The 30 Best Whiskeys of 2020

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Nearly a third of the bottles featured on our The Top 100 Spirits of 2020 list are whiskey. That might seem like a lot, but it only scratches the surface of this category of spirits.

While there are plenty of Bourbons to choose from, don’t worry, we also have 2020’s best ryes and Scotches featured on this list as well. If you aren’t exactly sure what you’re looking for, our list offers an incredible range of prices and styles from light and fruity to high-octane toffee and spice.

The Ultimate Guide to Bourbon, from Barrel to Bottle

The best whiskeys to look for

A Midwinter Nights Dram Act 7 Scene 6; $100, 96 points. This polished annual release is always a pleasure, and the seventh release in the series is no different. Concentrated caramel tinged with oak and red fruit entice the nose and palate. Adding water eases the alcohol bite, and brings more lush fruit and spice forward. A blend of straight rye whiskies finished in French oak port barrels, bottled by High West. —Kara Newman

Compass Box Great King Street Artist’s Blend Scotch; $37, 96 points. Part of the Great King Street series, this is a sweetie of a blended Scotch. The first feather-light sips open with vanilla custard, orchard fruit and coconut cream, rounding into enticing red fruit on the finish. A splash of water unlocks more red fruit, along with tinges of butterscotch, oak and spice. —K.N.

Old Fitzgerald Bottled-in-Bond Spring 2019 Edition; $130, 96 points. The third release in the series is a 100-proof Bourbon. Toasty aromas suggest croissant and dulce de leche. The palate opens spicy, with cayenne and cinnamon heat. Adding water unlocks the confectionary promise of the aromas, unfurling rounded vanilla and coconut, finishing with the right amount of assertive spice. Bottled in an ornate decanter, composed of liquid from barrels produced in September 2005 and bottled in February 2019. —K.N.

Four Roses Small Batch Select; $60, 95 points. Created by master distiller Brent Elliott to mark the distillery’s grand reopening, this Bourbon is the first permanent addition to the portfolio since 2006. This is a concentrated sip—even with plenty of water—showing warm, toasty vanilla, sugar cookies and buttery brioche, finishing extra-long and drying, accented by plenty of baking spice. It’s a real lip-smacker. —K.N.

Maker’s Mark Wood Finishing Series 2019 Limited Release RC6; $60, 95 points. A newcomer from stalwart Maker’s Mark, this limited release is finished with virgin oak staves for nine weeks. The end result is a rich and delicious toffee aroma and a spiced, strong palate. Adding water brings more caramel forward, while each sip still finishes with piquant cayenne-edged baking spice and a hint of Sherry. —K.N.

Ragtime Applejack Barrel Finished Rye; $45, 95 points. This unusual limited edition starts with two-year-old rye, then aged for 90 days in barrels that previously held applejack made by Black Dirt Distillery. The end result is delightful and surprisingly delicate, offering fleeting hints of butterscotch and baked apple, finishing long with nutmeg, cinnamon sprinkle and lemon zest. Sip or mix. —K.N.

Bardstown Bourbon Company Discovery Series #1; $130, 94 points. A masterful blend, an 11-year-old Kentucky Bourbon makes up the base, accented with older 13-year-old and younger 10-year-old and five-year-old Bourbons. Showing maple-drizzled pecan pie and cinnamon spice, the long finish is refreshed by a lemony bite. Launched June 2019. —K.N.

Catoctin Creek Roundstone Rye Whiskey Distillers Edition; $51, 94 points. This single-barrel rye is suitable for sipping or a dessert pairing. Look for bold sugar-cookie aromas and confectionary richness on the palate: vanilla, cocoa, hazelnut, maple sugar and mocha. The moderately long finish is marked by lemon peel and nutmeg. —K.N.

Duncan Taylor Politician Blended Scotch; $20, 94 points. So named because it was originally an exclusive for The Politician bar on Scotland’s remote Eriskay island, this golden whisky has a mild, slightly floral aroma. Hints of almond butter, pear and white flowers lead into a warming toasted coconut finish laced with plenty of tingly white pepper. —K.N.

Hotel Tango Kentucky Straight Bourbon; $35, 94 points. An easy-drinking, versatile crowd-pleaser right for a wide range of cocktails. The bright, fresh aroma balances oak and vanilla. The palate is smooth and light from first sip, with plenty of concentrated vanilla bean. Adding water coaxes a bit more spice into the finish, along with a fleeting butterscotch note. Aged two years. —K.N.

King of Kentucky 2019 Release; $250, 94 points. The second edition of Kings of Kentucky is a 15 year-old single barrel Bourbon. An assertive oak note in the aroma mixes with toffee; the overall effect is warm and enticing. The velvety, weighty palate explodes with a progression of coffee, toffee, cocoa and clove, finishing long and drying, with a final curl of orange peel. It’s a good contemplative sipper, with a cube of ice. Limited edition, 2,100 bottles produced. —K.N.

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Murray McDavid Òrdha Meas 13 Year Old Scotch; $50, 94 points. Òrdha meas means golden fruit in Gaelic. Look for a burnished gold hue and mellow aromas that suggest baked apple drizzled with caramel. The velvety palate opens on a toffee note coupled with fiery clove, cinnamon and black pepper, while salted caramel flows into the finish. This limited edition bottling is made using a blend of whiskies from all five Scotch making regions. —K.N.

Wilderness Trail Small Batch Bourbon; $56, 94 points. This high-rye Bourbon opens with a mild caramel aroma and a hint of booziness on the nose. The palate echoes those notes, adding water tames the heat while maintaining the caramel, roasted nuts and hint of butterscotch. All that winds into a drying baking spice finish laced with citrusy zing. —K.N.

Milam & Greene Triple Cask Bourbon; $43, 93 points. As the “Triple Cask” name suggests, this newcomer is a blend of three straight Bourbon whiskies: a two-year-old Texas Bourbon, a three- to four-year-old Tennessee whiskey, and a 10- to 11-year-old Tennessee whiskey. It offers complex orange peel and vanilla aromas and a silky palate that opens with vanilla and evolves into a long maple sugar finish topped up with a bit of spicy cinnamon glow. —K.N.

New Southern Revival Straight Bourbon Whiskey 100% Jimmy Red Corn; $97 points. Made from 100% Jimmy Red corn—a previously endangered heirloom variety—and bottled at cask strength. The first sips are beerlike, with a hoppy hint. Adding water smooths it a bit, revealing dried fig, oloroso Sherry, and hints of dark chocolate and spice. The overall effect is dark and intriguing. —K.N.

Old Henry Clay Whiskey Straight Rye Whiskey; $20, 93 points. Distilled in Indiana and aged about 2 years, look for a honey hue and oaky aroma. The palate opens big and bold, with lots of vanilla sweetness. Adding water is a game-changer: It intensifies into butterscotch and vanilla, with a weightier, buttery texture and cinnamon spiced finish. Big and delicious. —K.N.

Peerless Rye Whiskey; $90, 93 points. This four-year-old, barrel-proof rye is a beast, but it can be tamed with a bit of water. The intense caramel aroma signals what is to come. With enough water, this big, flavorful, downright chewy whiskey offers dense and delicious maple sugar, creamy caramel, red fruit and candied ginger heat. —K.N.

Penelope Bourbon Barrel Strength; $55, 93 points. Distilled in Indiana, bottled in Kentucky, and named for the founder’s daughter, this offers a bold, concentrated caramel tone that mingles with a hint of plum skin. A pleasant prickle of sweet spices—cinnamon, cardamom, clove, cayenne—lingers on the finish. Aged a minimum of 24 months. —K.N.

Rod & Hammer’s Distiller’s Reserve Rye Whiskey; $59, 93 points. Aromas of vanilla, caramel, oak and orange peel fill the glass. The palate is silky, with just a hint of maple sweetness. Adding water brings a cocoa note forward. The drying, grippy finish rounds out with clove and a hint of cayenne heat. Aged 12 months and “cut with the Pacific,” a k a purified ocean water. —K.N.

Whistlepig Farmstock Rye Crop 003; $73, 93 points. This rye is complex and palate-coating, especially with a dose of water added. Each sip opens with honey, coconut and white chocolate, and finishes long with delicate candied ginger, lemony acidity and white pepper. Made with 100% rye, this is the third version of Farmstock, with the goal of eventually moving toward a fully estate-sourced whiskey. For now, about half the liquid in the bottle comes from a three-year-old Vermont rye, supplemented with six-year-old Canadian rye and a small amount of 10-year-old Canadian rye. —K.N.

Angel’s Envy Cask Strength Bourbon Finished in Port Wine Barrels; $200, 92 points. Concentrated caramel and maple aromas are enriched with more than a hint of red fruit. The palate is quite fiery—as would be expected from a cask-strength bottling—showing lots of mouthwatering red fruit from the outset, plus spicy fireworks. Adding water gives plush texture and allows a chocolate hint to come forward, while dialing back fruit and spice. —K.N.

Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Straight Rye Whiskey; $27, 92 points. Made with 70% rye, a moderately high amount, this whiskey is brisk and spiced, with plenty of flavor. It also has plenty of alcohol punch on nose and palate, so plan to mix into cocktails or add water to taste, which softens the impact and coaxes out vanilla, lemon peel and allspice notes on the drying finish. —K.N.

Kindred Straight Rye Whiskey Single Barrel; $39, 92 points. This wheated rye offers baked apple and brown sugar aromas. The palate is lively and light. Hints of honey and butterscotch are perked up by clove and cinnamon punch. —K.N.

Legent Bourbon; $36, 92 points. A collaboration between Kentucky Bourbon-distiller Fred Noe and chief blender Shinji Fukoyo of Japan’s Suntory, this Bourbon is partially finished in wine and Sherry casks. The result is a caramel-rich nose and palate that reads almost like dulce de leche with a pleasantly silky texture. There’s a hint of dried fruit and spice on the exit. —K.N.

Monkey Shoulder Scotch; $33, 92 points. This blended Scotch opens with a bright, fresh-cut apple aroma. On the palate, butterscotch richness gives way to mild hints of smoke and juicy citrus. This versatile pour could be enjoyed on its own or recommended for mixing. —K.N.

Old Forester Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey; $25, 92 points. Look for a bright topaz hue and concentrated sweet vanilla bean and caramel aromas. The palate skews toward darker flavors: toffee, mocha, espresso and clove, with a drying finish. Adding water brings out a dark chocolate hint. —K.N.

We Recommend:

Rebellion Rye Whiskey; $41, 92 points. Pleasing, integrated vanilla and oak entice the nose. The palate is light and nicely spiced, opening with almond and citrus. Adding water lightens and brightens, exposing grapefruit peel, ginger and cinnamon sparks. Overall, a lean and likeable rye that’s ready to mix. —K.N.

Huber’s Single Barrel Bottled-in-Bond; $60, 91 points. The notably dark hue of this Bourbon matches the deep toffee aroma. Distinct coffee notes persist from start to notably long finish, with the middle filled in by bold toffee, fudge, a red fruit hint and peppery spice. Sherry barrel finished. —K.N.

Oppidan Smoke & Sea; $40, 91 points. A ringer for Scotch, this Bourbon is finished in peated Islay Scotch barrels to intriguing, earthy effect. The peaty aroma wows from first sniff, while the smoky, slightly saline palate winds into an espresso- and clove-tinged finish. —K.N.

Islay Mist 8-Year Scotch; $26, 90 points. Made at Laphroaig, the Islay distillery famed turning out uber-peaty single malts, this blended Scotch offers a more moderate approach to peat. Look for a wispy peated aroma and mild, pleasant smokiness on the palate mixed with almond sweetness. —K.N.

Published on December 28, 2020
Topics: Spirits