The Best Whiskey I Drank In 2014
2014 was another big year for the Whiskey industry, as we saw the continued rise of premium extra-aged offerings, and the slow removal of age statements. I was fortunate enough to have quite a few drams in 2014, and wanted to share my favorites, some new, some just new to me.
Since I had more bourbon than anything this year, I’ll keep it to bourbon and rye whiskey for this list. But I have to admit that I’m drawn more and more to Scotch and Irish Whiskey as well.
BEST PREMIUM / TOUGH TO GET STUFF
- A Midwinter Night’s Dram: When I hear about a whiskey that has been finished in port barrels, I can’t help but think of how much I don’t care for Angel’s Envy and their bourbon. I know some like it quite a bit, and it’s far from undrinkable, but I’ve found it to be too heavy on the port side. A Midwinter Night’s Dram makes me forget all that though. A blend of six-year-old rye from MGP, which is basically their Rendevous Rye, and 16-year-old rye from the old Barton distillery. It’s then finished in port and French Oak barrels, the latter of which takes a bit of the wine off the port for me. A great dram for any season.
- Old Forestor Birthday Bourbon: Most whiskey geeks will tell you that the 2013 version of this annual release was some of the best bourbons they’ve had. And while great, I’m taking this year's release over last years. It was full of vanilla, maple syrup, and just overall balanced sweetness. I didn’t score a bottle but have had it three or four times, one of those being at a bar for a hefty $30 a pour. Yeah, it retailed for only $60 a bottle! This, of course, was the only regrettable sip, but just barely.
- Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch: Last year, the LE SB was the best thing I had all year. This year, it’s not as great but still can’t be left off this list. Everyone’s favorite distiller Jim Rutledge used 13-year-old Bourbon from Four Roses’ OBSV recipe, 12-year-old OESV, 11-year-old OBSF, and 9-year-old OBSK for this one, and it clocked in a barrel strength. It’s a rich, flavorful drinking experience to say the least, and once again establishes Four Roses as my personal favorite distillery. I was more than happy to have two pours of this (and several others) at Whiskey Fest in San Fransisco this year while everyone else was waiting for some Pappy 23.
- Booker’s 25th Anniversary: I don’t usually care too much for Beam juice, and even the standard Booker’s, while good, is not something I reach for or recommend. But man, this 25th Anniversary edition was just special. At just over 10 years old and barrel proof (around 130), this was one of the few premium bourbons that was actually worth the $100 price tag. A fitting tribute to Booker Noe, the former Master Distiller from his son Fred.
- William LaRue Weller: In my opinion, the best of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection this year (sorry Saz 18) was the WLW. The king of the barrel-proofers this year at 140.2 proof, this bad boy was big, bold, and downright delicious. It’s tough to go wrong with BT Wheaters, and I’m already a big fan of Old Weller Antique and Weller 12, and of course the Van Winkle stuff. But this was a real standout in a crowded barrel-proof group this year, and again, I wish I had more.
- Elijah Craig Barrel Proof: Yeah, another barrel proof bourbon that makes the list, and for the price, probably the best to be mentioned. I think Heaven Hill put 2, maybe 3 versions of this out in 2014, and they were all equally amazing. It’s essentially EC12 at barrel strength so the simplest way I can put it is that if you are an Elijah Craig fan already, this should be right in your wheelhouse. And at only $50 a bottle, if you can find it, buy it all.
BEST STUFF YOU CAN ACTUALLY BUY NOW
- Willett Rye: It seems that just about everybody who writes about whiskey was excited about the first release from Willett this year. After all, the Willett family has a storied history in the industry and were prepping their own distillate for the first time in forever. Writers were so excited, I feel like they pre-wrote a glowing review just to be ready. I have to admit, it left me with a little bias in the other direction before I tried it. Then I opened a bottle and the smell of nail polish filled my nose and I knew I was gonna hate it. But here’s the thing, about halfway through the bottle I began to love it. Sure, it’s young and far from perfect, but man, it’s a real treat. Cinnamon, mint and some barrel flavor. A good amount of that white dog young whiskey flavor as well, but it’s balanced out pretty well.
- Old Scout 7 year: No offense to the incredibly tasty rye or the not to be overlooked 10 year bourbon, but if I’m picking just one Smooth Ambler selection that isn’t a private barrel, I’m taking this. It’s not only great, but is affordable and pretty easy to find. Smooth Ambler is probably the best non-distiller producer in the game right now, and I’m getting excited about their own distillate as well, as we should see some “straight” bourbon from them very soon.
- Mellow Corn: There is nothing new about this corn whiskey, although it’s new to me. For no apparent reason, I’d never purchased a bottle of Heaven Hill’s Bonded gem until this year, and I’m really happy I finally did. At only 10$ a bottle, it’s hard to find a better value in American whiskey. And the fact that it’s bottled in bond is another check mark in the positive column as well.
- Party Source Private Barrels: I’m fortunate enough to live very close to one of the best liquor stores in the country, The Party Source. This year they continued a positive run of private barrel (store selection) offerings and almost every one that I invested in has paid off well. My four favorites, in no order are… Old Forestor Single Barrel, Four Roses Barrel Strength OBSK, Old Weller Antique Single Barrel, and Buffalo Trace. All four outshine their standard counterparts and provided age statements to boot. Four more reasons to trust the tasters at TPS moving forward.
Some other stuff I really enjoyed and are honorable mentions.
- Heaven Hill BIB White Label
- Old Grand Dad 114
- Koval Single Barrel Millet
- Pinhook Bourbon
- Four Roses Private Single Barrel (The Lackman)
- Stagg Jr.
- Evan Williams Single Barrel