The Top 10 Whiskeys of 2018
Who likes whiskey? We do!
Our Top 10 Whiskeys of 2017 was such a hit that we had to do it again, particularly since 2018 saw such a strong and varied collection of new whiskey hitting the market. As in 2017, this list was a collective project from the entire Drinkhacker staff, the result of debate and consensus-building to determine which 10 whiskeys released this year really knocked our socks off. It was no easy task, but with persistence, and a fair amount of, er, research, we crafted a list that we can all agree upon. Starting today we’ll be announcing one whiskey on the list each day until our number one choice is crowned on December 31…
…and then we’re giving that bottle to YOU!
That’s right. It’s the season of giving, and we have too much whiskey as it is, so one lucky reader is going to receive a bottle of our Number One Whiskey of 2018! To win, just follow us on our new Instagram feed @drinkhacker, like one (or more) of our Top 10 Whiskeys of 2018 posts, and then tag someone in the comments to any of those posts. Each tag is another chance to win. We’ll announce the prize winner on New Year’s Day. Good luck and happy holidays from all of us at Drinkhacker! (Note: In the event that our #1 whiskey is sold out, shipment may be temporarily delayed.)
The fine print: You must be at least 21 years old to enter and have a shipping address in one of the following states in the U.S.: AK, AZ, CA, CO, CT, DC, DE, FL, HI, ID, IL, IN, MA, MN, MO, NC, NE, NH, NM, SC, WA, WI, WY. Sorry, we can’t ship internationally or to any other address; find a friend and share the love! Alas, liquor doesn’t ship everywhere, folks.
Congrats to Alex Taheri, winner of a bottle of Old Forester 1910!
1. Old Forester 1910 Old Fine Whisky – If you read our Holiday Gift Guide, you probably saw this coming. Old Forester’s Whiskey Row Series has produced two monsters that deserve to be in every collection. While the brand’s 1920 Prohibition Style made us wonder how good the speakeasy set had it, 1910 raised the bar again, showcasing a different style of Old Forester by taking mature OldFo and putting it in a second barrel for another round of aging. Bold and a bit smoky, this bourbon is a monster of complexity, bringing everything from coconut to apricot to dark chocolate into a monumentally pleasing whole. Alas, the secret is unfortunately out, and prices are ticking higher and higher. Snap up these bottles when you see them (and try for your last chance to win one over on our Instagram account)! 93 proof. $65 -CN
2. Nikka Whisky from the Barrel – What happens when a coveted Japanese whisky never before available in America is suddenly released to the US market? People. Go. Crazy. Was the 2018 release of Nikka Whisky from the Barrel deserving of this hype? You bet. It’s a blended whisky, created from over 100 batches of malt and grain whisky, aged in a bevy of barrels, and bottled at north of 100 proof. All that, and it’s still one of the most affordable Japanese whiskies on the market today. Tasted against the release available in Japan, we actually found a little more bourbon character in the U.S. offering with plenty of sweet vanilla, ample wood, and a softer finish. Whether that was a product of barrel variability or a conscious effort to appeal to the American, bourbon-loving palate we can’t say for sure. Either way, the new release is every bit as good, if not better, than those that came before. 102.8 proof. $65 -DB
3. Port Charlotte 10 Years Old Heavily Peated – When it comes to Islay releases, 40ppm isn’t exactly Heavily Peated, even at Bruichladdich. One need look no further than its Octomore series for an old fashioned peat-down. Port Charlotte turns the volume down a tad, giving the citrus fruits and grain notes enough presence to balance out the traditional Islay notes of smoke and seaweed. With PC, Octomore, Black Art, the core lineup, and an impressive number of valinch offerings, Bruichladdich’s ever-expanding and massive portfolio shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. Gems like these make us all the richer for their efforts. 100 proof. $65 -RT
4. Little Book Blended Whiskey Chapter 2: “Noe Simple Task” (2018) – For those who expected another bourbon-forward blend for this year’s Little Book release, the 2018 edition, dubbed “Noe Simple Task,” was probably a bit of a shock. Two of the three component in the blend are rye, and the oldest juice in the bottle (at 40 years old, no less) actually comes from Canada! It’s an inviting pour from the outset with a nice balance of smoke and clove on the nose. The palate shows its Canadian side with ample sweetness and a fruity complexity, but there’s a woodier punch and fantastically long spice element on this one that clearly hails from Kentucky. It’s definitely one of the more creative whiskey releases of the year and even better than the debut 2017 bottling. Well done, Beam boys! 118.8 proof. $100 -DB
5. Johnnie Walker Blue Label Ghost and Rare – Johnnie Walker Blue Label has a reputation for underdelivering considering its price, and I can’t disagree with that assessment. But put aside that prejudice and take a sip of Blue Label Ghost and Rare, a whisky that has virtually nothing in common with its namesake except for the “Blue Label” moniker. It’s crafted with whisky from some of Diageo’s rarest stocks, three of which comprise the “ghosts” of the label: Cambus, Pittyvaich, and Brora, and the resulting blend is transcendent, a bold showcase of fruit, chocolate, and gentle savory notes. Incredibly complex, it stands as an utter showstopper in any collection. 92 proof. $300 -CN
6. Knob Creek Cask Strength Rye 9 Years Old – Although non chill-filtered and pouring at almost 120 proof, this bold, uncut whiskey is approachable without a drop of water. The unconfirmed mashbill is rumored to include 55% rye, 35% corn, and 10% malt, and the whiskey has been aged for 9 years. The result is an assertive, spicy rye that is nicely balanced by sweetness and presents unexpected complexity. On the nose this whiskey is somewhat reserved, showing typical rye notes, but on the palate it fairly bursts out of the glass with a range of flavors that compete for dominance. First comes the big, spicy rye character, followed by sweet butterscotch and cinnamon along with notes of apples, peaches, and apricots. The long, satisfying finish turns to vanilla, salted caramel, and milk chocolate notes that slowly dissipate but never become bitter. We can only hope that this “Limited Edition” becomes a regular release. 119.6 proof. $70 -RL
7. King of Kentucky Straight Bourbon 14 Years Old – 2018 saw some pretty exciting super premium releases in the bourbon world, but few were as eagerly anticipated, or as limited, as Brown Forman’s King of Kentucky revival. With only 16 single barrels produced (roughly 1,000 bottles) and released only in Kentucky, you’d be very lucky to have come across this one. Still, those in the Bluegrass State fortunate enough to acquire a bottle were handsomely rewarded, whether they drank it or flipped it for an insane price on the secondary market. Released at barrel proof, this is racy bourbon with intense and varied spice and fruit notes. Water isn’t just a friend here, it adds whole new dimensions to its complexity, making King of Kentucky one of my favorite drinking experiences of the year. 125-135 proof. $199 -DB
8. Booker’s Bourbon “Kathleen’s Batch” 2018-01 – I tend to enjoy Booker’s when aged for as long as possible. So when discovering through the PR blurb this particular offering was a mere 6 years of age, I reverted to my stock cynical stance of “higher prices, lower ages: Kentucky Bourbon 2.0.” I was way off course this time, and I am beyond pleased to drink my words. This lovely bottle has the best of what you’d expect from Booker’s – vanilla, heavy cloves and pepper, leather and char – along with some unexpected spices like coriander and allspice. There may be a few bottles lingering around here and there on specialty shop shelves. Pick one up if you can. It is easily their best release this year, and one of the tops of the Booker’s batches. 127.4 proof. $75 -RT
9. Glenmorangie Grand Vintage Malt 1989 – You won’t find a better representation of decadence in a bottle than this gorgeous 27 year old single malt from Glenmorangie, which was finished in Cote Rotie wine barrels, an unusual choice. Somehow Glenmo’s ethereal malt melds with the funky, beefy character of old Rhone Valley red wine to produce a whisky that is the best of both worlds, a spicy and nutty spirit that takes everything you know about this Highland malt and turns it on its head. Lush and smoldering in its intensity, and worth every penny of its incredible price tag (which is now quite a bit less than it was upon release). $600 -CN
10. Compass Box Phenomenology – The surrealist artwork on the bottle and box runs in line with Compass Box’s dedication to cramming every inch of label space with detail. However, absent from Phenomenology (technically a late 2017 whisky, but we didn’t sample it until mid-2018) is Compass Box’s usual level of transparency, with no details of the blend available unless you do some digging online. Loads of lemon, berries, caramel, brown sugar, a bit of baking spice, toffee and honey all make this malt a pleasant anomaly to decipher. Every sip provides a new flavor note, demanding full attention for those keen on deciphering the mystery. Drew was spot on in his July assessment: It’s a highly accessible blend with something for every whisky palate. 92 proof. $180 -RT
Capsule reviews by Christopher Null, Robert Lublin, Rob Theakston, and Drew Beard.