For my American Whiskey of the Year tasting, I dipped into something I’ve always been obsessed with — College Football Rankings. I love reading the polls and listening to people debate about who should be No. 1. And with the massive number of whiskeys I tasted this year, I saw an opportunity to begin my Top 100.
This year was also the start of my spirits competition — The American Spirits Council of Tasters — and I wanted my rankings to be different than the ASCOT Awards. I also feel a ranking system is more accurate for a single critic to choose a whiskey of the year. Panels are better for determining Best in Class. For example, when scoring is used, I’ve been in panels that had two 96s. Does it end in a tie? No. A vote is taken and preferential tastes decide. This list represents what I like, and I am a single person, so there will be no votes.
Why 100 and not 25?
Well, this list encompasses all types of American whiskey: Blends of Straights, Ryes, Bourbons, Single Malts, etc. Most categories are well represented, but rye and bourbons make up the bulk. It’s also subjective, of course. My No. 100 could be somebody else’s No. 50; a No. 25 might not even make someone else’s list. In other words, outside the Top 15, the rankings are super close for me. And as individuals, we all have our own palates. Thus, I thought a list of 100 makes a stronger representation of the quality in the American whiskey space than 25, which would leave out many worthy products.
Why did it take so long?
My team and I put our heart and soul into the Kentucky Bourbon Benefit. I am glad we did, because we raised more than $3.4 million for tornado victims. But that is why we are completing this list in January.
How it will work
The list below represents the whiskeys that made my Top 100. On January 5, on a YouTube Livestream, I will announce the rankings and blind taste the Top 10 to choose the No. 1.
How these whiskeys were chosen
I had to taste them for the first time in 2021, which means most of these were mostly released in 2021. However, there are a couple late 2020 releases in this mix. Some tastings were public, such as my YouTube reviews, while others were done privately or in a spirits competition.
I assessed color, nose, palate, finish and weighed the uniqueness of a product in its category. For example, if I like something that may seem bizarre to traditional whiskey drinkers, such as a peated rye, I let my ranking show that. But if a distillery’s batched releases seemed to be similar from batch to batch, such as Larceny’s, I only chose one from their lineup.
I did not consider availability or price when making this list other than omitting the Pappy Van Winkle lineup and this year’s Michter’s 20 & 25 year releases. I also omitted Pursuit Rye, because I am business partners with Kenny Coleman and Ryan Cecil in the Bourbon Pursuit Podcast. But let it be known: Pursuit Rye is outstanding. I did permit single barrels to make this list, as long as there was a consistent track record of their 2021 single barrels. So, I would have tasted several from the distillery if a single barrel product is on this list.
On January 5, I release the rankings on this livestream and blind taste live to determine the Top 10. Last year, I blind tasted more than 40, and that’s just too much to taste and speak to a live audience. Moving forward, this is the way.
– 291 E Colorado Whiskey, Batch 8 – A. Smith Bowman Cask Strength 2021 Release – Angel’s Envy Madeira Finish Cask Strength – Augusta Buckner 13 Year – Balcones Wheated Bourbon – Banner Wheat Whiskey – Bardstown Bourbon Company Fusion No. 5 – Bardstown Bourbon Company Triple Stave – Barrell Batch 27 – Barrell Batch 28 – Barrell Batch 30 – Barrell Seagrass
– Blackened Cask Strength Batch 106 – Blood Oath Pact 7 – Blue Note 17 Year Old
– Blue Run Kentucky Straight High Rye Bourbon – Booker’s 2021-03 – Booker’s 2021-04 – Boone County Single Barrel Wheated – Bradshaw Bourbon Batch 4 – Buzzard’s Roost Toasted – Chattanooga Whiskey Bottled in Bond Bourbon
– Cutwater Devil’s Share California Bourbon – Dad’s Hat Bottled in Bond Pennsylvania Rye Whiskey – Davies Double Barrel – Dettling 72 Month Alabama Bourbon – Dickel & Leopold Brothers Three Chamber Collaboration
– Doc Swinson’s Alter Ego – Eagle Rare 17 Year – Elijah Craig B521 – Elijah Craig C921 – Fort Hamilton Double Barrel – Four Gate Collaboration Trilogy III – Four Gate Ruby Rye Batch 11 – Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch – Garrison Brothers Laguna – Grand Teton Corn Whiskey – Hard Truth Sweet Mash Rye Batch 1 – High Plains Rye
– Horse Soldier Premium Spring 2021 – Huber’s Starlight Distillery Single Barrel – Ironroot Harbinger – Ironroot Hubris – Jack Daniel’s 10 Year
– Jefferson’s Reserve Pritchard Hill Cabernet Cask Finish (barleycorn) – Jefferson’s Rye, Cognac Finish – Kentucky Peerless Small Batch (ASCOT) – Kentucky Senator 15 Year Old
– Kings County Cask Strength – Kings Family Distillery Tennessee Bourbon – Kings County Distillery Empire Rye – Kuiper Belt 8 Year – Larceny C921 – Lee W. Sinclair 4 Grain Bourbon – Bottled in Bond – Legends Single Barrel – Liberty Pole Spirits Peated Rye Whiskey – Little Book Chapter 5 – Lone Elm Wheat Whiskey – Maker’s Mark FAE-2 – Michter’s 10 Year Bourbon – Michter’s 10 Year Rye – Milam & Greene Port Finish Rye – Nashville Barrel Company Bourbon Cask Strength – Nelson’s Green Brier Tennessee Whiskey – New Riff Malted Rye
– New Riff Red Turkey Wheated – O.H Ingram River Aged Flagship Bourbon 2021
– Old Elk Sour Mash Reserve – Old Fitzgerald 11 Year Fall – Old Fitzgerald 11 Year Spring – Old Forester Birthday Bourbon – Old Line Single Malt, Madeira finish – Parker’s Wheat Whiskey – Penelope 4 Grain Cask Strength
– Pinhook Bourbon War Vertical Series – Rabbit Hole Boxer Grail – Remus Repeal V – Russell’s 13 year – Sagamore Spirit Bottled in Bond – Sazerac 18 Year Old – Smoke Wagon Uncut Batch 25 – Smooth Ambler Old Scout 5 Year Old Bourbon – Spirit Works Distillery Straight Rye Whiskey – Spirits of French Lick William Dalton – St. Augustine Port Finished Bourbon – Stagg Jr. Batch 16 – Sweeten’s Cove
– Thomas Handy Rye – Three Chamber Rye, Leopold Brothers (solo distillery, not the previously mentioned collab) – Uncle Nearest Master’s Blend – Virginia Distillery Courage & Conviction – Westland Peat Week – Westward Cask Strength Single Malt – Whiskey Acres Blue Popcorn bourbon – Whiskey Acres Maple Syrup Barrel Finish – Wild Turkey Master’s Keep One
– Wilderness Trail Bottled in Bond 2021 – William LaRue Weller – Woodinville PX Sherry Finished Bourbon Whiskey – Yellowstone, Armagnac Finish