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.
If Chevy hadn’t already taken the motto “Like a Rock” then we could definitely see Beam using it for their Booker’s bourbon brand. The original barrel proof bourbon has been incredibly consistent over the years. Maintaining a high quality bar, bold flavors, and availability, while keeping the price under $100 is a pretty big accomplishment in and of itself nowadays. That said, it is much rarer for a Booker’s batch to rise above this high bar the brand set for itself. That changed this year with the excellent “The Lumberyard Batch.” It still falls within Booker’s typical flavor profile, but how it pushes beyond it is what makes this batch so special. With the addition of butter pecan pie flavor mixed with toasted graham cracker and burnet toffee, then going a step further with a pear note is not only unique, it allows Booker’s Batch No. 2022-02 “The Lumberyard Batch” to border on extraordinary. Aged 7 years with an approachable, yet potent 124.8 proof adds up to one of the more memorable and impressive Booker’s pours in years.
The Buffalo Trace Antique Collection felt off last year due to George T. Stagg missing from the lineup. Its absence combined with the fact that Stagg (formally known as Stagg Jr.) has honed its flavor profile, left many wondering if George T. Stagg had lost its way and if its best days were behind it. Thankfully, George T. Stagg returned to the lineup this year, and boy did it come back with a vengeance to prove its doubters wrong. Not only was it the highest proof in the last 6 years, but the sip was also more dynamic than in many years past. The introduction of fruity notes combined with its traditional heavy classic bourbon notes resulted in layering that makes the sip really shine. This extra uniqueness allowed George T. Stagg to truly stand out from the pack and reintroduce itself as the heavy hitter bourbon that fans of the brand have come to know and love. The 2022 version of Georget T. Stagg proves that there’s always room to tinker with a familiar formula, and when done right, the end result is truly something special.
Lucky Seven is the rare non-distiller producer who seems to continuously WOW with each of their successive releases. Never was that more apparent to us than with the release of Lucky Seven “The Proprietor” 14 Year. This Kentucky straight bourbon produces a sip that is a classic style bourbon at heart, featuring dark and rich flavors, backed with rich sweet oak that offers the perfect amount of age with it. While it comes in at a whopping 134.14 proof, it never seems to be too much, instead affording a nice balance between its aged oak components and layers of spice. Aged to perfection, Lucky Seven “The Proprietor” 14 Year, reminds you how great aged bourbon can be when done right.
Traditional. It’s a word used to describe bourbon from time to time, and Heaven Hill Heritage Collection 17 Year Old Barrel Proof Bourbon is practically the definition of it when it comes to high aged, quintessential Kentucky bourbon. Caramel, leather, rye spice, and of course aged oak come together, delivered with a chewy mouthfeel to make this high aged blend of 17, 19, and 20 year old barrels a great start as the inaugural release in Heaven Hill’s annual Heritage Collection line. According to the company, the annual limited edition Heritage Collection will feature some of the distillery’s oldest inventory of aging whiskeys, and each release will feature one of the six traditional American Whiskey mashbills produced by Heaven Hill. With a focus on oak mingled with traditional sweeter flavors, Heaven Hill Heritage Collection 17 Year Old Barrel Proof Bourbon is exactly what a traditional, quintessential high aged Kentucky bourbon should taste like.
Wild Turkey makes excellent bourbon and a lot of that has to do with the Russell’s. The father and son team have over 100 combined years of experience and they know the ins and outs of their bourbon-making operation. The 2022 release of Russell’s Reserve 13 Year Old Bourbon is a standout product for the distillery. It absolutely nails the classic Wild Turkey flavor profile and perhaps more importantly, finds the perfect balance between its fruity and sweet notes against its aged oak flavors. It's a feat many distilleries strive for, but very few are able to pull off. Likewise, its impressive 13 year age statement makes its own bold statement, and it's hard not to mention its amazing suggested price point of $100. The company has released a few 13 year bourbons in the past and even has two concurrently with this release, yet this year’s Russell's Reserve 13 Year far outpaces them. If you’re looking for a classic style bourbon with high age and impeccable balance, it doesn’t get much better than Russell's Reserve 13 Year in 2022.