Check out the best spirits from previous years here!
Dozens of categories considered, thousands of bottles tasted, and almost 12 months in the making, the publishing of VinePair’s 50 best spirits list marks a major milestone in our calendar and one of our favorite annual traditions.
Consider it not a bonafide buying guide — those can be found here — and instead a highlights reel of the best spirits that graced our palates this year. While we recommend picking up any and all you encounter, or ordering a pour from a bar list, the popularity of certain categories and brands, coupled with the limited nature of some of the releases, means the probability of being able to do so varies wildly from one bottle to another. One constant that links them all, however, and the reason each features on this list: It would be a spirited crime not to honor their existence.
So what made the cut? This year served us no end of imaginative and successful experiments; reminded us that stalwart go-tos carry such reputations for a reason; and encouraged us to look beyond the expected from various regions and nations. Prepare for “bog aged” oak, Mexican eau de vie, and countless representations of brown spirits from non-age-stated to cask strength, single-barrel, experimental finishings, and ultra old.
As with every year, we whittled down a long list via multiple rounds of tastings by VinePair’s tasting and editorial team, and determined the final ranking following some lengthy discussions.
So here they are, VinePair’s 50 best spirits of 2023, tasted and ranked.
50. Method and Madness Rye and Malt
Method and Madness is the experimental project from the parent company of Jameson and Redbreast Irish whiskeys, Irish Distillers-Pernod Ricard. This blend of 60 percent rye and 40 percent malted barley isn’t just an outlier in the Irish spirits realm but all of whiskey. Cereal and bright stone fruit notes shine throughout.
Average Price: $80
49. Nikka Coffey Vodka
Back in the ‘60s, Nikka Whisky Distilling Co. acquired two unique Coffey stills from Scotland, and has since honored their use with a line of fine whisky, gin, and vodka. The latter makes this list due to its distinctive savory, grainy character and unexpected pops of citrus.
Average Price: $47
48. Tempus Fugit Spirits Crème de Moka
Espresso Martini–mania showed no signs of slowdown this year, and chances are you’re already acquainted with stalwart Kahlúa and hip Mr Black. Consider this coffee liqueur from California’s Tempus Fugit Spirits for your next round. Expect measured sweetness, rich coffee flavor, and robust body, all from a 1755-inspired recipe.
Average Price: $40
47. Old Potrero 6 Years Old Straight Rye Whiskey
The amount of rye is creeping up in the U.S. — both in terms of offerings and the percentage used in mashbills. We’re hitting 100 percent on the recipe front here with Old Potrero. The San Francisco-based producer takes a Scotch-like approach, with malted grains undergoing copper pot distillation, yielding a rich whiskey with a spicy finish.
Average Price: $65
46. El Nacimiento Tequila Reposado
Tequila regulations dictate that reposados can spend up to 364 days in oak, and all too often the aging vessel dominates the final spirit. Not here, though. El Nacimiento’s expression finds a sweet middle ground, with 6 months spent in American oak, and a profile that sings herbaceous, savory agave with just a kiss of sweetness.
Average Price: $38
45. Bardstown Bourbon Company Origin Series Bottled-in-Bond
Forgive us for looking past Bardstown Bourbon Company’s stellar range of cask-finished expressions but it’s with good reason: This year marked the launch of its Origin Series, the first line containing 100 percent proprietary liquid. A 6-year-old wheater bottled at 100 proof, this bourbon is full of character, easy to sip, and even serves some unexpected complexity.
Average Price: $50
44. Cobrafire Eau de Vie de Raisin
Chances are, you probably missed the launch of the Blanche d’Armagnac (white Armagnac) appellation back in 2015, but you shouldn’t sleep on the products within the category. This 50.5 percent ABV offering from PM Spirits’ Cobrafire project dances between stone fruit brightness and umami-rich savoriness, and promises to leave a lasting impression.
Average Price: $60
43. Hinterhaus Distilling Trapper’s Oath 18 Year Rye
Stout cask-finished and aged for the best part of two decades overall, this is an intriguing rye whiskey. The spirit’s origins lie north of the border while the stout barrels previously housed Hinterhaus Distilling’s bourbon. That melange explains the truly unique profile: Cherry sweetness cascades into savory brown bread before espresso and chocolate serve a rich final course.
Average Price: $130
42. Isle of Raasay Hebridean Single Malt
We like to think that somewhere on Scotland’s Manhattan-sized Isle of Raasey there’s a plaque that reads “Population: ~160 humans and 1 world-class distillery,” because this is an exceptional Scotch with remarkable origins. Peated and unpeated malt are included in the mash bill, resulting in a tropical, fruity whisky that waves you off with a whisper of BBQ smoke.
Average Price: $77
41. Volcán de Mi Tierra Blanco
The $50-ish price point is an increasingly competitive field on the high-quality blanco front, but if you’re in the market, keep Volcán de Mi Tierra in mind. Certified additive-free and made using a blend of highland and lowland agave, this blanco begins with peppery, herbaceous aromas and transitions to a fruity, silky palate.
Average Price: $55
40. Mars The Lucky Cat May & Luna
You don’t need to be a cat lover to appreciate this fine blended Japanese whisky, but if there’s one in your orbit, it’s a fantastic gift. The profile is punchy and tart — especially for an 86 proof bottling — and a surprise burst of peat serves to elevate electric citrus notes.
Average Price: $95
39. Bombay Sapphire Premier Cru
Bombay Sapphire played a large role in taking London Dry gin mainstream by dialing down the juniper and amping up clean, fresh botanicals through vapor infusion. This recent line extension takes that approach to another level, placing even more focus on Murcian lemons, mandarins, and sweet navel oranges. Mix up a dry Martini and you won’t even need a twist garnish.
Average Price: $35
38. Tanqueray London Dry Gin
Poll bartenders and cocktail enthusiasts on their favorite London Dry gin and three names consistently come up: Fords, Beefeater, and Tanqueray. We’ve long been fans of the first of that trio, though it’s the hardest to consistently find. Beefeater, meanwhile, has upset enthusiasts with multiple recent cuts to the ABV content of its U.S. release. Which leaves us with Tanqueray, a stunningly consistent, high-quality London Dry that epitomizes the style and serves up change from three 10s basically everywhere in the country but New York City.
Average Price: $26
37. West Cork Distillers Single Malt Irish Whiskey Bog Oak Charred Cask
We didn’t have the words “Bog Oak” on our bingo card for best spirits of the year but we’re happy to overlook the peculiar phrasing for this whiskey, especially after learning its definition. Wood for the casks in which it rested were buried and preserved in peat bogs, making this a bonafide bog-to-glass release that serves a bedazzling mix of oxidative, sour apple, and honeysuckle notes.
Average Price: $46
36. Sagamore Spirit Amaro
Made from the same 95 percent rye distillate that Sagamore uses for its rye whiskey, this is an expressive and balanced American amaro that evolves from nose to finish. It opens with violet floral aromas, transitions to sweet baking spice at first sip, before bitterness arrives on the mid-palate. The finish showcases a well-balanced blend of each aspect.
Average Price: $30
35. Distillerie Patrick St. Surin Rum Clairin
Mezcal drinker, meet clairin! We have a feeling you’re going to get along famously (if you’re not already acquainted). Either way, this mineral, grassy, enjoyably rounded cane juice–based distillate from Distillerie Patrick St. Surin should be the latest addition to the clear sipping spirits section of your collection.
Average Price: $40
34. Cinco Sentidos Espadín Capón Alberto Martinez
The “capón” technique referenced in this spirit’s name sees growers remove the sprouted stalks (quiotes) from agave, then leave the plants in the ground for extended periods to enhance sugar concentration. The wait is certainly worth it for this bright, fruity spirit, which shatters any notion that Espadín is a characterless, “workhorse” agave variety.
Average Price: $121
33. Frey Ranch Quad Malt Bourbon
A limited release from VinePair 2023 Next Wave winner Frey Ranch, Quad Malt showcases the same mash bill as the distillery’s standard bourbon, but all four grains (corn, winter wheat, winter rye, and two-row barley) were malted prior to fermentation. The process brings an increased perception of sweetness (emphasis on “perception”) and nuance to the nose and palate of an already stellar bourbon. Here’s hoping this one returns in 2024.
Average Price: $59
32. Naud Cognac V.S.
At the V.S. level, Cognac can be fun and fruity, as proven by this tropical, floral release. It awaits with endless depth of flavor and a velvety texture that greets the palate with a warm embrace. Not only apt for sipping, mix with fizzy water for a classy highball when session drinks are on the agenda.
Average Price: $50
31. Tso’Ok Rum
The cream of an exciting crop of Mexican — and Oaxacan, in particular — rums we sampled in 2023, this cane juice–based distillate is fermented in contact with crushed stalks using native yeasts. Personality-wise, it shares much in common with the spirits the region is better known for: It’s complex, funky, and, yes, challenging at first, but it leans into that profile and owns it like a badge of honor.
Average Price: $58
30. Cambio Tequila Blanco
Prejudging spirits based on numerical values is reductive and often misleading. That said, any tequila bottled above the U.S. market standard of 40 percent ABV should pique your interest. This 92 proof blanco serves confirmation, along with some of the purest expressions of wild flowers, tropical fruits, and savory spices in the category. One more figure to note: 45 — the number of days this blanco spent in barrel, which is technically allowed but seldom practiced.
Average Price: $50
29. Torabhaig Allt Gleann Batch Strength
If you’re the kind of Scotch drinker who likes knowing details such as the parts per million of peat in both the base grains and final spirit, as well the cask fill strength, Torabhaig Allt Gleann Batch Strength has you covered. Its peated profile, which drives the whisky, leans earthy and green, while the 61.1 percent ABV bottling strength is surprisingly welcoming.
Average Price: $90
28. Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Bourbon Batch C923
The third and final release in the 2023 Elijah Craig Barrel Proof line arrives at 13 years and 7 months, a fact we know after Heaven Hill’s (conversation-starting, if not controversial) decision to drop the standard 12-year labeling statement for the series. Character-wise, this bourbon heads deep into caramel, oak, and black pepper spice territory, with citrus fruit a distant afterthought. If that’s your jam, keep a dropper handy because C923 arrives at a whopping 66.5 percent ABV.
Average Price: $75
27. Arbikie Nàdar Vodka
Scotland’s Arbikie distillery makes a range of quirky, environmentally friendly spirits, including this pea-based, climate-positive vodka. Green doesn’t just describe its sustainable credentials, but captures its savory aromas and flavors, which ultimately pose the question of whether this is a vodka or pea eau de vie. Semantics aside, this is a fun and intriguing spirit.
Average Price: $50
26. Edénico Eau de Vie #4 Mango
Oaxacan mezcaleros claim that growing mango and other tropical fruits close to fermentation vessels influences the flavor profile of their spirits (in the best possible way). Thankfully, many also use the fruit to make sublime eaux de vie, such as this example from the Sierra Norte region. If you’ve dreamed of but never tried a mango distillate, this will exceed your wildest expectations, with transportive, tropical aromas and an elegant palate.
Average Price: $102
25. Nikka Yoichi Single Malt 10-Year-Old
Nikka released a limited batch of this 10-year-old single malt this year, almost a decade after removing age statements from the line. A beautifully expressive Japanese whisky, it opens with a burst of malt, earth, and green fruit aromas. Peated flavors drive the palate with dried fruits and charred wood rounding things out. Even at MSRP it’s slightly pricey for a 10-year whisky, but the release marks a milestone.
Average Price: $175
24. Baies des Trésors Rhum Agricole Martinique ‘Fruits of the Rains’
Baies des Trésors produces single-plot agricole rhums with the goal of capturing the unique terroirs of different parts of Martinique. As mentioned in its name, this expression highlights cane grown on rainy slopes of the island, which translates to intense aromas of ripe stone fruits, and just a hint of funk. French oak aging brings a nice kiss of vanilla to the palate.
Average Price: $65
23. Amatiteña Añejo Tequila
Though it has a rich amber hue, Amatiteña’s añejo is not dominated by oak or notes from maturation. Instead, lime verbena and jalapeño aromas kick off a delightfully savory nose, while cooked agave, chili salt, and just a drop of baking spices enjoy equal prominence on the palate. This is exactly what we’re looking for in an aged tequila.
Average Price: $106
22. A Midwinter Night’s Dram Act 11
Act 10 proved to be somewhat polarizing among fans of High West’s annual “A Midwinter Night’s Dram” series, but Act 11 is much more likely to please purists and regular drinkers of the tawny- and ruby-port-cask-finished line. Poached pear, dark berries, and plum notes play in tandem with the bite of rye,and sweet baking spices. The whiskey transitions and evolves on the palate with prominent flavors from the finishing casks.
Average Price: $150
21. Tulchan Gin London Dry
This Scottish gin is distilled in copper pots using a mix of traditional and uncommon botanicals, including elderflower, sloe berries, and blackberry leaves. Profile-wise, the gin remains in the realm of London Dry, but those distinct ingredients ensure it has a unique and memorable personality.
Average Price: $40
20. Rhumb Runner Fernandes Trinidad 18 Year Old Rum
For years, many have hyped aged rum as the “next big thing,” and certain brands have been dubbed the “Pappy” of the category. We’re yet to see that play out from a sales perspective but this single-barrel, cask-strength, 18-year release will certainly please American whiskey drinkers. Notes of banana, passion fruit, guava, and mango form the foundation of its fruity core, while subtle spices, pepper, and licorice bring balance.
Average Price: $140
19. Jack Daniel’s Bonded Rye
A new, permanent addition to Jack Daniel’s Bonded Series, the first run of this rye was distilled in Spring 2016, and almost all of the batch spent a reported seven years in barrel. Like everything the brand has introduced in recent years, this whiskey is a resounding success, offering bold, earthy rye spice notes and decadent baking spice sweetness. The price places it ideally for cocktails but don’t rule it out as a sipper.
Average Price: $32
18. Elements of Islay Sherry Cask
Released by an independent bottler, this blend of malt whiskies from undisclosed Islay distilleries matured in first-fill and refill sherry butts and hogsheads, and arrives at a bold 54.5 percent ABV. It’s a winning combination that seeks not to mask the influence of peat but complements it with rich notes of stewed fruit compote, winter spices, and decadent toffee sweetness. You don’t need to be a peat head to appreciate this whisky.
Average Price: $110
17. Chacolo Brocha Destilado de Agave
Another agave spirit made using the capón technique, this release arrives from Jalisco and was made using hands-on, traditional methods, and the Brocha agave variety, which is a relative of Espadín. Mint aromas leap out of the glass and kick off an enchanting tasting journey with stops at savory spice, earth, leather, and smoke.
Average Price: $128
16. François Voyer Extra Cognac Grande Champagne
This “Extra Cognac” from François Voyer contains a blend of 20- to 45-year-old distillates made using premier cru–grown Grande Champagne Ugni Blanc grapes. With such a lengthy aging time, you might expect the fruit character to land on the dried, raisinated end of the flavor spectrum but it’s instead tropical and bright, with hints of flowers and subtle baking spices. Gift this to a very special person in your life (that person can be you).
Average Price: $220
15. Tequila Ocho Puntas 2023
Much more common in mezcal than tequila, “puntas” releases include the very end of the heads and the beginning of the heart of the spirit as it comes off the still. This is the second such example from Tequila Ocho, bottled at a punchy 53 percent ABV, with just over 1,000 cases making their way to the U.S. Snag a bottle and you’ll delight in its grassy, herbaceous aromas, black pepper spice, and deep agave sweetness on the palate. The texture is weighty, though not quite as creamy as Oaxacan-made puntas.
Average Price: $75
14. Parker’s Heritage 10 Year Cask Strength
Heaven Hill’s 2023 Parker’s Heritage 10 Year Rye is produced from a Kentucky-style mash bill of 51 percent rye, 35 percent corn, and 14 percent malted barley. It comes out swinging at 64.4 percent ABV, and sipped neat, it lands a one-two punch of spice and sweetness. Things really come to life with a few drops of water, which coax out complex fruitiness.
Average Price: $185
13. George Dickel 17 Year Old Reserve
For a cask-strength release, this 17-year-old Tennessee whisky arrives at a tame 46 percent ABV, which is something of a breath of fresh air amid a sea of hazmat bottlings. While $250 isn’t pocket change, that feels like good value in the current American whiskey landscape, and bottles remain on shelves for (around) that price. That reality seems ludicrous when you taste the release, which is woody, fruity, and nutty, with an abundance of complexity and no imposing heat to overcome.
Average Price: $250
12. The Glen Grant Aged 21 Years 2022 Release
Aged in ex-oloroso sherry and bourbon casks, this 21-year-old single malt Scotch clocks in at 46 percent ABV, which is a couple of points higher than similarly aged releases from rival distilleries. Opting not to stretch stocks too far by over-diluting benefits the drinker, and results in a wonderfully concentrated Scotch that sings with bright tropical and stone fruit notes, toffee sweetness, and decadent oak.
Average Price: $360
11. Maker’s Mark Cellar Aged
There’s a fun irony to the fact that Maker’s Mark’s long-awaited, first age-stated release arrived without an age statement (on its understated label, at least). The brand did disclose, however, that the debut contains a blend of 11-year (13 percent) and 12-year (87 percent) bourbon, which is bottled at 57.85 percent ABV. The profile is fruity, with classic wheat sweetness, but there’s also no lack of spice. Some drinkers may want to add a few drops of water, which brings out even more character, while others will find the 115-odd proof manageable. One thing that all can agree on: Maker’s Mark Cellar Aged is an instant classic.
Average Price: $150
10. Primo 1861 Blanco
Seventy dollars is a lot of money to spend on a blanco tequila, especially when most drinkers continue to think of it as a mixing rather than sipping spirit. This release should definitely be viewed as the latter, however, as that’s the only way to fully appreciate its expressive fruity, peppery character. Small details also set it apart, including the bottling strength of 43 percent ABV and bottle design, which allows for controlled pouring (directly into a tasting glass).
Average Price: $70
9. Through the Grapevine Trijol Single Cask 2003
Through the Grapevine is a small-batch and single-barrel independent bottling range from La Maison du Whisky. This exceptional release was sourced from grower-producer Maxime Trijol, which is located in the Fin Bois region of Cognac. Delightfully fruity, its aromas dart from baked apples to tart plums and white flowers. Oak takes a back seat throughout, allowing the quality base product and adept production techniques to shine.
Average Price: $160
8. Sông Cái Việt Nam Dry Gin
Beyond the juniper, which arrives from Macedonia, all of the botanicals in this Vietnamese gin are domestically grown and sourced via a partnership between the Sông Cái distillery and various highland communities. The use of ingredients such as Indian prickly ash and mác mật fruit leads to a citrusy, botanical, and spicy gin. Rather than being a grand departure from London Dry (turn to the brand’s Floral Gin for that), this is an evolution of the traditional gin profile that doesn’t feel out of place in classic cocktails.
Average Price: $35
7. High N’ Wicked ‘Saints And Scholars II’ 19 Year Old Single Malt
The fifth release in High N’ Wicked’s Singular Limited Release line arrived in October 2022, and comprised five barrels of Irish whiskey distilled and selected by celebrated distiller Noel Sweeney. Bottled at cask strength without chill filtration, it is a deep and complex single malt that serves bright helpings of mango and pineapple. Sweet notes take the form of light brown sugar, while the finish is chocolaty and lengthy. There may still be a few bottles of this in the wild. If not, High N’ Wicked released ‘Saints And Scholars III’ in December 2023, which followed a very similar template but arrived with one extra year in cask.
Average Price: $500
6. Little Book Chapter 7: In Retrospect
This year’s edition of Freddie Noe’s experimental Little Book line contains a dizzying blend of seven whiskeys (six of which hail from Kentucky) at a range of ages from 4 to 18 years old. All the Beam hallmarks are present on nose and palate, including mesquite wood smoke aromas and creamy peanut butter flavors. Fruit notes add layers, and the whiskey (and your palate) absolutely benefits from a few drops of water. Chapter 7 marks a triumphant return to form for a range that’s divided opinions in recent years but never been afraid to push boundaries.
Average Price: $150
5. Legendario Domingo Oaxaca Espadín
Made by the Velasco family in the Oaxacan village of San Luis del Rio, this is a stunning representation of the true potential of Espadín. It immediately wins you over with attractive tropical and cooked citrus notes, followed by saline mineral scents, and just a suggestion of smoke. At 48 percent ABV, it doesn’t hit the palate too hot. What that strength does do, though, is provide a weighty texture and intense concentration of flavor. Fruity, approachable, but not lacking in nuance, this is a guaranteed crowd pleaser at a very reasonable price.
Average Price: $48
4. Glenglassaugh Sandend Highland Single Malt
Glenglassaugh is the least-known of Brown-Forman’s three Scotch brands. That may be a result of repeated tinkering to expressions and packaging since the company scooped it up in 2016; or that lack of mainstream recognition could be what’s allowed the distillery to be experimental in recent years. Either way, there’s an impression that Glenglassaugh is the brand that master blender Dr. Rachel Barrie gets to have the most fun with, and releases like this non-age-statement coastal Highland single malt suggest she should keep doing just that. Bottled at 50.5 percent ABV, it dances between caramel and butterscotch notes and vibrant tropical fruits. A touch of salinity rounds out the palate, which culminates in a punchy finish.
Average Price: $70
3. Four Roses Bourbon 135th Anniversary Limited Edition Small Batch
We’re going to be upfront with some bad news here: Most of Four Roses’ 135th Anniversary Limited Edition Small Batch was released via an online lottery system, with winners announced back in September. And that which made it to the retail market has likely either sold now or received a considerable markup. The latter isn’t the fault of the distillery, however, nor should this reality stop us from honoring such a remarkable bourbon. So here we go: This blend contains four components drawn from the distillery’s 10 recipes, and ranging in age from 12 to 25 years old. It’s a whiskey that manages to deliver both depth and brightness, serving bold, aged flavors followed by delicate sweetness. If any of your friends scored a bottle, we suggest being very kind to them. And if you happened to grab one, spread the love and share with fellow enthusiasts.
Average Price: $200
2. Appleton Estate 21 Year Old Nassau Valley Casks
A blend of pot and column still rums aged for a minimum of 21 years in Jamaica’s lush Nassau Valley, this spirit delivers on every front. The bottling strength of 43 percent ABV and underrated nature of the nation’s signature “hogo” notes give it broad appeal from the get-go. The profile is sweet and dry, fruity and savory, and it pulls no punches on the finish. It’s widely available at — and occasionally below, but never too far above — the MSRP of $150. And speaking of that price: It feels very fair for any 21-year-old spirit, let alone one that experienced the tropical aging conditions of the Caribbean. If you’re looking to step outside of a whiskey-drinking comfort zone, or want to taste pound for pound one of the best value buys in all aged spirits, this rum is for you.
Average Price: $150
1. Eagle Rare 17 Year Old Bourbon
What a year it’s been for Eagle Rare. The brand stunned collectors and wowed reviewers when it released an ultra-exclusive, $10,000, 25-year-old bourbon. But the expression that left an even bigger impression and lasted longer in our minds was the Eagle Rare 17 bottling from the 2023 Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (BTAC).
It’s not unfair to note that those lucky enough to taste annual BTAC lineups seldom pick Eagle Rare 17 as their favorite from the year (that honor is often reserved for George T. Stagg and William Larue Weller), which made the quality of 2023’s release all the more unexpected and exciting.
If Eagle Rare 10 remains one of the best consistently available and affordable bourbons on the market, then Eagle Rare 17 represents an older, more complex sibling. It’s bottled at 19 years and 3 months — the oldest release in the line’s history as part of the Antique Collection — and 50.5 percent ABV. It delivers beautiful balance of fruit and wood tannins, peppery complexity, and seemingly endless depth. This release confirms that 2023 truly was the year of Eagle Rare.
Average Price: $125