From the simple combination of grain, water, and yeast, distillers yield a stunningly complex array of spirits. We’re talking, of course, about the world of whiskey. And it is a veritable planet, with single nations producing myriad styles, and distillers planting flags in each of the metaphorical corners of the globe.
While it’s hard, if not impossible, to reduce each style and nation down to one definitive example, certain bottles serve as shining ambassadors for their categories. Catering to every budget, palate, and drinking occasion, here are the best whiskeys to drink in 2023.
The World’s Best Whiskey
- Best Bourbon: Knob Creek 12 Year Old Bourbon
- Best Rye: Frey Ranch Straight Rye Whiskey
- Best Single Malt Scotch: The Glen Grant 15 Year Old
- Best Blended Scotch: Johnnie Walker 18 Year Old Blended Scotch Whisky
- Best Irish Whiskey: Green Spot Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey
- Best Canadian Whisky: Crown Royal Noble Collection Rye Aged 16 Years
- Best Japanese Whisky: The Hakushu Single Malt Japanese Whisky Aged 12 Years
- Best ‘New World’ Whiskey: Stauning Floor Malted Rye Whisky
- Best Peated Scotch: Kilchoman Distillery Machir Bay Islay Single Malt Whiskey
- Best Single Barrel Whiskey: 1792 Single Barrel Bourbon
- Best Barrel-Proof Whiskey: Elijah Craig Small Batch Barrel Proof Bourbon
- Best Cask Finished Whiskey: Arran Single Malt Sauternes Cask Finish
- Best Budget Whiskey: Larceny Kentucky Straight Very Small Batch Bourbon Whiskey
- Best Splurge Whiskey: The Macallan Double Cask 18 Years Old
- Best Limited-Edition Whiskey: Maker’s Mark Wood Finishing Series Bourbon
Best Bourbon: Knob Creek 12 Year Old Bourbon
With an average price of close to $70, this release doesn’t qualify as an everyday sipper for most drinkers. Yet so enticing and characterful is its profile that you might struggle to reach for anything else in your bourbon collection after buying a bottle. At 12 years old and 50 percent ABV, it finds a powerful yet balanced sweet spot, overdelivering on age and quality compared with similarly priced bottles (as well as many that fetch more money and garner more attention).
Average price: $68
Best Rye: Frey Ranch Straight Rye Whiskey
These are exciting times for rye whiskey, especially among the nation’s smaller-scale producers. Among them all — large and small — none capture the spicy, savory, herbaceous essence of the grain in distilled form as purely and attractively as Nevada’s Frey Ranch Distillery. A bonafide grain-to-glass release, this producer grows all of the winter cereal used in this 100 percent rye whiskey, and the finished product is undeniably worth the effort.
Average price: $66
Best Single Malt Scotch: The Glen Grant 15 Year Old
For this single malt, age is but a number. Despite its 15-year age statement, its floral and citrus-forward aromas give the Scotch a youthful profile. Add to that sweet undertones of cake batter, and the result is a rounded, balanced sip that’s lively but — with a restrained alcohol content — not too hot on the palate.
Average price: $93
Best Blended Scotch: Johnnie Walker 18 Year Old Blended Scotch Whisky
As the second child in the Johnnie Walker family, many might look past this 18-year-old release in favor of the brand’s iconic Blue Label bottling. Where value for money is concerned, this could be considered a mistake. With an average price of around half its elder sibling’s, this expression comes exceedingly close in terms of quality, complexity, and depth of flavor, delivering a greatest hits of the many styles of Scotch in one harmonious blend.
Average price: $91
Best Irish Whiskey: Green Spot Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey
Ireland’s native single pot still style offers a unique experience within the whiskey world, delivering rich, cereal-forward sips with complex texture. Made using a blend of 7- and 10-year-old distillates, Green Spot is a shining example of the style, captivating the senses with oaty, dried fruit aromas, rich banana notes, and playful tannic spice on the palate.
Average price: $64
Best Canadian Whisky: Crown Royal Noble Collection Rye Aged 16 Years
While age statements neither equate to nor guarantee quality, it’s worth stating how remarkable it is that this 16-year-old release carries an average price of just $76. Though admittedly still not cheap, the extensive time in barrel has produced a dazzling array of aromas and flavors, ranging from kettle corn and violets to sweet pepper spice and toasted oak.
Average price: $76
Best Japanese Whisky: The Hakushu Single Malt Japanese Whisky Aged 12 Years
The youngest and most available expression from Suntory’s Hakushu line, this release still arrives with a hefty price tag — but such is the nature of shopping for high-quality Japanese whisky. Stump up for a bottle and rest assured that the liquid inside will deliver considerable consolation. Delicately peated, this single malt serves tantalizing smokiness that weaves wonderfully among savory notes of herbal green tea. Orchard and stone fruit provide a robust, attractive, fruity core.
Average price: $204
Best ‘New World’ Whiskey: Stauning Floor Malted Rye Whisky
Made to the same specifications as American rye whiskey, Stauning uses locally sourced grains, floor malting, and pot distillation for this remarkable Danish release. Stylistically, its profile mimics Nordic cuisine, with notes of caraway seeds defining its personality-rich nose and palate. Bottled at 3 years old, it delivers complexity well beyond its age.
Average price: $80
Best Peated Scotch: Kilchoman Distillery Machir Bay Islay Single Malt Whisky
A sweet and savory blend of caramel and grill char, this peated single malt was practically made for barbecue pairings. Expect mesquite aromas followed by some welcome buttery and caramel sweetness on the palate for balance. This will surely be the star of your next cookout.
Average price: $66
Best Single Barrel Whiskey: 1792 Single Barrel Bourbon
This single barrel release is produced at Buffalo Trace’s Barton 1792 Distillery in Bardstown, Ky. Sure to please those who enjoy their bourbon on the decadent side, it opens with nutty, caramelized banana aromas, then follows with toasted oak and a touch of rye spice. Each sweet, concentrated sip coats the palate in a warm, flavorful embrace.
Average price: $53
Best Barrel-Proof Whiskey: Elijah Craig Small Batch Barrel Proof Bourbon
Heaven Hill treats fans of high-octane, cask-strength whiskey to three annual Elijah Craig releases, each distinguished by different letter and number combinations like A121 and B519. Arriving at 120-plus proof, these bourbons are intensely aromatic with an endless depth of flavors on the palate. Add a single large ice cube and enjoy as the whiskey develops with slow dilution in the glass.
Average price: $78
Best Cask Finished Whiskey: Arran Single Malt Sauternes Cask Finish
Cask finished whiskies are by no means hard to come by these days, but this bottling stands out from the pack, especially in the Scotch realm. Aged in Sauternes casks, this whisky’s notes of honey, white flowers, and ripe peaches reflect those of the prized sweet wines from Bordeaux. Add to that a rich texture that coats the palate, and you have a truly memorable spirit ideal for sipping over a large cube of ice.
Average price: $80
Best Budget Whiskey: Larceny Kentucky Straight Very Small Batch Bourbon Whiskey
As a wheated bourbon, this is not only a budget-friendly option but one that arrives with an approachable flavor profile. At the $20-ish price point, most whiskeys typically don’t offer much beyond their suitability for cocktails. Larceny Small Batch proves a reliable, enjoyable, and modestly complex sipper. It also mixes a mean Whiskey Sour.
Average price: $24
Best Splurge Whiskey: The Macallan Double Cask 18 Years Old
Some things are worth balling-out for. This luxe permanent expression from The Macallan happens to be one of them. The prized juice is aged in ex-oloroso sherry oak casks, which impart aromas of rich caramel and golden raisins, offset by a whiff of spicy ginger. On the palate, expect lush, nutty goodness along with an undercurrent of dried fruit. You won’t regret splurging on this bottle.
Average price: $380
Best Limited-Edition Whiskey: Maker’s Mark Wood Finishing Series Bourbon
Launched in 2019, Maker’s Mark’s Wood Finishing Series sees mature, cask-strength whiskey finished in barrels containing different wooden staves, then aged for a further period in the distillery’s limestone cellar. The combination of staves is different for each release, with one each arriving in 2019 and 2020, and two in 2021. The process has a profound influence on the final profile of the bourbon, and the release remains obtainable at close to MSRP. With last year’s first bottling, FAE01, clinching the No. 1 spot in VinePair’s annual 50 Best Spirits ranking, to say we’re excited for what 2022 will bring is an understatement.
Average price: $65
Best Limited-Edition Whiskeys
Jack Daniel’s 2022 Small Batch Special Release Coy Hill High Proof
America’s best-selling whiskey brand made waves in 2022 with a number of new releases, including this small batch line. Pulled from 55 barrels that experienced incredibly high levels of evaporation, the resulting proof of the five whiskeys in this series ranged from 143.6 (71.8 percent ABV) to an even more eye-watering 155.1 (77.55 percent ABV). Clearly, this is not an everyday sipper, nor is it for the faint of heart. But beyond the fog of alcohol emerges distinctive and enjoyable character, including notes of chocolate, nuts, and vanilla and an everlasting finish. This is a sure sign of more exciting things to come from Jack Daniel’s this year. Stay on the lookout!
MSRP: $55 / 375ml bottle.
Maker’s Mark Wood Finishing Series BRT-02
Launched in 2019, Maker’s Mark’s Wood Finishing Series sees mature, cask-strength whiskey finished in barrels containing different types of wooden staves, then aged for a further period in the distillery’s limestone cellar. The combination of staves is different for each release, with one each arriving in 2019 and 2020, and two in 2021 and 2022. Last year’s releases (BRT-01 and BRT-02) arrived simultaneously to highlight the differences in aging exclusively at the warmer, higher parts of the cellar (BRT-01) and the cooler, lower section (BRT-02). Both maintained the high quality we’ve come to expect from this line, though BRT-02, which gained its profile from French oak staves, dazzled us most with its attractive, perfumed character and rich depth of flavors.
High West A Midwinter Night’s Dram The Encore Act 10 Scene 1
The 10-year anniversary edition of High West’s annual “A Midwinter Night’s Dram” release, The Encore showcases a blend of rye whiskeys finished exclusively in white port barrels. While no age statement is provided, this whiskey’s deep color and stunning array of dried orchard and stone fruit notes suggests this special dram spent a good deal of time in cask. The palate is well rounded and the finish lively. With stunning complexity on show, this is a whiskey to sit with, sip, and savor.
Hibiki ‘Blossom Harmony’ 2022 Limited Edition
The highly anticipated follow-up to a 2021 release from Japanese whisky giant Suntory, Blossom Harmony sees a blend of 12 grain and malt whiskies finished in sakura (cherry blossom tree) casks. Attractive floral notes dance around a sweet malt core, while some spiced notes emerge on a woody, nuanced finish.
Parker’s Heritage Collection Double Barreled Blend
Released at the tail end of 2022, this is the 16th edition of Heaven Hill’s Parker’s Heritage Collection. The blend consists of 67 percent 13-year-old bourbon, which underwent an additional month of aging in newly charred barrels, and 33 percent 15-year-old bourbon. A rich cherry aroma provides a sweet and inviting opening, while cask-strength 66.1 percent alcohol content barely registers on the baking spice-rich palate.
Russell’s Reserve Single Rickhouse
The inaugural release of Russell’s Reserve’s new limited-edition line arrived in 2022, aiming to highlight the unique conditions of a single rickhouse that housed the maturing bourbon. Arriving with over 10 years of age and comprising a blend of 72 barrels, this fruity, blueberry-scented whiskey is approachable and enjoyable, while the line itself is sure to become an instant fan favorite.
George Dickel 17 Year Old Reserve
Returning after a six-year absence, this cask-strength whiskey arrives at a surprisingly (and relatively) tame 46 percent ABV, though it suffers from no shortage of flavor. Deep and enticing vanilla notes kick off the nose, followed by caramelized nuts. The palate has a deeply charred profile and shows all the complexity of its lengthy aging with each sip taken.
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 Knob Creek 12 Year Old Bourbon. The best rye is Frey Ranch Straight Rye Whiskey. The best single malt Scotch is Oban 14 Year Old West Highland Single Malt Whisky. The best Irish whiskey is Green Spot Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey. The best Japanese whisky is The Hakushu Single Malt Japanese Whisky Aged 12 Years. The best Canadian whisky is Crown Royal Noble Collection Rye Aged 16 Years.
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.