The Best American Whiskies of 2020 Shared One Common Trait

Separating the wheat from the chaff, so to speak

December 29, 2020 8:17 am
Best American whiskies of 2020
Photo illustration by Mike Falco

Guess all those people clamoring for Pappy were right: wheated bourbons are where it’s at.

As a general rule, wheated whiskies are a bit gentler and milder, with a drier and smoother finish as well as some fruitier notes. That’s according to Greg Metze, the Master Distiller for the Colorado-based Old Elk, which produced some of the finer examples of a “wheater” this year.

The best news is that we’re really just starting to see the interest and innovation in this category ramp up. Witness Larceny Small Batch, which just took home the best whiskey from Whisky Advocate‘s Top 20 of 2020.

As for our picks? You can find the full list here, but a shout-out to new(ish) expressions from Old Elk, Maker’s Mark, Laws Whiskey (perhaps our favorite) and Barrell for your bold experiments in the wheated world.

Some other American whiskey highlights of 2020:

Sagamore Spirit Calvados
Sagamore Spirit

Our Favorite Rye Featured a French Twist

After a “best rye” win at 2019’s San Francisco World Spirits Competition for their Reserve Port Finish Rye Whiskey, Baltimore’s Sagamore Spirit unleashed a blend of straight ryes finished in Calvados barrels (aka French apple brandy casks) for more than 11 months … that were then aged for another nine months in low-rye American oak barrels. The apple fruitiness here cuts down the sharpness of a rye, and makes for a spirit that’s ideally suited for fall.

George Dickel
George Dickel

You Don’t Have to Spend More Than $40 for Great Whiskey

A sequel to 2019’s whisky of the year (in multiple publications), the latest iteration of George Dickel Bottled in Bond Tennessee Whisky features notes of pecan, apple, maple, caramel and and some nuttiness. At $40, it’s an extremely smooth sipper. Bad news: based on supply and demand, you may pay a lot more for this if you can’t get it off the shelf at your local liquor mart.


Barrell Continues Its Excellence, No Embellishment Needed

Every Barrell release is limited edition, cask strength and “intentionally unique,” often with unusual finishes or spirits sourced from unlikely places. Yes, it’s sourced. No, there’s not a lot of fake whiskey lore to the story. But everything they do is magnificent, if hard to find.


We Found Our Favorite Variation on an Old Fashioned

It’s our go-to, our favorite drink and one that works equally well with a good rum, brandy or añejo tequila. But an Old Fashioned variation we tried this fall with Westward American Single Malt with artisanal honey and organic bitters (all sourced from Oregon) was outstanding. The secret? Use a bit of good salt.


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