Ah-Ha!” bourbons that’ll advance your palate and understanding of the seriously “good stuff.”

10. Talisker 25

Diageo

ABV: 45.8%

Average Price: $620

The Whisky:

This whisky is a marriage of American bourbon barrels, Spanish sherry casks, and Talisker’s seaside location. The whiskies in this single malt spend a minimum of 25 years resting in old bourbon and sherry barrels a few short steps from the sea in the Isle of Skye. Talisker’s tiny warehouse feels a bit like an old pirate ship that’s seen too many sea battles and that aura is imbued into every barrel as it matures.

Tasting Notes:

This one opens with a note of wet wildflowers next to sweet beeswax candles (unlit) with hints of murky apple cider, creamy chocolate, and a whisper of briny campfire smoke. The taste really brings out the wooden beams of the Talisker warehouse with notes of sea salt next to cobwebs and wet moss that’s all counterpointed by a blossoming wisteria, orange tobacco, and a little bit more of that campfire smoke lurking in the background. The end holds onto the florals as it slowly fades away, leaving you with a wisp of smoke, a mist of sea spray, and a touch of that orange.

Bottom Line:

Is it the best whisky is in the world? If it’s not, it’s really bloody close. For my palate, it just might be. That all being said, it’s so rare to find something this refined, dialed, and (relatively) easy to find that will elevate your palate with every single sip. All of that makes it pretty damn special.

9. Michter’s 25-Year Single Barrel Straight Rye

Michters Distillery

ABV: 58.65%

Average Price: $37,000

The Whiskey:

All we really know about these barrels are that they prove the prowess of Michter’s team to bring in the best of the best in the whiskey world. It’s rare that a 25-year-old whiskey aged in a new oak will taste this nuanced but that’s sort of the magic of Michter’s.

Tasting Notes:

There’s an earthiness here that feels like dried white moss on a wet forest floor next to little popping notes of bitter yet oily espresso beans, vanilla that costs way too much to buy, oranges wrapped in gold cellophane, and an almost wet black pepper vibe. Okay, let’s move on to the palate. Golden sultanas draw you in with a very clear sense of clove that almost leads to anise (maybe black licorice) with that vanilla staying dry as the orange oils become burnt and this distant note of salted, almost black cacao powder harkens the finish. That finish does lean into a classic Tellicherry cracked black pepper but remains dry and features just the right amount of dried fruit sweetness.

Bottom Line:

This is one of those sips that might change you as a whiskey drinker — yes, it’s that good. It’s also an investment bottle. Our advice is to pay a grand for the pour at some high-end whiskey bar and stow away the bottle for your kid’s college fund.

8. Pappy 23

Sazerac Company

ABV: 47.8%

Average Price: $3,000

The Whiskey:

This expression spends a long 23 years resting in new American oak. That age means that there’s still some old juice from Pappy’s previous home, the Stitzel-Weller Distillery, in the mix. Not every barrel makes the final cut. Only the “honey barrels” — the best of the best — are selected for marrying, proofing, and bottling.

Tasting Notes:

This sip greets you with big notes of rich vanilla, dark cherry, old oak, spicy tobacco, and tart apples. When you add a little water, a dark dusting of cacao arrives to accent the base notes as the spices kick in, adding a real Christmas pudding vibe counterpointed by the musty oak, worn leather, and wisp of pipe tobacco smoke.

Bottom Line:

This is another bottle you’ll probably only see at a state lottery, auction, or a collector’s liquor shop (like Justins’ House Of Bourbon, in Louisville). The thing is, though, high-end bars are still opening these and pouring them into glasses. That means you can still try this one before you take the leap and buy one.

7. Midleton Single Cask 2001 – Celtic Whiskey Shop

Midleton 2001
Pernod Ricard

ABV: 46%

Average Price: $450

The Whiskey:

This whiskey was Master Distiller Brian Nation’s very first Very Rare release at Midleton. The juice in the bottle is from a single 15-year-old sherry cask that Nation hand-selected to be his calling card to the world.

Tasting Notes:

This is pure holiday cake on the nose with candied and dried fruits mingling with almonds, hazelnuts, dark spices, and brandy butter that leads towards stewed apple, a note of pear, over-ripe banana, and a touch of orange marmalade. The taste really delivers on the Christmas cake vibes as the orange intensifies towards a subtle dark chocolate note next to spiced and mildly smoked apricots. That stone fruit drives towards a finish that marries the dark chocolate to the dried fruits and spice but doesn’t overstay its welcome.

Bottom Line:

Getting to try this was a special moment. This is a phenomenal and deeply unique whiskey that is so refined and distinct that I’ll never forget it.

6. Old Pulteney 35

Old Pulteney 35
Inver House Distillers

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $695

The Whisky:

Distillery Manager Malcolm Waring hand picks minimum 35-year-old ex-bourbon and ex-sherry barrels to make this whisky. Those barrels are married and the result is proofed and bottled as-is.

Tasting Notes:

The nose opens with a touch of dark spices built into a fruitcake with dried cherry, Brazil nuts, and cashews that turns into a date-heavy sticky toffee pudding with a vanilla cream sauce next to ripe tangerines and a flourish of powdery dark cacao. The palate leans into a spiced and floral honey sweetness, chocolate oranges, and rum-soaked plum pudding as this salted orange taffy vibe drives the mid-palate. That salt further layers into the citrus as a note of worn leather arrives with a honey tobacco chew on the soft end.

Bottom Line:

This was magnificent. I shook my head and laughed in disbelief because of how good it was and that I’d never tried this before. It’s just beautiful from top to bottom.

5. Double Eagle Very Rare

Double Eagle Rare
Sazerac Company

ABV: 50.5%

Average Price: $18,900

The Whiskey:

This whiskey ups the Eagle Rare game in two ways. First, this is “double” aged, meaning that the whiskey spends 20 years mellowing in Buffalo Trace’s warehouses — or twice as long as standard Eagle Rare. That makes the barrels that go into this expression super rare. The second aspect is the decanter. The crystal decanter has two eagles, one as a stopper and one that is blown into the bottom of the bottle. It’s a striking bottle and only 199 were produced.

Tasting Notes:

The nose on this gently draws you in with mellow hints of cherry liqueur, dry cedar tobacco boxes, rich vanilla pods that feel oily, and a buttercream toffee candy that’s more sticky than brittle. The nose then leans towards a woody spice matrix of cinnamon sticks soaked in cherry syrup next to a slight note of anise that’s more absinthe green than licorice dark. On the palate, very dark cacao dust opens up your taste buds as dates soaked in floral Earl Grey create a base for a moist and very sticky toffee pudding with a small dollop of the silkiest vanilla ice cream you’ve ever had. The spices in that date-filled cake slowly rise after the sweet mid-palate veers into a soft and velvety finish that echoes with the woody spices but doesn’t carry forward the heat from them.

The very end leaves you with this dry cedar box that once held allspice berries, anise, and cinnamon but now holds a very dry leaf of cherry-choco tobacco.

Bottom Line:

A new Double Eagle Very Rare is always a special occasion. This year’s 199 bottles are going to be super tough to find. If you do, treat yourself to a pour. This is what a perfect bourbon tastes like.

4. Four Roses Fine Blended Whiskey, 1944

Four Roses
Four Roses

ABV: 40%

Average Price: Available at The Ballard Cut, Seattle

The Whiskey:

This whiskey was bottled in 1944 when people like Hitler, Stalin, and Roosevelt were still alive. The juice is a blend of whiskeys, hence it’s called “American Blended Whiskey” instead of bourbon or rye.

Tasting Notes:

This is from a different era and doesn’t really smell or taste like anything else I’ve ever had. The nose had this mild bitterness that lead towards a malty Graham cracker with creamed vanilla, candy bar nougat, and maybe peanut shells. The palate held onto those crackers and butter as a thin line of corn lead to a thinner sense of apple cores and stems with a dry leather vibe. There was a buttered corn feel to the mid-palate that lead to a cliff as the finish just stopped with a sense of stewed fruit and nothing else.

Bottom Line:

I still don’t quite know what to think of this. It’s shockingly drinkable and unique for a “blended American whiskey.” I do know that drinking something that was sent into the world during World War II puts it high on my list of the most amazing whiskeys I drank in 2021.

3. The Dalmore Constellation 1981 Aged 30 Years

Whyte & Mackay

ABV: 54%

Average Price: $6,300

The Whisky:

The whisky from The Dalmore is very old with unique aging. The juice spends about 25 years in used American oak before it’s finished for almost five years in Metusalem Oloroso sherry casks. Those barrels are used to age sherry for 30 years before they head to Scotland to be filled with whisky. Moreover, the finishing on this whisky is longer than most whiskies are aged in general.

Tasting Notes:

This leans heavily into cedar chips that have been touched by droplets of orange oils, lavender oils, and then mixed with dried potpourri. Those dried florals lean into eucalyptus, Earl Grey tea, and a touch of rose perfume filtered through a pack of Pall-Mall cigarettes. The palate veers away from the dried florals and essential oils towards bitter orange-infused marzipan with dark chocolate covering next to a hint of salted ginger candies and eggnog spices (clove and nutmeg predominating) and some nice creaminess. The mid-palate really lets the marzipan and nutmeg peak as the finish leans into the creaminess of the dark chocolate with a silken brandy-drenched chocolate orange vibe.

Bottom Line:

This is Scotch perfection. Plain and simple.

2. Michter’s Celebration Sour Mash 2019

Michters Distillery

ABV: 57.8%

Average Price: $4,400

The Whiskey:

This is a collaboration between Master Distiller Dan McKee and Master of Maturation Andrea Wilson who selected six barrels between ten, 20, and 30 years old. Those barrels were vatted and bottled without any cutting with water.

Tasting Notes:

Buttery dark chocolate fudge sits next to an earthy, almost mossy note as eggnog spices mingle with a savory fruit hint on the nose. It’s all subtle but so clear. Then the taste takes those spices and builds out a flavor profile of grilled peaches next to smoked pineapple topped with maple-syrup-soaked pecans, a splash of vanilla cream, and a dusting a freshly ground cinnamon. That dry spice leads from a mid-palate to a finish that holds onto those sweet pecans while the dry moss makes a late comeback and settles into your senses with a note of nutmeg, smoked peach, and orange oil.

Bottom Line:

For my palate, this is perfect. It’s one of those bottles that makes me mad that I cannot drink it every day. It also makes sense that the Billions writer’s room chose this to be the ultimate of the ultimate whiskeys for their show. There’s really very little out there that tops this whiskey (no matter where you are in the world).

1. Old Fitzgerald, Vintage Edition

The Whisky Exchange

ABV: 43%

Average Price: $1,982

The Whiskey:

This Old Fitzgerald is the OG bourbon that Julian Van Winkle, II (the one and only “Pappy”), built after WWII. The juice was made at Stitzel-Weller when Pappy still owned and operated the whole place (today, it’s owned by Diageo). When the brands and distillery were sold off, Old Fitz ended up as a Heaven Hill product, where it was revived into one of the most sought-after modern bottles (more on that later).

In short, this is classic bourbon that sort of sets the flavor profile for a vast majority of bourbon being made today.

Tasting Notes:

These are still very drinkable. The nose on a 1964 release I tried recently is a mix of salted caramel next to light touches of orchard fruit, oily vanilla, light and soft wood, and spiced tobacco. The palate is pure silk with bursts of stonefruits, soft leather, a touch of vanilla cream, and burnt sugars. The mid-palate to finish is a slow fade into the silkiest vanilla custard you can imagine that’s been spiced with fresh tobacco, a touch of mint, and boozy soaked red fruit.

Bottom Line:

This is another bottle that you still see getting poured at (very) high-end whiskey bars, which means there will be a point when very, very few of these are left. So now is the time to snag a bottle and try this yourself. Drinking some of this will illuminate the absolute pinnacle of bourbon-making and show you what every single bourbon distiller has been chasing ever since it was produced.

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