A complex nose of leather, cedar chest, black tea, cooked cherries, rich spice, and polished oak; water brings out bright citrus, green apple candy, and blackberry cobbler filling. Dark chocolate, cooked cherry, fresh ginger, licorice, black pepper, and nuts on the palate; spearmint, licorice, and tobacco appear once water is added. Extremely lengthy finish with licorice tea, caramel, dark chocolate, polished oak, and spearmint. You might want to tough it out at barrel proof, but water benefits this whiskey, and saves your taste buds.
George T. Stagg Kentucky Straight (Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2020), 65.2%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $99
Bakery notes, orange blossom, allspice, dark berries, raspberry preserves, butterscotch, chocolate, leather, and cedar chest integrate superbly on the nose. The show continues on a very full-bodied palate packed with dark fruit, orange slices, brown sugar, almond, cinnamon, and an overlay of allspice. A deliciously thick, viscous finish goes on and on, completing this tour de force with flavors of chocolate-covered marshmallows, cinnamon, more allspice, old leather, tobacco, and polished oak.
Until now, most Knob Creek has been bottled at 9 years of age or younger for good reason: There’s no guarantee that bourbon will taste good after a dozen years in the barrel—let alone great. This one is richly complex from the start: York Peppermint Pattie, raisins, baking spice, dark chocolate-covered cherries, iced tea, and tobacco barn appear on the nose, followed by a chewy, full palate laden with cinnamon, allspice, and ginger, and perfectly balanced with sweet berry cobbler, chocolate ganache, and caramel. The finish goes on and on. Add in a fair price and excellent availability as part of Knob Creek’s core lineup, and only one question remains: What are you waiting for? Number 2 in the 2020 Top 20
Bushmills 28 year old The Rare Casks Cognac Cask (Release No. 1), 46.7%
Irish Single Malt | $500
The cognac-cask finish finesses the intensity and concentration of the lush fruity character of this whisky. A complex interplay of peach, apricot, apple, pineapple, lemon zest, thick-cut marmalade, oak, faint spices, and dried fruit on the nose. A thick velvety mouthfeel of sweet orange, grapefruit, and lime sweeps to a climax of peppercorn and clove, then it abates with dried apricot, papaya, and marzipan-wrapped Battenberg cake. Exceptional! (800 bottles) Collectibles
Blender Eboni Major makes her mark with this limited-edition whiskey that incorporates three distillates, all at least 9 years old. The multiple flavor profiles and ages converge to create a hyper-charged bourbon with layers of flavor. A lively nose offers raspberry, chocolate, mint, confectioners’ sugar, and candied pecans. The palate is bold, with flavors of cherry, spearmint, dark chocolate, nougat, pepper, and polished oak. More mint follows on the finish, along with bitter chocolate, dark berries, and spice. Each batch will have its own profile, and this incredible inaugural effort promises more greatness to come. Number 4 in the 2020 Top 20
Wheated bourbons, which feature wheat rather than rye as their secondary grain to corn, have attracted legions of devotees in recent years despite being relatively few compared to their rye counterparts. “Wheaters” like Pappy Van Winkle have achieved rock star status, putting them out of reach for many of us. So when we taste a widely available wheated bourbon that displays the soft, sweet, fruity profile of the style, we take note.
Larceny Barrel Proof, our Whisky of the Year, delivers on wheated bourbon’s appeal and then some. Big and powerful, it enters the ring at 61.1% ABV, but it’s no lumbering heavyweight. It floats across the palate with stunning grace and subtlety, its wheated mashbill a delicate counterpoint to its formidable proof. It begins with a flurry of sweet bakery aromas: honey bun, angel food cake, and apple pie à la mode. The palate dazzles with notes of crème brûlée, chocolate, drizzled caramel, honey-roasted peanuts, and lashings of baking spice, followed by a lengthy finish loaded with cinnamon, more chocolate, and robust spice. Water helps unleash layers of these flavors, but Larceny Barrel Proof is amazingly enjoyable even at full proof—no easy thing for a whiskey this big.
The original Larceny Small Batch debuted in 2012 as the modern heir to owner Heaven Hill’s historic wheater, Old Fitzgerald. Following a few special appearances, this barrel-proof version launched to the general public in January 2020, offering wheated bourbon lovers an exceptional treat that’s also widely available—at a very affordable $50.
Larceny Barrel Proof is released in three batches annually, in January, May, and September. Each year, the releases are labeled with a code using a letter to indicate the sequence, and three digits indicating the month and year. This award goes to B520, but you’d be wise to give any of them a try. Number 1 in the 2020 Top 20
Canadian Club Chronicles 43 year old The Speakeasy, 45%
Canadian | $330
The third in the Chronicles series offers a slightly closed nose that soon shows high esters, cinnamon, and eggnog, while hints of mint hide among old dry barn boards in a gorgeous, creamy palate. Mild caramels fade into peppery heat, restrained grassy herbs, and pulling tannins. Burley tobacco leaves replace Canadian Club’s signature dark fruits. Finishes long, hot, and vaguely dry.
The early nose offers hand-rolled tobacco, ginger, black pepper, and fragrant woodsmoke. Medicinal notes, brine, and lemon develop in time. Sweet peat smoke, tropical fruits, toffee, and aniseed on the palate, with smoked haddock and a suggestion of tar. Iodine, black pepper, and sea salt in the lengthy finish.
King of Kentucky 14 year old Single Barrel Kentucky Straight 2020 Release (Barrel No. 3), 65.3%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $250
Intensely fruity to start, with dark cherries, blackberries, and raspberry coulis; there’s also dark chocolate, maple syrup, leather book bindings, and oolong tea, set over a background of baking spice. With water, brown sugar creeps in at the outer edges. Remarkable complexity on the palate: cooked dark fruit, dark chocolate ganache, tea leaf, roasted pecans, maple syrup, licorice, tobacco, and well-integrated spice. The flavor array is seemingly endless, and carries well into a lengthy, warming finish.
Rich and sweet aromas of toasted coconut, honey, ripe pear, green apple, and honeysuckle. The palate is resplendent in golden honey, creamy vanilla, tangy peels, and pepper, with the higher ABV pushing it on and on. Compared to Hedonism Quindecimus and The Muse, this is richer, with greater complexity, and the subtle interplay between the fruits is outstanding. Unforgettably good whisky. (2,226 bottles) Collectibles
Drawn from stocks aged at least 28 years, this magnificent blend begins with aromas of burning heather, toffee, nuts, cigar smoke, leather, raisins, broken orange pekoe tea leaves, fruit loaf, black licorice, allspice, and cinnamon. Truly classic Johnnie Walker with smooth, warming flavors of orange, brown sugar, barley sugar, and gentle harmonious spice, followed by dark toffee, vanilla pod, candied peel, sultana, prune juice, malt, and cocoa.
Sazerac 18 year old Kentucky Straight (Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2020), 45%
Rye Whiskey | $99
Pure panache: roasted cinnamon, allspice berries, baking chocolate, dried cherries, grape jelly, and polished oak on the nose; with time, aromas of nougat and almond. More chewy dried cherries and grape fruit leather on the palate, along with zippy cinnamon, paprika, black pepper, and a hint of mint. Dark chocolate, tobacco, and plenty of oak add support, especially after water is added. More dark fruit and dark chocolate on the finish, as well as persistent oak that swerves, pleasantly, into leather.
Barrell Cask Strength Blend of Straight Bourbons (Batch 025), 56.7%,
Bourbon/Tennessee | $90
This basks in beautiful baking spices—clove, nutmeg, and cinnamon—with toasty oak and candle wax hinting at its maturity. The palate is wonderfully dense with fruit, including flavors of marmalade, strawberry jam, and bright tropical fruits, woven with more spice. Even with water the richness and viscosity stand tall, as more caramel and butterscotch emerge. The spellbinding finish is long, sweet, and nutty. Editors' Choice
Teeling Vintage Reserve Collection 37 year old, 41.3%
Irish Single Malt | $8530
Distilled in 1983, the nose emanates lemon peel, blooming gorse, gooseberry, mint imperials, butter biscuits, sanded oak, florist shop, salted caramel, and violins lying in red velvet cases. Nimble and juicy on the palate, it’s an odyssey through lemon, lychee, and tangy peels, with the acidity of gooseberry riffing off caramels before honeydew, vanilla, and buttery fresh banana mingle in its final throes while it evanesces from the palate.€7,000
Benriach is a sleeper of a single malt, but that’s about to change. Part of a 2020 relaunch of its core line, this grabbed our attention with its sophistication, breadth of flavors, and lovely refinement. Much of the credit surely goes to master blender Rachel Barrie for creating a smoky whisky that both peat lovers and the peat-wary can enjoy. Rather than medicinal intensity, the peat is redolent of gentle, sweetly smoky fruits that integrate seamlessly with notes of vanilla, toasted almond, chocolate, blueberry, and bacon. It beckons like the wafting smoke of a warming autumn bonfire, then welcomes with its lush and velvety embrace. Number 3 in the 2020 Top 20
Apples, pound cake, treacle, almond nougat, and vanilla aromas set up the palate’s inherent sweetness, but pay attention to the note of oyster shell minerality and wafting woodsmoke, so well integrated as to be hardly noticeable—at least until you take a sip. Sweet smoke drifts over toasted almond, Golden Delicious apple, cinnamon, and Swiss Miss hot cocoa, all sprinkled with smoked salt. It finishes with grilled apple and flavored tobacco, the smoke persistent but never ashy, and a silky texture that’s as gentle as a caress.(Individual reviewer rating: 92)
Rare Breed bourbon enjoys notoriety as a great value, and this new rye stands shoulder to shoulder with it. A gift for Wild Turkey fans from master distillers Jimmy and Eddie Russell, it’s not chill-filtered, making it even more full-bodied and rich. Zesty aromas of mint, eucalyptus, pine, and cedar chest mingle with sliced orange, candied strawberry, and sweet pecans on the nose, and that profile carries over into the nutty, spiced, herbaceous, and citrus-sweet flavors of the palate. With water the full spectrum of flavors—and the harmonious interplay of grain and barrel—reveal themselves, leaving an unforgettable impression of perfectly controlled power. Number 5 in the 2020 Top 20
Spice and fresh herbs on the nose, yielding to lemon meringue pie, peach tart, whipped cream, and baking spice. Bakery notes of cherry pie and red berries get things going on the palate, followed by sweet notes of vanilla wafer and frosted yellow cupcake atop herbs and spice, all accentuated with water. A long finish of Boston cream pie, coconut ice cream, baking spice, zesty herbs, and cigar ash.