There are lots of good reasons to splurge on a pricey bottle of whiskey: birthdays, promotions, Wednesday. If you’re still perusing over-the-top brown spirits options and not finding what you’re after, consider these as well.
“If I’m going to buy a bottle for several hundred or several thousand, I have to make sure it’s worth it,” says Rabbit Hole Distillery founder and CEO Kaveh Zamanian. The brand regularly releases very well-reviewed limited-edition whiskeys featuring hard-to-find sourced barrels blended into innovative, elegant new bottlings. His advice for those seeking a pricey gift: Don’t simply buy because the brand (or a reseller) tells you the juice inside is worth the money. “It has to be a unique, original expression. And consider the producer. Personally, I wouldn’t want to go out and pay several hundred dollars for a product that can be found in another brand or bottle at half the price.”
Image Credit: Itza Villavicencio Urbieta/istockphoto.
Just remember, the high-end whiskey fan base is a competitive crowd. People know where, when, and how these exclusive, limited products drop. Ask your local liquor store or friendly neighborhood bartender for advice, or consider visiting distilleries directly for special releases. While not every bottle below runs into the thousands (or tens of thousands), they do represent the most recent pinnacle for each brand.
It’s important to remember that retailers can price their product at any level they want. It’s common to find limited-edition whiskies selling at twice their suggested retail price, even at your local liquor store.
By definition, most of these releases are very limited and are snapped up quickly. If a product is no longer available, consider that most brands release similar offerings each year. Feel free to keep this list as a guide for next year’s gifting.
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Duncan Taylor Rarest Collection Macallan 52-Year
Duncan Taylor, an independent spirits company in Scotland, began in 1938, partnering with distilleries to buy, blend, and sell whisky and other spirits aged in their own barrels. As a result, it’s amassed an impressive library of long-aged single-malt whiskies and each year releases special editions of a Rarest Collection series. This year, it’s a 52-year aged expression of Macallan. Laid down in 1969 in ex-bourbon casks, the remaining liquid was transferred after several decades to ex-Oloroso sherry casks for a second maturation. The result is a deep, rich whisky with an emphasis on dark chocolate and baking spices and overlays of cooked fruits and tropical notes. Limited to a single barrel and 25 bottles, it lands at a respectable 41.5% ABV. Those in the U.S. interested in securing a bottle can email Shand Import.
£75,000 (about $93,000 at press time)
Image Credit: Duncan Taylor.
Barrell BCS Gold Label Seagrass
Barrell Craft Spirits founder Joe Beatrice and his team are widely respected in the industry, credited with consistently creating compelling American whiskeys through meticulous sourcing and blending component whiskeys that represent wide ranges of barrels, ages, finishes, distillation methods, and aging techniques. Bottled at cask strength, each new release is greeted eagerly by whiskey experts and fans. BCS Gold Label Seagrass represents the pinnacle of the brand’s Seagrass Series. Twenty-year rye whiskey (distilled in Canada) is finished in a mix of casks that previously housed apricot brandy, Martinique rum, and Malmsey Madeira. At 64.06% ABV, it’s spicy and bold with complex overtones of umami citrus (pineapple, grapefruit, ripe lemon), stewed fruits, grass, caramel, and green apples.
Image Credit: Barrell.
The Balvenie The Tale Of The Dog
The Speyside distillery has been busily releasing a number of extra-aged releases over the past two years, including a 60-year-old expression. The Tale of the Dog, the latest in the brand’s Stories collection, refers to an inside joke at the distillery: When coppersmith Dennis McBain joined the company more than 60 years ago, one of the distillery’s brewers came in with a copper “dog” (a tube used for siphoning whisky from the cask) that another employee had been using to sneak a bit of product out the door. At the brewer’s request, newbie McBain hammered the tube flat and it was returned to the naughty employee’s pocket as a gentle warning to stop. Aged in double-toasted ex-bourbon casks and bottled at a relatively high 47% ABV, the whisky is elegant and classic. With notes of ripe fruit, toffee, oak, and a hint of honey the lingering tannic oak finish is worth savoring.
Image Credit: The Balvenie.
Ardbeg Traigh Bhan Batch 4
A number of Islay-based Ardbeg expressions (including the 25 Year and the Wee Beastie) earned Double Gold at this year’s New York International Spirits Competition, and for good reason: The new iteration of this 19-year-old Ardbeg (46.2% ABV) could be a contender next year. Traigh Bhan (pronounced “Tri-Van” and named after a “white sands” beach on the Scottish isle) is an ongoing expression, but this batch was matured with a higher proportion of Oloroso Sherry casks, lending more notes of raisin, stewed fruit, and chocolate to the overall herbaceous/citrus/smoke profile of previous expressions. And of course, it’s still got the great smoke notes and peat tones Ardbeg is known for. Find it at whisky specialty shops, Ardbeg embassies (at airports and elsewhere), or online by joining the Ardbeg Committee, a free enthusiasts’ group.
Image Credit: Ardbeg.
Lalique ‘The Prowess’ Featuring Glenturret 33-Year
Partnerships among spirits producers and luxury brands aren’t uncommon. What might be less common is a whisky owned by the luxury brand housed in its signature product. Lalique Group became a major shareholder in the Glenturret distillery in central Scotland in 2018. Part of Glenturret’s Trinity Series, the whisky in The Prowess (43.9% ABV) was drawn from two casks: one filled in 1987 and one in 1988. Both were bottled in December 2022 at 33 years. Lalique’s Marc Larminaux created the distinctive crystal decanter, inspired by trophies awarded in various fields “for success and prowess.” Interested in buying one of the 320 decanters? Reach out to The Glenturret’s private client manager, Ruaridh Jackson.
£11,800 (about $14,350)
Image Credit: Lalique.
Chicken Cock Chanticleer Kentucky Straight Bourbon
You’ll be forgiven for giggling at the name, but this whiskey actually has some history. The original Kentucky whiskey dates back to 1856, but disappeared in the 1950s. Grain & Barrel Spirits relaunched the brand in 2016 and began producing its own juice through the Bardstown Bourbon distillery. Over the past eight years, the brand has expanded from a core expression and a few flavored products to some seriously complex extra-aged products and various distiller’s reserves. Chanticleer is a holiday homage to the brand’s history, bottled in a vintage style apothecary bottle at 56% ABV. Master Distiller Gregg Snyder selected 50 special barrels with a mash bill of 70% corn, 21% rye, and 9% malted barley, and finished them in ex-Cognac barrels for a hint of creamy peach-and-honey notes over classic bourbon character. An age statement of the component whiskeys has not been provided.
Image Credit: Chicken Cock Whiskey.
Rabbit Hole Raceking Founder’s Collection Bourbon
Rabbit Hole founder Kaveh Zamanian may be new on the scene — the label burst onto the scene during the height of the pandemic — but he has an old whiskey-soul’s nose and palate for sourcing and blending extremely fine expressions. Raceking (54.9% ABV), the third expression in Rabbit Hole’s Founder’s Collection, was extremely popular on its initial release. This re-release should be met with equal joy. The double chocolate malt bourbon boasts an unusual mash bill: 70% corn, 13% rye, 10% malted rye, 4% chocolate malted wheat, and 3% chocolate malted barley, producing a deep, rich, rush of dark cocoa, cinnamon, black cherry, and wet tobacco. The very long feature is like drinking in Kentucky: barn wood, leather, rich loamy earth, and spice. Only 1,335 sequentially numbered bottles were being released, available exclusively at the Rabbit Hole distillery through the end of 2022 and now at select retailers nationally.
Image Credit: Rabbit Hole.
The Glenlivet Sample Room Collection 25-Year
More a reimagining of existing core bottlings, the Sample Room Collection consists of 18-year, 21-year (the latest release), and 25-year expressions. Each is finished in different cask combinations for updated, complex flavor profiles. The 21-year ($280) is finished in a combination of first-fill Oloroso sherry, Troncais oak Cognac, and Vintage Colheita port casks. The component whiskies are married for the final product. The 25-year is finished in Pedro Ximénez sherry and Troncais oak Cognac before being combined. The result is that The Glenlivet’s traditional honey, oak, and heather flavor profile is deepened with notes of fig, baked fruit, ginger, and blood orange, with a soft spice finish. Each expression arrives in newly designed bottles and packaging.
Image Credit: The Glenlivet.
Knob Creek 18-Year-Old Bourbon
Released in the fall in celebration of Knob Creek’s 30th anniversary, this limited-edition 18-year is the brand’s oldest bourbon to date. Aged twice as long as the flagship expression and bottled at an admirable 50% ABV, it boasts the familiar, vibrant Knob Creek flavor profile, but with an additional depth and complexity. Notes of caramel, vanilla, oak, and nutmeg are that much more pronounced, with hints of tobacco and black cherry. The rich copper color also reflects the extra time in barrel.
Image Credit: Knob Creek.
Virgil Kaine Eighth Notch
While the price may not be stratospheric, if you’re looking for a well-crafted spirit that’s got a little extra special something at a reasonable price, you’ve found it. And for a brand with products generally coming in under $40, this is a splurge. Drawing from the popular concept of smoking guns that use “flavored” wood chips to enhance cocktails, Eighth Notch features five-year aged bourbon finished in vanilla-smoked toasted barrels. That’s right: locally sourced (Georgia) barrels are smoked with dried vanilla pods. The re-racked bourbon is aged two months, with additional vanilla smoke used to “fill” the empty space in each barrel. The result is precisely what the process suggests: a bourbon with notes of caramel, oak, and apples, bearing a more noticeable vanilla component on the nose than what’s derived from new oak alone. Limited to 3,200 bottles.
Image Credit: Virgil Kaine.
Michter’s Celebration Sour Mash 2022
Most of the Michter’s is pretty dear, but the Celebration Sour Mash is at a whole other level. Shipping of the current expression, launched in 2013, was delayed from late last year (blame those wacky supply chains). The fourth Celebration release (and the first since 2019) features seven component whiskies ranging from 12 years to more than 30 in a blending overseen by master of maturation Andrea Wilson. Limited to 328 bottles (56.4% ABV), each ornate package arrives with a signed letter from master distiller Dan McKee.
Image Credit: Michter’s.
Boondocks 18-Year-Old Straight Bourbon
Boondocks is a relatively new (2016) label from Dave Scheurich, a well-respected, longtime Kentucky-Tennessee distiller and distillery manager. Most of the range is deliberately affordable and accessible. For an 18-year bourbon, this one isn’t too bananas. Sourced, blended, and additionally aged by Scheurich and his team, most of the range is aged between three and 11 years. But they came across this “very limited” 18-year and decided they had to share it. Toffee, dark maple syrup, rich vanilla, coffee, and a hint of spice mark this tasty, not over-oaky, whiskey. It’s also been bottled up at cask strength (52.7%).
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