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 Bourbons 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.
Larceny Barrel Proof finally ascended to the level all bourbon levels were hoping it could reach with last year's release of Batch C922. That particular release was so good that we named our overall #1 Whiskey of the Year in 2022. Heaven Hill didn’t slow down in 2023, as Batch B523 went punch for punch with last year's stellar release.
Batch B523 takes things in a direction that fans of the brand will really appreciate. The sip is bursting with flavor, and thanks to its wheated component, balances classic rich bourbon notes that intertwine with impeccable fruit notes for a harmonious outcome. Larceny Barrel Proof Batch B523 is a must-seek-out release, and delivers a pour that will make bourbon lovers smile ear to ear.
Year after year King of Kentucky continues to prove it's one of the best bourbons released. It doesn’t always make our best of bourbon lists due to a wealth of stiff competition resulting in it sitting a year out. Even though 2023 proved to be another stellar year for bourbon, King of Kentucky once again proved its supremacy. Consistency has always been one of King of Kentucky’s strongest suits, and while that high quality bar is once again reached this year, it's how the brand ever-so-slightly deviates from it that helped it rejoin our Best Bourbon list this year.
Once again featuring an impressively high age statement, this 16 year old bourbon drinks its age, but doesn’t overly rely on it. This year’s release is slightly lower proof allowing the bourbon to be more cohesive and better balanced throughout its sip. As the brand typically exemplifies a big and powerful whiskey through and through, this year’s slight restraint makes it a better bourbon as a result. Its flavor profile remains tight, but it maximizes what it does with them. The result is a bourbon that reigns supreme and continues to prove its one of the best bourbon releases in any given year.
Jefferson’s has made a name for themselves experimenting with aging barrels in unusual locations and conditions. This started in 2012 with their ongoing Ocean Aged at Sea line, which most recently saw its 29th voyage. For Jefferson’s Tropics Aged in Humidity, 720 barrels of fully matured Kentucky straight bourbon were loaded into nine shipping containers and set sail for Singapore where they would age in the severe heat and humidity for 18 months before returning home.
While some might cry gimmick, the fact of the matter is there is something clearly different going on with the bourbon’s flavor profile. It’s well-rounded and familiar, but it has a richness that’s best described as a savory, fruit-filled flavor that weaves its way throughout the sip, though it could just as easily be said that to fully understand it, you have to experience it. Jefferson’s Tropics Aged in Humidity is a bourbon that simply has an undeniable X factor that makes you want to keep coming back for more.
As the year began, who would have predicted that a 1792 bourbon would rise above most and make our Best Bourbon list at year’s end? Barton’s 1792 bourbon has always been a workhorse for Sazerac, offering good bourbon at a fair value. As the company expanded the brand beyond their singular Small Batch Bourbon release over the years, we finally got to see new shades of what Barton could offer. This year also saw good showings by the company’s Sweet Wheat and Full Proof, but it was the Single Barrel that truly showcased what 1792 bourbon can aspire to.
Single barrels are one of the purest ways of truly understanding the nuances found in bourbons a company is producing. Drinkers of course have to attend to the variance between different barrels, but it only takes one fantastic barrel to rekindle your love for a brand. 1792 Small Batch Bourbon is perhaps too consistent, offering a tight flavor profile and a degree of roughness around its edges. That is where this year’s release of this 1792 Single Barrel we reviewed makes its biggest strides and stands out the most. At this point, we thought we knew exactly what to expect from 1792, but all it took was a range of quality releases, spearheaded by this particular fantastic single barrel that reminded us that there are still gems out there.
One of bourbon’s preeminent blenders, Four Roses demonstrates their ability to blend multiple components consistently with a number of their standard bottlings: Four Roses Bourbon, Small Batch, and Small Batch Select. By contrast, their annually released Limited Edition Small Batch ventures into different territory, combining a varying range of bourbons to create something new, different, and special for every release.
This year’s expression is the 16th release of Limited Edition Small Batch. It combines four batches, which cover three different bourbon recipes, two different mashbills, and includes barrels that range from 12 to 25 years old. Each component offers its own unique qualities, but bringing them together is what makes this a wonderfully balanced bourbon. The base qualities of one set the stage to complement the more notable qualities of another and vice versa. The bourbons intertwine to become a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Four Roses 135th Anniversary Limited Edition Small Batch showcases the art and science of bourbon blending, embodying what the distillery excels at.