The end of the year can mean a lot of different things to people. And the occasions, often celebratory, aren’t uniform. You’ve got holiday parties, family gatherings, New Year’s fetes and even times home alone (or with a loved one) for thoughtful contemplation. And Tuesdays.
Not every whisk(e)y works for every occasion. Are you sipping and savoring? Sharing for a large group? Sitting everyone down and discussing the terroir, barrel type, yeast and secondary maturation before you even take a sip? (Whisky nerds party too, says fellow whisky nerd.)
So below, we’re not only offering excellent whisky selections — some that came out this year, some that are classics — but we’re discussing why they’d work in a particular holiday/year-end scenario. We published our first annual Spill Awards last week, and this is an extension of that — bottles that have very much earned our seal of approval.
Barrell Bourbon New Year 2024
An annual release, the 2023 edition made our best bourbons list for the year. These guys are master blenders, but they save their best for their New Year bottle, a blend that acts as a “toast to new beginnings, fresh energy and optimism for the new year ahead.” This upcoming year’s compendium — available now — features bourbons from eight states ranging from 5 to 15 years old, the widest selection they’ve ever utilized for any expression. Expect a lot of baked goods, dark chocolate on the nose and palate; Barrell (which offers the best tasting notes) suggests “notes of snickerdoodle and stroopwafel along with caramelized fruit.” — Kirk Miller
Ideal for: Smaller New Year’s or other holiday parties where you have to balance complexity and crowd-pleasing flavors with a story
Heaven’s Door Homesick Blues
“Bob Dylan has a whiskey.” Oh, damn, did the guy with the vinyl collection who’s hosting this weird holiday shindig just perk up? Heaven’s Door has only been around since 2018, but they’ve racked up plenty of accolades — once you try this stuff, you’ll realize this is no celebrity spirit (that said, each bottle does showcase the welded iron gates that Dylan created in his metalworking studio, along with some other touchstones from his career). I tried this 2023 release just a few days after we finished our year-end best-of-spirits guide — had I sampled it earlier, it definitely would have made the cut. It’s a 7-year-old wheated bourbon crafted in Minnesota, close to Dylan’s birthplace. Coming in just under 61.35% ABV, this one offers a creamy mouthfeel and a surprisingly approachable character, given the gruffness of the proof. — KM
Ideal for: That random holiday get-together where you know very few people but want to make an impression on two or three particular folks (keep it nearby and share selectively)
Hakushu Single Malt 12 Year
I’m in love with this Japanese whisky. I talk about it all the time, and my husband and I always reach for it when we’re celebrating something special or heading to the airport for a big trip. Although it’s a sophisticated sipper, it brings me straight back to Japan where I’ve had some of my biggest and best party nights — some that ended in raucous karaoke, others that ended on a barstool in front of some of the best bartenders in the world. It’s lightly smoky but also fresh, with notes of green apple and herbs. – Amanda Gabriele
Ideal for: A special drop-in guest or a family member you haven’t seen in a while. Pour a dram and let the catch-up begin.
WhistlePig 12 Year Old World Rye
I’ve had the pleasure of visiting the WhistlePig farm in Vermont on more than one occasion, and out of all the fancy, delicious spirits I’ve gotten to try there, I always come back to this one. It might not be their oldest or rarest, but it’s certainly unique. After it’s aged for 12 years in new American oak, it’s finished in three types of European wine casks — Madeira, Port and Sauternes. That extra resting gives it a rich, spiced flavor with notes of plums, dates, honey and vanilla. – Amanda
Ideal for: Pouring a cordial after a grand holiday dinner. Even people who think they don’t like rye will get into this one.
The Glenrothes 18 Year Old
When the holidays come around, I enjoy nothing more than cracking open and sharing some of the splurgier bottles on my shelf. One such example is my coveted Glenrothes 18. It’s a 96-proof Speyside single malt aged for 18 years in first-fill sherry casks, and it makes for a lively and surprising sensory journey. It’s a beautiful bright gold in the glass, notably clear, and on the nose I always get unexpected but pronounced notes of chocolate and coffee. On the palate, and with some time to sit and open up, brighter and fruitier notes start to reveal themselves, along with some brown sugar. It’s delicious and complex but also perfectly approachable. A crowd pleaser, for sure. — Mike Conklin
Ideal for: I like to open the night with a pour of this. Hang up your coat and get the evening started with a vibrant and inviting dram.
Elijah Craig Barrel Proof (Batch C923)
Elijah Craig releases three different versions of their very Barrel Proof offering throughout the year, and while it’s certainly a classic with a devoted following, there’s been some rumblings in the whiskey community that the last few versions have been decidedly underwhelming. With C923, though, released back in September, consensus is that it’s back in a major way. At 133 proof, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s going to be an all-out assault on your palate, and while it’s certainly no easy sipper, it is surprisingly drinkable and absolutely packed with flavor. Dark fruit, maple syrup, pepper and lots of oak. — MC
Ideal for: Impressing the hardcore whiskey nerds in your life.
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