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Corrections & clarifications: An earlier version of this story misidentified the age of New York Distilling Company’s Ragtime Rye. It is a 3-year-old rye whiskey. Additionally, Uncle Nearest’s new distillery location was incorrect; it is currently under construction in Shelbyville, Tennessee.
Conventional wisdom says that when warm weather arrives after a long, cold winter, it’s time to put away the whiskey and switch to clear spirits like gin, vodka and blanco tequila. But the conventional wisdom is wrong here; good whiskey (and whisky) can and should be enjoyed all year long, especially when there are so many new releases of high quality that are hitting the shelves. Whiskey sales continue to soar in all categories, and distilleries are keeping pace by releasing new products with different mash bills, barrel finishes and age statements. Here are some notable recent releases in bourbon, scotch, Irish and other whiskey categories that you can enjoy neat or mixed in a cocktail.
New York Distilling Company’s Ragtime Rye, a 3-year-old rye whiskey made from a mash bill of 72% rye, first hit shelves in 2015. The new Bottled in Bond version has been in the works for seven years, according to the founder Allen Katz. Per the definition of bottled in bond, the whiskey is at least 4 years old, bottled at 100 proof and is the product of one distilling season at one distillery. It also fits the definition of the newly established Empire Rye category, which means it’s produced entirely in New York state with a mash bill of at least 75% rye grown in New York and aged for at least two years. The whiskey is light and crisp, but has an added sweetness and body from a few more years in the barrel than the -year-old.
Jack Daniel’s isn’t just the biggest name in Tennessee whiskey; Old No. 7 is also one of the best-selling whiskey brands in the entire world. Lately the distillery has been releasing some new expressions, including a trio of distillery-exclusive whiskeys (also available at select stores in Tennessee). The latest of these is Reunion Barrel, a 90-proof Tennessee whiskey that was finished in wine barrels. These barrels were originally used to mature Jack Daniel’s, then used to age Tennessee wine before finally returning to the distillery to be refilled with whiskey. Look for the classic Jack flavor amplified by big notes of berry and stone fruit.
This is the second release in Knappogue Castle’s limited-edition Cask Finish series (the first was finished in French oak barrels from Bordeaux winery Chateau Pichon Baron). The casks used for this come from Sicilian winery Marco De Bartoli, and were used to age Marsala wine before this 12-year-old single malt spent some time in them soaking up flavor. The result is a fruity, slightly sweet Irish whiskey that pops with syrupy notes from the Marsala, a perfect partnership of malted barley and grapes. Only 1,020 bottles are available.
Based on recently uncovered evidence, Littlemill is now being touted as the oldest licensed distillery in Scotland. The actual distillery closed in 1994 and was destroyed by fire a decade later, but fortunately we still have some of the whiskey. The latest release is a 40-year-old expression. This rare single malt scotch spent four decades in American oak and first-fill ex-bourbon barrels before being finished for just three months in Oloroso sherry casks. In whiskey, age should not always be taken as a sign of quality. But this is indeed an excellent dram, with bright notes of grape and mango along with a soft undercurrent of smoke and spice. Only 250 bottles are available globally, with just 23 in the U.S.
Last year the whiskey world mourned the loss of Dave Pickerell, the master distiller and whiskey adviser who helped launch and grow many important brands, including Vermont’s WhistlePig Rye Whiskey. The distillery sources its rye from Canada, and is now distilling its own whiskey onsite at its farm in rural Vermont. Pickerell was deeply involved with WhistlePig, and this latest release was his final creation for the distillery. PiggyBack is a light and flavorful 100% rye whiskey aged for six years (compared to the flagship 10-year-old). The whiskey was developed primarily for cocktails, but it sips very nicely on its own with notes of sweet and spice.
Nathan “Nearest” Green, known as Uncle Nearest to his friends, was the African American slave who taught Jack Daniel how to make whiskey. He is now credited as being the first Jack Daniel’s master distiller, as well as helping to innovate the Lincoln County Process (the charcoal filtering method that defines Tennessee whiskey.) This rapidly growing new brand is comprised of sourced whiskey aged between 8 and 11 years before being bottled. A new distillery is currently under construction in Shelbyville, Tennessee, and it will open in the next few years.
Bardstown Bourbon Company is a relatively new player on the scene in Bardstown, Kentucky, the epicenter of bourbon country. The distillery is contract distilling for various brands, making its own whiskey for future releases and sourcing liquid that it finishes in different barrel types for its current lineup. One of the latest releases is Phifer Pavitt Reserve, a 9-year-old Tennessee straight bourbon that is finished for 19 months in cabernet sauvignon barrels from the Phifer Pavitt winery in Napa. This whiskey is rich and complex, with notes of berry and chocolate that complement the vanilla and oak flavors. It’s bottled at cask strength of 107 proof.
New whiskey releases from Michter’s, like Toasted Barrel Finish or 10 Year Old Bourbon, generally get a lot of buzz (and command prices much higher than their SRP). The new release of Barrel Strength Rye might not be getting as much attention, but whiskey fans should take note. Regular Michter’s Rye is a great spirit, but this single barrel expression, bottled at a hefty but reasonable 109.8 proof, is even better. The nose is a complicated bouquet of caramel and brown sugar, and the whiskey itself pops with notes of prune, spice and even a hint of mint. Drink this neat or add a large ice cube to mellow it out a bit – either way you will not be disappointed.
Among the many Kentucky distilleries with long, storied histories, Four Roses remains a classic. To celebrate the distillery’s recent $55 million expansion project, Small Batch Select has been added to the core range of Four Roses whiskeys. It’s a non-chill filtered bourbon bottled at 104 proof, and includes six of the distillery’s 10 recipes (OBSV, OBSK, OBSF, OESV, OESK and OESF for those keeping score). The signature Four Roses sweet and nutty notes are present, along with a nice long finish that is hot without burning.
Son of a Peat has returned with a second installment, and as you might expect from the name this is a smoky blend of heavily peated scotches. All 2,000 bottles of this whisky are only available to Flaviar members via a lottery system. If you are lucky enough to get your hands on one, you won’t be disappointed. The whisky has no color added and is non-chill filtered, providing an unadulterated smoke bomb with hints of oak and fruits from sherry cask liquid to even things out. Although there is no age statement, there is liquid aged up to 20 years included from distilleries in Speyside, Islay, the Highlands and Islands.
Heaven Hill’s Old Fitzgerald Bottled-in-Bond series debuted in February of 2018 as a limited-edition wheated bourbon that came in an eye-catching decanter. The bottled-in-bond designation means that the whiskey is at least 4 years old, bottled at 100 proof and comes from one distilling season at one distillery. There are several other BIB expressions available from this venerable Kentucky distillery, but this new release of Old Fitzgerald stands out. It’s aged for 13 years, and is bursting with notes of toffee, vanilla and dry spice that are softened by the use of wheat as a secondary grain.
Compass Box is a Scotch whisky company that sources and blends stocks from around Scotland, and strives for complete transparency while doing it. That means that the brand is constantly coming up with new products and reveals as much information as it is legally allowed to about what’s in the bottle. The latest expression is Tobias & the Angel, a blend of nearly equal parts 24-year-old Clynelish single malt and older whisky from Caol Ila. The latter is a peaty malt, while the former is a fruity, slightly smoky whisky from the Highlands. Together, they form something special. Just over 2,600 bottles were released.
Normally when an ultra-aged whisky is released from a scotch distillery, it commands tens of thousands of dollars per bottle and almost no one actually gets to try it. Craigellachie will flip this concept on its head when it launches a pop-up called Bar 51 in New York City from May 7-9. Here, 150 lucky fans that entered a lottery online will get to sample a dram for free. This will make the whisky uncollectible, which is the point – after all, whisky is meant to be sipped, not to gather dust on a shelf. The liquid silently rested in casks from 1962 to 2014 when it was bottled, so expect notes of oak, tropical fruit and a touch of menthol.
The BenRiach distillery in the Speyside region of Scotland produces almost every type of single malt you can imagine – peated, unpeated, bourbon cask, sherry cask ... the list goes on. The distillery has been getting more attention here in the U.S. since beverage giant Brown-Forman acquired it a few years ago, and it recently added a 25-year-old expression to its range. This is an unpeated whisky that was aged in different cask types, including ex-bourbon hogshead barrels and French Burgundy barriques. It’s fruity with a dry spice, but surprisingly not very tannic considering that it spent a quarter-century inside oak.
Blade and Bow 22 is only released once a year in limited quantities, so when it hits the shelves it goes pretty fast (often for more than the SRP). The whiskey comes from the old Stitzel-Weller distillery in Louisville, Kentucky, and is syrupy and complex with notes of oak, butterscotch and ripe cherries. This is definitely for sipping – let the regular no age statement Blade and Bow do its work in your cocktails. At some point in the future, according to the brand, the supply will run out, so try it now if you can.
This Jack Daniel’s release was previously available in Asian markets and global travel retail, but No. 27 Gold is now launching in the U.S. The difference between this whiskey and regular Jack is that Gold is double matured and double charcoal filtered (or “mellowed,” as the brand calls it). This means that after the whiskey spends years in charred new oak barrels, it is put into maple wood barrels for a second maturation period. It’s also charcoal filtered again before being bottled; the first time happens before barreling, aka the Lincoln County Process. This results in a whiskey that master distiller Jeff Arnett describes as having notes of toasted oak and honey, and is meant to be sipped neat.
Utah’s High West Distillery’s latest batch of Bourye is as good as ever. This blend of bourbon and rye (hence the name) includes sourced whiskey that was aged for at least 10 years, giving some heft and bite to this release. Look for a blend of sweet and spice, as the best characteristics of bourbon and rye come to play. This year’s release consists of whiskey sourced from MGP, a blend of straight rye (95% rye) and two straight bourbons (75% corn and 60% corn).
For years, whiskey fans in the know have sought out W.L. Weller. This humble wheated bourbon was once easy to find and inexpensive, but all that changed when more people caught onto the fact that it was basically Pappy Van Winkle at a fraction of the price. New to the Weller lineup comes Full Proof, a brawny whiskey bottled at 114 proof and non-chill filtered. Buffalo Trace distillery reps describe it as having notes of creme brulee and dark cherries. Most likely, this one will go fast and stores will jack up the price, so grab a bottle if you can find one (and afford it).
The final installment of the Glenlivet Winchester Collection trilogy is available now. Vintage 1967 is an extremely rare offering, with only 150 bottles available globally. The whisky is named after former Glenlivet master distiller Alan Winchester, and it comes from several casks, the youngest of which was put into barrels in 1967. Each bottle is made from hand-blown glass and comes in a maple case. If you have the means to purchase this rarefied whisky, expect notes of apricot, peach and toasted almonds, according to the brand.
Elijah Craig is Heaven Hill’s small-batch superstar, but whiskey fans got a little upset when the distillery removed the 12-year-old age statement from the bottle a few years back. The current NAS expression is said to be in the eight- to 12-year range, and it’s still very good. But if you need that 12-year certification, and want unadulterated flavor, this new batch of Elijah Craig Barrel Proof will do the trick. This release tones down the proof from the last, at a solid but not overpowering 122.2 proof. Expect rich notes of caramel and vanilla and a hint of cinnamon, and don’t be afraid to add a bit of water or some ice to proof it down.
Kentucky Owl is a whiskey brand that has become very popular and sought after for its carefully sourced (and fairly expensive) bourbon and rye. Each release generally maintains the high quality and complex flavor of the last, a trend that continues with the new Confiscated expression. The name is a reference to the days of Prohibition, when the government seized barrels from distilleries. This is the first Kentucky Owl release that will be available in all 50 states. The bourbon is 96.4 proof with a palate full of banana and burnt vanilla.
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Cornerstone Rye is the fourth release in Wild Turkey’s high-end Master’s Keep series, and the first rye whiskey of the group. The whiskey, which comes out this August, is a blend of rye aged from nine to 11 years, which is a few years older than regular Wild Turkey Rye or even Russell’s Reserve Rye. Cornerstone Rye is bottled at 109 proof and is described as having notes of honey and baked apple, with a long spice and oak finish.
Bob Dylan’s whiskey brand, Heaven’s Door, just announced plans to build a new distillery and performance center in downtown Nashville, Tennessee, which will open in the fall of 2020. In the meantime, you can drink the brand’s bourbon and rye, but the limited-release 10 Year Tennessee Straight Bourbon is worth trying to get your hands on. The 100-proof whiskey was charcoal mellowed via the Lincoln County Process before being aged for a decade in charred American oak, giving it notes of stone fruit, vanilla and caramel.
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