We write about all things drinkable here at Drinkhacker, but nothing gets tongues wagging more than our coverage of whiskey. Both readers and the staff alike have an obsession with the stuff, so this year we decided to get together and hash out our own top ten list of the best whiskey releases of 2017, both to honor those distilleries who got it right this year, and to give shoppers a handy cheat sheet they can take to their local bottle shop. It wasn’t an easy task, and it took significant time and effort to whittle down some 25 nominees into a list of 10 that all of us felt we could be proud of. Naturally, since taste is subjective, the debate hardly ends here. If we left out your favorite of the year (and we probably did), let us know in the comments.
Here’s to a whiskified 2018! And while you’re here, don’t miss our 2017 holiday guide, which has our top picks of the year in all spirits (and wine) categories.
1. Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch Bourbon 2017 “Al Young 50th Anniversary” – Gush all you want about your Elijah Craig Barrel Proof; this one-off bottling of Four Roses’ Small Batch, bottled in honor of longtime staffer Al Young, is the best bourbon of the year. It’s also the best whiskey of the year, period, an exotic monster filled with heady aromas of spices, florals, and sultry vanilla and chocolate notes. Equal parts fruit, spice, and confectioneries, the palate is long, soothing, and incredibly inviting. Though prices have shot through the roof, it’s still hard not recommend without reservation. 108.98 proof. $500 -CN
2. Glenmorangie Bacalta – The yearly limited releases from Glenmorangie are always appointment drinking. At their best, they tend to be exercises in complex drinkability. Bacalta is one of the best yet from the distillery. A shining example of amazing balance, Bacalta mingles notes of sweet fruit and spice in a way which makes it a very difficult whisky to put down. It’s one of those whiskies which reveals a little something extra with every sip, easily making it one of the best drinking experiences of the year. 92 proof. $90 -NC
3. Compass Box No Name – This is Compass Box’s peatiest whisky yet, even more so than the Peat Monster. Mostly 2003 Ardbeg with some Caol Ila and Clynelish for mouthfeel, this blended malt is a stunner. Gotta love that Compass Box packaging too, really sexy stuff even before the bottle is open! Lime juice and grapefruit arrive on the nose, along with faded peat smoke. The mouthfeel is luscious, with great oils and plenty of citrus to balance the smoke. Medium-long creamy finish. For me this an immediate buy, or if, like me, you have no money left for whisky this year, pray Santa brings you one! 97.8 proof. $130 -DC
4. The Tyrconnell Single Malt Irish Whiskey 16 Years Old – If you love the lighter, fruitier flavors in Irish whiskey but also appreciate the earthiness and spice cabinet of traditional Scottish single malt, look no further than The Tyrconnell Single Malt 16 Years Old. This double-distilled whiskey from Ireland’s Cooley Distillery was aged in ex-bourbon barrels and bottled at a slightly higher proof than your average Irish single malt. From nose to finish, there’s a great balance of baking spice, citrus, vanilla, and stone fruit notes. It’s a beautiful whiskey and a real pleasure to drink. 92 proof. $95 -DB
5. Wyoming Whiskey Double Cask Limited Edition – For its first foray into barrel finishing, Wyoming Whiskey really knocked it out of the park with Double Cask Limited Edition. This release, developed with the help of industry specialist and master blender Nancy Fraley, took carefully chosen barrels of Wyoming Whiskey’s five year old wheated bourbon and finished them in Pedro Ximenez sherry casks. The result is a whiskey with a big nose of dried fruit, fig, and candied apricot and a syrupy palate with notes of dark berry, vanilla, raisin, and candied orange peel. Only 110 cases were produced, but this one can still be found for a reasonable price. For now! 100 proof. $60 -DB
6. Parker’s Heritage Collection Single Barrel Bourbon 11 Years Old 2017 – Heaven Hill’s annual release of the Parker’s Heritage Collection always marks the unofficial beginning of the holiday season, and fans got a winner as the distillery returned to its roots for 2017. This 11 year old, single barrel, cask strength bourbon doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but by cherry-picking the distillery’s very best barrels, it’s created a complex masterpiece that’s loaded with notes of fresh fruit, honey, hazelnuts, white pepper, and more. It all comes together with such harmony that you may not mind the wildly inflated price tag. 122 proof. $400 -CN
7. Bruichladdich Octomore 10 Years Old (2017) – New Master Distiller Adam Hannett has had no problems assuming the captain’s chair from Jim McEwan — steering the good ship Bruichladdich into 2017 and releasing one expression of quality after another. This second offering of Octomore 10 Year delivers more of what loyal followers expect from the series: high peat (167ppm), loads of smoke, pepper, black tea, and tobacco — all courtesy of a short slumber in grenache blanc casks and bourbon barrels. It’s complex and well-balanced, and fans of previous editions won’t be disappointed, while newcomers to the series will find this an accessible entry point. 114.6 proof. $200 -RT
8. Westland Peat Week 2017 – When word broke last December that Paris-based spirits giant Rémy Cointreau was purchasing Seattle’s Westland Distillery, many a wise sage in the court of social media voiced concern that the quality of offerings would be tainted by corporate interference and marketing mischief. Thankfully this has not yet proven to be the case, and 2017’s offering for Peat Week delivers the goods. The nice balance of peat and fruit on the nose is not too aggressive — almost bourbon-like — that slowly brings to its conclusion a softer blend of cinnamon, vanilla, and an amazing finish of campfire smoke. There are three vintage label designs depicting circus performers, but the juice is consistent regardless of aesthetic choice. 108.8 proof. $100 -RT
9. Bunnahabhain 13 Years Old Marsala Finish – This is a whisky I have bizarre fever dreams about. There is just something magically exotic about the combination of Islay malt and Marsala wine, somewhere between Spanish sherry and a Moroccan bazaar. Tasted fresh, the sweet berries and chocolate notes aren’t as lush on the palate as they were on my initial inspection, as the smokier notes have muscled their way to the forefront. Still, it’s all so unusual and strangely compelling that it’s hard not to be enchanted by it. Pro tip: Give it lots of air, and take big gulps of it, not baby sips. 92.6 proof. $76 -CN
10. Kilchoman Red Wine Cask Matured – One of the youngest Islay distilleries in operation, Kilchoman keeps going from strength to strength. This roughly 5 year old release was aged entirely in Portuguese red wine casks, giving it a profile which is a bit unique from other Kilchoman releases. The usually assertive smoke and peat serves more as background in this one, propping up notes of chocolate, stewed red fruits, and a delightfully savory woody touch. It is a whiskey which uses bold, complex flavors to immediately put a smile on your face. Grab it while you still can, because it is probably the most fun bottle of whiskey you will come across this year. 100 proof. $115 -NC
Capsule reviews by Christopher Null, Neal Christyson, Drew Beard, Rob Theakston, and David Cover.