To say that this has been an outstanding year for the world of whisky would be an understatement. Some exquisite juice has been bestowed on drinkers from Scotland to Kentucky, Nashville to Denver, and Ireland to Japan. And the hits just keep coming from every corner of the whiskey world.
As a whiskey influencer, investor, and co-founder of the revived Whisk Live USA! shows, I have been fortunate enough to have tasted some absolutely outstanding drams this year. The number is well over 1,000 bottles give or take, and that’s excluding the San Francisco World Spirits Competition judging I did earlier this. I’ve also been able to travel the globe seeking what the best distilleries have to offer, and I can assure you that there’s a lot of great stuff out there (and not-so-great stuff too — none of this exists in a vacuum).
With all of that being said, here is my list of the ten absolute best whiskeys for 2022. I will apologize in advance for the level of effort that some of these requireto obtain but that just means you have a good excuse to visit these countries to try to find them on distillery visits, whiskey bar crawls, and shop drop-ins!
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10. Lagavulin 14 Jazz Festival 2022
Average Price: $250 (Distillery only)
This year’s Jazz Festival release from Lagavulin was another spectacular pour from the brand. The malt is mellowed in re-fill American oak barrels before being transferred into former brandy barrels for the rest of those years. Finally, the whisky was bottled at cask strength from a few select barrels aged by the sea in Islay.
This is an absolute beast. It’s so insanely sweet, which makes you question if it really is from Islay until that incredible smoke and peat comes at you. The cherries, both maraschino and ripe and lush from the orchards, come through marvelously, which all stem from the brandy cask finish here. Brown sugar kicks in and alternates between sweet and smoked, leaving you wondering what will happen next.
I realize smokey and peaty whiskies aren’t for everyone. But if you can get a hold of this (only 3,000 bottles are available at the distillery), you will not be sorry!
9. The Dalmore ‘The Luminary 2022 Edition’ 15-Year-Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Average Price: $450
Being the first person outside the distillery to have tried this, I can tell you that this limited-edition series is spectacular and extremely unique. Master whisky makers Richard Paterson, OBE, and Gregg Glass really stepped it up here for this 15-Year-Old gem. The whisky was finished in first-fill bourbon casks, Amarone red wine casks, and bespoke “Kintsugi” casks made from Scottish Tay Oak.
This is special. The nose is complex and hugely sweet. The palate comes in with that amazing Christmas Cake vibe that Dalmore is known for, with chocolate shavings and a hint of Orange Zest. Sweet spices come through in a generous form on the palate, with a long finish that leaves you wanting more.
This is available in markets outside the U.S. only, making it highly collectible in the U.S. market … if you can find it! And if you can, you’ll be in for a wonderful single malt treat with every nose and sip.
8. Michter’s 10-Year Single Barrel Rye 2022
Average Price: $269
I did not enjoy rye whiskey until 2017, when I first came upon Michter’s 10-Year-Old Single Barrel Rye. What Master Distiller Pam Heilmann (since retired) did back then was nothing short of immaculate. This current version by Master Distiller Dan McKee and Master of Maturation Andrea Wilson reminds me of that first one still thanks to the serious depth found in some truly astounding barrels.
Despite a relatively low ABV (for an American Whiskey these days), this one still packs a massive spice punch on the nose that then shifts into spicy warmth, sweetness, then roasted marshmallows on the back of the palate. Overall, it is long and lingering with pure rye essence that coats your palate so perfectly.
This is, without a doubt, a top rye whiskey for me every year!
7. Stranahan’s Snowflake 2022 Batch 25, Humboldt Peak
Average Price: $120
This is the best malt from Stranahan’s thanks to the mature American single malt whiskey that Colorado distillery is producing. Older versions of Snowflake used to include two to five-year-old single malt but this version has a backbone of nine-year-old malt, a stark contrast from before. Stranahan’s believes in “layering” their whiskies, meaning that they blend several different cask styles together, and see what hits.
This year’s blend ended up being seven different casks from their standard American single malt to a sherry cask finished malt, Barbados rum cask finished, and a bottled in bond malt thrown in there. It’s just outstanding.
The nose is all Christmas all day with sweet notes followed by the most beautiful gingerbread cookies and holiday cake on the palate with that sweet white icing on top. This lingers for quite some time and then the baked apple pie and brown sugar settle in perfectly. The finish is long and sweet, making this dram ideal at 47%.
Named after one of the iconic “fourteeners” (there are over 50 peaks above 14,000 feet in Colorado), Stranahan’s Snowflake Humboldt Peak is simply on another level from years past. Having recently tried the last seven versions, I can say with confidence that this is lights-out the best.
6. Teeling Purple Muscat Cask Aged 32 Years
Average Price: $3,269
This is the pinnacle of Irish whiskey and a sign of the times. As Irish whiskey continues to explode, the older expressions just keep topping one another. It is truly uncanny. Teeling won World’s Best Whiskey a few years back with their 24-year-old, and I can say with confidence that this new, extremely limited 32-Year expression tops that winning and beloved pour of Irish whiskey.
This is full of tropical fruit, something this Dublin distillery is known for. The pineapple and guava on the palate are bountiful, and then upside-down pineapple cake just comes in and whisks you away!
This is hands down worth buying for both drinking and collecting purposes. It’s perfect neat, but a drop or two of water really lets it bloom into a fruity, creamy dream of a sip.
5. Benromach 40 2022
Average Price: $3,818
Last year, I ranked Benromach 21-Year-Old as my second-best whisky of the year behind Paul John Mithuna Indian Single Malt. This year, their 40-Year-Old expression blew me away too, especially after winning World’s Best at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition earlier this year. This highland distillery keeps it coming from their Organic expressions to their classic 10-Year-Old and right up to their almost unattainable 50-Year-Old. It is also a byproduct of the Gordon and Macphail family, which has been creating some of the world’s oldest whiskies for generations.
This one opens with a chocolatey sensation. The nose has robust sherry notes, which work beautifully while transitioning to the dark chocolate berries on the palate. The age really shows itself perfectly as it is deep, rich, complex, and mature without being even slightly over-oaked. The balance is extraordinary. Some espresso starts to filter through late on the palate. It’s wonderful! There’s a very long finish with chocolate shavings that eventually mellow everything out. Brilliant.
A lot of scotch whisky drinkers are still unfamiliar with this brand, and that shocks me given how damn good everything is that this distillery has been doing. It’s time to stop sleeping on this stellar single malt.
4. Caol Ila 14 Year Old The Four Corners Of Scotland Collection 2022 Distillery Exclusive
Average Price: $185 (Distillery Only)
I was torn on how high to rank this one, as it was equally nostalgic for me as it is outstanding. This simply dominated on my recent trip to Islay with the Lagavulin 14 Jazz Festival (above) coming in 2nd on that particular trip. The juice is mellowed for 14 years in refill and freshly charred hogsheads right on the sea in Islay. The barrels are picked to create this specific flavor profile that highlights what made me fall in love with Caol Ila years ago.
Smokiness and sweetness dominate the nose with dark fruits that are wonderfully incorporated. Then there’s this vanilla custard that comes across the tongue brilliantly. The peat kicks in, but is not overbearing in the least, and that medicinal Islay feel is right where it should be, subtle and lurking underneath everything else.
Long and sweet and smokey on the finish, this has got to be the best thing to come from my favorite Islay outpost in a long while!
The magic lasts from start to finish and genuinely leaves you wanting more. So much so that I bought a case because I knew that I would not be going back to Islay anytime soon and there are only 3,000 bottles in this run.
3. The Irishman Single Malt Irish Whiskey Aged 17 Years
Average Price: $170
This is kind of a no-brainer but is almost certainly the underdog on this list since The Irishman is just making its way back to the U.S. market for the first time in a long while. The actual juice is made from 100% Irish malted barley and only three casks were made (with only one coming to the U.S. market). Those few barrels were bottled as is at cask strength without chill filtration.
The nose is deliciously sweet with a toasted malting floor coming at you as if you were in a distillery coupled with honey and raisins from the sherry maturation. The palate has some Bananas Foster to it with hints of burnt sugar on a crème brulee. The finish is mildly long and full of dried fruit.
This is hands down the best value for money on this list, considering its limited run and price. At around $170, you could add another $50-$60 to the price tag here and it would still be well worth it.
2. Jura Distillery Exclusive Fèis Ìle Edition 2022
Average Price: $145
This one stands out amongst many and has to be the best from this year’s Fèis Ìle Whisky Festival on Islay. The whisky in the bottle is a 14-year-old malt that was matured in ex-sherry butts until it was just right for this special, one-off bottling for the whisky fest of only 700 bottles.
The nose has that beautiful and light Jura smoke with some stunning sweetness to it. The orange comes to life with sea-salted caramel and continues into the palate with citrus and more subtle smoke and coffee notes. The orange citrus notes continue into the finish and pair perfectly with the sea salt that is so complimentary to this dram.
Finally, something from the tiny town that could! Dubbed as the “most difficult place in the world to get to” and where George Orwell wrote 1984, Jura has some fantastic releases but often gets overlooked as The Dalmore’s younger sibling. This excellent release should help to change all of that.
1. Heaven Hill Heritage Collection 17-Year Bourbon
Average Price: $3,200
It goes without saying that anything coming out of Heaven Hill Brands is going to be top-notch. This bourbon is an instant classic that’s built from 28% 20-year-old barrels, 44% 19-year-old barrels, and 28% 17-year-old barrels that were stashed around the Heaven Hill campuses in Bardstown, Kentucky. Once batched, that whiskey went into the bottle completely unadulterated, creating this brilliant pour.
The nose is so beautifully hot, the heat continues into the palate with that stunning candy corn sweetness. The 12% malted barley in the mash bill plays a massive role here, bringing lovely nuttiness to the forefront, and let’s not forget the fire-roasted cherries on that insane palate. This is tens all around!
I don’t often go with bourbon in the top spot, for the simple reason that there aren’t too many ways one can play around with bourbon compared to other whiskies of the world. Yes, there are many variants from mash bill, time, location of cask in the rickhouse, etc. But without being able to play freely with the style of the base cask — where so much of the flavor comes from — it makes it tough to really play around with flavor profiles.
I’m not trying to knock bourbon by any means, but the proof is in the pudding since you can find thousands of “finished bourbons” nowadays. But that’s what arguably stands out more with this absolutely unbelievable bottle, that’s simply made from standard bourbon barrels spread around a few warehouses in Kentucky. There’s no special finishing, just amazing bourbon straight from the barrel.