Distiller’s American Whiskey Gift Guide 2020By Stephanie Moreno
In spite of the world as we know it having turned upside down, this year was quite the year for American whiskey. As is the case every year, it was tough to limit Distiller’s gift guide recommendations to only a dozen whiskeys. It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to taste the new whiskey releases. And taste (and re-taste) them we did, just to make sure. Writing Distiller’s American Whiskey Gift Guide 2020 is a serious job.
Of course, there are many American whiskeys that hit shelves this year but are impossible to find anywhere such as the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection or Old Forester Birthday Bourbon. As such, these beauties are not on our list, despite how much we’d recommend them otherwise. Should you happen to hit the jackpot (or win a retailer’s lottery) and discover one for sale in your budget, by all means pick it up.
This list features American whiskeys which stood out for their flavor profiles, their uniqueness and/or value they bring to the table. As an added bonus, none of these selections have a suggested retail price (SRP) higher than $200. While many of them may be hard to find outside of the US, if you’re here in the States you shouldn’t have too much trouble tracking them down. These whiskeys are presented in no particular order. Happy shopping!
Blue Peak is named after a 13,000 foot peak in Aspen, Colorado. The Colorado single malt is first aged for 4 years in 53-gallon new, charred American oak (char #3) at the high altitude of its Denver warehouses. Uniquely, the whiskey is further aged in foeders (large oak barrels) which are made from new American oak. Here the whiskey mingles with other single malt whiskeys for several months before a portion is removed. The foeders are never emptied, creating a solera system. This permanent addition to the Stranahan’s portfolio was first released in October 2020.
The aroma displays a little apricot along with some honey and toasted oak. As you taste, the single malt shows a medium body with some apples, vanilla, and herbal flavors along with more toasted oak and barrel spices. This is a solid addition to the portfolio and a nice departure from sherry finishes in general.
Flavor Profile: Spicy & Fruity
The chocolate malt and oats used in the mash bill makes quite a flavor impact in this seasonal bourbon release from New Riff. Additionally, the bourbon is bottled in bond and bottled without chill-filtration at the required 100 proof.
The milk chocolatey aroma begins from the moment you open the bottle. But after you’ve poured yourself a dram, the chocolate aroma and flavor becomes more of an accent to the bourbon. Also the oats bring a nice dimension to the party taming the corn sweetness a bit. Overall, the 3% chocolate malt enhances, without overpowering the bourbon. While this may not be something you want everyday, it’s nice to bring out for special occasions.
Flavor Profile: Sweet & Spicy
This is the second in the ongoing limited edition Wood Finishing series for Maker’s Mark which began with the 2019 RC6 release. The 2020 release focuses on the caramel and vanilla notes by using two different types of staves SE4 and PR5 from Independent Stave Company. These two staves were placed in secondary barrels and filled with fully-matured cask strength Maker’s Mark followed by a marrying period of the two bourbons.
Those finishing staves really give the traditionally sweet and gentle Maker’s Mark a bit of a backbone and its flavors lean on the savory side. This is a bourbon you keep going back to to find more flavors and then you find the glass empty. A good result.
Flavor Profile: Spicy & Sweet
Released this past summer, Wild Turkey’s Rare Breed Rye is a blend of 4, 6 and 8 year rye whiskeys. It is a new no-age statement addition to the Wild Turkey portfolio. It’s bottled at barrel proof, which will vary from batch to batch. Additionally, this is bottled without chill-filtration.
This well-balanced rye falls right in the sweet spot between spicy and sweet. Wild Turkey released a couple of other standouts this year including Russell’s Reserve 2003 and Wild Turkey Master’s Keep Bottled in Bond 17 Year. Of course, those will make fine gifts too, but this every day rye is suitable for cocktails or serving neat or on the rocks, so it makes a great addition to any home bar.
Flavor Profile: Spicy & Rich
This American rye whiskey is made by taking fully matured Michter’s US*1 Single Barrel Rye at barrel strength and finishing it in a secondary barrel. These finishing barrels are made from 24 month air-dried staves and the barrels were toasted, not charred. As the rye whiskey is bottled at cask strength, the proof will vary but the average proof for the 2020 release is 109.2.
The toasted barrel finish is definitely the star here, as it brings out toasty sweet and spicy notes in the whiskey. This rye is perfect for chilly nights whether it’s served in a hot whiskey cocktail or as a base for an Old Fashioned.
Flavor Profile: Sweet & Spicy
Pact No. 6 is a blend of Kentucky straight bourbons crafted by Lux Row Distillers’ head distiller and master blender John Rempe, who launched the series in 2015. Pact No. 6 uses three high-rye bourbons – a 14 year-old, an 8 year-old and a 7 year-old finished in cognac barrels. Only 17,000 cases are available globally as of spring 2020.
Although cognac barrels aren’t commonly used in the whiskey world, that has started to change lately, particularly in American whiskey. Here, the cognac barrels aren’t too noticeable on the palate, but the cognac flavor comes through after you’ve tasted and exhaled. This experience is one you’ll want to repeat, making it a pleasant way to end an evening.
Flavor Profile: Spicy & Vanilla
This limited edition bourbon launched in June of 2020. It was aged for 15 years in deeply charred new American oak barrels and selected from prime locations in the warehouse. It’s bottled at 100 proof.
On the nose, in addition to a swirl of caramel and chocolate, there’s something savory here to help balance the sweet notes. The bourbon is tangy and spicy while being dry, but not too dry. Some herbal and cherry notes add complexity, and there’s a touch of leather found as well. Enjoy on a stormy evening and find comfort in the glass.
Flavor Profile: Spicy & Rich
SRP: $ 99.99
Lot 20 marks the 20th anniversary release of St. George Spirits Single Malt, which was first released in 2000 by master distiller Lance Winters. Now head distiller/blender Dave Smith guides the whiskey program and this release. The single malts used here range in age from 4.5 to 21 years of age, and the barrels used in maturation are various used casks. They include used Kentucky bourbon, Tennessee whiskey, American and French oak apple brandy, port and California Sauternes-style casks.
The various cask finishes give this single malt a bold and rich profile filled with butterscotch and vanilla to candied fruits and chocolate cake. This whiskey is a prime example of why Distiller’s Tasting Table and our users have been fans of St. George for quite a while.
Flavor Profile: Vanilla & Rich
This whiskey is the 14th edition in the annual series from Heaven Hill named after the late Master Distiller Parker Beam. This Heavy Char Bourbon release was filled into 102 barrels which were charred for 1 minute and 30 seconds, making them a level 5 char. Typically the distillery uses level 3 char barrels, which are charred for 40 seconds. After 10 years of aging, the bourbon was cut to 120 proof without chill-filtration.
The aroma is full of char smoke, sweet vanilla and milk chocolate with peanuts also coming through. Rich and chewy on the palate, the taste is tangy and the char smoke surrounds the bourbon with every sip. Overall the heavy char here works well, accentuating rather than clobbering the bourbon. Fans of smoky whiskeys should try to track this bottle down.
Flavor Profile: Sweet & Smoky
Little Book is an annual limited edition blended whiskey series crafted by Freddie Noe, eighth generation Beam distiller. This series gets its name from Freddie’s nickname growing up, Little Book, given to him by his family for the qualities he shared with his grandfather Booker Noe. Chapter 4: Lessons Honored is made by blending three uncut and unfiltered Kentucky straight whiskeys which Freddie chose for their connection to past work with his father, current Beam master distiller Fred Noe.
Uniquely, one of the whiskeys Freddie uses is a brown rice bourbon, which adds a nice accent to the whiskey. It’s both different and interesting in the best possible way.
Flavor Profile: Full Bodied & Rich
Four Roses releases a limited edition small batch bourbon each year which is batched by its master distiller. This year marks the fifth year for Brent Elliott in this role, who began his career with Four Roses back in 2005. For the 2020 edition, Elliott selected bourbon made from four of the ten different bourbon recipes for the brand. The bourbons in the batch were aged for 12, 16, and 19 years, then blended, batched and bottled without chill-filtration at barrel strength of 111.4 proof.
You’ll find a wide array of sweet aromas (vanilla, milk chocolate and sweet corn) to fruity (lemon peel, apple & cherry fruits) and savory (brown butter, gentle barrel spices and toast). As you taste, rye spice comes through along with a moderate oaky flavor. However, the bourbon isn’t too chewy or tannic. This is a great bourbon that shows dimension. I would serve it neat or with a splash of cool water.
Released in November 2020, this bourbon is Angel’s Envys limited edition cask strength release which first began in 2012. The barrels are hand-selected and blended before the whiskey finishes maturation in port wine casks. For the 2020 release, the whiskey is bottled at 60.2% ABV. Only 17,400 bottles were produced. The 2020 Edition marks the ninth edition of the cask strength bourbon and the first time it’s available in all 50 states.
There’s a lot going on with the aroma, including toasted peanuts, caramel, barrel spices, toasted grains and fruit. Combined, these notes are reminiscent of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. However, this is a high proof bourbon so those fruit notes are just the accent. Overall this is a solid and fun dram. This is best enjoyed as a night cap. You deserve it.
Flavor Profile: Fruity & Sweet
Now that you’ve finished our American Whiskey Gift Guide 2020, which bottles are you on the hunt for?
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