Each year we taste and review hundreds of American whiskeys, which are predominantly bourbons but also include ryes, malts, finished whiskeys, and other classifications of American-made whiskeys. Our annual “Best Whiskeys of the Year” series features four categories: “Best Finished,” “Best Rye,” “Best American Whiskey,” and “Best Bourbon,” finally culminating with our overall #1 Whiskey of the Year.
Our Best Whiskeys of 2022 start with those we have reviewed in the current year and rated 3.5 barrels or higher, but are not based purely on our initial tasting and individual rating. Instead, we retaste and discuss this wide range of whiskeys extensively. We ask questions, such as is the whiskey exciting, memorable, unique, and most importantly, how does it compare to the rest of the field for the year. We look for whiskeys that move us, and dig into whiskeys that may be off the beaten path. While availability and price are factors, they are not absolute. The intent is to highlight the whiskeys of the year that stand out the most to us, even if they might be difficult to obtain - and the reason we maintain evergreen “Best of” lists to highlight more readily accessible whiskeys (which will see updates at the beginning of 2023). Ultimately, we must agree on which whiskeys make the list, and which do not - combining the diversity of our different palates.
Double the wheat, double the fun. This unique blend of straight wheat whiskey and straight wheated bourbon ranging in age from 6 to 8 years, resulted in a final blended mashbill of 71.5% wheat, 25% corn, and 3.5% malted barley and is bottled at 107.1 proof. Interestingly, the whiskey components were distilled by famed master distiller Greg Metze for Old Elk at MGP Distillery in Indiana, and then blended by Metze at Old Elk. Double Wheat is a fun whiskey, immersing itself in sweet territory, starting with bakery scents on the nose and transitioning through a barrage of additional sweet flavors from palate to finish. A slight savory leather mingles in on the finish, but even then the sweet flavors and baking spices maintain their richness. Wheat whiskey is becoming increasingly popular, but releases are still few and far between. Combining wheat whiskey with wheated bourbon, Old Elk Master’s Blend Series: Double Wheat, is a deliciously fun play on wheat-focused whiskey.
Improving on an already great product can be a daunting feat, but if there is anyone capable of doing it, the team at Barrell Craft Spirits has proven they are up to the task. First introduced in 2018, Barrell Dovetail is a complex whiskey blend that’s finished in Dunn Vineyards cabernet barrels, black strap rum casks, and LBV port pipes. It made an immediately good and lasting impression on us. Taking the whiskey up a notch, Barrell introduced a higher level Gray Label Dovetail earlier in August 2022, and then upped the ante again with Gold Label Dovetail which was released soon after in November. Starting with already excellent whiskeys, Gold Label Dovetail begged the question, “Just how could you improve upon those?” Bottled at a whopping 140+ proof point, it offers layers of flavor that’s as satisfying as it is unique, with rich flavors of creme brulee, molasses, maple sugar candy, layers of fruit, brown sugar, and much more. It’s hard to believe Barrell was able to make an already great whiskey even better, but they knocked it out of the park with this one. Barrell Craft Spirits Gold Label Dovetail is offered at an ultra-premium price point, however, the whiskey is exceptional, and delivers in all the right ways.
American single malt whiskeys have slowly been building steam over the past few years, but 2022 seemed to be the year that they finally stepped into the spotlight. There is no better example of this than Westward American Single Malt Whiskey Cask Strength. Based out of Portland, Oregon, Westward Whiskey does one thing and one thing only: make American single malt whiskeys. The company’s cask strength product offers an explosion of flavors that amplifies everything great about the whiskey’s lower proof counterpart, and adds a soiree of additional flavors delivered with wonderful intensity. The sip’s flavors don’t veer too far off from what a typical bourbon drinker might enjoy, but they’re just different enough to let you know it’s ventured into new territory. Westward American Single Malt Whiskey Cask Strength is the perfect example of a bold and dynamic whiskey, that will make you a believer of the American single malt category.
It’s hard to express how impressed we are with this year's Wild Turkey Master’s Keep release. Unforgotten is a masterclass of thinking outside of the box for a company that isn’t always known for it. With only one bourbon mashbill and a rye brand that feels largely ignored, Unforgotten has no risk of being forgotten. Taking their bourbon and blending it with their rye isn’t the first time Wild Turkey has tackled this pairing, but it is the first time they absolutely nailed it. Unforgotten nicely showcases the best parts of its blended base whiskeys, with its aged components being the stars; delicate, sophisticated, and ripe with mature flavor. Wild Turkey then decided to take it a step further and make the unusual choice to finish the blend in used rye barrels. Wild Turkey Unforgotten is one of the best Master’s Keep releases yet, and one of the more interesting and best executed releases from the company ever.
The O.K.I. brand was originally started by New Riff Distilling as a sourced line while the distillery's own whiskey stocks aged. In 2020, Jake Warm and Chad Brizendine acquired and relaunched the brand, hoping to breathe new life into it. That definitely came to fruition with the release of O.K.I Reserve (Batch 1). The whiskey blends together MGP's five core mashbills which includes two bourbons, rye, corn whiskey, and light whiskey ranging in age from 3-10 years old, with 99.8% of the whiskeys aged over 8 years. It sounds like a lot on paper, but the end result is a cohesive and delicious sip that is full of rich flavors that will make you second guess judging a blended whiskey at face value. O.K.I. Reserve (Batch 1) is a complex and delicious blend of whiskeys, reaching a height that is almost certainly greater than the sum of its parts.