Can you believe it’s that season again, already? You know the one: when folks like me start looking back at the best bottles of the year; taking inventory, making lists. It feels more trivial this time around, of course. As we approach the final weeks of 2020, everyone is understandably anxious to turn the page on a period of monumental hardship. There’s an argument to be made, though, that good whiskey is more important now than ever before. And luckily, we saw no shortage of such over the past dozen months. So, in the vein of lifting spirits, here’s a look at the most exceptional examples of bourbon to arrive on liquor shelves this year. More categories of whiskey (and whisky) to follow in the days ahead.
Last year, this storied Kentucky producer launched its innovative ‘Wood Finishing Series.’ As opposed to transferring their standard wheated expression to new barrels for the finish, the bourbon is enhanced in its original cooperage—in the presence of specially designed oak staves. This bottle represents the brand’s first foray into marriages. Three separate streams of liquid come together here; one was aged with virgin French oak for an extra five weeks, another for six, and a final component spent a month more slumbering amidst virgin toasted American oak. The result is a vanilla and caramel-laden liquor, ultimately enlivened by cinnamon spice.
This one made a splash two years ago after Forbes named it the best American whiskey of 2018. The latest iteration clocks in at a respectable 105.1-proof, serving up a curious earthiness on the nose. It makes the palate that much more unexpected when it arrives awash in berry fruit before a brief detour toward tropical tonalities. A truly captivating sipping experience.
Company founder—and bourbon legend—George Garvin Brown was among the first whiskey makers in the world to ever bottle his product, all the way back in 1870. Commemorating the milestone, a century-and-a-half later, Master Taster Jackie Zykan has selected the prize barrels from a single run of distillation—150 in total. Well…147 actually; three of the casks ran completely dry during maturation. She then blended the supremely limited liquids into three distinct batches. All at barrel proof. Batch 1 promises the fruitier aromas; batch 2 delivers cacao and cherries; batch 3 is the spiciest of the bunch, maintaining some brown sugar sensibilities. Each is sure to satisfy even the most discerning of bourbon enthusiasts.
After a three year absence, Michters has just re-released this oldest age statement bottling from its stellar stable of American whiskies. It was very much worth the wait. Clocking in at 116.2-proof, the 2020 variation tickles the tongue with candied walnuts and molasses, riding a pleasingly soft mouthfeel. Myriad notes of sweet and spice vie for attention, yet they all resolve themselves harmoniously as sip concludes. It’s almost cruel adding 25-year to this list, since only 348 bottles were produced in total. An there’s no preset schedule for when the luxury brand will unfurl these gold wax-topped stunners in the future. The previous batch regularly fetches over $6000 a bottle today. So if you see this one at retail, consider it a Christmas miracle.
And speaking of miracles…This one-off hit shelves in June at a suggested price of just $70. If you found it for that, I suggest you consider playing the lottery because your luck is legendary. Half a year later, you’ll be fortunate to find this limited release for 50x as much. Why? Because this white whale represents the perfect storm of overvaluation: it’s an allocated label from Buffalo Trace; the eponymous marriage incorporates a portion of the distillery’s wheated mashbill—the same famed distillate that forms the backbone of Pappy Van Winkle and WL Weller; it holds a lengthy age statement; it’s bottled-in-bond. And, oh yes, it might very well be the best American whiskey I’ve sipped all year. Worth multiple thousands of dollars? Well, that all depends on how much money you’ve got to burn on whiskey. I’m not judging you either way. Full tasting notes here.
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