The Top 10 Whiskeys of 2019
If there’s anything that the Drinkhacker staff universally loves, it’s whiskey. I think every writer here has asked to have whiskey as their beat, and they’ve all done their best to say something about the subject at least once or twice this year. As such, whittling down our top 10 whiskeys of 2019 is a daunting and difficult process, not just because every writer has different tastes but because so many top shelf bottlings came out over the last 12 months. Which would we cut and why? Which 10 would get the ultimate seal of Drinkhacker approval?
Well, we did the tough work and we’re ready to reveal the final list, starting with #10 and revealing one new top whiskey each day until our big #1 is finally revealed. And so, without further ado, let’s get started!
1. Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch Bourbon 2019 Edition – Four Roses brought home the gold in 2017 for its “Al Young 50th Anniversary” release, but they were sadly nowhere to be found in our 2018 honors. Master Distiller Brent Elliott and his team have recovered in fine fashion for 2019 with another winner that featured an impressive 21-year-old OBSV recipe in the blend. Not since 2012 have we loved a Limited Edition Small Batch release as much as we did this one. With its beautifully balanced nose and a palate full of perfectly integrated barrel and baking spice notes, this bottle made us even more excited about the future of Four Roses. We are clearly not alone in our admiration, as prices have already more than doubled from an entirely reasonable suggested retail of $140. Oh well. Good luck hunting in the New Year! 112.6 proof. $300 -DB
2. Egan’s Single Malt Irish Whiskey Legacy Reserve Volume II – There were two Egan’s Legacy Reserve releases this year. The one you want to track down is Volume II, one of the most exciting Irish whiskeys to hit in recent memory. Finished in Banyuls wine casks, it’s got the bright sweetness that’s endemic to Irish but balanced with notes of dark fruit and a rich layer of spice. Gorgeously balanced, it’s a sipper to savor. Only 1000 bottles were produced, but you can still find it for not too much over its initial asking price. 92 proof. $235 -CN
3. Highland Park Twisted Tattoo 16 Years Old – The name is cringeworthy, but what’s in the bottle is proof that Highland Park has in fact not jumped the shark, as many have accused the Orkney operation of late. A vatting of two malt whiskies alternately aged in bourbon and Rioja wine casks, the light peat typical of HP is stripped out of this one, leaving behind a citrus and honey-infused whisky that keeps the fruit front and center. Aggressive but balanced, it’s one of the best (and surprisingly affordable) whiskies from Highland Park in years. 93.4 proof. $100 -CN
4. Ardbeg Traigh Bhan 19 Years Old – During the summer months, Traigh Bhan (“tri-van”) is one of the most sweeping, panoramic views on Islay, a place resembling a digitally generated set from a movie. Ardbeg was spot-on in christening this 19-year-old expression after such a beautiful setting. Finished in American oak and Oloroso sherry casks, it offers peated elements one would come to expect from traditional Islay, but surprisingly, the peat is not the dominant note at play. There’s much more here that’s worthy of consideration: beautiful hints of pine, mint, lemon, and dark chocolate abound in the front, and the finish pivots flawlessly to iodine and black tea in a gentle fashion. Robust, quintessential Ardbeg worthy of a long sipping session, it captures the essence of the breathtaking place whose name it wears proudly. 92.4 proof. $300 -RT
5. Mortlach 12 Years Old Wee Witchie – Mortlach reformulated this year, dropping its formerly minor amount of peat from its repertoire, and, quite naturally, tensions ran high. Good news: Mortlach is still just as amazing as ever. Mortlach has always (strangely) been best on the young side, and the 2019 outturn of three expressions, at 12, 16, and 20 years old, continues the trend. This creamy, fruity, spicy malt couldn’t be more balanced and, at 50 bucks a bottle, more affordable. Snap it up. 86.8 proof. $50 -CN
6. The Dalmore 40 Years Old (2018 Edition) – I’m cheating a little on this one because technically this whisky came out in 2018, though I didn’t encounter it until well into 2019 at a memorable tasting session at San Francisco’s ROOH restaurant. A complex mélange of pepper and nuts, cherries and chocolate, it’s a glorious and expertly blended whisky that showcases only the highlights of Scotch, buffing out all of the potential flaws. Blender Richard Paterson has threaded the needle in avoiding the problems that can come with very old whisky, as well, and my time with Dalmore 40 stands as the #1 highlight of my year in spirits. Should you have a spare 7 grand or show, I highly recommend snapping up a bottle. 86 proof. $7500 -CN
7. George Dickel Tennessee Whiskey Bottled in Bond 13 Years Old – At long last, George Dickel finally got into the Bottled in Bond game this year with the release of an impressive 13-year-old offering. The barrels for this one were personally selected by Dickel’s newest general manager and distiller, Nicole Austin. It has everything you could want in a bonded bourbon, rich and balanced with the classic George Dickel nuttiness on full display alongside plenty of baking spice and breakfast pastry sweetness. And at half the price of similar whiskeys, it won’t hurt the bank either. Here’s hoping Diageo plans to keep this one well-stocked going forward because this is the Dickel to own. 100 proof. $40 -DB
8. Old Forester Rye – Widely available for under $30, Old Forester Rye exhibits a boldness and complexity that few other comparably priced ryes (or other whiskeys) can hope to compete with. The whiskey is Old Forester’s own – sorry, MGP! – bottled at 100 proof and designed with a unique mashbill of 65% rye, 20% malted barley, and 15% corn. The nose offers intense spice, including cloves, black pepper, and more, along with some dried fruit. The palate is even more compelling, introducing cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon, followed by vanilla custard, milk chocolate, and more. The finish is long, lingering, and slightly sweet. This is a bold, brilliant sipping rye priced more like a rail whiskey, and I expect it will be frequently finished and rapidly replaced on my bar for quite some time. 100 proof. $25 -RL
9. Legent Bourbon – OK, I had to fight for this. Legent got off to a bad start when a handful of whiskey nerds got huffy over a government label application which initially put this unique bourbon in the “whisky specialties” category – mainly used for flavored whiskeys – not bourbon. When Legent came out, it was billed as a “straight bourbon,” so surely someone was playing fast and loose with the facts, right? Legent may be unconventional – Beam bourbon that’s finished for years in sherry and red wine casks by Suntory blending legend Shinji Fukuyo – but it is bourbon. Unique bourbon. Good bourbon. Affordable bourbon. The essence of Kentucky kicks things off, but the soul of Japan can be felt in the rich umami notes and bright pops of fruit that lie beneath. I’ve retasted Legent many times this year, and while my enthusiasm for the whisky has faded a bit since its March release, I remain a devotee. Here’s hoping for more unique collaborations along these lines. 92 proof. $40 -CN
10. Laphroaig Cairdeas Triple Wood Cask Strength Edition 2019 – For the 2019 release of its annual Cairdeas bottlings, Laphroaig introduced a cask strength version of its popular Triple Wood. Clocking in at nearly 60 percent alcohol, this is a peaty beast, but it is also amazingly a complex and nuanced dram. Aged in ex-bourbon barrels, then moved to quarter casks, and finally finished in oloroso sherry casks, the 2019 Cairdeas exhibits a fascinating mix of power and finesse. The nose immediately hits you with a peaty smoke blast, but just as quickly there appears a sherry sweetness followed by further complexity. The palate is similar and equally surprising, offering powerful peat at the start, followed by sweet sherry notes. Red pepper and barbecue flavors come next, and the finish just goes on and on. If you’re a Laphroaig fan, this is worth hunting down, and if you’re not, but like peated scotch, this might make you one. 119 proof. $80 -RL
Capsule reviews by Christopher Null, Robert Lublin, Rob Theakston, and Drew Beard.