We taste a lot of whiskey around these parts. In 2016, The Whiskey Wash reviewers published more than 360 reviews—that’s almost one every single day—and those reviews don’t include all the great whiskeys we get to taste at events or out at bars.
You can’t taste all that whiskey without developing some opinions. So, in the spirit of looking back at the year behind us, we asked some of our reviewers to tell us about their favorite whiskeys they tasted in 2016: the drams they remember fondly, or the bottles they turn to time and again.
Unsurprisingly, their answers were all over the map, from the high profile to hidden gems. I find that heartening. In a world that favors rigid rankings and the constant pursuit of the “best” and the “perfect,” it’s a reminder that whiskey is a big world, and that there’s room for everybody. Happy New Year, and here’s to many more great whiskeys ahead.
Very Olde St. Nick Ancient Rye takes the cake for me. I was blown away by the complexity of this venerable & mysterious bourbon, which carried no age statement that I could find (unless it appeared in a few horizontal bars of smudged kanji). The champagne-shaped bottle seemed as though it had been filched from a Hot Tub Time Machine, which had traveled back to the future from the 1990’s, complete with a soggy label to prove it. My exquisite glass not display any of the tell-tale astringency found in some of the older St. Nicks. Yes, indeedy, this is how a great bourbon SHOULD taste.
I’ve tasted a lot, and I’ve tasted several more of the Barrells, but it’s the Barrell Bourbon 006 that sticks with me. It is an effortless bourbon: h=High-proof but not alcohol-forward, and silky, silky smooth. If you can still find a bottle, hoard it—or send it to me.
Single Track Wheat Whiskey: This delightful surprise of a whiskey, made in a garage in Wyoming, is what so many craft whiskeys wish they were. Amazingly mellow at a cask-strength 115 proof, beautiful floral notes mingle with dense cereal and honey for a distinctive, perfectly balanced dram.
My whiskey of the year is the Woody Creek Distillers’ Colorado Straight Rye Whiskey. Smooth, sweet, and fruity, it leaves you with a crisp and pleasant aftertaste, all without putting too big of a dent in your wallet.
While not the one I gave the highest marks to this year, I find the whiskey I most often want at the end of the day is New Holland’s Cask & Smoke. It’s not the most complex, but it nicely blends peat smoke, oak smoke, honey and a touch of spices for a well-rounded, pleasant flavor. Unfortunately, New Holland no longer has Cask & Smoke posted on its website when I checked, so I highly recommend you pick it up if you see a bottle, as I’m not sure there’ll be another chance.
My favorite of 2016? A 15-year-old Knob Creek single-barrel bourbon chosen by the Paducah Bourbon Society in Paducah, Kentucky. At 120 proof, it’s powerful and needs a bit of air before sipping. The taste is fruit-forward and oak backed. No surprise the PBS dubbed it “Beast of Bourbon.” Also, the bargain of the year at $50.
My favorite whisky of 2016 was Lagavulin 8-Year-Old. I loved everything about it—its unpretentious price point, its abundant distillery character, its high-toned peatiness, its historical Alfred Barnard tie-in. It’s the only bottle I tasted and then immediately went out and bought more of to sock away for the future.
Margarett Waterbury is the author of Scotch: A Complete Introduction to Scotland's Whiskies and a full-time freelance writer and editor. Her work has appeared in Whisky Advocate, Food and Wine, Spirited Magazine, Artisan Spirit, Edible Seattle, Sip Northwest, Civil Eats, Travel Oregon, Artisan Spirit, and many other publications. She is...