It’s been a very good year for whiskey — with and without the “e”. There were so many new bottlings to shake an empty glass at, it feels like an embarrassment of riches. Long-awaited limited edition single malts hit shelves. Beloved Japanese whiskies finally made it stateside. Inexpensive ryes hit all the right notes. As many of these bottles won’t last in stores long, we wanted to highlight them for you. Here, then, are our favorite whiskies of the year.
Booker’s 30th Anniversary Limited Edition
A blend of nine and 16 year old whiskeys, this release commemorates three decades since Booker Noe brought his namesake bourbon to market. True to the brand’s core identity, sweet vanilla and oak stand out up front. While it’s great neat, a few drops of water helps you get past the heat from the high alcohol contest (it’s bottled at 125.8 proof) and unlock some serious flavors — butterscotch and shortbread lead into pepper and leather. With every sip you’ll find something a little different from the last. More than twice the price of a Booker’s typical release, it’s so good we don’t mind shelling out the extra Benjamin because its truly special, extra delicious ,and it just might be our favorite bourbon released this year.
Oh yes, we’ve been waiting for this – an single malt scotch whisky fully aged in rye, rather than ex-bourbon casks. Actually, we’ve been expecting it, since the folks at Glenmorangie hinted at it last year. Even with all that anticipation, Spios doesn’t disappoint. The Highland maker’s ninth “Private Edition,” Spios, Gaelic for spice, emits wonderfully inviting aromas of fruit and wood. A sip yields flavors of vanilla, pepper, and cinnamon while the finish will have you rushing out for another bottle before the limited edition is all gone.
The Macallan Edition 4
The Macallan Edition 4 is another limited release Scotch whisky you’ll want to pick up before it’s gone. The venerable maker uses a combination of whisky aged in sherry-seasoned European and American oak casks. A dram splashes notes of wood, vanilla and clove around your palette and might even inspire a malty pilgrimage to their breathtaking new distillery, which just opened for tours this year.
Nikka From the Barrel
While its been around in Japan for a while, Nikka From the Barrel hit the U.S. market this summer. This 103 proof blend is big flavorful whisky at a quite reasonable price point. Toffee, fruit and spice swirl around a big, pleasant dose of heat from the higher alcohol content.
Michter’s 10 Single Barrel Straight Rye
The 2018 Michter’s 10 Year Single Barrel Straight Rye has only been out a few short months but its already getting hard to find. Big and punchy, it’s near rye perfection. Rich spice is beautifully balanced with a lovely vanilla sweetness. If you see a bottle on the shelf, buy it.
Basil Hayden’s Two by Two Rye
A rye for people un-accustomed to an intense mouthful of spice. The good folks at Basil Hayden’s have combined two bourbons and two ryes to create this lovely daily sipper. A caramel-sugar sweetness mingles with a soft rye and makes for a nice ‘Kentucky chew.’ We like it neat or in a classic old fashioned.
Knob Creek Cask Strength Rye
Just before Knob Creek Cask Strength Rye hit shelves, it picked up the best-in-class award at the San Fransisco World Spirits Competition. It’s rich mouthful with spicy, peppery notes playing off a deeply satisfying caramel sweetness. And since its a cask strength 119.6 proof, this Knob Creek has a serious undiluted flavor that waltzes beautifully along your tastebuds.
The latest from Diageo’s Orphan Barrel Project label, Rhetoric 24 Year is the penultimate in the line and the oldest thus far. (Next year the final Rhetoric will feature a 25 year old.) Since its been sleeping in oak for 24 years, this is a weighty whiskey in the mouth. Yes, there are substantial woody notes, but they don’t overpower the other flavors of cinnamon spice, anise, and fruit. It’s simply delicious.
Smooth Ambler Big Level Wheated Bourbon
We love a wheated whiskey, so when one of our local liquor store’s folks mentioned this new one was on the shelf, Smooth Ambler Wheated Bourbon was a must buy. Produced in West Virginia’s Appalachian Mountains, the 100 proof whiskey gives you a mouth-warming dose of char along with a nutty, supple wheat sweetness that will put a smile on your face.
Old Forester 1910
An ode to a batch of whiskey that was nearly destroyed by a fire at the distillery in 1910, Old Forester takes this expression to the next level with extra aging in a second heavily charred barrel. The capstone in the brand’s Whiskey Row series, 1910 is a stunner, one made for bourbon lovers who enjoy thicker, sweeter notes of chocolate and vanilla balanced with char and oak.
Four Roses Limited Edition 2018
Rapidly becoming impossible to find, Four Roses Limited Edition 2018 commemorates the 130th anniversary of the distillery and smacks the palate with fruit, mint, cinnamon, and oak. If you see a bottle grab it and run … after you pay for it, of course.