- As the year comes to a close we take a look at the best whiskey that filled our glasses in the past year
- Here we have. adeep dive on the best bourbon, best rye whiskey, and best Irish whiskey of 2021
- Read more articles on BroBible right here
It has been a banner year for whiskey. The industry is firing on all cylinders right now with distillers, blenders, and bottlers taking some huge swings with experimentation while others have revisited their roots. This is a look back at the best whiskey I drank this year.
Here’s a full list of the whiskeys featured here. You can click any of these links below to jump straight ahead to that review or you can just start scrolling to see them all. It’s important to note these aren’t in any particular order so you’ll want to check ’em all out.
- WhistlePig’s The Boss Hog VII: Lapu Lapu
- Booker’s ‘Noe Strangers’ Batch
- Blue Run SpiritsRye and Bourbon
- Wild Turkey Master’s Keep One
- Knob Creek 15 Year Old Bourbon
- Basil Hayden Toast
- WhistlePig 15-Year Rye Whiskey
- Hirsch: The Single Barrel x The Horizon
- 2021 Four Roses Small Batch LE
- George Dickel x Leopold Bros Collaboration Blend
- Stellum Spirits Rye and Bourbon
- Little Book Chapter 5: The Invitation
- Heaven’s Door Bootleg Vol. III
- Dickel Bourbon Aged 8-Years
- Widow Jane Lucky Thirteen
- Barrell Craft Gold Label Bourbon
- Redemption Whiskey 10-Year Barrel Proof High Rye Bourbon
- Alberta Premium Cask Strength Rye
- Limavady Single Barrel Irish Whiskey
- Three Chord Bourbon
- Few Spirits Bottled in Bond
- Kings County Distillery Barrel Strength
- Doc Swinson’s American Whiskey
- Old Forester Statesmen Kentucky Straight Bourbon
- Heaven’s Door x Redbreast Master Blender’s Edition
25 Best Bourbon, Rye, and Tennesse Whiskey Of The Year
WhistlePig’s The Boss Hog VII: Lapu Lapu
WhistlePig is calling The Boss Hog VII Lapu Lapu “an epic sequel to the World’s Best Rye” and I say nay to that because this is, in fact, the world’s best rye. It was love at first sip for last year’s Boss Hog: Magellan’s Atlantic and I experienced the same instant wave of euphoria this year.
The name Lapulapu comes from the legendary Filipino warrior Lapu Lapu who Captain Magellan met his fate at the hands of and this rye has the strongest of ties to the Philippines. It is double finished in high toast, small-batch, single island Philippine Rum casks.
WhistlePig’s Lapulapu carries a $499 price tag and unfortunately for my wallet, it’s worth every single penny and then some. The toughest part about forking over that much for a bottle of fine whiskey is when the whiskey is so good it changes your life forever and you realize that suddenly prices aren’t always about branding and there are some truly exceptional whiskeys in the world. This is one of them. If you want to treat yourself this Christmas, hit that link below to visit the WhistlePig website to learn where you can track it down.
Booker’s ‘Noe Strangers’ Batch
The final Booker’s Batch release of the year came just in time for the holidays. Booker’s ‘Noe Strangers’ Batch arrived and it embodies the social nature of 6th generation Master Distiller Booker Noe who ‘could turn a stranger into a friend in no time’.
This uncut and unfiltered Booker’s Batch was chosen by Fred Noe, a 7th generation master distillery, and it carries an age statement of 6 years, 6 months, and 12 days. The 124.4 proof delivers heat without overpowering the flavor. You’ll find an aroma of vanilla and baking spice and a long warm finish.
Blue Run SpiritsRye and Bourbon
I was torn on which Blue Run expression to call out as my favorite from this past year so instead, I’ll go with one of my favorite bottle pictures and talk about a few. Blue Run Spirits has killed it at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, their Kentucky Straight Golden Rye Whiskey won a gold medal.
If you follow me on Twitter at @casspa, you’ve probably seen me discuss Blue Run Spirits before. I try and let my followers know when a new expression is about to go on sale because it sells out within seconds. Their Golden Rye Whiskey sold out in under four minutes.
They’ve just wrapped up a ’12 Days of Christmas’ where each day bottles from a single barrel were released. THe liquid was sourced from Castle & Key Distillery and aged in Bardstown, KY inside #4 alligator char barrels. And there are certainly some exciting things on the horizon to start the year so do yourself a favor and familiarize yourself with this brand because once the word really gets out these bottles will be next to impossible to find, they’re consistently that good.
Wild Turkey Master’s Keep One
Wild Turkey Master Distiller Eddie Russell debuted the Master’s Keep One and the immediate response was Eddie’s father Jimmy Russell aka the ‘Buddha of Bourbon’ would be proud. Together, Eddie and Jimmy have 107 years of experience at Wild Turkey Distilling Co. and this year’s Master’s Keep One harmoniously blends their legacies into a special first for Wild Turkey.
The biggest difference between Eddie and Jimmy’s distilling philosophies is Eddie has embraced modern consumption with older age statements, the importance of barrel placement, and modern aging techniques. While Jimmy’s traditional approach continues to appeal to whiskey connoisseurs worldwide. The Master’s Keep One combines these two philosophies.
Master’s Keep One is Wild Turkey’s first release using toasted-oak barrels to finish the whiskey. It is a blend of bourbons ranging from 9 to 14 years that were batched out and then finished in new toasted-oak and charred barrels that were placed in Tyrone G, Eddie’s favorite rickhouse. The Wild Turkey Master’s Keep One has a price tag of $175 which is on par with previous year’s Master’s Keep releases but I had the chance to crack open this bottle over Thanksgiving and it’s worth every penny.
Knob Creek 15 Year Old Bourbon
The award-winning and limited-release Knob Creek 15 Year Old Bourbon is back for another year. It made its debut in 2020 and I was hoping there’d be more to come as I powered through a bottle I got when it hit shelves last year.
This 15-year-old pre-prohibition style bourbon is Knob Creek’s most mature age statement to-date. This is a full-bodied bourbon that is best sipped straight or with an ice cube. You could mix it in a cocktail if you were so inclined but with this expression I’d recommend the former to the latter.
The Knob Creek 15-Year-Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon checks in at 100-proof and as you can see above it has a rich gold and bronze color. The aroma is a ‘strong caramelized oak’ with hints of vanilla, ripe fruit, and baking spices. What I found most pleasing about this 15-year-old Knob Creek is how smooth it goes down and how I could feel the warmth start on my tongue and move deep down into my belly. It’s exquisite.
Basil Hayden Toast Was Big On Innovation
Basil Hayden Toast incorporates toasted barrels instead of just the straight charred oak barrel that all bourbon is aged in:
“Basil Hayden Toast is made using US-grown brown rice, which imparts a hint of sweetness and a touch less spice, while a secondary toasted barrel finish draws out notes of caramelized sugar and toasted wood. After aging, the toasted brown rice bourbon is blended back with more brown rice bourbon, which has been rested in level four char barrels, to achieve a final product with complex flavor grounded in sweet vanilla and rich roasted notes.”
A different grain?! A secondary toasted barrel finish?! You’d expect this to be a drastically different bourbon from what most whiskey drinkers are accustomed to but that’s the beauty of this release. Basil Hayden Toast is both familiar and innovative. The toasting gives Toast heavy vanilla notes and of course, you’ll get that toasted flavor in each sip.
WhistlePig 15-Year Rye Whiskey
This is a murderer’s row of my favorite bourbons and ryes and the WhistlePig 15-Year Rye Whiskey [$239] is arguably my favorite pour on the planet.
This 92-proof Rye from Vermont is one of the highest-rated Rye Whiskeys of all-time (97 points from Wine Enthusiast). I celebrate with this Rye and I turn to this Rye when I want to show a non-whiskey lover what they’re missing. If I close my eyes and envisioned the perfect Rye it would be WhistlePig’s 15-year but I understand the $239 price tag can be a lot.
Hirsch: The Single Barrel x The Horizon
I only came to know Hirsch this year and I was blown away. They debuted The Single Barrel for Bourbon Heritage Month and it was their first-ever single barrel release (mash bill of 72% corn, 13% rye, and 15% malted barley).
The Single Barrel has proof ranging from 128-138 and rich notes of caramel and dark cherry. You can pre-order this Single Barrel bundled with Hirsch’s ‘The Horizon’ and they will ship together in early January via ReserveBar (link below).
For some historical context, Hirsch is owned by Hotaling & Co and they do their bottling in Bardstown, Kentucky. It is only available in select markets so if you see it around (or online) you’ll want to snatch it up.
2021 Four Roses Small Batch Limited Edition
I don’t want you to convince yourself into thinking you can easily find this bottle just floating around in the real world and at an affordable price because this is one of the hardest bourbons to find in America. But I had to include this in my year-end roundup because as I stated earlier in the year, this release fit my flavor profile perfectly.
From the first sip, I was like ‘yup, this is what I’ve been looking for’.
- The four liquids in this year’s limited edition small batch indlude: 16-year OESV, 12-year OESK, 14-year OBSQ, 16-year OBSV
- This year’s limited edition clocks in at 57.2% (114.4 proof)
- The 16-year Bourbons are heavily represented in this Small Batch Limited Edition with the 16-year-old OBSV making up 13% and the 16-year OESV makign up 58%, while the 12-year OESK is 23% and the 14-year OBSQ is 6%
- This is the highest proof of any of the Four Roses Small Batch Limited Edition releases to date
You can hit that link below to search ReserveBar for Four Roses expressions that are available online!
George Dickel x Leopold Bros Collaboration Blend
The exceptional George Dickel x Leopold Bros Collaboration Blend marks the first time ever a rye whiskey distilled at Cascade Hollow Distilling Co. has been released to the public. It’s a blend that combines the award-winning Three Chamber Rye from Leopold Bros with a never-before-released traditional column still rye from George Dickel and Cascade Hollow General Manager & Distiller Nicole Austin.
This collab came about when Leopold Bros Distillery Founder and Master Distiller Todd Leopold shared a sample of his Three Chamber Rye with Nicole at Cascade Hollow. He was looking for a partner to collaborate with on a new blend. What came next is the best rye whiskey blend of 2021.
The George Dickel x Leopold Bros Collaboration Blend is only available in select US markets ($109.99). It clocks in at 100-proof. Has sweet hints of maple syrup, cocoa, and marshmallow with some lavender on the nose and blackberries, caramel, and fig on the palate.
Stellum Bourbon And Stellum Rye From Stellum Spirits
I recently got hands-on with Stellum Bourbon and Stellum Rye from Stellum Spirits. This is a really cool line of amazing whiskeys you guys need to check out if you haven’t already. Stellum was created by the founder of Barrell Craft Spirits (Joe Beatrice). If you’re familiar with Barrell, it’s all batch releases. They are phenomenal but there’s obviously no consistency across batches because the blends are constantly changing. That’s where Stellum enters the picture.
They wanted to create a brand that appealed to the modern whiskey drinker: high-quality Bourbon and Rye, a polished but non-flashy label, and consistency at a world-class level. The Stellum Rye is made with a 95% Rye Indiana mash bill with a tiny amount of barley in there. It clocks in at 116.25 Proof (58.12% ABV) and retails for a suggested price of $55. The Stellum Bourbon measures 114.98 Proof (57.49% ABV), is clear Dark Gold in color, and is blended from Kentucky and Tennessee barrels (also $55).
I’ll say that I was legitimately blown away by the Stellum Bourbon. I’ve been gravitating towards Rye for a while but the delicious notes from the Bourbon when I popped the cork had my mouth watering. And it was was love at first sip with smooth warm notes of spice and honeysuckle.
Little Book Chapter 5: The Invitation Blend Components
I was fortunate enough to travel to Kentucky and do an in-person tasting with 7th generation master distiller Freddie Noe for the release of Little Book Chapter 5. You can read my full review on it here.
- 2-Year-Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon: this bourbon came off the still at a lower barrel proof (lower proof = more flavor), and delivers an almost creamy mouthfeel with a complexity rarely seen from a young age bourbon such as this. Clocks in at 123.6 proof
- 3-Year-Old Malted 100% Rye Whiskey: Freddie described this mashbill innovation as creating an “all-out s**t show” in the distillery that had fermenters “blowing the tops open”, the first time Freddie had ever seen that in his life, until they got the recipe just right. It has a very distinct taste and aroma, and the toasted grain almost adds some nuttiness to the peppery Rye. This is their first mashbill innovation with brown rice. This liquid is 112 proof and went in the barrel at 125-proof. Portions of it were stored on the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 6th floors
- 5-Year-Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon: this 5-year Straight Bourbon (114.6-proof) bridges the gap between the older and younger whiskeys in Little Book Chapter 5. Freddie made this one within his first three months of officially being a distillery team member and it’s a special choice for that reason. There’s a strong cream of corn sweetness to be found on the nose
- 15-Year-Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon: 117.2 proof, stored on the 3rd floor, and brings a ‘heavier barrel flavor’ from the 180 months spent in the rackhouse. It’s easy to say that as the oldest of the four liquids this one anchors them and adds the most complexity to the final blend but I truly believe that to be the case
Heaven’s Door Bootleg Vol. III
Just in time for the year’s end, Heaven’s Door Bootleg Vol. III has arrived. This is the third expression in Bob Dylan’s ‘Bootleg’ award-winning bourbon series and it’s as exclusive as ever.
There are only 3,949 bottles of Heaven’s Door Bootleg Vol. III out there and if you find one you’ll then have to pay $545 for the pleasure of tasting this rarest of whiskeys. It is a cask-strength 13-year-old Kentucky Burboub that’s finished in Vino de Naranja Casks from Southern Spain.
Heaven’s Door Bootleg Vol. III clocks in at 60.6% ABV and is bottled inside a ceramic bottle featuring Bob Dylan’s ‘Sunday Afternoon’ painting. The whiskey has a rich amber color and it’s smooth across the palate with a complex finish. This is a great gift for any diehard Dylan fan or whiskey lover. Pre-order at ReserveBar by following the link below!
Dickel Bourbon Aged 8-Years from Cascade Hollow Distillery
This year, the award-winning Cascade Hollow Distillery has just debuted the launch of George Dickel Bourbon Whisky Aged 8 Years, a new permanent offering. I’ve been fortunate enough to sample this 90-proof bourbon from the hills of Tullahoma and it’s truly something special. I made sure to sip it neat, on the rocks, and mixed in a cocktail just so I could taste it in all forms and this is an incredible release.
This handcrafted small-batch bourbon is aged for 8-years, has a mash bill of 84% corn, 8% rye and 8% malted barley, and a retail price of only $32.99. This is a STEAL. And at that price it actually makes a great gift to anyone. You’ll find notes of ripe fruit, baking spice, oak, and vanilla.
You can search for it on Drizly by hitting that ‘shop’ button below!
Widow Jane Lucky Thirteen
The Widow Jane Lucky Thirteen was first announced in late August and it was personally hand-picked by Widow Jane President and Head Distiller Lisa Wicker after being aged in American Oak for 13 years, as the name implies.
Lucky Thirteen treats drinkers with black tea, brown sugar, and vanilla on the nose. The palate is rich with orange peel, walnuts, and burnt sugar. There’s a trickling finish of dark cherry and caramel corn which is perfect for the season.
- 93 proof (46.5% ABV), SRP of $99 for 750ml bottles
- Lucky Thirteen was initially released as a private-single-barrel program in ultra small batches at various proofs but it’s now available exclusively at 93 proof
- Lucky Thirteen is a blend of whiskeys from Kentucky, Tennessee, and Indiana
Barrell Craft Gold Label Bourbon
Louisville-based Barrell Craft Spirits dropped the microphone with this one. If you’re scared by price then you might want to keep scrolling but if you are looking for a bottle of $499 perfection then visit Barrell’s website to pre-order.
This is a 113.54 proof cask strength bottling that’s blended of 16 and 17-year bourbons. It took four collections to get this blend perfect and those include “cherry bomb barrels with a rich mouthfeel, nutty oak-forward barrels, high proof and high complexity barrels, and barrels with pronounced milk chocolate notes.”
You can pre-order it on Barrell’s website below!
Redemption Whiskey 10 Year Barrel Proof High Rye Bourbon
Over the past couple of decades, more and more American distilleries have started making up for lost time and made some impressive strides when it comes to perfecting the art of the rye whiskeys that were long associated with Canada.
That includes Redemption Whiskey, which has been pumping out some impressive bottles under the guide of Master Blender Dave Carpenter, who traded a distinguished career in the culinary world for one where he could use his refined palate to whip up some great rye-centric creations.
Redemption is probably best known for its flagship rye, which is a fantastic bargain you can sip neat but won’t feel bad about deploying in a cocktail. With that said, the 10-Year-Old High Rye Bourbon is easily the crown jewel of its current lineup, It features citrus and mint notes complemented by the oak you’d expect as well as a spiciness elevated by an ABV that doesn’t come close to tasting as high as the number on the bottle.
- ABV: 57.2% (114.4 Proof), SRP $99
- Citrus and mint notes complement by the American Oak
Alberta Distillers Premium Cask Strength Rye
2020 brought Alberta Premium Cask Strength Rye to the USA and 2021 brought us an even better expression. Alberta’s Premium Cask Strength crushed the San Francisco World Spirits Awards in 2020 and 2021 and you’ll discover why at first sip.
The Alberta Premium Cask Strength Rye ranges between 63 and 67% ABV with strong spicy rye, black currant, caramel, vanilla, and a little chocolate on the back end.
Limavady Single Barrel Irish Whiskey
My favorite Rye producer on the planet, WhistlePig, just expanded their portfolio by bringing Limavady Single Barrel Irish Whiskey into the fold. I haven’t sampled this one yet and it’s the only one in this roundup I haven’t tried but honestly, WhistlePig can do no wrong in my mind. Everything they touch turns to liquid gold.
Limavady traces its origins to 1750 in Ireland. The modern iteration is made with 100% Irish barley and triple distilled in a copper pot still before it’s aged in ex-bourbon barrels and finished in PX sherry cask which imbues the spirit with dried fruit and spice on top of the vanilla.
- 46% ABV (92-proof), $49.99 per 700ml bottle
- The name Limavady is ‘Leim an Mhadaidh’ in Gaelic which means “Leap of the Dog”
Three Chord Bourbon
While maintaining respect for the tradition and legacy of heritage whiskeys, Neil Giraldo wanted to craft a new classic whiskey with the same precision and passion with which he creates his music.
The result? — Three Chord Bourbon and a multi-step process called ‘Perfectly Tuned Taste’, which begins with carefully selecting the finest bourbon and rye whiskeys from stocks in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Indiana. Three Chord then applies their proprietary process of pyrolysis — heating American oak to precise temperatures to release specific flavor and aroma compounds — and their proprietary blending process (not to be confused with play music to the barrels). All of that creates an expression that is greater than the sum of its parts with unique flavor profiles.
Few SpiritsBottled in Bond
The Few Spirits Bottled in Bond bottle caught my attention because it’s such a throwback look but this $54 bottle has stuck with me because for whatever reason, I’m able to pick these exquisite flavors out of a lineup. I’m not a super taster by any stretch of the imagination but the flavors in here were so distinct and blended together in such harmony that I later did a blind taste test with some whiskey and I knew this one at first sip.
This release coincided with the 150th anniversary of the Bottled in Bond Act, the foundation of bourbon as we know it (the rules by which the best bourbon is made). Look for distinct notes of cherry, smoked vanilla, and oak.
Kings County Distillery Barrel Strength
This year I jgot my hands on a bottle of Kings County Barrel Strength from Seelbachs which clocks in at 75.4% ABV (150.8-proof) and while I haven’t had a chance to sample it yet because it arrived only moments ago I have the highest of hopes for this rare spirit. Featured here is the Kings County Barrel Strength from Batch #14, a 4-year age statement with whiskey in the blend aging 5.7 years.
The nose is rich with brown sugar, marzipan, caramel, and vanilla. There are also notes of black pepper, toasted oak, clove, and leather. Kings County has won a Gold Medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition this year and has previously won medals in 2019, 2018, 2017, and 2016. They’re that good. So check this one out online at Seelbach’s!
- 64% abv (126 proof), suggested retail price of $99
- Kings County Barrel-Strength Bourbon ranges between 116 and 128 proof
Doc Swinson’s American Whiskey
Save the blended whiskey trash talk. You heard it from Jesse, the art of blending whiskey isn’t intended to cover up a bad whiskey like some may think. In fact, Doc Swinson’s starts with whiskeys that are already exceptional. And they release these straight whiskeys under their Blender’s cut and single barrel product lines. But when it comes to finishing, Doc Swinson’s stands by their mantra. Finishing should be there to enhance the whiskey, layering in certain characteristics, but never taking it over. So even if you’re a whiskey purist, give them a try. You might’ve just stumbled across your newest favorite drink.
Old Forester Statesman Kentucky Straight Bourbon
Don’t scroll past the Old Forester Statesman Kentucky Straight Bourbon [$59] without checking it out. The Statesman was awarded a 91.5-point rating at the International Whisky Competition and previously won a Double Gold Medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition.
Heaven’s Door x Redbreast Master Blender’s Edition
To give you an idea of how good the Heaven’s Door x Redbreast Master Blender’s Edition [$114] is, it was submitted it in an unmarked bottle to the 2021 San Francisco World Spirits Competition and it’s already been awarded a Double Gold medal in a blind taste test.
The whiskey itself is 10-Year Aged Heaven’s Door Bourbon that is finished in Redbreast’s world-renowned Single Pot Still Casks for 15 months. The flavors come together in pursuit of flavor perfection. This 100-proof Master Blenders’ Edition is perfect for hosting your next happy hour. It has complex dark red fruit notes on the nose and on the palate, you’ll get smooth notes of raisin, buttery goodness, walnut, nougat, and marzipan. The finish lingers with a touch of honey and Irish honeycomb sweetness.
Cass is a partner at BroBible and he’s been found here for the better part of a decade. He’s based out of Florida and you can contact him on Twitter at @casspa or via email firstname.lastname@example.org
The BroBible team writes about gear that we think you want. Occasionally, we write about items that are a part of one of our affiliate partnerships and we will get a percentage of the revenue from sales.