It’s the end of the year and time for all the “Best of” lists you can handle. But at least this one is about whiskey, always something worth reading about. If you’ve been following our recent articles, you’ll notice some of the same bottles reappearing on this list. Well, that just means we’ve been leading you in the right direction this whole time. Now we’ve put the very best of the best into one handy list. Take it with you to your local liquor store and spend all those gift cards you got at Christmas. Cheers to a Healthy and Happy New Year!
10. Chattanooga Whiskey 99 Rye
One of the most notable releases of 2020. Chattanooga Whiskey uses four grains, three of which are malted, to craft a rye that offers a flavor profile that cannot be found in any other whiskey. Expect flavors of cola, spice cake, toasted rye, and a drinking experience like nothing else you have tried this year.
9. Old Carter Rye Batch 5 & Old Carter Rye Batch 6
The Carters are Napa winemakers that have expanded into the world of whiskey. Their wine blending skill has easily translated to their whiskey blends, especially to these two rye batches. Batch 5 is drenched with caramel, butterscotch, baking spice, and some herbal flavors of mint and dill. Batch 6 is a bit more floral and citrus-forward, dotted with red hot candies and blasts of mint. These batches are quite different in flavor profile, but they’re both so delicious that we couldn’t choose one over the other.
8. Pinhook Bourbon War 5-year Vertical Series
The second release in Pinhook’s 9-year plan of annual vintages, this Bourbon has upped the attention on the brand. It is unquestionably a traditional Bourbon with big flavors of cherries, burnt brown sugar, chocolate, anise, and a wonderful cinnamon heat. Get in early on this vertical and follow the vintages as they culminate with a 12-year-old release.
7. Old Overholt 114 Rye
Jim Beam has been revitalizing the Overholt lineup for a couple of years with new and improved releases. This year, the overhaul continued with two additional releases, an 11-year-old rye and this 114 proof gift to whiskey enthusiasts. If you like root beer, buttercream, and peanut butter, you’re going to want to track down this bottle immediately. It’s a rye that will please just about anyone that enjoys brown spirits.
6. Jack Daniel's Barrel Proof Rye
This is a MONSTER release by Jack Daniel’s. Proofs ranging from the upper 120s to the upper 130s. That’s some severe heat. But this rye isn’t just for the high-proof whiskey chasers. It’s loaded with complex flavors for drinkers looking for a whiskey to sit with, think with, and ponder big things. Expect bold butterscotch, fresh greenery, fried pie crust, and atom bombs of vanilla.
5. Four Roses Small Batch Select
Although this is a release from one of Bourbon’s biggest names, it might be the most overlooked whiskey on this list. Small Batch Select debuted in just five states in late 2019 and saw wider distribution this year, so we count it as a 2020 release. This is the newest addition to the permanent Four Roses lineup, and in our opinion, it’s the best. Full of fresh berries, peaches, baking spices, traces of oak, and sprinkled with mint.
4. Bardstown Bourbon Company Collaboration Series Chateau de Laubade
If there was ever a growing trend in whiskey, it is secondary finishing and maturation. Bardstown Bourbon Company is doing it better than anyone else with their Collaboration Series. This release is a blend of 12-year Indiana Bourbon finished for 18 months in Armagnac brandy barrels from French Armagnac house Chateau de Laubade. One of the best-finished whiskeys we have ever had. Bright with white florals and citrus on the nose, while the brandy melds perfectly into the aged Bourbon with dark amber honey, apricot jam, dark roast coffee, and sweet cinnamon spice.
3. Knob Creek 12
This addition to the Knob Creek lineup is masterful. Not only did Jim Beam add the 9-year age statement back to its standard product, but they have also added this 12-year. It’s a significant flex from one of the giants of whiskey. The extra three years in the barrel over the standard product absolutely add some richness and more oak influence perfectly integrated into this small-batch release. At 100 proof, the aged whiskey shines with oak, leather, tobacco, vanilla, and marshmallows, topped with a dusting of robust black pepper.
2. Maker's Mark 2020 Limited Edition (SE4 x PR5)
The 2020 Limited Release from Maker’s is one of two whiskeys that we instantly knew from the first sip would be a contender for our whiskey of the year. Yes, it’s that good. Maker’s has been finishing their standard wheated Bourbon for quite some time with various custom-made staves to impart different flavors into the whiskey. This is the second release in their nationwide limited release “Wood Finishing Series.” The custom staves used to finish the whiskey were called SE4 and PR5 and were created to amplify the vanilla and caramel flavors in their classic Bourbon. Mission accomplished. This whiskey is caramel sauce over the creamiest vanilla ice cream you’ve ever had. Trust us, buy two.
1. Wild Turkey Master's Keep 17-year Bottled in Bond
Drinking this whiskey is an extraordinary experience, at first sip had us gushing. We immediately knew this was something exceptional. Everything that we tasted this year was compared to it, and nothing else measured up. Really nothing was even that close. There is a big gap between number one and two on this list. That is just a testament to the mastery of this release. We could write more and more eloquent praise for this whiskey, but we will spare you. This Bourbon is complex and layered with luscious aromas and flavors of cherries, oak, and leather. Drinking it is more than just having a glass of Bourbon; it is one of those experiences that changes how you look at Bourbon and what you thought it could be. It can be this, and this is magical.
We tried so many great whiskeys this year, but not all of them could make our “best of” list. So here are some honorable mentions that are worthy of space on your bar: Smokewagon Uncut Unfiltered, Wild Turkey Rare Breed Rye, Peerless Absinthe Finish Rye, Bardstown Discovery Series 3, Jim Beam Old Tub, Old Overholt 11-year Rye, Pinhook Tiz Rye Time 4-year Vertical Series Rye, Lucky Seven “The Hold Up” 12-year Bourbon, Sagamore Manhattan Finish Rye, Barrell Bourbon Dovetail.