It was another tough year for the whisky nerds among us – which is, well, all of us – as we tried to pare down the hundreds of options we reviewed throughout 2023 and come up with a list of the ten that excited us the most. Yes, we heard your cries from last year: Too many luxe unicorns, not enough attainable juice. We’ve tempered our taste for four-figure spirits this time around, and while most of the whiskeys we picked for 2023 cost more than $100, only one lands in what we’d consider unicorn territory. That said, it really deserves to be represented here, so we couldn’t leave it out. Want more selections? Check out our holiday shopping guide.
As always, we’re revealing one whiskey each day over the next 10 days until we hit #1 on Christmas Eve. While you’re preparing for the big reveal, feel free to indulge in some of our previous top 10 whiskey lists: 2022, 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, and 2017. You can also search multiple stores at wine-searcher to find the best prices on all these products and more.
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That’s it, folks! Happy holidays!
1. Wild Turkey Master’s Keep Voyage – A fight nearly broke out over this whiskey’s inclusion on the list. Not because it’s bad – it’s amazing – but because another Wild Turkey release, Generations, also garnered serious praise from our voting panel. We generally only include one whiskey per distillery on the list, and the votes between the two were split almost evenly. Ultimately, the rum barrel-finished Voyage pulled ahead thanks to its incredible depth and fruit-laden sweetness that is unlike any other Wild Turkey whiskey we’ve ever reviewed. Hard to put down, it feels tailor-made for high-end cocktails, but it also drinks a bit like one on its own, without any adulteration. Frankly, it’s one of the best whiskeys the distillery has ever turned out. Helluva year for the folks in Lawrenceburg. 106 proof. $300 -CN
2. Glenmorangie “A Tale of Tokyo” – This latest addition of Glenmorangie’s “Tale of” series takes everything great about the classic Glenmorangie flavor profile and pushes it further, thanks to some finishing time in mizunara oak casks. Sweet with orange, vanilla, and caramel on the nose, it offers loads of complexity as it rests in the glass, unfolding layers of sandalwood, black tea, and pepper. The palate keeps the sweetness going with notes of milk chocolate, ginger, and anise joining in the conversation, providing dimension without getting too syrupy or convoluted. This one is deep in its intricacy, and spending a decent sipping session with it is worth the investment of time and money. The limited-edition Glenmorangie expressions almost always promise to deliver a good time. “Tokyo” keeps the winning ways ongoing and is certainly worthy of inclusion here. 92 proof. $110 -RT
3. Bardstown Bourbon Company Discovery Series #11 – This latest bourbon from the tireless whiskeymakers at Bardstown Bourbon Co. came crazy close to nabbing our top spot, an impressive feat for its debut on our coveted list. The collaboration bottling with Foursquare rum distillery earlier this year could have easily made the list, as well, but there was something about this 11th edition of its Discovery Series that just captured our palates. Balanced, approachable, flavorful – it was cinnamon toast in a glass. Maybe the stars just aligned for this one or maybe the use of BBCo.’s house-distilled bourbon stocks will mean an even higher level of quality for this blend going forward. I guess we’ll find out in the new year. 118.1 proof. $169 -DB
4. Eagle Rare Bourbon 17 Years Old 2023 – Despite being only the third oldest Eagle Rare expression on the market, Eagle Rare 17 is a wonderfully oak-driven whiskey. The 2023 version from Buffalo Trace’s Antique Collection soars because it strikes a balance between the qualities associated with hyper-aged bourbon and the vivaciousness of its significantly younger counterpart, Eagle Rare Single Barrel. While many folks are left to annually lament the limited quantities and high price of Eagle Rare 17, it remains among the most desired bourbons on the market, and this year’s expression is as good as any in recent memory – it may, in fact, be the best. 101 proof. $2000 -FD [BUY IT NOW FROM RESERVEBAR]
5. Teeling Single Pot Still Virgin Portuguese Oak Irish Whiskey – Dublin-based Teeling continues to hit them out of the park with its regular releases at both the ultra-high end and more modest offerings. Case in point, this recent release which blends malted and unmalted barley 50/50 and ages it in unused barrels made from oaks grown in Portugal. What a difference switching things up like this makes, the added tannin of the Portuguese oak adding pepper, tobacco, and furniture polish notes to what might otherwise be a soft and ephemeral whiskey. Earthy and brooding on the finish, it’s a wintry treat that lingers in the mind as much as the palate. 100 proof. $99 -CN
6. Buckner’s Bourbon 13 Years Old – Augusta Distillery’s Buckner’s Bourbon is one of those rare bourbons that seemingly came out of nowhere and became an instant hit. After garnering widespread fanfare on the awards circuit and praise from seemingly everyone who was lucky enough to taste it, we managed to get our hands on a bottle and, spoiler alert: It did not disappoint. What begins as a full throttle punch to the palate soon mellows out to reveal decadent layers of flavor that will keep you coming back for more with each sip. In a year full of ho-hum releases (alongside the gems, natch), Buckner’s 13 managed to buck the trend and emerge as a high octane showstopper. 140 proof. $200 -FD
7. Johnnie Walker Blue Label Elusive Umami – Putting “Umami” in the name of $400 whisky seems like a crazy choice, but let’s hear out the House of Walker, OK? A collaboration between Walker and Japanese chef Kei Kobayashi, there’s no sleight of hand in this one – it’s just a barrel pick, with Walker pulling whiskies from its collection that feature those rich, meaty umami flavors – mushrooms, white pepper, sesame… all the stuff of a great Asian meal, just in whisky form. The experience isn’t as overblown as some of those flavor notes might suggest; this is still a bright and sunny experience – just one that delights in its complexity. 86 proof. $369 -CN [BUY IT NOW FROM RESERVEBAR]
8. Bruichladdich Octomore 14.2 – While recent expressions have come incredibly close to making our list in recent years, Octomore hasn’t made an appearance in our top 10 since our inaugural list in 2017, when the second version of the 10-year-old knocked our socks off. There’s been quite a bit of time and many offerings between now and then, and at last we arrive at the masterpiece of version 14.2. The contrast of 14.2 to its siblings 14.1 and 14.3 is quite compelling. A relatively low level of peat (128.9 ppm) lets notes of spiced fruitcake, tobacco leaf, and red berry shine through before the traditional coastal notes of campfire, seaweed, iodine, and lemon zest oscillate their way to a lingering and incredibly satisfying finish. It doesn’t have the no-nonsense, raw phenolic throat punch Octomore usually doles out, but more experimentation along these lines is a most welcome experience. I’m certain we’ll be seeing Octomore again on this list before 2030. 115.4 proof. $260 -RT
9. Cragganmore Distillers Edition 2023 – Perennially underrated, Cragganmore is one of the best deals in Scotch whisky thanks to its poor name recognition – and with this special edition from the 2023 Distillers Edition collection, it gets even better thanks to finishing in Port-seasoned American oak casks. It’s not too heavy on the fruity Port notes, as the malt at its core does the heavy lifting, plus it’s a mere 80 proof, which further ensures a gentle, easygoing experience. Those looking for a new daily dram from the world of single malt won’t find a better option released this year. 80 proof. $90 -CN [BUY IT NOW FROM RESERVEBAR]
10. Filibuster Triple Cask Bourbon Tokaji Finished – I had to fight pretty hard to get this whiskey on the list over a number of other excellent contenders, but since I’m the boss around here, I won the battle in the end. Part of that fight stems from the fact that this was a limited release that is increasingly hard (but not impossible) to find. And it’s a pity, because it’s one of my favorite bourbons of the year, blending Filibuster’s Virginia-born distillate with some MGP stock and letting it all simmer in a Hungarian Tokaji wine barrel to finish things off. The results are magical, making for an intensely sweet, nutty, fruity, and aromatic whiskey that will challenge everything you think you know about bourbon. Here’s hoping Filibuster tries something similar again next year. 112.8 proof. $120 -CN
Additional reporting by Drew Beard, Frank Dobbins, and Rob Theakston.