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Whiskey Writers, Experts, And Influencers Name Their Favorite Bottles Of 2021

We’ve gone to great lengths this year to help you find the best whiskeys of 2021. We’ve ranked them by type (bourbon, scotch, rye), en masse, and even shamed ourselves for the bottles we missed (bourbon, scotch). Now, we’ve taken our search further afield — reaching out to the wider world of whisk(e)y writers, influencers, photographers, and even historians. We asked 12 stone-cold whiskey pros which bottles (from any category) truly stood out to them this year. We’re talking about folks who sampled a lot of whisk(e)y in 2021.

The list of whiskeys below all have one thing in common, they’re freakin’ delicious. Sadly, you’re not going to be able to find some of these outside of auctions or very high-end whiskey shops (or hidden away in whiskey vaults). That’s just the way the whiskey cookie crumbles when you’re seeking out the best of the best.

Let’s dive in!

Also Read: The Top 5 UPROXX Bourbon Posts Of 2021

Four Roses Visitor Center Private Selection 20-Year-Old Single Barrel — Justin Thompson, co-founder Bourbon Review, co-owner Justins’ House Of Bourbon

ABV: 58.2%

Average Price: Distillery Only

The Whiskey:

This limited release from Four Roses came out this December to commemorate their new visitor center. It’s the OBSV recipe and comes in at 20 years old, their oldest single barrel release ever.

Tasting Notes:

The nose is very creamy and sweet. The taste is not as bold as you’d expect from a 116.2 proof 20-year-old bourbon but is very complex. It’s bright and dry with bitter chocolate notes in the middle. The finish is a mixture of vanilla and burnt ends.

Bottom Line:

In this bottle, you pick up something different with every sip, which is tough to do. That makes this one magical bottle of bourbon.

Joseph Magnus Cigar Blend Batch #57 — Caroline Paulus, Senior Editor at Bourbon Review, Whiskey Historian for Justins’ House of Bourbon

Whiskey
Caroline Paulus

ABV: 65.92%

Average Price: Limited

The Whiskey:

Blended by Nancy Fraley, all of the Autumn 2021 Cigar Blend batches come from a “coupe mere” or mother blend of 16 barrels of Indiana bourbon ranging from 14 to 20 years old finished in Cognac, Armagnac, and sherry barrels.

Tasting Notes:

Batch 57 clocks in at 131.84 proof. It lives up to the “Charcuterie Board” name with savory, smoky notes of cured meats and toasty nuts on the nose, crusty rye bread on the palate, and dark chocolate and dried berries drizzled with honey on the finish.

Bottom Line:

There’s just so much complexity to this blend that I think it could pair with anything. While I drink it neat to find new flavors with every pour, just a quarter ounce of quality sweet vermouth and a couple of drops of bitters would be all that’s needed to create a truly luxurious Manhattan.

Michter’s Single Barrel 10-Year-Old Rye — Bobby Childs, Adventures in Whiskey

Michter's 10
Bobby Childs

ABV: 46.4%

Average Price: $248

The Whiskey:

In a year filled with exceptional whiskey releases, Michter’s 10-year-old Rye Whiskey stands tall with an exquisite bottling that bests anything else I’ve rated this year.

Tasting Notes:

At a decade old, this rye hits a sweet spot for me — not too old, not too young, or “green.” It’s a perfect balance between grain and barrel influence. The nose features hints of toasted rye grain, dark brown sugar, anise, and wood spice. The mouthfeel is pure velvet on the palate. A sweet and spicy rush of brown sugar, caramel, and cinnamon kick things off on the palate. Sandalwood and a touch of vanilla bean soon develop. The medium finish is warming, showcasing a nice sweet oak.

Bottom Line:

The only way to drink Michter’s 10-year-old Rye is neat or with a splash of water. Any other way would be unthinkable.

Knob Creek 12 — The Bourbon Wanderer

ABV: 50%

Average Price: $70

The Whiskey:

Akin to some of the amazing 12 to 14-year-old barrel picks that have been kept out of Knob Creek over the last few years, this Knob Creek 12 year is an exceptionally easy sipping whiskey. It’s a 12-year-old small-batch bourbon offered at 100 proof.

Tasting Notes:

The nose is rich with vanilla and molasses, blending into that traditional Knob Creek spice. It coats your mouth and leaves a slightly citrus peel on the finish.

Bottom Line:

I couldn’t imagine drinking this with much more than a small ice cube or a couple of drops of water if you prefer. But for a full experience of a full-bodied bourbon, I prefer to pour it straight from the bottle and sip it neat.

Coppersea Bonticou Crag Straight Malt Rye — Diana Pittet, spirits historian and co-founder of Asbury Park Whisky Club and Night Owl Hospitality

ABV: 48%

Average Price: $79

The Whiskey:

Fitting for a founding member of the Empire Rye consortium, Coppersea Distilling sources all the rye for their Bonticou Crag Straight Malt Rye from farms in New York State’s Hudson Valley, including from its very own 75-acre organic farm. Rare for distilleries these days, Coppersea floor-malts heirloom varieties of rye at their distillery — the first in New York to do so — within sight of the eponymous Bonticou Crag, a peak in the Shawangunk Mountains, located in the Catskill Mountains.

Tasting Notes:

Coppersea further distinguishes themselves by double-distilling their whiskies in direct-fired copper stills. This heritage method, along with open fermentation, results in a rich and bold rye whiskey with a luxurious mouthfeel and finish. The nose is wonderfully intense, balancing bright fruit notes with warm baking spices, and the palate unfolds into the honeyed-caramel notes, that direct-fired stills help create, along with a soft kick of ginger and black pepper.

Bottom Line:

Since Bonticou Crag Straight Malt Rye is so satisfyingly complex and rich, it’s my nightcap of choice, drunk neat after dinner. After sipping it, I need nothing else. But sometimes I mix it up and enjoy Coppersea’s malted rye in a classic Manhattan, following chief distiller Christopher Briar Williams’s spec: 2 oz Bonticou Crag Straight Malt Rye, 1 oz Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, and 2 dashes Boker’s-style bitters with a lemon twist and Luxardo cherries. After sipping these Manhattans, though, I usually desire one or two more — they’re so good!

Redbreast Small Batch Cask Strength — THE HOOD SOMMELIER

ABV: 58.7%

Average Price: $118

The Whiskey:

My favorite whiskey of 2021 was Redbreast Small Batch Cask Strength. This whiskey was matured in a combination of the finest American oak casks and Spanish sherry barrels. The whiskey is then finished in Oloroso sherry barrels.

Tasting Notes:

The color is clean and light gold. The nose is savory and fruity, reminding me of oatmeal bread. The taste is all about chocolate-covered cherries, green apples, and light spice. The finish is round, long, and has a dash of dryness.

Bottom Line:

Since this is cask strength, the best to enjoy this was neat or on the rocks.

Bardstown Bourbon Company Ferrand — Brandon Smith, The Daily Dram

ABV: 55%

Average Price: $300

The Whiskey:

This is a blend of seven and eleven-year Kentucky bourbons finished for eight months in Maison Ferrand Cognac barrels. The seven-year is a low-rye with a mash bill of 78 percent corn, 12 percent barley, and ten percent rye. That eleven-year has a little more rye in it, clocking in with 75 percent corn, 13 percent rye, and 12 percent barley.

Tasting Notes:

The nose smells of luxurious cognac paired elegantly with premium Kentucky bourbon. You’ll get stone fruits, chantilly creme, baked apples, and hints of cinnamon and honey on the palate. It’s a true match made in Heaven!

Bottom Line:

I enjoy this pour neat in a proper whiskey glass or Glencairn. The aroma from this pour is one I want to savor and enjoy!

Stranahan’s Blue Peak — Jordan Hughes, High-Proof Preacher

ABV: 43%

Average Price: $47

The Whiskey:

This American single malt whiskey is aged for four years at a high altitude in American oak barrels with a #3 char. It is then finished using the Solera aging method — a unique process of fractional blending where the barrels are ever completely emptied.

Tasting Notes:

The aroma alone is enticing. My wife (who is NOT usually a big whiskey fan) smelled it as I poured myself a glass and it stopped her in her tracks. When popping the cork, you’ll smell dried fruit, cinnamon, and nutmeg. The palate is really approachable with subtle flavors of toasted oak, lots of rich butterscotch, brown sugar, and earthy malt. Honestly, it reminds me a lot of an apple crisp dessert.

Bottom Line:

It’s a bit lower proof (and lower price) than the rest of Stranahan’s single malts, but it gives you a lot of bang for your buck. It’s a truly fantastic intro to American single malts for those who are unfamiliar with the category. It’s also a great option for experimenting with single malt cocktails but has plenty of complexity to be enjoyed on its own.

Springbank 25-Year 2021 Release — MarvelatWhisky

ABV: 46%

Average Price: $956

The Whiskey:

The annual release of the Springbank 25 year is, for me, one of the highlights of my whisk(e)y calendar. Every year, the blend changes slightly and so no two years are the same. For the 2021 edition, a blend of 70 percent sherry, 15 percent bourbon, and 15 percent rum casks was used to create a limited release of just 1,400 bottles. It is rare that one can actually find a 25-year-old scotch at a reasonable price and up until this year that was certainly the case for Springbank. Alas, as with much of the world whisk(e)y market today, Springbank’s meteoric rise in popularity over the last 12 months has, for the first time, signaled its scarcity in the marketplace. And so something that was once easy to purchase has become nigh on impossible, which adds to my rationale for choosing this whisky as my top 2021 pick.

Tasting Notes:

While there’s no doubt that Springbank mellows over time in the cask and some of that so-called “Campbeltown funk” dissipates, there’s something extremely special to me about these older bottlings. The complexity of the spirit at this age and the craft in blending multiple different casks ensures a unique experience. A slightly tropical nose with hints of stewed stoned fruits is underpinned by a light smokiness. On the palate, there’s definitely earthy and oaky notes and that typical salty profile. Crème brulee, brown sugar, and burnt butter bring out a rich sweet side to the whisky which is tempered by delicate peat, ash, and meaty notes. A slight zesty fruitiness develops over time in the glass and while the finish is not as long as one would hope, it certainly entices you in for more.

Bottom Line:

For me, this is a dram to take your time over and preferably sipped neat. Being one of the last remaining family-owned distilleries in Scotland, Springbank is a rarity in the world of whisky-making. It deserves a place on the home bar of anyone building a diverse selection. What’s more, if you can’t find the 25-year, you will not go wrong with the other regular releases of the 10, 12, 15, or 18-year expressions. Do yourself a favor, track down some Springbank at your local store!

King of Kentucky — Kenny Coleman, co-founder Bourbon Pursuit

ABV: 65%

Average Price: $1,133

The Whiskey:

As a host of Bourbon Pursuit, it’s an incredible opportunity to try a bunch of different whiskeys every year from heritage distillers and small producers. Of course, I would love to talk about my own brand of Pursuit United as my favorite release for 2021, but I’ll take a favorite from our Whiskey Quickie series. I feel that one of the best bourbons every year, and 2021 is no exception, is King of Kentucky.

This 14-year-old bourbon is composed of 33 different single barrels with varying proofs and carries a $250 MSRP. It’s the oldest expression coming from Brown Forman and is highly limited with only 2,700 bottles released in 2021. To put that in perspective, there are less than 100 bottles coming from each barrel. The barrel I tried said Barrel #7 and was 130 proof.

Tasting Notes:

The nose is dense, kind of like packing in 20 years of flavor. There’s a ton of tobacco, leather with some burnt cherries, and caramelized sugar. The taste on this one was different but in a great way. It’s much fruitier than anticipated and very decadent with flavors of grape Kool-Aid and cotton candy. The finish has traditional baking spices but really lingers. It’s sweet and viscous.

Bottom Line:

This is one bourbon that the vast majority aren’t ready to sip. This is a true aficionado’s treat. If you can’t handle drinking 130 proof bourbon neat, just stay away from it. This is one special sip for those that don’t need an ice cube.

Blue Note 17-Year-Old Limited Edition — Whisky & Watches

ABV: 54.85%

Average Price: $200

The Whiskey:

This is a barrel-proof whiskey born out of Memphis, Tennessee. It’s unfiltered and aged for 17 years with an ABV of 54.85 percent. The mash bill is 84 percent corn, eight percent rye, and eight percent malted barley. Yes, it’s Dickel, but this is a very special selection from the iconic warehouse.

Tasting Notes:

The nose starts with that candied orange flavor that Dickel is known for but quickly gives way to dark fruits, vanilla, chocolate, and a sweet oak which was derived from 17 years in the barrel. The palate is, once again, all about the dark fruits as the vanilla shines through, but is quickly overshadowed by butter pecan ice cream. On the finish, the high proof doesn’t hide the flavors on this one as all the flavors on the palate come through on the finish.

Bottom Line:

This one proved to be the best neat in my trusty Glencairn glass. The price point at $175 is fair. In fact, I would pay $250 if I had to purchase it again. Unfortunately, secondary pricing has made this one almost untouchable for an extra bottle.

The Balvenie 25 Year Rare Marriages — Chris Perugini, Single Malt Savvy

ABV: 48%

Average Price: $772

The Whiskey:

25 Year Rare Marriages is the first in a new range of premium whiskies from The Balvenie. The bottle is presented with all the hallmarks a discerning imbiber could hope for. It’s non-chill filtered, has no added color, and is bottled at 48 percent ABV. This expression is comprised mostly of whisky from refill American oak ex-bourbon casks along with a smaller proportion of whisky from ex-Oloroso Sherry puncheons. As the name indicates, the whisky is at least 25 years old meaning it was distilled in 1996 or earlier.⁣

Tasting Notes:

On the nose, I find sweet oak, ginger, orange peel, dried mango, sponge cake, baked apples, and vanilla ice cream. The palate features notes of honeyed sweetness, green grapes, a medley of tropical fruits, and some big oak that never becomes overpowering. The finish is long and pleasant and brought about notes of nutmeg, mint, lemon zest, caramel, and more oak.⁣

Bottom Line:

I had a good feeling about this whisky from the moment I saw its color. That light natural hue told me that this was mostly ex-bourbon cask matured Balvenie. I love sherried whisky as much as anyone but Balvenie’s house style does particularly well in ex-bourbon casks. The oak is always present in this expression but it never takes a leading role in terms of flavor. Everything is beautifully layered and the tropical fruits were a really nice touch alongside citrus, honeyed sweetness, and that constant, delicate oak. This is a whisky truly deserving of attention.

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