For a spirit so dependent on extended aging periods, it’s remarkable how much the whiskey landscape can change over the course of just one year. Legacy producers continually introduce new limited and permanent expressions, while innovations arrive in myriad forms ranging from cask finishes to hyper-specific aging conditions.
At VinePair, we cover such developments over the course of any given year, both via news and feature articles, as well as dedicated buying guides. But selecting one standout bottle from every sub-category of whiskey at the beginning of each year offers a unique snapshot into what wowed us over the last 12 months.
Before we dive into those picks, a few notes on how we compiled this list, especially given the sheer subjectivity of the notion of “best” when it comes to alcoholic beverages.
For the regular categories — bourbon, rye, single malt, etc. — we’re showcasing products that deliver on every front, from character and concentration, to balance, availability, and value. These may not be the absolute best of the best in their respective styles, nor did they necessarily debut within the last year. They are instead bottles we’re confident drinkers across the country should be able to find with relative ease, at which point we wouldn’t hesitate to recommend buying them. For those seeking the absolute crème de la crème, we have you covered toward the end of this list with our splurge and limited-edition recommendations.
From single malt to single barrel, barrel proof to cask finished, these are the best whiskeys to drink in 2024.
The World’s Best Whiskey
- Best Bourbon: Wilderness Trail Small Batch High Rye Bourbon
- Honorable Mention: Maker’s Mark Cellar Aged
- Best Rye: Jack Daniel’s Bonded Rye
- Honorable Mention: George Dickel x Leopold Bros. Collaboration Blend
- Best Single Malt Scotch: Glenglassaugh Sandend Highland Single Malt
- Honorable Mention: Lagavulin Islay Single Malt 16 Years
- Best Blended Scotch: Maclean’s Nose Blended Scotch Whisky
- Honorable Mention: Johnnie Walker High Rye
- Best Irish Whiskey: Teeling Small Batch Irish Whiskey
- Best Canadian Whisky: Alberta Premium Cask Strength Rye
- Best Japanese Whisky: Mars ‘The Lucky Cat May & Luna’
- Best ‘New World’ Whiskey: Indri Single Malt Indian Whisky
- Best Peated Scotch: Elements of Islay Sherry Cask
- Best Single Barrel Whiskey: Baker’s 13 Year Old Single Barrel Bourbon (2023)
- Best Barrel-Proof Whiskey: Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Bourbon Batch C923
- Best Cask Finished Whiskey: Hinterhaus Distilling Trapper’s Oath 18 Year Rye
- Best Budget Whiskey: Compass Box Artist Blend Scotch Whisky
- Best Splurge Whiskey: Michter’s 25 Year Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon (2023)
- Best Limited-Edition Whiskeys: Russell’s Reserve Single Rickhouse Camp Nelson F Bourbon; Eagle Rare 17-Year-Old Bourbon (2023); Four Roses 135th Anniversary Limited Edition Small Batch; High N’ Wicked ‘Saints And Scholars II’ 19 Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey
Best Bourbon: Wilderness Trail Small Batch High Rye Bourbon
It’s been a big few years for Kentucky’s Wilderness Trail. The longtime craft whiskey drinkers’ darling (and VinePair Next Wave Award winner, 2021) celebrated its 10th anniversary in late 2023, one year after Gruppo Campari acquired a 70 percent stake in the distillery for a reported $420 million. In the long run, the deal should only increase the availability of this excellent-value, high-quality bourbon, which delivers more character and nuance than almost every competitor sold at a similar price and produced at comparable scale. During a time of over-pricing and unwarranted hype, this is a staple bourbon, equally adept for sipping occasions and mixing in cocktails.
Average price: $57
Honorable Mention: Maker’s Mark Cellar Aged
The first-ever age-stated Maker’s Mark launched to much fanfare last year, and quickly became one of the most coveted bottles among whiskey hunters. With good reason: The oldest Maker’s release on record took the distillery’s signature wheated profile to complex new heights.
Best Rye: Jack Daniel’s Bonded Rye
If you’d predicted even just a few years ago that Jack Daniel’s would be responsible for some of the most exciting, experimental releases on the American whiskey market, many would have laughed at you. But innovate the company has, and perhaps even more exciting than its hazmat releases and left-field mash bills was the summer 2023 addition of this bold, earthy rye to its Bonded Series lineup. This is a decadent whiskey, with more age than legally required (around 7 years) and at a price point that’s incredibly hard to compete with.
Average price: $38
Honorable Mention: George Dickel x Leopold Bros. Collaboration Blend
This collaboration blends column-distilled Dickel rye with Leopold Bros. signature “Three Chamber” distillate. Its profile is floral and herbaceous, with the signature spice of the base grain.
Best Single Malt Scotch: Glenglassaugh Sandend Highland Single Malt
A Highland single malt with attractive maritime influence, Glenglassaugh wowed us (and the general whiskey-drinking community) with its revamped packaging and this stunning release last year. It’s bottled at 50.5 percent ABV (an outlier in Scotch) without an age statement (similarly atypical for single malts), and oozes tropical fruitiness and butterscotch sweet notes. There are no gimmicks or trendy techniques at play here, just fine single malt whisky.
Average price: $70
Honorable Mention: Lagavulin Islay Single Malt 16 Years
Equally worthy of recognition in the peated category, Lagavulin 16 is an iconic smoky Scotch — one we return to time and time again when we’re in the mood for malt whisky but want the added layers of BBQ, earth, and salty seawater.
Best Blended Scotch: Maclean’s Nose Blended Scotch Whisky
This non-chill-filtered blend of malt (70 percent) and grain (30 percent) whiskies could easily have been crowned this year’s best budget (or even bargain) expression. It offers vibrant citrus notes, sprays of salinity, and honeyed sweetness; it was named in honor of both the famed whisky writer Charles Maclean and a natural landmark that happens to be located close to the Ardnamurchan distillery with which he collaborated on the release (along with independent bottler Adelphi).
Average price: $37
Honorable Mention: Johnnie Walker High Rye
Innovation is alive and well in Scotland, as this bottle from the world’s largest Scotch producer proves. A blend of 60 percent rye and 40 percent single malt, it has one foot on both sides of the Atlantic, invoking the richness and spicy bite of American rye, and malty sweetness of Scotch. We love it in cocktails.
Best Irish Whiskey: Teeling Small Batch Irish Whiskey
This blended, small batch Irish whiskey spends up to six years aging in used bourbon barrels, before a final six-month period in Central American rum casks. The maturation process has a pronounced impact on its profile, adding heady scents of caramel that give way to charred oak and molasses. Thankfully, oak doesn’t drown out the sweet and spicy character of the base spirit on the palate, and instead only adds to the overall experience.
Average price: $42
Best Canadian Whisky: Alberta Premium Cask Strength Rye
While a little pricier than some of the inclusions up to this point, Canadian whisky continues to represent a subcategory where some of the biggest bargains can be found. Such is the case here, especially if you’re willing to ignore the lack of age statement, which we implore you do. Bottled at a bold 63.5 percent ABV, and produced using 100 percent unmalted rye, proprietary enzymes, and an innovative fermentation process, Alberta Premium is at once both familiar and unique within the rye space — melding intense tart berries with oak sweetness and complexity.
Average price: $85
Best Japanese Whisky: Mars ‘The Lucky Cat May & Luna’
Named after the felines that call Mars’s Shinshu distillery home (and that are also depicted on the bottle label), this blend of malt and grain whiskies is matured in ex-bourbon, sherry, new American oak, and Sakura casks. If that sounds like there’s a lot going on, well… there is. But the final blend is harmonious and distinctive, with punchy, tart aromas of green apple and salty seaweed, before an unexpected pleasant burst of peat and smoke arrives on the palate.
Average price: $95
Best ‘New World’ Whiskey: Indri Single Malt Indian Whisky
It’s a story that will likely only gain prominence over the coming years: India’s importance, not only as a major world consumer of whiskey, but as a producer of high-quality examples sold domestically and internationally. Based in Haryana in northern India, Indri offers one of the most enjoyable entrants to the category we’ve tasted in recent years. Triple-cask aging in bourbon, wine, and Pedro Ximenez sherry barrels, has a pronounced role in defining this single malt’s profile, which jumps from booze-soaked raisins to tropical fruit and caramel.
Average price: $60
Best Peated Scotch: Elements of Islay Sherry Cask
A blend of malt whiskies from non-disclosed distilleries on Islay — considered the spiritual home of peated whisky — this release serves an ideal balance of smoky and sweet flavors. BBQ notes intertwine with a medley of stewed fruits, winter spices, and toffee — a mix that promises to please regular peat drinkers as well as calm any fears skeptics have that the style starts and ends with smoke. At 54.5 percent ABV, the proof lends itself to seasoned American whiskey drinkers.
Average price: $110
Best Single Barrel Whiskey: Baker’s 13 Year Old Single Barrel Bourbon (2023)
Baker’s limited 13-year-old single barrel release returned in 2023 following a four-year hiatus. It did so to somewhat limited fanfare, an indication of the brand’s modest standing within parent company Jim Beam’s Small Batch lineup. All of which spells good news for whiskey hunters looking for something unexpected to share with friends. While each single-barrel batch will vary from one to the next, the sample we enjoyed opened with expressive fruity notes before delivering the textbook bourbon playbook of oak, sweetness, and just a hint of rye spice. It may raise an eyebrow if and when you pull it out at a bottle share. A smile is almost certain to follow.
Average price: $130
Best Barrel-Proof Whiskey: Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Bourbon Batch C923
The third and final 2023 release of Heaven Hill’s Elijah Craig Barrel Proof series, Batch C923 was the second to arrive after the distillery introduced specific year and month age statements to the line. In this case, the numbers were a whopping 13 years and 7 months old — and that’s just of the youngest whiskey in the blend. The robust profile, with intense oaky, leathery, and woody notes, lived up to the lofty expectations of the series and quickly became a fan favorite. That reputation may have seen its price creep up a little above MSRP (listed below) but it’s still a great buy.
Average price: $75
Best Cask Finished Whiskey: Hinterhaus Distilling Trapper’s Oath 18 Year Rye
So common have the sherry and sweet wine cask-finished expressions become on the international whiskey landscape that anything outside that realm instantly piques our interest (not that there’s anything wrong with the aforementioned styles). Seldom, however, do we encounter 18-year-old distillate finished in stout casks. The profile is atypical but the result is a resounding success — sweet, almost bubblegum cherry from the rye mingling with toasted bread and oatmeal-like creaminess.
Average price: $130
Best Budget Whiskey: Compass Box Artist Blend Scotch Whisky
Just as our previously listed Best Blended Scotch could have appeared in this category, so, too, could Compass Box’s Artist Blend have taken the title of the best blend. Aged in ex-bourbon barrels, French oak casks, and Palo Cortado-seasoned sherry butts, and bottled without chill-filtration, this Scotch packs a stone fruit punch and holds its own when mixed in cocktails or sipped on ice. With good reason it’s become a favorite in the bartending community.
Average price: $36
Best Splurge Whiskey: Michter’s 25 Year Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon (2023)
Admittedly, we’re pushing the very limits of the term “splurge” by suggesting a four-figure bottle. But there are plenty of exceptional three-figure releases still to come on this list and this particular limited-production release is too good not to highlight. It ranks among the richest, most flavorful American whiskey releases we’ve had the pleasure of tasting in recent years. And this is no mean feat, considering bourbon often becomes tired and lifeless after it hits 20 years old, let alone a quarter century. If you have the fortune to sample or even afford a full bottle, expect the dizzying array of aromas and flavors the price commands, and a lengthy, ever-evolving finish.
Average price: $1,500
Best Limited-Edition Whiskeys:
Russell’s Reserve Single Rickhouse Camp Nelson F Bourbon (2023)
Russell’s Reserve launched its single rickhouse limited series (batched bourbon, sourced from a single aging warehouse) in 2022. The second installment of that hyper-focused line, this expression is bottled without an age statement at a barrel proof 58.8 percent ABV. It carries all the Wild Turkey hallmarks — notes of cherry, cloves, and sweet caramel — but simultaneously darts off in unexpected directions. The palate and finish are punchy and prolonged, cementing this line’s merited ascending status.
Average price: $300
Eagle Rare 17-Year-Old Bourbon (2023)
As with all the whiskeys listed in this limited-edition section, the price here (based off MSRP) should be taken with a pinch of salt, not least because this bottle exists as part of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection. Seldom does Eagle Rare 17 rank as the best in that lineup, however, let alone among the best spirits of the year. But this proved to be the case for VinePair tasters sampling the 2023 edition of this release. Our No. 1 spirit of last year, this is a balanced, bold, and complex bourbon worth hunting for.
Average price: $125
Four Roses 135th Anniversary Limited Edition Small Batch
Four Roses marked its 135th anniversary with a truly special release last year, comprising four different base bourbons ranging in age from 12 to 25 years old. Some 15,000 bottles went to market in September — the majority of which landed directly in consumers’ hands via an online lottery system, meaning that this is another bottle requiring some searching. What awaits, however, is one of the distillery’s finest limited-edition releases to date, exhibiting depth, brightness, and nuance in stunning harmony.
Average price: $200
High N’ Wicked ‘Saints And Scholars II’ 19 Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey
The second iteration of High N’ Wicked’s “Saints And Scholars” limited line included just five single casks pulled from the personal collection of celebrated distiller Noel Sweeney. It’s a single malt for those who like their whiskey to mature into tropical rather than overly dried fruit territory, with pineapple and mango notes defining its nose, and chocolate, oaky sweetness and complexity joining on the palate.
Average price: $500
What is the smoothest whiskey?
Wheated bourbons are typically considered to be the smoothest, most easy-drinking whiskeys on the market. Some popular examples include Maker’s Mark and, the ultimate unicorn, Pappy Van Winkle.
What is the best whiskey?
Based on tastings of hundreds of whiskeys from around the world this year, the best bourbon is Wilderness Trail Small Batch High Rye Bourbon. The best rye is Jack Daniel’s Bonded Rye. The best single malt Scotch is Glenglassaugh Sandend Highland Single Malt Whisky. The best Irish whiskey is Teeling Small Batch Irish Whiskey. The best Japanese whisky is Mars ‘The Lucky Cat May & Luna.’ The best Canadian whisky is Alberta Premium Cask Strength Rye.
VinePair’s Tasting Methodology
Throughout the year, VinePair conducts numerous tastings for our popular Buy This Booze column and wine and spirits reviews. Our mission is to provide a clear, reliable source of information for drinkers, providing an overview applicable to day-to-day buying and drinking.
Tastings are not typically conducted blind. In alignment with our reviews mission, we believe in purposefully tasting all products as our readers typically would, with full knowledge of the producer, the region, and — importantly — the price.
For Buy This Booze roundups, we typically include a maximum of one expression per brand, though we do allow multiple products from the same production facility (i.e., released under different labels).
For this roundup, we considered a number of different factors before finalizing the list. Our aim was to provide a comprehensive picture of the myriad styles and expressions that make up the broader whiskey category. And ultimately, we wanted to highlight the bottles we’d reach for given the chance of choosing any — but only one — in each of the respective subcategories. We are confident that every product that made this final ranking delivers on flavor, balance, depth, and complexity for each of their respective price points.