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 five categories: “Best Malt, “Best American Whiskey,” “Best Rye,” “Best Finished,” and “Best Bourbon,” finally culminating with our overall #1 Whiskey of the Year.
Our Best American Whiskeys of 2023 start with those released in 2023 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. Ultimately, we must agree on which whiskeys make the list, and which do not - combining the diversity of our different palates.
The Jack Daniel Distillery has been around for 148 years, but you wouldn’t know it from the youthful vigor the company has shown in recent years. Freed from the shackles that once held it back creatively, Jack Daniel’s is undergoing a renaissance. Though they have released many creative expressions over the last 2 years, the move to finally release higher aged whiskey has truly shown how amazing Jack Daniel’s can really be. Although the 2021 and 2023 Jack Daniel’s 10 Year Old Tennessee Whiskey releases were impressive in their own right, it was the 12 year edition that showcased Jack Daniel’s whiskey in its full glory.
Jack Daniel’s 12 Year Old Tennessee Whiskey is a milestone release for the company. It takes everything great about their Tennessee Whiskey and improves upon it. The aroma is near perfect, and the palate is equally rich, doubling down and fully revealing the brand’s molasses and baking spices notes. The finish concludes on an excellent plum and black currant accent. Jack Daniel’s 12 Year Old Tennessee Whiskey is everything fans hoped a higher aged Jack Daniel’s whiskey would be, and not only did it meet those expectations, it exceeded them.
Part of Michter’s Legacy Series, Shenk’s Homestead is a throwback brand intended to honor the company’s founder, John Shenk. Shenk’s Homestead has been released annually since 2018. While the company holds much of the details of this whiskey close to the chest, we know it’s distilled at Michter’s Shively Distillery (which started distilling in 2015), it has a “substantial amount of rye” that includes malted rye, and was aged in two different barrel types before being blended together. These include 18-month naturally air dried and seasoned toasted and charred wood and toasted French oak barrels made from 24 month air dried wood sourced from the Vosges region of France.
The whiskey is a captivating one. It has a strangeness to it in the sense that it’s not quite bourbon, not quite rye, not quite malt…and while it doesn’t seem to cross any boundaries, it does manage to pull you out of your comfort zone. It lays a base of funky oak and caramel, but that’s met with all kinds of scents and flavors - cotton candy, toffee, bubble gum, cigar box, aged leather, some earthiness, a touch of spice, and a barrage of other flavors. Perhaps it’s serendipitous, but it reminded us of a dusty bourbon from many years ago. Shenk’s Homestead Sour Mash Whiskey rewards anyone who would like to indulge in an almost-outside your comfort zone whiskey that has a lot going on.
Little Book Chapter 7 “In Retrospect” is an amalgam of components of each of the Little Book Chapters that came before it. A blend of seven cask strength American whiskeys composed of one from each of the brand's previous six released chapters and a seventh new addition that range in age from 4 years to 18 years, the whiskey pushes the limits of when thinking of blends. Although it comes across as a “kitchen sink” style of whiskey blending on paper, in reality, pulling off this kind of blend with its one malt whiskey, two ryes, and four bourbons isn’t for a faint of heart would-be whiskey blender or master distiller. The complexity of this blend took an incredible amount of skill, determination, and likely, good ole Kentucky grit.
Little Book Chapter 7 “In Retrospect” wants you to spend time with it and isn’t trying to make an immediate impression. Its sip is full of fruit notes, but also more traditional drier oak and rye spices that all coexist harmoniously. Each of the whiskey’s components not only shines individually but builds off one another. Proving quite literally that when it comes to whiskey blending, the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts, Little Book Chapter 7 “In Retrospect” is one of the best releases to date in the series and a powerhouse of a blended whiskey in 2023.
Blue Note Bourbon is located in Memphis, Tennessee, and currently sources much of their whiskey from Green River Distilling. For this limited release, Blue Note expanded their reach to create a combination of six finished bourbons and one straight bourbon originating from Kentucky, Tennessee, and Indiana. The whiskeys range in age from 4 to 19 years and - buckle up buttercup - the finishing combination is wild.
The 7 whiskeys used in this blend range from 4 to 19 years old, and include Cognac, Madeira, sherry, port, vino de naranja, and secondary American white oak finishes. To ground it, 17% good old fashioned straight bourbon was also included in the blend. You might be thinking “that’s going to be chaotic,” but the opposite is true. The whiskey is very cohesive and surprisingly balanced. It’s rich with dark fruit, aged oak, a healthy mix of spice, and even a hint of Butterfinger candy bar in the finish. While the end result is not as unique tasting as the individual components suggest, Blue Note Special Reserve Cash Finished Series is a blending masterpiece.
Ari Sussman, Three Chord’s master blender, has done well shepherding the company’s creative blending direction, and Three Chord Honey Toasted Whiskey just might be their best effort yet. Comprised of two bourbons and a corn whiskey, the blend was then finished in toasted oak casks for 3 months followed by 1 month in ex-honey casks. Finishing of this type is completely normal to see for bourbon, however, applying this to a whiskey is something that is rarely seen.
Three Chord Honey Toasted Whiskey is a whiskey that nails its concept and does so in an easy-to-understand sip. Delivering sweeter notes of wildflower, Honey Smacks cereal, and dark honey, the whiskey also balances full flavors of rich toasted oak, sweet corn, and rye spice. While the toasted barrel impact could be more pronounced, there is no denying this whiskey’s balance and its pure sipability. Taking the familiar and adding its own unique twist, Three Chord Honey Toasted Whiskey is a reminder that Three Chord isn’t afraid to be an innovator and push the boundaries of what consumers should expect from whiskey.