Is there going to be a whiskey shortage? Should we stock up now before it’s too late?
These are the questions I’ve been fielding lately, thanks to recent news stories about an impending whiskey-pocalypse. Concerned Wine Enthusiast readers have emailed. Even my cousin inquired at a family gathering, with a nervous eye flickering over to my dad’s liquor cabinet.
It seems there’s a panic every few months, whether it’s about a potential shortage of Bourbon or the end times for single-malt Scotch. Even some Japanese whiskies are getting harder to obtain. It’s no wonder everyone is worried.
To be fair, good whiskey takes time to age. Bourbon, for example, needs at least two years of barrel time before it can be labeled “straight Bourbon.” Most of my favorite Bourbons are aged considerably longer, often closer to six or eight years.
Producers like Buffalo Trace have attempted to manage expectations about how much Bourbon may be forthcoming in the years ahead.
And in the cool, damp environs of Scotland, whiskies take even longer to mature. There’s a reason that most premium single malts are aged 12 or 18 years before you see them—many for much longer.
In the meantime, we’re quaffing whiskey at an impressive rate. According to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS), both Bourbon and single-malt Scotch saw increased sales in 2015. Bourbon volume, along with Tennessee whiskey and rye, is up 5.2%, while single-malt Scotch surged 13%.
The bottom line: We’re not going to run out of whiskey. However, some limited-supply bottlings will be hard to come by while the good stuff ages quietly in warehouses. If all you drink is Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon and 50-year-old, single-malt Scotch, then by all means, panic.
But for the rest of the world, don’t worry. Plenty of other great options for whiskey lovers are out there—not all of them whiskey. Here are 10 bottles with familiar flavors to savor while you wait out the Great Whiskey-pocalypse.
These top-scoring bottles are neither traditional Bourbon nor single-malt Scotch, but they will satisfy those seeking a similar flavor profile.
George Dickel Barrel Select (USA; George A. Dickel & Co., Tullahoma, TN); $45, 95 points. Tennessee whiskey is a great alternative for Bourbon lovers, and it isn’t too precious to mix into cocktails. This bottling mixes caramel and burnt orange-peel flavors, finishing long with drying notes of cocoa, spice, vanilla and orange peel.
Lot No. 40 Canadian Rye Whiskey (Canada; Pernod Ricard USA, New York City); $45, 97 points. Canada’s whiskies have been quietly getting better and better, and this is one of its best right now. This full-bodied blended whiskey hits all the right notes, starting with plenty of rich caramel and oak on the nose and palate, plus touches of butterscotch, spicy cinnamon and clove. Sip it straight, or add a splash of sweet vermouth.
Wild Turkey Forgiven (USA; Wild Turkey Distilling, Lawrenceburg, KY); $50, 95 points. If you can’t bear to part with Bourbon, try this Bourbon-rye hybrid. It mixes six-year-old Bourbon (78%) with four-year-old rye (22%). Bourbon-like vanilla sweetness dominates, but it dries to a spicy fade characteristic of rye whiskey.
Dewar’s 12 (Scotland; Bacardi USA, Coral Gables, FL); $30, 94 points. Single-malt lovers may want to turn to blended Scotch. Producers have some flexibility in what goes into the blend, so scarcity (and often, affordability) is less of an issue. This well-balanced whiskey starts with light smokiness up front, giving way to more vanilla and fruit, before winding into a long, baking-spice finish.
Big Peat (Scotland; International Spirits & Wines, Mt. Kisco, NY); $60, 92 points. Fans of peaty single malts will want to give this smoky sipper a spin. The bold iodine aroma is like breathing salty air at the seashore. The palate offers vanilla sweetness followed by a huge rush of peat smoke, finishing with a bitter chocolate note.
Now is the perfect time to experiment with spirits that aren’t whiskey, but are aged in barrels (often former whiskey barrels) that feature vanilla, caramel and other flavors often associated with it. Some are even deliberately engineered to bring out whiskey-like characteristics.
Majeste Le Roi VSOP (France; Branded Spirits, Sonoma, CA); $50, 96 points. This Cognac, packaged in an unusual rectangular bottle, offers luscious dessert-like flavors reminiscent of some Bourbons. It leads with bold, buttery caramel and milk chocolate, before drying out to a darker toffee, espresso, cocoa and clove.
Diplomatico 2000 Single Vintage (Venezuela; Domaine Select Wine Estates, New York City); $110, 94 points. For those who seek a splurge bottle, try this single-vintage rum distilled in 2000. Aged 12 years before finishing in Sherry casks, this sipper offers rounded, lip-smacking notes of caramelized brown sugar and allspice, fading into a rich hazelnut and toffee finish.
XO Chateau de Laubade (France; Baron Francois, New York City); $90, 93 points. Don’t overlook Cognac’s cousin, Armagnac, either. Those who enjoy honeyed Speyside Scotches will appreciate the smooth fruit-and-honey character of this bottling, which melds butterscotch and fresh apricot.
Santera Tequila Añejo (Mexico; Santera Spirits, New York City); $55, 92 points. This Tequila, aged up to 16 months in American oak barrels, then blended with a touch of extra añejo, drinks like an overproof Bourbon. Look for rounded sweetness, with vanilla, almond and toffee drying to clove, leather and espresso.
Hornitos Black Barrel Tequila Añejo (Mexico; Beam Suntory, Parsippany, NJ); $30, 90 points. Aged 18 months in American oak barrels to create whiskey-like flavors, this maple-hued añejo has cookie dough-like sweetness. It offers traces of allspice, cocoa and clove, lightened by a tropical fruit lilt on the finish.