Libationary Tales: Worth’s Guide to the 17 Hottest Whiskeys and Bourbons to Try Right Now
Let’s be honest: We all need a drink. The coronavirus lingers. Inflation is back. Whispers of World War III abound. And if none of that does us in, we still have a planet that is nearing the point of no return in terms of climate change. So yes, it’s time to uncork some of the best whiskeys and bourbons on earth and settle in for some potential pre-Armageddon imbibing.
Like the previous whiskey guide I helped compile in 2020 with Arick Wierson (who I have to thank for helping me work through many of the bottles on this list, while staying sober enough to edit my copy), here is what this list is not: a ranking of the best whiskies and bourbons. My intention here is far less ambitious, merely curating a guide of the 17 hottest new (or newish) whiskey elixirs available right now.
This guide will be covering not only the grain-based poteens themselves, but occasionally I will also investigate the backstories of the distillers that brought them to life. Some have roots in the church, while others were born as mountain dews in the darkest days of Prohibition. Every whiskey is a story in liquid form, and to the extent possible, I will try to do justice to these libationary tales.
My goal is to inspire a whiskey bucket list for the months ahead—or at least one that will last long enough to take you through spring and summer and into fall. Whether you’re a hardcore scotch-snob, a cocktail-crafting weekend warrior or a simply a greenhorn in the world of usquebaugh, there is something here for everyone—even the teetotalers! No matter your perch in life, there is a whiskey or two (or three) somewhere on this list perfectly suited for your unique nose and palate.
So, let’s get started!
Retail Price: $125,000/750 mL With Custom Decanter
ABV: 41.6 percent
If The Reach isn’t Macallan’s magnum opus, then it is at least their crowning achievement to date. A rich history, faithful reconstruction and a beautiful presentation have all come together resulting in what is really a monument by Macallan dedicated not just to this whiskey maker’s storied past but also to the distillery workers who first brought the spirit into existence amidst a world at war.
The exquisite hand-blown glass decanter was created by sculptor Saskia Robinson—a piece that Macallan master whisky maker Kirsteen Campbell calls a “tribute to the people who made this precious whiskey, and their enduring spirit.” Held aloft by three intricately engraved bronze hands, Macallan has constructed a veritable throne for this unique tribute whiskey. A short film directed by renowned photographer, artist and director Nadav Kander celebrating the single malt whiskey was also recently released on Macallan’s website.
The liquor has a deep auburn hue as the first hint of this remarkable whiskey’s astonishing depth. Offering notes of dark chocolate, sweet cinnamon and aromatic peat, The Reach’s initial bite leads to a taste of toffee, crystallized ginger and charred pineapple, before giving way to an intensely rich, sweet and smoky finish.
But here’s the catch: The Reach may be a reach financially, but isn’t price part of exclusivity? The Reach will be highly limited to only 288 decanters worldwide, and if you have a severe case of FOMO but are short the $125,000 needed to secure your very own bottle, it can be seen on display at The Macallan Estate Boutique where you can imbibe with your eyes.
Retail Price: $39.99/750 mL
ABV: 43 percent
There is a reason Wild Turkey’s Longbranch is the only celebrity-endorsed whiskey gracing this list. Most (not all) whiskeys backed by big-name celebs are novelties at worst, and grossly overpriced at best. Yet, we found Longbranch to be a solid, versatile whiskey that is affordable to boot. Since its inception in 2018, this is the only Wild Turkey bourbon to bear the signature of anyone other than its two master distillers Jimmy and Eddie Russell—that of actor Matthew McConaughey, who played a major role in its development, taste and branding. (This is one role McConaughey was probably loathe to outsource to his best friend-cum-stunt double Mark Norby.) The distillers at Wild Turkey use a two-part filtration process that incorporates charcoal from American oak barrels and Texas mesquite wood, giving the bourbon a rich, smooth taste. Drink it neat or with ice.
Retail Price: $94.99/750 mL
ABV: 43 percent
Brother Justus founder Phil Steger’s told us that his original goal when he founded the Minneapolis-based distillery was to produce the quintessential “single malt whiskey in the world…that captures the flavors, landscape and the climate of Minnesota.” We at Worth believe he succeeded.
Brother Justus sources their barley from the Great Plains, their white oak from eastern hardwood forests, their peat from boreal forests, their water from the headwaters of the Mississippi and their history from the 1920s. While most wouldn’t expect Minnesota to be the birthplace of one of the most notorious Prohibition-era whiskeys ever made, the history behind the North Star State’s spirit is dripping with Americana and Prohibition badassery.
In the 1930s, when the manufacturing, transportation and sale of intoxicating liquor was criminalized nationwide, whispers of a brand-new, delicious whiskey called Minnesota 13 soon began to spread across the back-alley saloons around the nation. The man behind this whiskey was a fella named Justus, a member of the cloth—a veritable Johnny Appleseed of whiskey—dropping bottles of MN-13 around wherever his path took him.
The story goes that Brother Justus saw poor affected farmers across the Midwest turning to moonshine manufacturing to help make ends meet, yet he noticed their techniques seemed a little outdated and their booze a little dangerous. Brother Justus offered these farmers the knowledge and tools required to make their moonshine sing, and his Minnesota 13 became one of the most highly coveted whiskeys around the country. MN-13, as it was known, proved to be such a problem for government officials that it became the first home brewed whiskey in the nation to earn a regional designation by the feds looking to crack down on Prohibition-era scofflaws.
Retail Price: $77/750 mL
ABV: 40 percent
This is one drink where you will want to make it a double.
This is what you would call our list’s first “staple.” The name Dewar’s has been synonymous with Scotch whisky since the distiller’s inception back in 1846. Dewar’s award-winning 18-year-old blended Scotch whisky has a reputation among whiskey aficionados as an essential spirit for any top shelf bar. The 18 year’s palette is fruity with honey malts and a nose of vanilla and caramel. After maturing in bourbon and sherry casks and the concoction is thoroughly blended, Dewar’s Scotch is returned to the casks for an additional period of maturation known as “double-aging.”
Retail Price: $38.99/750 mL
ABV: 44.3 percent
Busker Irish Whiskey is the new kid on the block, but the Ireland-based distillery has made an absolute bang of an entrance onto the scene, netting a platinum medal at the 2020 L.A. Spirits Awards. This fantastic single malt Irish whiskey is matured in retired bourbon and sherry casks, resulting in a deep golden whiskey with a floral element and notes of chocolate and malt biscuit. The whiskey finishes sweet and creamy. The bottle’s affordable pricing, coupled with its award-winning past, makes this one an absolute steal.
Retail Price: $47.50/750 mL
ABV: 42.5 percent
Representing the East Coast, West Coast and Midwest is the Tommyrotter Napa Valley Heritance Cask Straight Bourbon Whiskey. Our number six spot has a little bit of everything. The whiskey is actually a blend of three completely separate bourbons: high corn bourbon, high wheat bourbon and a high rye bourbon. After aging in midwestern Indiana, the spirits are whisked away to Buffalo, N.Y., for the final finishing. Before it is introduced to its midwestern bourbon brothers, the final straight bourbon is finished for three months in Taub Family Selections Heritance Cabernet Sauvignon French oak barrels, sourced from wine mecca Napa Valley. The end-result is a fruity, smooth spirit with notes of caramel and spice.
Retail Price: $74.99/750 mL
ABV: 44 percent
The success behind Courage & Conviction’s American Single Malt is an amalgamation of the company’s traditional distilling techniques, modern-day twists on aging and the unique climate and geography where ingredients are sourced. Water taken straight from the Blue Ridge Mountains is coupled with Courage & Conviction’s hand-hammered copper stills. The distillery focuses on a trio of aging cask types: sherry, cuvée and bourbon casks. In the cuvée cask, the whiskey ages in a red-wine cask that has been shaved, toasted and re-charred. What is produced is a sweet smelling and sweet tasting whiskey. Notes of raspberry, cherry, brown sugar and spice hit the nose coupled with elements of caramelized plum and cherry.
Retail Price: $39.99/750 mL
ABV: 41 percent
Released in 2015, it only took Kikori whiskey one year before taking home the gold in the 2016 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. No small feat, especially when you take into account that Kikori whiskey is crafted from resources solely unique to its native island of Kyushu—a perfect climate, pure groundwater that’s sourced locally and the surrounding volcanic topography all come together to produce this very special rice-based spirit from Japan. The whiskey ages a minimum of three years in American oak, French Limousin oak and sherry casks, eventually developing Kikori whiskey’s signature golden hue, floral and fragrant aroma and palette friendly smooth finish. At 82-proof, Kikori delivers a distinctively different style of whiskey that is memorable, delicate and delicious. Although not exactly a new whiskey, it really began to take off in the U.S. during the pandemic.
Retail Price: $59.99/750 mL
ABV: 43 percent
Our number nine spot is the brainchild of Proximo Spirits and Jose Cuervo’s CEO Juan Domingo Beckmann. Here, whiskey brewer Great Jones sources grains from the ebony soil of upstate New York’s mineral-rich Black Dirt Region and distills a lovely brew in a unique, custom built, Kentucky-metal Vendome still. The 500-gallon still is nearly two-stories tall and housed behind an explosion-proof glass chamber. The bourbon is then aged in American oak barrels for four years before being bottled and shipped off.
Great Jones bourbon is a light amber liquid that smells of toasted cereal, marzipan, fresh yeast, toasted marrow, dry orchard fruit, warm spices and charred wood. On the palate, a robust flavor with more emphasis on spice is met with sweet grain flavors, before finishing smooth.
Retail Price: $120/750mL
ABV: 50 percent
Waterford Distillery, the largest producer of organic malt whisky in the world, recently announced the launch of the world’s first whiskey made from biodynamic Irish barley, a concoction they have dubbed the Biodynamic: Luna. Waterford Distillery runs its farms based on a series of lectures delivered by Austrian polymath Rudolf Steiner in 1924. Steiner laid out a self-sustaining method of farming that he dubbed the “biodynamic” agricultural system for post-WWI farmers trying to keep up with the industrialization of the world around them. This system would go on to be adopted by many of the world’s greatest wine producers, but Waterford is the first to apply it to whiskey. Waterford’s Luna Whisky is the latest whiskey in the distillery’s Arcadian Series, which showcases the flavors produced by forgotten ways of farming and rare barley varieties.
11. Frisky Whiskey
Retail Price: $29.99/750 mL
ABV: 35 percent
Brewed to deliver to an audience often overlooked by the traditional whiskey industry, Frisky Whisky CEO Nicole Young strives to create a product that is “a welcoming experience for whiskey connoisseurs, the whiskey curious and everyone in between.” Seems like Frisky nailed it—and they have the hardware to prove it. In 2018, Frisky’s spirit garnered top honors at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, and at the 2018 Ultimate Spirits Challenge, it was the only whiskey to score a 95/100.
Frisky is distilled and crafted in small batches. In contrast to typical flavored whiskeys, Frisky’s formula uses pure caramel and natural vanilla to accentuate and enhance the naturally occurring whiskey notes. The result is a smooth and extremely palatable taste at 70-proof, with a uniquely familiar but delicately enhanced flavor.
Retail Price: $48.99/750 mL
ABV: 43.6 percent
Over the last nine generations, Clonakilty Distillery has farmed Ireland’s coastal land to utilize the best resources that nature has to offer. As a result of using their own heritage barley, Clonakilty has produced numerous award-winning spirits. The Single Batch Double Oak Irish Whiskey is matured in ex-bourbon casks and finished in virgin American oak, before finally being shaved and toasted in ex-red wine European oak casks. This full-bodied whiskey boasts fragrant aromas of soft spices and vanilla that lead to flavors of ginger and hazelnut. Its long finish is highlighted by vanilla sweetness and spices lingering on the palate.
Retail Price: $30/750 mL
ABV: 40 percent
At first sight, Stillhouse’s Original Whiskey stands out from the pack due to its packaging; each Stillhouse Original Whiskey—from their original whiskey to spiked cherry and peach tea—is housed within their square steel oil cans. We at Worth celebrate when novelty coincides with excellence, and Stillhouse Whiskey pulls off this combo in spades.
Retail Price: $44.99/750 mL
ABV: 47.5 percent
Off Hours wants to dispel any and all notions of formality when it comes to whiskey culture. No more brown leather couches, dimly lit rooms and cigars. Think less Mad Men, more Workaholics. The elixir is aged in American white oak barrels for over five years in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. Tasting notes include aromas of creamy vanilla, hints of nutmeg and toasted pecans, rich notes of cinnamon and a silky finish of lingering honey.
Retail Price: $50.99/750 mL
ABV: 48.28 percent
Vermont’s own WhistlePig made our 2020 list with their unforgettable “Black Prince” whiskey. This year, one of their more affordable bottles made the cut, but that doesn’t mean the PiggyBack Rye isn’t up to snuff. The process of aging their mash bill of 100 percent rye results in an intense spice flavor profile. If you can’t handle the 96.56-proof kick, WhistlePig also sells their own maple syrup which they recommend using to make a Vermont classic: the Maple Old Fashioned. We found that adding a dash of ice was a fantastic medium as well.
Retail Price: $50/750 mL
ABV: 44 percent
Ohio-based High Bank Distillery’s Whiskey War bottles are inspired by a story that could come out of a Hollywood blockbuster. Picture it: A large Methodist contingent has settled in Westerville, Ohio—just 12 miles from where High Bank’s facility now sits—establishing a university, several local churches and the base for the ever-growing temperance movement. One day in 1875, Henry Corbin is about to open his very own saloon, sticks of dynamite go off and blow his operation into rubble. When Corbin made his second attempt at opening another saloon, it was once again blown sky-high. With the event marked by protestors and a gun-toting response to his anti-alcohol neighbors by Corbin, the papers dubbed it the “Whiskey Wars,” and the temperance movement’s base of operations would become the de facto Anti-Saloon League headquarters.
Let this piece of American history hit your palette with notes of black pepper, rye spice and dill, followed by a wave of sweet corn, and finishing with notes of bread. Its nose is black pepper, dill and caramel tones.
Retail Price: $26.99/750 mL
ABV: 0 percent
Ritual Zero Proof Whiskey Alternative is, once again, the primo non-alcoholic whiskey alternative of 2022. In the last whiskey article I wrote with Arick Wierson, we penned a phrase that still sticks in my head: that Ritual Zero Proof Whiskey “…not undrinkable but…definitely suited for mocktails.” Look, we mentioned this was a list for every conceivable type of whiskey drinker, and that includes the non-drinkers. No ethanol means no bite, which allows all the remaining flavors of chocolate, vanilla and red fruit to shine through. We stand by our previous ruling that no one should be sipping neat or on ice, so make sure to grab your favorite mixers if you’re leaving your local liquor store with a bottle of Ritual Zero Proof Whiskey.