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.
Rum finished whiskeys have been quite the rage in 2022, with seemingly every distillery now offering one. Quite frankly, there aren’t many outright bad ones on the market, as a lot of them get the job done, so to speak. To stand out in this category a distillery really has to offer something above and beyond the bar everyone is consistently reaching. Bardstown Bourbon Company’s Bourbon Finished in Plantation Rum Barrels does just that. Balance is key, especially when dealing with the flavors rum barrel finishing impart in the base bourbon. Even beyond that, ramping up the intensity while maintaining that balance is a feat others falter with. Bardstown’s release offers the quintessential rum-inspired molasses note delicately with just enough potency while intertwining sweet oak, dark fruit, fig, and dark chocolate. Concluding with a nicely layered aftertaste that seems to change with every additional sip produces a dynamic tasting experience. Bardstown Bourbon Company Bourbon Finished in Plantation Rum Barrels comes together where it counts; impeccable balance, unmistakable flavor, and noteworthy intensity.
If the phrase, “just the tip of the iceberg” could be applied to a whiskey, Barrell Vantage would certainly fit that bill. A blend of straight bourbons originating in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Indiana and then finished in Mizunara, French, and toasted American oak, Vantage is the result of years of extensive experimentation. Variables included the finishing wood used, the base bourbons’ ages, mashbills, state and distillery of origination, barrels with varying stave drying times, and many different toast and char levels. The resulting matrix of variables yielded hundreds of variations, but in the end six components, or mircroblends, were carefully selected and then married at varying percentages to create the final product. And what a final product it is. Barrell Vantage is layered with nuance and complexity, rich and full-flavored, but at the same time so incredibly drinkable you’ll want to have a spare on hand so you can keep this finely tuned finished whiskey flowing.
What do you get when you subject rye whiskey, finishing first in Madeira and then in rum casks, to heavy metal music on blast by Metallica? Besides giving you a hankering to pull your favorite Metallica album out or pop 500mg of Tylenol, you might just get a good whiskey out of it. For this limited release, master distiller Rob Dietrich combined Kentucky straight rye whiskeys ranging in age from five to eight years, finished them in ex-Madeira casks, and then finished them again in ex-rum casks. BLACKENED’s proprietary BLACK NOISE™ sonic enhancement process was applied during the rum cask finish, which means the aging whiskey barrels were subjected to noise - a very specific Metallica playlist to be exact. Whether you buy into the idea that vibrations from the sound caused the rye to interact more rapidly with the rum barrels or not, hopefully the controversial experiment won’t be unforgiven, as the resulting finished whiskey is worthy of your attention. Blackened Rye The Lightning’s complex yet subtle sip is rich with flavors, ranging from raisin to molasses, brown sugar to hazelnut, and dark fruit to light citrus, all of which rest upon a pleasing rye backbone.
Bourbon and tequila are the choice of drink for many, but they are rarely combined to pleasing results. That all changed when Lost Lantern identified a 5 year old American single malt by Balcones Distilling that was finished in a used tequila cask that previously held Balcones Rumble. Rumble in and of itself is unique, being created from fermented Texas wildflower honey, Mission figs, and turbinado sugar. While other Tequila cask-finished whiskeys by Balcones can be interesting, this cask selected by Lost Lantern is downright fascinating. This whiskey contains a plethora of flavors that delight, challenge, and above all else intrigue you as you wonder how this Willy Wonka of a whiskey came to be. Lost Lantern 2022 Single Cask #11: Balcones Distilling Texas Single Malt Aged in a Tequila Barrel is a testament to the power of experimentation, and also helps solidify Lost Lantern as being an independent whiskey bottler that lives up to its name, finding and highlighting fantastic whiskeys that might be off the beaten path.
Who would have thought that as a kid when you learned “you don’t know if you like something unless you try it” could be applied to whiskey later in life. The idea of finishing a whiskey in both Triple Sec barrels and sparkling wine barrels is an odd pairing, yet unexpectedly resulted in something special. The idea for Batch 3 of Seelbach’s Private Reserve came from the company’s namesake. Based off of the Seelbach cocktail, which includes Kentucky bourbon, Triple Sec bitters, and topped off with Champagne, is a flat out batty idea from both a creation standpoint and a potential enjoyment standpoint. It’s an idea that shouldn't have worked, but does. The whiskey may not immediately grab you at first sip, but as its layers are peeled back, and its unique combination of flavors reveal themselves, it becomes unlike any finished whiskey you’ve ever tasted. Seelbach’s Private Reserve Batch 3 is proof that going out on a limb and trying something that has never been done before just might prove to have electrifying results.