The new year is nearly here, and, as is custom, we ring out the old by running down the very best bottles to hit shelves during the past 12 months.
I’ve been compiling this list for Bloomberg every December since 2019, and the annual exercise is not getting any easier. Sure, the sheer volume of great choices is expanding—no complaints there. The problem is that the very best examples are exceedingly elusive for the average connoisseur.
As with any “normal” year (for a journalist in the trade), I sipped through more than 250 new releases, dutifully chronicling my impressions along the way. When I look back on my mound of notes, I notice more maniacally priced releases than ever before. It was a banner year for five-, six-, and even seven-figure spirits. Eagle Rare unveiled a 25-year-old bourbon, donning a $10,000 ( ₹ 8,32,000) price tag. We saw the oldest—and priciest—expressions to date from legendary scotch houses, including a $101,000 ( ₹84,10,315 approx.) Glen Grant and $710,500 ( ₹5,91,63,654 approx.) Bowmore. In November, a 1926 vintage of the Macallan became the most expensive single bottle of whisky ever when it auctioned off at a staggering £2,187,500 ( ₹23,31,76,577 approx.)
But samples from that echelon of alcohol, however exquisite, are rarely ever poured. It’s for the investor class, not the thirsty masses. While you’d hope for some overlap between those two camps, they are growing more distant than ever. So this year I’m splintering them entirely.
If you’re looking to hold on to something as an heirloom or art piece, I’ve got the best examples for you across all major categories of spirit. Alternatively, if you’re someone who merely wants a terrific bottle to open and enjoy now, corresponding analogs are right beside them. And if you want one from each column, all the more power to you. You’re just going to need a bigger backbar.
Old Overholt 10-Year
Cask Strength Rye
You’ll find a smattering of intense spice with sublime sweet in this high-octane release from the legendary rye label. The namesake grain collides with brown sugar in a lengthy finish that remains remarkably smooth given the 121-proof it brandishes. Although it’s very recognizably a rye, it’ll appeal to bourbon aficionados just the same. Even more appealing? It’s readily available at $100 ( ₹8325.59 approx.) a bottle.
Aged in Humidity
Jefferson’s latest experiment in transoceanic ageing is a 104-proof treasure that set sail for Singapore in shipping containers before spending an additional year exposed to the country’s punishing heat and humidity. The voyage accelerated interaction between whiskey and wood, with sugarcane and a whisper of sea salt assuming centerstage in the finished product.
Eagle Rare 25 Year Old
Eagle Rare already existed as one of the most sought-after lines of spirits amongst bourbon connoisseurs. So when venerated producer Buffalo Trace added this senior statesman to its portfolio in late October, frenzy soared to new heights. American whiskey isn’t supposed to be this cool, calm and collected at such an old age. But the vigorously spicy, butterscotch bomb found balance from time spent in a temperature-controlled experimental warehouse at the distillery’s home in Frankfort, Kentucky. Too bad there’s not nearly enough of it to go around. Only 200 bottles were packaged in total.
Michter’s 25-Year-Old Bourbon
Not to be upstaged by its cross-Kentucky rival, the talented team at Michter’s introduced its own quarter-century-old bourbon, just a month after Eagle Rare. This one is far juicier than its counterpart, dancing with molasses and hot buttered rum atop the tongue. It’s supposed to retail for $1,000 ( ₹83,360 approx.). But this is the first time the distillery has dished out the coveted release since 2020. And it only delivered 385 bottles, to boot. Translation: Tracking it down is going to require a lot more than retail.
Yoichi Single Malt 10 Year Old
Thanks to an insatiable global thirst for Japanese whisky, Yoichi was without supply of age statement juice for several years. The Hokkaido-based distillery finally returned to US markets this spring with a 10-year-old offering. I had almost forgotten how much I missed it. Almost. The spirit is bright and floral in the nose, teasing at the orchard fruit of fall. More of it is perceived on the palate, with apple and peach parting ways for the sooty smoke in the finish. Enviable layers of complexity for a whisky that’s again on shelves at around $100 ( ₹8325.59 approx.) a bottle.
Kavalan Vinho Barrique
This Taiwanese distillery hasn’t even been in existence for two full decades, and yet it already enjoys status as a darling of the craft whisky world. Its “Solist” range helped cement that legacy, highlighting a single barrel, single malt. This year was the return of the full portfolio after a brief sabbatical, and the Vinho Barrique—matured in used American wine casks—is the crown jewel of them all. Rich and soulful with prunes and sugary plums, it coats the inside of the mouth with an almost syruplike quality. It’s the ultimate dessert dram, bottled at cask strength and typically priced at under $300 ( ₹25008 approx.).
Although many drinkers most commonly associate single malt with Scotland, Bushmills has been doing quite a solid job at producing this particular style of whisky for centuries. The Northern Ireland distillery doubled its capacity this year, and to celebrate the occasion, it unveiled two additions to its permanent range, including this ruby-hued gem. It spent five years aging in a combination of bourbon and sherry casks before coming together for two more decades worth of maturation in ex-port pipes. The nose is brimming with berry fruit, and the finish is full of bitter dark chocolate.
Bruichladdich Black Art 11
The good news when it comes to the latest iteration in this lauded series of Islay single malt is that you can currently fetch it for under $1,000 ( ₹83,360 approx.) a bottle. The bad news is that it’s a limited release that won’t be around for long. And because of the nature of its production—using a collage of one-off casks, collected from stock age 24 years and up—whisky maker Adam Hannett can’t ever re-create this exact marriage even if he wanted to. It’s regrettable, since this tropical-laden trophy might be his best work yet. Until, perhaps, next year’s Black Art 12, that is.
Johnnie Walker Blue Label
To accentuate the so-called fifth flavor in whisky form, master blender Emma Walker enlisted the help of three-Michelin-star chef Kei Kobayashi. Together they collected the special casks necessary to build this robust blended scotch. It noses with hijiki and hen-of-the-wood mushrooms. And there’s a pleasant smoked meat unctuousness in the finish. It’s a limited-edition release, but it’s widely available this season and hopefully a harbinger of innovation to come out of this most traditional of blended scotch brands.
100 Year Anniversary Edition
Hibiki 21 is hardly some sort of run-of-the-mill, everyday dram. Indeed, it’s viewed by many as the apotheosis of Japanese blended whisky. So when parent company Suntory announced it was introducing a limited-edition variant to celebrate its 100th anniversary, connoisseurs could hardly contain their glee. To create it, chief blender Shinji Fukuyo leaned heavier on Mizunara oak as opposed to the sherry butts used in its permanent counterpart. What emerges is something more incenselike in its aromatics, more subtle and refined on the palate—and about 10 times more expensive on shelves.
El Amparo Ron Equatorial
This pure pot still rum hails from deep in the rainforests of Ecuador. It leverages the grassy, almost ginger-like notes of a specific style of cane juice dubbed “Cubana Negra” to arrive at a savoury profile you’ve likely never before experienced in a rum. And it accomplishes it all with the sturdiness of a 120-proof sipping spirit. This rum affords compelling testimony to the terroir and will make you thirst for more of the category from this part of the world—particularly when they’re priced at $60 ( ₹4,995 approx.) a bottle.
Appleton 17-Year-Old Legend Jamaican Rum
For this supremely limited offering, iconic rum maker Joy Spence set out to re-create the taste profile of Wray & Nephew 17 Year Old—among the most prized pot still Jamaican rums of all time. Ultimately, her blend relied on four rare distillates demonstrating all the toffee, tobacco and over-ripened banana fruit flavours that made the original so special. This is the very drink that fueled the first Trader Vic’s Mai Tai back in 1944. And with only 1,500 bottles available globally, this rum is about to be history as well.
Holistic Spirits Co. Harmony Gin
This entirely unorthodox gin proves that you needn’t spend a small fortune to enjoy innovation within the category. Harmony is an herbal symphony, shaped using a blend of artichoke leaf, elderberry, green tea leaves and a dozen or so other garden-sourced ingredients. It initially meets the tongue with a bit of brine and citrus pith, but it ultimately evolves into something floral. Upon reflection—and perhaps it’s the power of suggestions—this rose-tinted tipple actually seems to finish with a hint or rose water.
From Cambridge Distillery Gin has been crafted in the same fashion, more or less, since the 17th century. But this UK-based distillery has updated the process to maximise the technological advancements of the 21st century. By applying intense atmospheric pressure—less than half of that found atop Mount Everest—and lowering temperatures far below zero, its producers are able to extract an array of botanicals in a vivid and unadulterated manner. Sansho pepper, shiso leaf, yuzu citrus are all screaming in the sip. And, yes, this is without question a gin to sip neat. You’ll have to spend some $5,000 ( ₹4,16,800 approx.) in exchange for the experience.
Del Maguey Vida Puebla
Del Maguey was instrumental in pioneering the global popularity of the mezcal category. The brand is fond of showcasing a single village in any number of bottlings, each of which proudly brandishes its respective origin on the label. Some of these are produced in such small quantity that they simply have to fetch fees in the hundreds of dollars—they are too rare to be priced otherwise. But with Vida Puebla, the idea was to work with a producer capable of providing enough juice to meet the demands of an international audience. So you don’t have to worry about finding it. Plus, it comes in at around $40 ( ₹3,331 approx.). In exchange you’ll enjoy a satisfying swirl of stone fruit and blood orange, dissipating before a finish of forest fir.
Mijenta Añejo Gran Reserva
Look, at $200 ( ₹16,655 approx.) a bottle, this isn’t the most expensive tequila you’ll encounter at your local liquor store. Not even close. But it is among the most elegant and expertly composed añejos you’ll taste anywhere. Aged for a year and a half in a battery of bespoke barrels, including some built with cherry and acacia wood, there is a delightful satin-like body to this booze. It’s perfect for carrying caraway, caramel and coffee, anchored all by the baritone vegetal notes of mature agave.
Alma Finca Orange Liqueur
OK, so comparing XO cognac with Mexican orange liqueur is admittedly strange. And yet there are more similarities than it may seem. Alma Finca is crafted entirely from native fruit and spices—in this case, those that are plucked from the Yucatan Peninsula. It was conceived as a new standard plug-in for margaritas, supplanting the need for triple sec, which is most commonly sourced from France. At 80-proof, it actually sips nicely on the rocks or even in a snifter, where you can appreciate its soothing body and enrapturing bitterness. But, yeah, you’re going to want to save some for your next batch of homemade margaritas, for sure.
The largest family-owned Cognac house has just unveiled an entirely new formula for its flagship XO. It’s a most welcome addition to the portfolio, taming toasted oak notes with the jamminess of apricot preserves. It’s silky smooth in the mouth and equally as easy on the eyes, resting behind the geometric embossing of what the brand calls its Prestige Decanter.
Written by spirit writer Brad Japhe.