The Top 10 Whiskeys of 2017

We write about all things drinkable here at Drinkhacker, but nothing gets tongues wagging more than our coverage of whiskey. Both readers and the staff alike have an obsession with the stuff, so this year we decided to get together and hash out our own top ten list of the best whiskey releases of 2017, both to honor those distilleries who got it right this year, and to give shoppers a handy cheat sheet they can take to their local bottle shop. It wasn’t an easy task, and it took significant time and effort to whittle down some 25 nominees into a list of 10 that all of us felt we could be proud of. Naturally, since taste is subjective, the debate hardly ends here. If we left out your favorite of the year (and we probably did), let us know in the comments.

Here’s to a whiskified 2018! And while you’re here, don’t miss our 2017 holiday guide, which has our top picks of the year in all spirits (and wine) categories.

1. Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch Bourbon 2017 “Al Young 50th Anniversary” – Gush all you want about your Elijah Craig Barrel Proof; this one-off bottling of Four Roses’ Small Batch, bottled in honor of longtime staffer Al Young, is the best bourbon of the year. It’s also the best whiskey of the year, period, an exotic monster filled with heady aromas of spices, florals, and sultry vanilla and chocolate notes. Equal parts fruit, spice, and confectioneries, the palate is long, soothing, and incredibly inviting. Though prices have shot through the roof, it’s still hard not recommend without reservation. 108.98 proof. $500 -CN

2. Glenmorangie Bacalta – The yearly limited releases from Glenmorangie are always appointment drinking. At their best, they tend to be exercises in complex drinkability. Bacalta is one of the best yet from the distillery. A shining example of amazing balance, Bacalta mingles notes of sweet fruit and spice in a way which makes it a very difficult whisky to put down. It’s one of those whiskies which reveals a little something extra with every sip, easily making it one of the best drinking experiences of the year. 92 proof. $90 -NC

3. Compass Box No Name – This is Compass Box’s peatiest whisky yet, even more so than the Peat Monster. Mostly 2003 Ardbeg with some Caol Ila and Clynelish for mouthfeel, this blended malt is a stunner. Gotta love that Compass Box packaging too, really sexy stuff even before the bottle is open! Lime juice and grapefruit arrive on the nose, along with faded peat smoke. The mouthfeel is luscious, with great oils and plenty of citrus to balance the smoke. Medium-long creamy finish. For me this an immediate buy, or if, like me, you have no money left for whisky this year, pray Santa brings you one! 97.8 proof. $130 -DC

4. The Tyrconnell Single Malt Irish Whiskey 16 Years Old – If you love the lighter, fruitier flavors in Irish whiskey but also appreciate the earthiness and spice cabinet of traditional Scottish single malt, look no further than The Tyrconnell Single Malt 16 Years Old. This double-distilled whiskey from Ireland’s Cooley Distillery was aged in ex-bourbon barrels and bottled at a slightly higher proof than your average Irish single malt. From nose to finish, there’s a great balance of baking spice, citrus, vanilla, and stone fruit notes. It’s a beautiful whiskey and a real pleasure to drink. 92 proof. $95 -DB

5. Wyoming Whiskey Double Cask Limited Edition – For its first foray into barrel finishing, Wyoming Whiskey really knocked it out of the park with Double Cask Limited Edition. This release, developed with the help of industry specialist and master blender Nancy Fraley, took carefully chosen barrels of Wyoming Whiskey’s five year old wheated bourbon and finished them in Pedro Ximenez sherry casks. The result is a whiskey with a big nose of dried fruit, fig, and candied apricot and a syrupy palate with notes of dark berry, vanilla, raisin, and candied orange peel. Only 110 cases were produced, but this one can still be found for a reasonable price. For now! 100 proof. $60 -DB

6. Parker’s Heritage Collection Single Barrel Bourbon 11 Years Old 2017 – Heaven Hill’s annual release of the Parker’s Heritage Collection always marks the unofficial beginning of the holiday season, and fans got a winner as the distillery returned to its roots for 2017. This 11 year old, single barrel, cask strength bourbon doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but by cherry-picking the distillery’s very best barrels, it’s created a complex masterpiece that’s loaded with notes of fresh fruit, honey, hazelnuts, white pepper, and more. It all comes together with such harmony that you may not mind the wildly inflated price tag. 122 proof. $400 -CN

7. Bruichladdich Octomore 10 Years Old (2017) – New Master Distiller Adam Hannett has had no problems assuming the captain’s chair from Jim McEwan — steering the good ship Bruichladdich into 2017 and releasing one expression of quality after another. This second offering of Octomore 10 Year delivers more of what loyal followers expect from the series: high peat (167ppm), loads of smoke, pepper, black tea, and tobacco — all courtesy of a short slumber in grenache blanc casks and bourbon barrels. It’s complex and well-balanced, and fans of previous editions won’t be disappointed, while newcomers to the series will find this an accessible entry point. 114.6 proof. $200 -RT

8. Westland Peat Week 2017 – When word broke last December that Paris-based spirits giant Rémy Cointreau was purchasing Seattle’s Westland Distillery, many a wise sage in the court of social media voiced concern that the quality of offerings would be tainted by corporate interference and marketing mischief. Thankfully this has not yet proven to be the case, and 2017’s offering for Peat Week delivers the goods. The nice balance of peat and fruit on the nose is not too aggressive — almost bourbon-like — that slowly brings to its conclusion a softer blend of cinnamon, vanilla, and an amazing finish of campfire smoke. There are three vintage label designs depicting circus performers, but the juice is consistent regardless of aesthetic choice. 108.8 proof. $100 -RT

9. Bunnahabhain 13 Years Old Marsala Finish – This is a whisky I have bizarre fever dreams about. There is just something magically exotic about the combination of Islay malt and Marsala wine, somewhere between Spanish sherry and a Moroccan bazaar. Tasted fresh, the sweet berries and chocolate notes aren’t as lush on the palate as they were on my initial inspection, as the smokier notes have muscled their way to the forefront. Still, it’s all so unusual and strangely compelling that it’s hard not to be enchanted by it. Pro tip: Give it lots of air, and take big gulps of it, not baby sips. 92.6 proof. $76 -CN

10. Kilchoman Red Wine Cask Matured – One of the youngest Islay distilleries in operation, Kilchoman keeps going from strength to strength. This roughly 5 year old release was aged entirely in Portuguese red wine casks, giving it a profile which is a bit unique from other Kilchoman releases. The usually assertive smoke and peat serves more as background in this one, propping up notes of chocolate, stewed red fruits, and a delightfully savory woody touch. It is a whiskey which uses bold, complex flavors to immediately put a smile on your face. Grab it while you still can, because it is probably the most fun bottle of whiskey you will come across this year. 100 proof. $115 -NC

Capsule reviews by Christopher Null, Neal Christyson, Drew Beard, Rob Theakston, and David Cover.

Review: Tequila Ocho Plata Puerta del Aire 2016

It’s hard to believe but we haven’t reviewed a release of Tequila Ocho since this 2010 release. But our inadequacy get in the way of progress. Tequila Ocho has steadily been putting out vintage-dated single-village tequilas since 2008, with what must be dozens of expressions hitting the market since. (They’re all limited editions, so if you see one you like, snap it up.)

Anyway, at last we’re back, baby, with a look at the 2016 vintage from Puerta del Aire, a Highland field where 7 year old agave was harvested to make this unaged blanco tequila (100% agave, of course).

As Tequila Ocho’s releases go, this plata isn’t my favorite. The nose finds lots of pepper and a heavy vegetal note — though one more of canned green beans than fresh agave. Some mushroom funk and graphite notes are also evident on the nose. The palate falls much in line with the tequila’s aromatic profile, with a pungency that matches the nose, offering notes of green pepper, cracked black peppercorns, and more of that earthy mushroom character. There’s a sweetness here, however, and it comes on surprisingly strong after the initial earthy/vegetable rush fades, a light brown sugar note that gives some much-needed balance to a tequila that is otherwise on the primal side.

80 proof.

B+ / $50 /

Review: Guinness 200th Anniversary Export Stout

In 1817, the first barrels of Guinness beer — a porter at the time — made their way across the Atlantic and to the U.S., marking the beginning of 200 years of Guinness being sold in our country.

As Guinness notes, “The anniversary this fall is a celebration of a 200-year love affair between a brewery and a people: Guinness and America.” To commemorate it, the brewery has released this limited-edition Guinness 200th Anniversary Export Stout, which was inspired by an old recipe that Benjamin Guinness – the son of Arthur Guinness – originally developed in 1817. It’s brewed with Black Patent Malt and Golding Hops and is bottled with traditional, not nitro, carbonation.

Note that for a while you will also find classic Guinness Draught stout in “limited-edition cans depicting everyone’s favorite toucans flying across the iconic American monument of Mount Rushmore from a rarely seen Guinness ad from the 1950s.” This and the 200th Anniversary Export Stout are also available as part of a mixed 12-pack.

As for Guinness 200th Anniversary Export Stout, I like it quite a bit. This is bit of a different animal than Guinness Foreign Extra Stout (with considerably less alcohol), though as with many a glass of Guinness, it is a black-hued brew loaded with roasty-toasty malt, lightly nutty, and both round and mouth-filling. The 200th Anniversary expression feels more balanced than most Guinness special editions, with a lighter hand to the carbonation giving its grain bill a chance to shine more clearly. The finish even sees a touch of fruit to give some acidity to what could otherwise be a heavy experience.

On the whole: Plenty of reason for celebration!

6% abv.

A- / $8 per six pack of 11 oz. bottles /

Review: The Macallan Sherry Oak 18 Years Old (2017) and Classic Cut

Today let’s look at two whiskies from The Macallan — one a revisit to a classic bottling, the other a new release available only as a limited edition.

Thoughts follow.

The Macallan Sherry Oak 18 Years Old (2017) – Last encountered in 2009. This is still a sherry bomb, through and through, and it will please any die-hard Macallan nut in the family, though it’s now coming across as a bit heavy on the wine barrel influence, even for me. The nose is very pungent, consisting of nothing but orange oil, furniture polish, and oily roasted nuts, with just a touch of raw wood. The palate doubles down on all of the above, giving a chewy texture to the oil and citrus notes, but digging deeper to find some notes of eucalyptus, tobacco, and a dusty wood character that is more fully developed on the finish. On the whole it’s a bit of a one-note whisky, the sherry really having its way with what can (and often is) a more delicate experience. 86 proof. B / $200

The Macallan Classic Cut – This release of 90,000 bottles is the first cask strength Macallan in four years. It’s aged in ex-Oloroso sherry casks and carries no age statement. Lots of wood impacts the nose, with a grainy underbelly thrown into the mix. There’s plenty of austere sherry influence here, though it’s not as overwhelming as in the Sherry Oak 18. On the palate, the whisky is tough, with a heavy focus on well-roasted grain and more of that slightly astringent furniture polish character. Very nutty, with some vegetal notes emerging on the finish. Water helps in coaxing out more sweetness, but this comes alongside a bigger granary character and some notes of burlap — though the marshmallow and caramel that hits on the finish is a nice little bonus. 116.8 proof. B / $89

Review: 2016 Artezin Zinfandel Mendocino County

This Mendocino-born zin is a blend of 84% zinfandel, 14% petite sirah, and 2% carignan, making it one of the more heavily-blended zinfandels we’ve seen in quite a while. While the wine can’t escape the iconic dark purple color, it does succeed at loosening up some of the uber-sweet structure that Zin so typically exudes, cutting the still-rather-jammy core with some notes of tobacco, dark chocolate, and baking spice. The finish feels a bit tight, but it also offers a bit of acidity to brighten up the proceedings.

B+ / $18 /

Review: El Tesoro Tequila 80th Anniversary Edition

El Tesoro is a beautiful tequila from an ancient brand, and for its 80th anniversary it’s pulling out all the stops, offering this extreme extra anejo at the whopping age of 8 years old. As with all of its expressions, this is a 100% agave tequila sourced from the Jalisco Highlands. Aging is completed in ex-bourbon barrels.

For an extra anejo, the spirit is surprisingly full of life, and youth. The nose is extremely peppery, with lots of herbal agave, but also notes of brown butter and sweet salted caramel. The palate is again quite racy, an initial rush of spice, pepper, and heat giving way to seductive caramel, milk chocolate, cinnamon, butterscotch, and subtle notes of lemon and orange. The sweet and fruity notes hang around on the finish for quite awhile, ending this exquisite tequila not on a note of cloying sweetness, but on one of fresh fruit.

Definitely one of the best and most complex tequilas I’ve seen in a long while.

83 proof.

A / $200 /

Review: 2015 Rocca di Montemassi Le Focaie Maremma Toscana DOC

Want all the power of great Chianti without the price tag? Check out this 100% sangiovese bottling from Rocca di Montemassi called Le Focaie (“flint” in Italian), which will barely set you back a ten-spot.

A nose of pencil lead and dried cherries leads to an effusive body. It starts of sweet but with a bit of air it settles into a groove where you find fresh cherry fruit, a dusting of baking spice, and a subtle but enduring earthiness that really adds to the soul of the wine. While it may not be overwhelming in its complexity, it is impressive in its drinkability, showcasing both a beautiful balance and a tart, sophisticated finish.

One of the best value wines of the year.

A- / $12 /