The Best New Whiskeys of the Season
This winter promises to be one of the biggest seasons for wondrous whiskey one-offs in recent memory.Read More
Everybody loves the holidays. But if you’re a fan of top-shelf whiskey, you’re surely especially excited for this time of year. Because once autumn rolls around—like clockwork—your favorite booze brands begin rolling out some of their rarest annual releases. It’s like Oscar season, only for alcohol. And It gives a whole different meaning to the phrase, “holiday spirit.”
2023 is certainly no exception to the rule. In fact, this winter promises to be one of the biggest seasons for wondrous one-offs in recent memory. So even though the supply of each individual release might be relatively scant, high-end whiskey aficionados can find safety in numbers; there are so many marks in total to choose from. We’ve had the good fortune to pore (and pour) through almost all of these newcomers.
Now we’ve whittled it all down to the most memorable bottlings, across a wide range of styles and price points. Whether you’re looking to stock your own backbar, without regard to budget, or you’re hoping to score a sizable bang-per-buck quotient on a gift for a fairly decent coworker, you’ll find precisely what you’re looking for in the list below.
Frey Ranch American Single Malt Smoked Whiskey
Frey Ranch out of Fallon, Nevada, bills itself as a “farm-to-glass” distillery, but it’s much more than that. The upstart whiskey brand is playing from strength to strength, establishing itself as the premiere craft producer in the country at this exact moment. Want proof? Reach for a bottle of this new November release. It’s distilled from slow-grown barley that was grown, milled, malted and smoked by co-founder Colby Frey, on the working farm that bears his name. It even utilizes a homegrown peat, producing a slightly barbecue tang in a well-rounded whiskey that goes down easier than you might suspect at 55 percent ABV.
Booker's Batch 2023-03 "Mighty Fine Batch" Kentucky Straight Bourbon
Speaking of higher proof points, Booker’s is pretty much the gold standard when it comes to sturdy, barrel strength bourbon. Beam distillery out of Clermont, Kentucky releases several batches of it per year. Each one exhibits its own intricacies, uncut and unfiltered. But you can always count on the label to deliver an aggressive blast of brown sugar, cinnamon and vanilla. Such is the case here: a 126.6-proof whopper that was aged for just over 7 years in the Bluegrass state, developing character as the climate swung annually from hot, humid summer through cold and dry winter.
The Glenturret 15 Year Old Single Malt Scotch
The Glenturret is the oldest continuously operating distillery in all of Scotland, and yet it remains relatively unknown to the whisky-drinking masses here in the U.S. That’s slowly beginning to change. After it was sold to an investment group led by the owners of Lalique crystal in 2019, the portfolio underwent a complete makeover. And yes, the new tapered bottles look pretty on the backbar, but it’s what’s on the inside that counts. Namely: high-quality single malt with stunning complexity. The 2023 edition 15-year-old offering is perhaps the apotheosis of the whole range. A vibrant nose of cherry and treacle; deeply rich on the tongue, going down with notes of toffee and syrup-smothered spongecake and bottled at an exacting 50.8 percent ABV, this is the desert dram you are dreaming of.
Kavalan, Oloroso Sherry Cask Strength Whisky
Kavalan put Taiwanese whisky on the map, and it remains the best producer in this part of the world, without exception. Among its ultimate expressions are bottlings from the Single Cask Strength Series. Unfortunately, that lineup went away with little warning in 2018, and whisky geeks were left nursing their wounds. Now, it’s back and better than ever. If you see any of the four offerings on shelf, grab them without hesitation. But if you’re a fan of sherry bombs, the Oloroso edition is your happy juice. It holds a velvety mouthfeel, coating the mouth with dark plum, sweet almond paste and a touch of roasted coffee in a lengthy finish.
Scotch Malt Whisky Society, On The Road Again 40 Year Old Single Malt
Founded in 1983, SMWS is a members club specializing in independently bottled whiskies. By and large the stock consists of unfiltered expressions of scotch, collected from a single cask and bottled at barrel strength. Oftentimes, they are able to offer these liquids at a fraction of the price as what it would cost coming from the original distillery. Point in case: this flawless presentation of Speyside malt, sourced from BenRiach. It spent a full four decades in cask, before reaching the bottle at a quaffable 43.7 percent ABV. Toasted coconut, tobacco and grilled peach parade across your sense receptors, from nose to palate.
Bruichladdich Black Art 11 Single Malt Scotch Whisky
When it’s layered complexity you’re after, Black Art is your ideal destination. In other releases, the award-winning Islay distillery is exceptionally forthright, oversharing every last detail of production. For this one, however, head distiller Adam Hannett is given free reign to pluck stock from some of the oldest barrels in the warehouse and assemble them in a recipe known only to him. So we can’t tell you what barrels were involved—only what the final product tastes like: a butterscotch blast of candied sweetness that resolves into leather and incense in the fade. The youngest liquid involved spent more than 24 years in the cask; other components are likely several years older. They all collide melodiously at an easy-sipping 88.4 proof.
WhistlePig Boss Hog X Straight Rye
Every year since 2013, WhistlePig has blessed rye fans with this annual one-off. The ongoing series is characterized as something single barrel, bottled at proof and unlike anything the Vermont craft producer has ever done before. For the tenth iteration, it delivered something that no one has ever seen or tasted before: a biblically-inspired rye whiskey, meant to evoke the land of milk and honey. To do so, the 10-plus-year-old whiskey was finished in whey-seasoned casks, before entering a final finish in barrels, which formerly contained mead. There’s also some frankincense and myrrh introduced along the way, so you’re getting something super herbal, and ultimately silky sweet. Perhaps even a touch of peppered creme brûlée in the finish. Is that a thing? Well, it is now.
Talisker Glacier Edge 45-Year-Old Single Malt Scotch
Talisker has been distilling whisky on the idyllic isle of Skye for nearly 200 years. Since then, not a whole lot has changed in terms of its production methods. And yet, through its Xpedition Oak series, the brand is finding ways to innovate like few others in the industry. In this latest example, a dozen casks were transported to the Arctic, where they were “ice fractured” in the biting cold. Then, they came back to Skye for use in finishing a 40-plus year-old scotch. The idea is that the exposed hairlines in the wood allow the whisky to penetrate deeper into the stave, extracting more flavor out as a result. The well-matured, 100-proof malt definitely does demonstrate some compelling overtures to oak. But it also exerts a subtle saltiness, which fits hand-in-glove with the rich toffee and waxy elements indicative of the distillery’s signature style. Just 2,455 bottles will be released worldwide in November.