While you can easily (and maybe even happily) spend the rest of your days drinking the same whisk(e)ys that have been readily available for decades, there’s a world beyond that classic black-labeled bottle of Jack Daniel’s, red wax-sealed Maker’s Mark, and poultry-adorned Wild Turkey. That’s why we suggest that between sipping on “the usual suspects” you try a new release every now and then. What better way to improve your palate and whiskey IQ?
Besides, who doesn’t want to try something different from time to time?
Well, lucky you. These days there’s a new bourbon, Scotch, or rye released every week, a mix of annual releases and limited-edition offerings. Some are just okay, plenty are solid, and a rare few are worth getting truly hyped about. Knowing which is which — that’s the art.
To help you out, we’re naming eight of our favorite recently released whiskeys across all styles. These memorable bottles might not be around for long (certainly not at these prices), so get them while you can.
Last Drop 1980 Buffalo Trace Bourbon Whiskey
Released: January 2021
Average Price: $4,600
This 1980 Buffalo Trace Bourbon Whiskey was, you guessed it, distilled in 1980 at what was then referred to as the George T. Stagg Distillery. Jimmy Carter was still the president and Empire Strikes Back was the number 1 movie in America.
The Sazerac Company (which owns The Last Drop) purchased the distillery back in 1992. It wasn’t until 1998 that a full inventory was taken, and the 1980 barrels were discovered. Already having aged for 18 years, it was decided that they’d be left where they were. That is, until 2000 when they reached the ripe old age of 20 and were removed from their barrels and vatted into stainless steel to halt the aging process.
This is where they’ve remained for the last 20 years, before finally being bottled by The Last Drop Distillers — which specializes in these sorts of releases.
On the nose, you’ll find hints of the musty, ancient barrelhouse, rich almonds, dried cherries, and charred oak. (That oakiness is expected for how long this one is aged.) The sip is full of notes of leather, sticky toffee, raisins, almonds, creamy vanilla, and treacle. The finish is mellowwwwwww, long, and ends with a final dose of sweet, buttery caramel.
Blissful and all too easy to sip.
This rare, limited-edition whiskey is truly special. But obviously… the price.
If you can swing it, it’s worth knowing that you’re drinking an exclusive dram of history — the brand only released 240 bottles of this 40-year-old expression — so for god’s sake don’t muck it up by adding anything more than a single drop of water.
Angel’s Envy Cask Strength
Released: Nationwide November 2020
The genesis of the Angel’s Envy Cask Strength program hails back to 2012. This is when late master distiller Lincoln Henderson, his son Wes, and grandson Kyle walked around the rickhouse and picked out a few barrels of bourbon to finish in Port wine casks. Even though Lincoln passed away in 2013, the Henderson family has continued his tradition every year since.
2020-21 is a special year for the brand — this expression is finally available for the whole country to enjoy. Prior to last year, Angel’s Envy Cask Strength Kentucky Straight Bourbon was only available in eight states, including Kentucky, New York, and California. Named as the “Best Spirit in the World” back in 2013 by Paul Pacult’s Spirit Journal, you can currently find this beloved bottle in all 50 states (and at the distillery in Louisville).
While regular Angel’s Envy bourbon clocks in at a potent 86.6 proof, its Cask Strength bourbon comes in at a robust 120.4 proof. Just like the brand’s original bourbon, this one is finished in Port wine casks.
Before tasting this expression, it pays to give it a proper nosing. You’d expect such a high proof bourbon to have at least a few harsh alcohol aromas. This one doesn’t. All you smell is sweet cherries, rich vanilla, and brown sugar. The palate delivers subtle Christmas spices, candied orange peel, caramel sweetness, and charred oak. The finish is medium in length, warming, and signs off with even more toasted vanilla and just a subtle kick of peppery spice at the very end.
This bourbon is exceptionally mellow for its high proof. It’s complex and full of so many flavors it’ll take you a few glasses before you uncover them all. That’s the fun of it and makes it worth the high sticker price.
WhistlePig Boss Hog VII
Released: November 2020
Back in 2013, Vermont’s WhistlePig launched the first edition of its now iconic Boss Hog expression. It was made using only 24 barrels. These two-dozen barrels were (at the time) WhistlePig’s oldest and highest quality casks. Aged for over 12 years, this single grain 134 proof rye whiskey was filled with memorable flavors like spicy cinnamon, subtle pepper, and mellow, sweet vanilla.
This whiskey was so well received that the folks at WhistlePig have released a new, unique expression every year. Iconic offerings like Boss Hog: The Spirit of Mortimer, The Black Prince, and The Samurai Scientist. Along the way, Boss Hog bottlings have become some of the most sought-after rye whiskeys in the world. Many sell for hundreds of dollars more than the original price.
This year’s offering is WhistlePig Boss Hog VII: Magellan’s Atlantic. Made to pay homage to Magellan’s circumnavigation of the earth in 1519, it’s by far the series’ oldest offering to date. Sourced from Canada and aged for 17 years in American oak, this rye whiskey gets its unique flavor from being finished in Spanish oak barrels as well as South American teakwood.
If you’re spending this amount of cash on a bottle of whiskey, you better get the most out of it. This includes a nice, slow, patient nosing. While you might expect spicy pepper to be prevalent in such a high-proof rye whiskey, the first aroma that fills your nostrils is that of sweet, creamy butterscotch. This is followed by warming cinnamon, maple syrup, and toasted caramel. The first sip delivers on the sniff — adding layers of candied orange peel, charred oak, and baking spices, all underpinned by that pleasing pepper. This finish is long, warming, and ends with a beautiful balance of cracked black pepper and rich toffee.
This is a bottle for a special occasion. Save this one (if you can) for a cold-weather special occasion and enjoy it neat while you sit under a blanket in front of a fireplace.
Glenmorangie A Tale of Cake
Released: October 2020
Called Glenmorangie: A Tale of Cake, this limited-edition whisky is a celebration of sweet frosting and rich, sugary cake in alcohol form. While this sounds like the perfect luxurious expression to sip during these mid-winter nights, you might be wondering how exactly a renowned Scotch brand known for its high-quality, nuanced whiskies decides to make a cake-based expression.
It all started with a sweet childhood memory.
Dr. Bill Lumsden, Glenmorangie’s Director of Whisky Creation, found himself reminiscing about the various memories he had baking with his grandma. It made him wonder if there was any way to take that nostalgia and make it into a whisky. He finally settled on finishing Glenmorangie’s single malt whisky in Tokaji dessert wine casks. The result is a mellow, sweet, vibrant, fruit-filled expression that pairs just as well with a piece of cake as it does with a chilly evening on the back porch.
Like all the drams on this list, this dark copper-colored whisky deserves a thorough nosing before taking your first sip. Right away, there’s a quick hit of ripe fruits and sweet sherry scents. This is followed by dried cherries, rich milk chocolate, and creamy vanilla. The sip transports you to grandma’s kitchen as you watch her bake sweet cakes. It’s syrupy, sweet, velvety, and filled with almond, toasted vanilla, candied orange peel, and subtle herbs.
The finish is long, very warm, and ends with a dollop of honey and just that perfect gingerbready hint of cinnamon.
With winter on full blast, the time is right to stock up on a bottle (or two) of this limited-edition offering. It’s the perfect end to a hearty meal or as the accompaniment to rich, sweet seasonal desserts.
Orphan Barrel Muckety-Muck
Released: September 2020
Orphan Barrel’s newest offering is a complex whisky in pretty much every aspect (even its name: Muckety-Muck). It’s a 24-year-old single grain Scotch whisky from the now-defunct Port Dundas distillery. Located in Glasgow along the Forth and Clyde Canal, this renowned distillery shuttered its doors back in 2010. The whisky exists because Diageo found the very few remaining casks of Port Dundas 24-year-old single grain and determined that it was the perfect addition to the Orphan Barrel family.
While the price tag seems a bit high for the average drinker, you’d be hard-pressed to find a bottle of Scotch from a renowned distillery aged for this long for even as low as $300. Added exclusivity bonus: the distillery literally doesn’t exist anymore.
If you find yourself with a glass of whisky aged for this long, please please please take your time with it. The first scent that fills your nostrils is that of sweet cream. This is followed by dried cherries, rich vanilla, and sticky toffee pudding. The first sip is sublimely smooth with hints of charred oak, brown sugar, butterscotch, and a subtle kick of cinnamon spice. The finish is medium in length, effortlessly warming, and ends with hints of leather, toasted caramel, and sweet honey.
Orphan Barrel’s bottlings are extremely limited-edition. If you can get your hands on a bottle of Muckety-Muck, save it for a special occasion. Sip on it slowly this winter and savor every moment and nuanced flavor therein.
Blackened Whiskey Batch 106
Released: October 2020
Back in 2018, the famed rock band Metallica collaborated with the late Master Distiller Dave Pickerell to release an extremely unique whiskey. It’s called BLACKENED and to some, the process used to create it might seem like a gimmick, while others couldn’t imagine a more rock and roll way to produce whiskey. The juice is a blend of bourbon and rye with an average age of 8 years. It’s finished in black brandy casks. While this alone sounds great, this is where things get crazy.
Using a process called “BLACK NOISE”, the whiskey is bombarded with low hertz music frequencies throughout the finishing process. While this isn’t the first time a spirits brand has used music to age its product (Louisville’s Copper & Kings has used sonic aging to mature its brandies and absinthe), it’s the first time on record a band used its own music to do so. Did you think they’d use music from someone else?
While the world was just getting used to the idea of one Metallica whiskey, the band and Sweet Amber Distilling Co. dropped a second version in October. It’s called Batch 106 X S&M2 and while it sounds like the name of the child of Elon Musk and Grimes, the title has an important meaning. While the first expression was made using a playlist selected by the band members, this second offering was finished using the S&M2 live album, a concert that featured Metallica and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra.
On the nose, you’ll find hints of caramelized sugar, rich, charred oak, toasted vanilla beans, and spicy cinnamon. The first sip is filled with hints of clover honey, dried fruits, sweet chocolate, and brown sugar. The finish is long, mellow, warming, and ends with a nice kick of maple candy.
Pour yourself a glass, crank up your favorite Metallica song and sip on this whiskey the same way it was created. What could be better than “Master of Puppets” while you enjoy a glass of whiskey?
O.H. Ingram River Aged Whiskey
Released: November 2020
Historically, whiskey maturation occurs in a massive, dusty barrelhouse in a long line of barrelhouses that’s reminiscent of the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Casks or barrels sit stacked on top of each other for years, slowly aging until they hit a certain milestone, or the distiller deems them ready. This is pretty much the industry standard for whiskey from Tullahoma to Taipei.
In November, the aptly named Brown Water Spirits introduced its first whiskey, called O.H. Ingram River Aged Straight Whiskey. This is the first-ever whiskey to be aged in a floating rickhouse (another name for barrelhouse) moored on the shore of the Mississippi River.
While aging whiskey in a foating barrelhouse sounds like a gimmick, the brand swears there’s more to it. Moored in Ballard County, Kentucky, the whiskey is exposed to the varying climate conditions of the river as well as the constant rise and fall of the water level. The distillers believe this creates unique flavors and barrel exposure for the juice inside.
You’ll be greeted with notes of caramel corn, baking spices, charred oak, and sweet vanilla on the nose. The first sip yields buttery treacle, dried cherries, allspice, and buttercream. The finish is long, warming, and ends with a nice mix of spicy and sweet.
A fun conversation bottle and more affordable than most everything on this list. Having tried it, it’s hard to be sure if river aging really is an exceptional technique — but we are willing to state that the bottle quality is worth tracking down and trying.
Westland Garryana 2020 Edition 5
Release Date: November 2020
This fall, the Seattle-based distillery Westland dropped the fifth edition of its sought-after Garryana. This annual release is the first expression from the brand’s new “Outpost Range.” This and the other whiskeys that will be released are made to pay tribute to a single, specific malt with heightened regard for terroir.
Specifically, Garryana is a reference to the wood used to mature the whiskey. It’s a type of oak (scientific name Quercus garryana) that is found throughout the Pacific Northwest. The 2020 version changes things up by aging peated whiskey in garryana oak and new, charred American oak barrels. The goal is to show that the wood used to age the whiskey is just as important as the juice itself.
On the nose, you’re sure to get notes of charred oak, sweet vanilla, dried fruits, and subtle spice. That’s followed by caramel apples, licorice, buttery caramel, and subtle cracked black pepper on the sip. The finish is long and filled with pleasing heat.
It should come as no surprise that a final flourish of rich oak shows up at the very end.
Since this is a different type of whiskey, it should be treated as such. Sip it slowly to let all of the nuanced, barrel-aged flavors emerge. If you can, stare at a pine tree while you drink it and let it transport you to the Pacific Northwest.