The end of the year is upon us, which means for us whiskey enthusiasts, it's a great time to reflect on the past 12 months of our whiskey endeavors. We pour a nice hefty dram on these cold winter days, sit down by the fireplace, and allow our minds to drift into nostalgic flashbacks of the great, the good, and the not so good whiskeys we experienced for the first time this year. Our memories collected, we've put together as team the first annual WBSE Whiskey Awards of 2017!
Before we go any further, we need to stop and realize what has happened in WBSE over the past 12 months. The group, which Chad and Bill started in November 2014, entered 2017 with around 6,000 members. We are now nearly at 18,000 members world wide! We've also seen the first two WBSE exclusive barrel picks (both Knob Creek 120 proof) be released, had multiple official and unofficial meet ups, and started the YouTube Channel as well as this website. Its been quite the year, and you-our fellow enthusiast-are the reason why! So from the bottom of our hearts, thank you!
Now back to the whiskey. Before we get to the awards, let's set some parameters.
- After some discussion, we narrowed things down to 8 award categories. There could have been many more, but Andrew only has so much time in the day to work on editing and publishing!
- For each category, we were allowed to pick one overall winner, and up to two runners up.
- We did not share our picks with each other before publishing to eliminate peer influence.
- Given the unique buying and drinking styles of the 6 of us, we purposefully made the categories broad and our guidelines loose.
- The one guideline we did set: We only allowed whiskeys we tried for the first time in 2017 to be considered! So these may not be our all time favorites, and they may not be new releases of 2017. But they were new to the respective writer who picked them.
- Each writer was not required to pick a winner for each category.
- We allowed ourselves to provide commentary to our picks as we saw fit. You'll notice some of us are bigger talkers than others!
Now on to the awards!
Bourbon of the Year
Chad: Col. EH Taylor Barrel Proof 128.1 proof release.
Bill: William Larue Weller 2017 Release. Runner up: Col. EH Taylor Four Grain.
Andrew: 1792 Full Proof Store Pick Single Barrels. Ultimately, this bourbon's value is what separated it from the other finalists. An insanely tasty 125 proof single barrel bourbon for under $50? How can something like this exist in today's inflated bourbon market? Thank you Barton for going against the tide with these. Runners up: Jack Daniels Single Barrel Barrel Proof, Booker's Batch 2017-01.
Brett: Old Forester 1920. A rich and deep bourbon at a price point accessible to most. If I could only own one bourbon, it would be this one, due to the combination of quality and price. Runners up: 1792 Full Proof, Jefferson's Groth Cask Reserve.
Greg: Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch 2017 Release. It’s hard to even compare to Four Roses 2017 Small Batch Limited Edition this year. For me, it was not only the biggest surprise when compared to the past few years, but the most bang for your secondary buck if that’s where you had to get yours. If you’re a Four Roses fan, this should absolutely be in your top 3 of 2017. Runner up: George T. Stagg 2017 Release.
Bobby: Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Batch C917. I love a full, rich profile, and Heaven Hill nailed it with this batch. Though it isn't a delicate pour, it's as deep as they come and the flavors are unique and exciting making this truly a delight to drink. Runner up: Booker's Batch 2017-01.
Scotch of the Year
Chad: Aberlour A'Bunadh. I've never been much of a scotch drinker, but this high proof, bold flavored whisky was very enjoyable to me.
Bill: Aberlour 17 Year Single Sherry Cask 1999 Vintage. Runner up: Glenmorangie 12 Year Nectar D'Or.
Andrew: Balvenie 12 Year First Fill Ex-bourbon Single Barrel. I tried some truly exceptional, rare, and expensive scotches in 2017, thanks to some extremely generous friends in WBSE. But to even things out, I limited myself to scotches that I myself bought, which are more commonly available and typically under $100. Again, value is proving a big factor for me here. I was among the number of scotch fans disappointed when the old 15 year single barrel was discontinued, but Balvenie knocked it out of the park with this one. Although it's 3 years younger, the use of first fill bourbon casks makes this a dynamic and complex whisky without the high price of an older age statement. Runners up: Springbank 15 Year, Glengoyne 15 Year.
Brett: Macallan Edition No. 2. Macallan gets a lot of flak as being overpriced. But, No. 2 is an NAS done right. It sits at about a $100 price but swings well above its class. A must try. Runners up: Springbank 13 Year Fresh Sherry cask, Laphroaig Quarter Cask.
Greg: Compass Box 3 Year Deluxe. Being such a broad category, and not having broken this down into regions, or even a blended subsection, combined with the fact that I’m always behind on opening bottles has this all over the place for me. My absolute favorite that I keep going back to is surprisingly a blend. Unsurprisingly, it’s Compass Box Three Year Old Deluxe. Some Compass Box blends can get toward the outrageously priced side of things, but this is one I believe to be truly worth every penny. Runners up: Clan Lonach Bunnahabhain 25 Year, Springbank 13 Year Fresh Sherry Cask.
Rye Whiskey of the Year
Chad: Michter's Toasted Barrel Rye. I was really surprised on this due to the fact that I am not the biggest rye drinker. The nose was sweet and floral, but the taste was so different from the nose. It was like a toasted marshmallow over a camp fire with a nice long and mellow finish.
Bill: Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye 2017 Release. Runner up: Michter's Toasted Barrel Rye.
Andrew: Michter's Barrel Proof Rye. While I wasn't a huge fan of the toasted barrel, I fell it love with the regular barrel proof offering. Runners up: Col. EH Taylor Straight Rye, Willett Family Estate 3 Year Rye.
Brett: Michter's Toasted Barrel Rye. I was skeptical of this being a marketing gimmick. But, it delivers in a big way. Full, beautiful spice, delicate florals, and consistency from nose to finish make this fantastic.
Greg: High West Mid Winter Night's Dram. I’m not a huge rye fan, but I do appreciate those that are done well, and especially those that have a unique finish. Runners up: Michter's Toasted Barrel Rye, Pikesville 6 Year Rye.
Bobby: Michter's Toasted Barrel Rye. I know this has been talked about alot in my circle of friends, but it's just a fun drinking rye experience with excellent flavors. A truly well done whiskey. Runner up: Michter's 10 Year Rye.
World Whisky of the Year
Andrew: Teeling Small Batch. This is the ultimate value pick. I tried a few Kavalan's, Amruts, and some Japanese whiskies, and even a New Zealand oat whisky this year (thanks again to you, my generous friends), but again I'm going to stick to whiskies that I myself purchased. This Teeling blew the socks off of Redbreast 12 year, and for $25-35, it can't be beat. Kudos to Teeling for injecting some actually flavorful whiskeys into the Irish bottom shelf, as well as for the non-chill filtered, natural color, 46% ABV presentation. Other Irish producers, please take note!
Brett: Hibiki 17 Year. What can I say about this that hasn't been said? Just a wonderful whisky. Runners up: Redbreast 15 Year, Amrut Fusion.
Greg: Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch 2017 release. I know I'm breaking rules here, but I don't care. This is the best whiskey in the world.
Best Limited Edition Release of 2017
Chad: Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye
Bill: WBSE Exclusive Knob Creek 120 Proof Single Barrel. Need I give an explanation? Runner up: Joseph P. Magnus Single Barrel Select.
Andrew: Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch. Of the approximately 100 whiskeys I formally reviewed in 2017, this one may have scored the very highest. Absolutely phenomenal.
Brett: Barrell Bourbon Single Barrel #9E55. When I tasted this for the first time, I immediately bought a bottle. It is everything a good bourbon should be. A shame it's only a single barrel's worth of bottles.
Greg: Do I need to put an answer here? See my Bourbon of the Year and World Whisky of the Year.
Bobby: Little Book Batch 1. The Easy, at just over 128 proof, steals my limited edition spot. I'm an admitted a big Beam fan, but when it comes to limited editions this had all the hype, was well priced, and had a great flavor. Plenty of limited editions out there are worth talking about, but this stuff hit me just right.
Best whiskey under $50
Chad: Wild Turkey Rare Breed 116.8 proof.
Bill: Wild Turkey Rare Breed 116.8 proof.
Andrew: Compass Box Great King Street Artist's Blend. Compass Box is well known for its high end blends, but this $40 blend of both malt and grain whiskies stole my heart this year and cemented John Glaser as a whisky making maestro in my eyes. Full of coconut, sweet cream, and pastry dough, this blend is such a lovely easy sipping experience. Runners up: Highland Park 12 Year, George Dickel 9 Year 101 proof store pick single barrels.
Brett: Highland Park Magnus. Highland Park has a big success on their hands with Magnus. An NAS single malt scotch with a price of $35-40 rarely raises my eyebrows. But, this has become one of my go-to recommendations for new scotch drinkers on a budget.
Greg: Henry McKenna 10 Year single barrel. Easily worth twice as much as the $28 average price per bottle. Any time you can get a 10 year old bourbon for under $30, you should highly consider it. Any time you can get a 10 year old bourbon for under $30, you should highly consider it. Yes, I said that twice. Among all the non-age stated expressions lining the mid-level to bottom shelves at this price range sits this little gem just waiting to be discovered. More and more have done so in the past year and unfortunately I feel it’s only a matter of time before one of these scenarios plays out: the price starts to creep up a la Eagle Rare, this becomes allocated to keep a 10 year statement, or unfortunately this will lose its age statement all together and become a mediocre version of what it once was. If you haven’t done so already, please go get a bottle or try a pour at your local watering hole.
Distiller of the Year
Chad: Buffalo Trace.
Andrew: Jack Daniels. I literally never thought I would see myself type that, which is a major complement to the folks at Brown-Forman's Tennessee branch. This was an incredibly hard pick, as I had to choose against several distilleries more near and dear to me. Jack Daniels has always been a sleeping giant - they have nearly unlimited resources, including their own personal cooperage. Until this year, they were content to just feed Old No. 7 to the whiskey 'n coke drinking masses, but they've finally thrown the enthusiasts a bone with a new line of ryes and higher proof single barrel releases, which have been surprisingly excellent.
Brett: Springbank. With a core range that is consistently as good as or better than most scotch on the market, and a series of single cask and special releases that rival the best whiskeys out there, Springbank is doing everything right. There is something for every palate and every bank account.
Greg: Garrison Brothers. .... wait, what? Yep, I went a totally different direction here. Do I enjoy Garrison Brothers Bourbon? Yeah, it’s alright I guess. There are some expressions that can grow on you. They do have a loyal cult-like following which is ever growing and for good reason. That is why I choose them. Dan is very open about the process and “priciness” of their bourbon, and once you actually sit down and realize what is going on, why this Texas Bourbon tastes a bit different than you’d like or expect, and how it’s different distilling and aging a spirit in Texas vs Kentucky, you too will understand and maybe approach that pour with an open mind sans expectations. I had a chance to sit down with Dan at a small tasting event where we went over the barrel selection process, grain selection, dealing with the heat, and smaller batch size blending. From the food grade corn, thicker barrels that won’t crack in 110 degree Texas summers, 15-53 gallon casks, and everything that’s different in Texas all impart a uniqueness to this bourbon that not only makes it more expensive to produce but give it a quality that’s not Kentucky because, well it’s not Kentucky. So while maybe not your (or my) favorite bourbon, I’d be doing myself an injustice if I were to pick any other distiller of the year. This is a personal selection, as are anyone’s, but this is a little more personal that the others. I had a great time meeting Dan and learning about his process, especially comparing and contrasting it with those in Kentucky or Indiana.
Bobby: Beam. Fred Noe has had a heck of a year with new releases and excellent consistency among his normal year to year line up. Booker's has blossomed into a full scale premium bourbon, and even though it's always been good, they continue to increase the body and depth of the releases. The Knob Creek series is in full bloom, and now Beam's limited editions are making a splash. While the Beam stigma is often attached to it's entry level white label 80 proof juice, you would be silly to overlook what they've done at a more premium level this past year and years prior to this.
Biggest Disappointment of the Year
Chad: Col. EH Taylor Four Grain. For me it fell really flat. I thought it had no real finish to it. The taste was over reaching. To me the best thing about it was the sweetness in the nose.
Bill: Kentucky Owl 11 Year Rye.
Andrew: Wild Turkey 101 Rye. I adore the Wild Turkey distillery and most of their bourbon releases. I knew the 101 Rye had a cult following and had been temporarily discontinued to let stocks rebound, so I snagged a liter of it for $30 as soon as I saw it. Unfortunately, it tasted young, underdeveloped, and overly sweet, and paled in comparison to its price range rivals Knob Creek Rye and Rittenhouse Rye.
Brett: Aberlour 16 Year. This isn’t a bad whiskey. But, for a 16 year old, it is simple and boring. If I had tasted this blind I would have thought it was an NAS whiskey in the $40 range. American retail on this runs in the $80-90 range, making this a huge disappointment for me given the cost.
Greg: Kentucky Owl 11 Year Rye. I’ve already written about my experience so this will be short and sweet. Kentucky Owl Rye, you disappoint me! Your hype, your growing secondary demand, your pretty bottle, your overwhelming presence on my social media sites, my expectations... all came to a crashing halt. By far the biggest letdown this year. You’re not bad, you just don’t deserve any of what you got this year. I’d gladly stock my shelves with you for $45 and primarily use you as a mixer, but you do not deserve the status you’ve obtained.
Bobby: Kentucky Owl 11 Year Rye. This is a solid whiskey, but the hype and the price are just unreal. At $130 this competed in an ultra premium slot that should be reserved for the top of the top. In this case I find Kentucky Owl Rye to be a good drink, but it just doesn't have the complexities I expect at this price tag. Many others limited editions sneak under the radar by keeping the price lower and perhaps KO can take a note out of that playbook. At $70-80 this would be a great rye, but they just pushed it out at too high of a price.
Thus concludes our Whiskey Awards 2017! Feel free to let us know your thoughts on our picks, and submit your own picks in the comments below! Cheers!
All thoughts and opinions expressed are original to the author of the review or article. We are in no way paid to express any specific opinion about any specific company or product.