December 24, 2020

Whiskies of the Year

Strictly speaking of bourbon, 2020 was a pretty good year. I feel that there were a lot of outstanding priced fairly. While bourbon is still highly coveted and anything new is gobbled up immediately, 2020 was not a year where you needed to spend hundreds of dollars on a bottle to get something quality. Quite the opposite; lots of delicious whiskey hit the shelves priced for everyone to enjoy. The hyper-allocated products were pretty outstanding this year as well. If you were lucky enough to get something on the ultra rare side; chances are you were pretty happy about the whiskey in the bottle.


But as we are wired to do as Americans, there has to be a winner. There has to be drama and competition with a clear outcome and decisive winner. The following are my favorite categories when it comes to looking back at a year in whiskey and an attempt to highlight some of the standouts that came my way.

Best Every Day Drinker

  • Old Forester Bottled in Bond
  • Wild Turkey Rare Breed - 116.8
  • Old Tub Bottled in Bond
  • Elijah Craig Barrel Proof - Batch B520
My definition of an every day drinker is something that's available (without getting in line at 7 AM) and something that's affordable (generally under $60). This is always a tricky one because there lots of great whiskies that just skirt this line. For instance, Booker's Boston Batch is just an incredible bourbon and deserves a nod, but it's outside the price range. For me, one of the best bourbons I had all year was Elijah Craig Barrel Proof - Batch B520. It's getting harder to find at $60, but it can still be done. The second release of ECBP this year was just outstanding and one that blew me away from first sip to final pour. In a very close second is Rare Breed 116.8. I think I drank a case of that stuff this year. This was a hard call, but ultimately the ECBP edges out, but you really can't go wrong.

Best Local Single Barrel

  • Dallas Bourbon Club's EH Taylor Single Barrel
  • Spec's Willet Family Estate Bourbon: Time Changes Everything
  • Goody Goody's Four Roses Single Barrel OESQ
  • Lakewood Medallion's Eagle Rare: Bourbon Now & Forever
  • Pogo's 1792 Full Proof
When I started compiling a whiskey of the year award, I had no idea that the Dallas Bourbon Club would grow into the barrel picking machine that it would be today. So needless to say, it's incredibly hard for me to remove my personal pride and bias from this section. That's a very long introduction to say the best local single barrel bourbon was the Dallas Bourbon Club's EH Taylor. Yes, it's ours. Yes, I helped select it. But more importantly, that whiskey provided 90,000 meals to people who need our help. It's a huge accomplishment that took a lot of people, a lot of coordination. More than that, it shows how a group of people united in their passion can do some real good. All of those platitudes are not meant to distract from the whiskey either: this is phenomenal bourbon. It's delicious, complex and truly outstanding for what you're tasting at 100 proof. My silver medal would go to Spec's 8 Year Willet Family Estate Bourbon. This is another special whiskey and the Spec's team picked an absolute diamond with this one.

The Worst of 2020

  • Heaven Hill Select Stock: Coffee Barrel Finish
  • Hirsch: The Horizon
It pains me to put a Heaven Hill submission on this list, but the distillery only release of their coffee barrel finished whiskey is dreadful and by pointing it out as a failure, I hope that I can stop other distilleries from replicating this monstrosity. However, the real travesty here is that I'm talking about the new Hirsch: The Horizon two weeks in a row. It's an affront to its predecessors and it's the worst bourbon I had in 2020.

So that's the worst of the lot, now let's talk about the best.

The Best Whiskey of 2020

  • Knob Creek 12 Year Bourbon
  • Sagamore Calvados Finished Rye
  • George T Stagg
  • Wild Turkey 17 Year Bottled in Bond
  • Elijah Craig Barrel Proof - Batch B520
Yes, my repertoire of the ultra rare stuff is a little thin this year, but I can say there are some surprises on here. Knob Creek's 12 Year Bourbon was fantastic stuff and widely available. Sagamore's Calvados Finished Rye was some of the best finished whiskey I had this year and also not terribly hard to find. The lover of Wild Turkey in me really enjoyed the 17 year old at 100 proof. While those are delicious whiskies and worthy of all the accolades heaped upon them, George T Stagg is my whiskey of the year. Bouncing back from a lackluster 2019 (if you ask the fans), this years highly desired iteration clocks in at 130.4 proof and is more than 15 years old. Tasting this whiskey is about as close to sublime as it gets. It's robust in flavor, yet delicate and complex. For clocking at 130 proof, it drinks like something with far less octane. Harlan absolutely nailed this years release and it's got to be my favorite whiskey in 2020. Is it a cop out to pick a BTAC? We all know they are going to be great. But it's those high expectations getting shattered by this whiskey are what make it so special. It's that good. So good, it'll make you want to take a bite out of it.