American whiskey is enjoying an unprecedented boom era. It’s not just an expansion in quantity so much as it is one of quality. According to the Distilled Spirits Council, sales of super premium bourbons and ryes have skyrocketed some 1,537 percent over the past two decades. The overall value of the category has grown by a mere 31 percent during that same time period. And whereas a $30 bottle of bourbon might have seemed shocking at the turn of the 21st century, today’s connoisseurs wouldn’t bat an eye at a $300 expression.
So long as the whiskey within is singularly sensational, that is. Thankfully for whiskey enthusiasts, there are plenty of examples fitting the bill. Some of these offerings are so high in demand you can’t plop down that kind of cash even if you want to; there just isn’t enough juice to go around. In compiling a concise list of the best bourbons and ryes on shelves right now, it’s not even worth mentioning the ones that remain supremely allocated—tracking them down is often more trouble than the liquid is actually worth, and we won’t saddle you with that burden. Instead, we’re highlighting five fantastic American whiskeys which you can procure rather easily, by comparison. You needn’t look further than a specialty retailer or even an online delivery service.
Availability is just the starting point, of course. The five bottles featured below were selected because they each demonstrate superior craftsmanship. These are bourbons and ryes which sing elegantly, with complexity and purpose. They are conversation starters, packaged to sit proudly atop any back bar. They would serve as cornerstones in any respectable home collection of American whiskey. None of them are cheap, and yet they might be bargains considering the value of experience offered in each pour. Let us show you why.
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Stagg Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Formerly known as Stagg Jr., this full-flavored berry bomb of a bourbon has long been seen as the kid sibling to the older, more allocated George T. Stagg. But the whiskey makers at Buffalo Trace distillery were wise to do away with the diminutive modifier, as Stagg stands defiantly on its own. Unfiltered and bottled at cask strength, the latest offering sits in the glass at a whopping 131 proof. And yet, it doesn’t ever fight you going down. Sure, you’ll want to sip ever-so-slowly, but contemplate the liquid as you swirl it in the glass. As it washes atop the tongue, you’ll be rewarded with a smattering of ripened red fruit and a pronounced creaminess to the texture. All of it is quite unique to this particular whiskey, underscoring the fact that it should be compared to no others. If you’re not used to whiskey at this strength you can always add a few drops of water into the glass to make it gentler, while opening up those fruitier elements.
Michter’s 10 Year Old Kentucky Straight Rye
Michter’s is a name synonymous with ultra-luxe American whiskey—and this semi-regular release helps explain why. Master distiller Dan McKee and master of maturation Andrea Wilson work side-by-side, assuring that each new expression exhibits the utmost sophistication. They even reserve the right to go many months—or even years—without putting out a batch if the right juice isn’t queued up in the supply pipeline. “Our goal is to make the greatest American whiskey,” McKee said. “We would love to be able to offer more of it, but we simply won’t do so until the whiskey is ready at the standard our loyal Michter’s drinkers expect.” You can certainly expect exceptionality when you uncork the latest 92.8 proof iteration, which hit shelves earlier in the year. It holds hints of herbs, clove and honeysuckle in the nose. In the finish is cardamom, nutmeg, and fresh cracked pepper—a spice rack’s worth of substance in every dram.
Wild Turkey Master’s Keep Voyage
Once a year, Wild Turkey master distiller Eddie Russell puts out his Master’s Keep as an ode to bold innovation and fearless experimentation. Most recently it involved a collaboration with legendary rum maker Joy Spence, of Appleton Estate Jamaican Rum. She sent a cache of special barrels, which had held some of her best cane spirit, up to Kentucky. Once they landed in the Bluegrass State, Russell refilled them with a curated selection of 10-year-old bourbons and let them rest for months more in his hot and humid rickhouses. What emerged from the oak was a wondrous whiskey with threads of tropical fruit. Papaya and pineapple sing in the nose, while a dollop of dark chocolate and coconut provide counterpoints in the finish. It is very much a bourbon you have to try to truly understand. And since it was just released this month, you might still have a chance to find it on shelves at its eminently reasonable $275 asking price.
WhistlePig 15 Year Estate Oak Rye
When the original WhistlePig 10 Year Rye launched back in 2010, it was a game changer for the whiskey industry. This was an ultra-premium product selling for more than $75, at a time when rye was nothing more than a sad well drink lost to history. It turns out it was a pretty proud history, and one that was quite worth resurrecting. Not only is this the original style of American whiskey, it’s also one that can provide a sophisticated, savory respite from the sweet inclinations of its bourbon brethren. It’s also debatably the best category of spirit to use in cocktail form—though we certainly don’t recommend mixing the 15 Year expression with any fruit juices or sodas. This one was first released in 2016, and quickly became a portfolio standout amongst connoisseurs thanks to its reliance on terroir. The whiskey is partially aged in barrels of Vermont oak, sourced not far from the brand’s farmland headquarters. The secondary aging isn’t some marketing gimmick; it imbues the rye with enviable tonalities. Toasted brioche and butterscotch arrive first on the tongue, before you’re left to consider a parade of Far Eastern spice in the protracted finish.
King Of Kentucky Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon
This historic 19th century brand was revived in 2018 by Brown-Forman, the same folks who’ve brought you Woodford Reserve, Old Forester and Jack Daniel’s. It holds all the hallmarks of a supremely sought-after whiskey. To be sure, it is the most difficult bottle to find on this list. It’s very tightly allocated, only released once a year (usually in August); it’s high in proof and flavor and it’s downright delicious. To that last point, you can think of King of Kentucky as freshly baked pecan pie in bourbon form. That unapologetically sweet nuttiness is tempered, somewhat, by the complexity of a cigar box finish. Cedar and leather are the drying notes you’ll be left pondering long after the sip has gone down. Because it’s a single barrel offering, the exact tasting notes will fluctuate depending on the exact release you get your hands on. We’re especially fond of a 2022 expression bottled at 130.6 proof, wearing an age statement of 15 years. If you encounter this one in the wild, hold onto it and don’t ever let go.